Ask Survivors How You Can Help Them

Every October, we honor Domestic Violence Awareness Month. DVAM is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of these issues, share resources, and most importantly, support survivors.

This year, Joyful Heart is honoring DVAM by sharing tools for supporting survivors with our community. Each week, we are covering a new topic and sharing stories about how to put these tools into practice. We invite and encourage you to share these with your community.

This week’s tip is: Ask what more you can do to help.

When someone confides in you about a trauma they have faced, it is normal to want to do whatever you can to help. You may have known the person for several years, perhaps you have just met them, or maybe you have experienced something similar yourself. No matter what, it is natural to want to take care of someone when they undergo a difficult experience.

But how do you know the right way to help? It’s simple: ask.

As you look for ways to help a survivor who opens up to you, it is important for the survivor to lead the way on their healing journey. Rather than offer unsolicited advice or assume you know what is best for that person, ask how you can help them and what they need from you.

For example: Some people may want to begin the process of leaving their abuser, but need support in reaching out to the right resources. Some may need assistance with everyday tasks like chores or grocery shopping. And some just need an open heart to listen to them.

Of course, you can’t read someone’s mind. That is why it can help you both if you ask, “What can I do to help you?” “What do you need right now?” or “What can I do to help make you feel supported?” If a survivor isn’t ready to make a decision about what they need, you can offer to revisit the conversation later when they feel better equipped and more ready to talk.

Also remember there are many reasons why a person may remain in a relationship with an abuser. This can be confusing, especially to family and friends who want their loved ones to be safe and have a violence-free life. It isn’t always easy to escape the abuse and remove the perpetrators from their lives. It’s also a time when violence can escalate and safety is critical. Leaving is an individual decision—one that is the survivor’s to make, not yours.

Violence and abuse are about power and control. It is vital for survivors to regain their sense of personal power. Instead of pushing someone into taking actions they are not ready for, ask how you can best support them.

How can you help survivors reclaim their strength and power? Tweet us your thoughts at @TheJHF using the hashtag #SupportSurvivors. 

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