How to Help Victim's of Sociopath Abuse
There are often two types of family and friends in a victim’s life:
1. Those who know/suspect a victim is a victim long before the victim tells them they’re a victim.
2. Those who are absolutely shocked when they learn the victim is a victim.
Unfortunately, even the former group of family and loved ones are unable to help the victim while the victim remains inside the toxic relationship. Knowing about and/or witnessing the abuse and being helpless to stop it forces friends and family to distance themselves from the victim out of sheer hopelessness and helplessness. No one wants to standby and watch a friend or loved one parrish. Our human defense mechanism is to run away and hope that what we fear might happen won’t happen.
When abandoned by what was once their support system, victims feel even more torn and lonely and unable to disengage from their abuser and make an escape. The abuse is prolonged and the distance between the victims and support groups grow and deepen.
Once the victim finally musters the strength to leave, not only is the victim faced with trying to understand why she’s so stressed, paranoid, and fearful; she is expected to explain to others why she’s so stressed, paranoid, and fearful.
The following are a few things to consider when your friend or loved one shows up on your doorstep panicked, frantic, and seeking refuge from her abuser:
1. Believe her/him.
When a person you once judged to be strong and confident comes to you desperate, weak, and making claims of abuse, believe her. Regardless of how crazy or unbelievable your friend’s claims sound, believe them! Soon you will discover that everything she fears and claims is 100% truthful and based in reality...the reality the abuser orchestrated.
2. Just listen...at first.
Don’t act like a therapist. Don’t ask questions. Don’t tell her what she should or should not be feeling or should or should not be doing. Listen and keep listening.
3. Embrace and hug.
Do this often. Your friend/loved one needs a gentle touch. Touch from others serves to soothe and relax.
4. Create a plan of action...together.
Don’t take over, try to save, or dictate anything to the victim. Although she may seem distant or too talkative or easily startled, she can be easily relaxed if you engage her with an activity you can do together. List steps to do related to changing phone numbers, setting up email security, forwarding snail mail, and changing the locks or removing her belongings from the home/apartment she shared with the abuser. The first thing on a victim’s mind is to stay safe and for those helping her to be safe, also.
5. Start writing.
After a few days, encourage your friend to continue sharing specifics of the abuse. The circumstances surrounding the trauma and abuse are a chaotic mess to the victim. By sharing details, the victim is able to unravel the chaos in bits and pieces for herself and for those who are trying to assist her. Consider writing down things as she reveals them to you. Even the victim is not 100% aware of everything that led her to fear the person she once thought loved her. Details are fleeting and some details come suddenly and then vanish in seconds. The sooner everyone can make sense of the chaos, the sooner she can receive the help necessary from a therapist or doctor. She’ll soon be able to clearly speak and articulate her story with a sense of purpose as opposed to appearing scattered and unstable.
6. Maintain No Contact, too.
Often, in the immediate aftermath of escape, victims of abuse do not have a hard time with no contact. No contact seems easy in the beginning. However, if the abuser can not get in touch with the victim, the abuser will reach out to a family member or friend for details. Resist the urge to pick up calls from the abuser or respond to emails or texts. Why? Because if the abuser can’t love bomb and con the victim into returning, the abuser will triangulate and con the victim’s friends and family into feeling sorry for the abuser, which encourages the friend or family member to suggest that the victim talk to the abuser. The only time the abuser should be acknowledged is if there are children involved. Encourage the victim to involve a children’s advocate as soon as possible.
7. Never ask any of the following questions:
>> “Why didn’t you call the police when he hit you/broke your laptop/hurt your child?”
(I stood in family court and listened to a judge ask a victim this after she described how her ex-boyfriend broke into her house and raped her. I wanted to scream, ‘Because she was being raped, jackass!’ Never ask a question the victim has a hard time answering herself.)
>> “Why did he do/say that? Did you do something to provoke him?”
(There is no excuse for abuse and it is NEVER the victim’s fault.)
>> “Everyone says things they regret in the heat of the moment. Maybe you just need to let things cool down a bit and then talk and work things out.”
(Um, no. Not everyone threatens to kill themselves or take your child away from you or kill you in the heat of an argument.)
>> “Are you sure?”
(The victim is as sure as the sky is blue! Believe her!)
Questioning every fear and every paranoid sensation that comes over the victim only serves to further invalidate the victim, who has been living with invalidation for months and perhaps years. If you invalidate your friend, you will become no better than the abuser in her eyes.
8. Avoid arguments.
If you happen to misspeak or say something or question something, you will be attacked verbally by your friend. She may tell you to fuck off and/or call you all sorts of ugly names. Do not take it personally. Her emotions are highly charged, her sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are off balance, and she’s in constant fight/flight/freeze mode. Everyone and everything that is not 100% “for” her is “against her. If she doesn’t scream at you, she may run to a corner of the room or just sit and stare at nothing. She may oscillate between all three. She’s going to seem like she’s had a psychotic break. She hasn’t. She’s suffering from post-traumatic stress.
9. Find a trauma counselor.
Take your friend or loved one to see her primary care physician or gynecologist or whomever the last doctor was she visited. Her doctor will be able to rule out medication effects or other pre-existing conditions as the cause or reason for the victim’s current state. Ask for a referral to a trauma specialist and ask to be present either during or after all initial evaluations. It’s important that you understand that what is happening to your friend/loved one is a direct result of abuse and trauma and not some type of other cause. If you discover a counselor who doesn’t believe her or invalidates her, seek a referral or second opinion. You KNOW your friend/loved one. You KNOW she’s not lying or being overly-paranoid or unreasonably anxious. She has a very good reason for behaving seemingly erratically, and you want a doctor who understands and validates her, not one prepared to strap her to a gurney and admit her to a psychiatric ward.
10. Never lose touch.
Even if it's been several months, and you think your friend or loved one is okay, the risk of breaking No Contact increases. As a result of time and counseling and processing, she will begin to see things more clearly, her anger at the injustice of it all will increase, and she will seek answers. She will think the abuser will finally give them to her. He won't. So remain close and keep reminding your friend/loved one that the abuser is not humane and has no interest in being accountable or providing answers regarding why he chose to harm and abuse her.
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