CREATE A SAFE PLACE FOR THEM TO SHARE
Creating a safe place means you should listen to their story without judgment. They will have trust issues, and if you invalidate them they may close themselves off from potential support and become isolated. If you encourage them to stay you could be advising them to go back to an abuser that can bump up the abuse, and could potentially resort to physical abuse. Be careful not to give the standard helpful friend advice of telling them ‘its just a divorce’, ‘everyone has some issues’, ‘you just have to work it out’, these things might work for someone dealing with a normal person but not when they are dealing with a person with a personality disorder they will need more help.
AVOID VICTIM BLAMING
If someone tells you stories of confusion at the behaviors, they are experiencing please don’t question them or make excuses for the narcissist. Victims often complain about their own family members or friends saying stupid things like “I am sure he didn’t mean it”, “She is perfect, you don’t know how lucky you are, just suck it up, no one is perfect”, “everyone has crazy family members, get over it.”
Many people don’t understand the depth a narcissist will go to destroy their prey and we assume they are just dealing with a bad boss, a crazy in-law, or just another divorce. When we say things like “ why did you stay?”, you are putting the blame on them.
There are so many reasons people stay in abusive relationships, let’s look at the most common;
• Victims have been groomed with intermittent love, and they often look back waiting for that nice person to come back.
• They make excuses for the abusers’ actions, they were tired, they didn’t mean it, she gets that way, he had a bad week…
• The classic reason in relationship abuse is that they love the person and committed to better or worse.
• Financial reasons are a big one, most narcissists control the finances, so the victim sees no way out and they get trapped into staying. The victim has been so beaten down that they have lost the hope that they can take care of themselves.
• Staying for the children is common, they don’t want to break up the family, or force the kids to be with the abusive parent alone. So, they stay.
Whatever the situation, and whoever is the narcissist in their lives, there is never an excuse for abuse, so please be understanding and empathic and supportive.
Have you heard the analogy of the frog being put in a pot of boiling water and how that frog knows he is being boiled to death, but a frog that gets put into a cool pot and the temperature is heated up slowly, that frog doesn’t know he is being boiled? Most victims are unaware that they have been abused just like that second frog. Victims write off the bad behaviors because they have been trained over time by the covert and often stealth tactics of the abuser. These behaviors almost always happen behind closed doors and they have learned that if they speak up, they will endure even more abuse, again like frog number two, they endure. Most victims of abuse go back to their abusers seven times and when you understand that factoid, remember that they will need to get angry enough and hurt enough to break free. Putting pressure on them will only add additional pressure and make them feel bad for disappointing you.
If your friend or family member is sharing stories of confusion around any relationship, don’t try to diagnose the narcissist but learn the behaviors so you can compare those to your friends’ stories. Remember your friend may sound crazy as they explain what is happening because they do not have the words, terminology or the eagle eye view that you can provide them. Educate yourself and share the knowledge with your friend like a sherpa, lead them to find answers.
If they don’t know if they are being abused download this sheet shared with us by a brilliant therapist, Mary Ann Glynn, and download our Red Flag Checklist. Have them look at our PTSD checklist to see if what they are dealing with is something that can be explained by PTSD and get them to a doctor if depression, anxiety or the PTSD symptoms are occurring.
Ultimately your job will not be to convince them that they need to get away but to teach them that getting away is the only way to heal. We call this going no contact, or going gray rock if they must maintain a relationship because of children or some other reason, like being a family member or an employee at work. If they need to have limited contact, like in the situations mentioned above, we call this gray rock.
This may be the first time you’re hearing about this, or you may be familiar with their complaints. It is frustrating for friends and family to understand why they stayed, but don’t let this frustration consume you, because it can cloud your advice and support, and this is their journey of recovery. While you can lead the horse to water, you can’t get mad if they aren’t ready to drink the water yet. With your continued support, they’ll get there.