1. “Why did you put up with that?”
This question demands a simple answer when there isn’t one to give. There is no easy way for someone to explain why they didn’t walk away sooner and/or the confusion, fear, or hope that caused them to stay. Simply put, it is never as easy as this question makes it sound.
2. “We all go through hard things.”
Please never ever say this to someone who has just shared their heart with you regardless of their situation. Just because we all go through hard things does not give you the right to dismiss or belittle something that has hurt someone. I heard it put this way once: “someone who drowns in 7 feet of water is just as dead as someone who drowns in 20 feet of water.” This is not a comparison competition of who’s had it worse.
3. “I tried to warn you.”
While this may be 110% valid, it doesn’t help. It’s basically saying, “I wouldn’t have made that mistake.” And maybe that’s true, but maybe it’s not. It is often easy to see things objectively when you’re looking in as a third party, but to the person in the middle of the situation, it’s not so easy.
4. “You shouldn’t let it bother you.”
Sure, maybe that’s true, but panic and anxiety don’t exactly come knocking before they break down your door. When someone walks away from an unhealthy relationship they don’t often get to walk away completely unscathed. Especially when abuse (of any kind) is part of the picture. There is a healing process that extends far beyond the extent of what you can see. Entire mentalities and thought processes have to heal and shift, and it’s not always a matter of “not letting it bother you”.
5. “It didn’t seem that bad.”
Relationships look a lot different on the inside than on the outside. While social media may have painted a pretty picture, the reality is that no one knows what truly happens between two people but those two people. Victims of abuse often try to hide and cover up what’s actually going on. Please don’t assume that what you saw was all that there was.
6. “I would never let someone treat me like that.”
This is the one that I want to stress the most. I’ve heard variations of this countless times. Here’s the truth: you. don’t. know. that.
It’s easy to assume that you would walk away the second a significant other treated you poorly. It’s easy to think that you would stand up for yourself and never allow it to happen again. I did. Was the situation that simple when it happened? No, and it never is.
Abuse walks hand in hand with manipulation and control. When you are terrified, confused, and clinging to hope, it’s not always so easy to walk away. No one ever begins a relationship thinking that they’ll be the victim of abuse. Sometimes you don’t even realize that’s what it is until after you’re free of it. Saying things like this only adds to the shame that’s already present for that person.
So what should you say?
“I’m so sorry this happened. You are so strong.”
“If you ever need to talk, I’m here to listen.”
“You deserve so much better, and I promise you will find it.”
“It is not your fault and this does not define you.”
Be supportive. Extend understanding. Show love.
It’s a lot harder than it seems.