February is among the bleakest months so most of us are thrilled to be among the two thirds of Canadians who are entitled to an extra holiday like Family Day. But for anyone living in an abusive relationship, a holiday can be stressful and frightening.
For families with children, the kids are home from school on Family Day and the regular routine is disrupted. There’s pressure to make it a special, happy day. In families where there’s already a propensity for violence, any increase in stress can trigger an abuser and survivors are keenly aware of the circumstances that can precipitate an outburst.
Maybe you’ve noticed signs of abuse in a friend or relative’s relationship. Domestic violence is rooted in an abuser’s need for power and control and is often focused on isolating a victim or survivor. He may put her down, act superior and check up on her all the time. She may excuse his behavior and deny there is any problem. The approach of Family Day is a great opportunity to start a conversation.
There are many ways to support someone in an abusive relationship. It can help to start by reflecting on the situation survivors find themselves in and the reasons it can be so difficult to leave.
Katy Humphrey is a writer, mother and marketer as well as a survivor of domestic abuse. She shared her experience in an article published in the Huffington Post in January 2016. She acknowledged that it can be difficult to understand a survivor’s perspective when you haven’t been there yourself.
“I know, you're probably reading this like ‘come on girl how can you love someone who treats you like that?’”, writes Humphrey. “If you haven't been where I was, and I pray you haven't, you can't understand just how reliant on them [abusers] make you. You end up not being able to do anything without permission, you seek approval for every, single, thing that you do. You worry about things that are outside of your control, basically, you are a shell of your former self.”
One of the most important things you can do to support someone in an abusive relationship is provide her with unconditional acceptance and caring. Tell her you’re concerned about her safety – and the safety of her kids – and that you are always there to listen. And if she does share her story, listen – really listen – and accept what she tells you. Assure her that you believe her and it’s not her fault.
And there are practical things you can do to relieve stress too. Offer your home as a refuge or as a place for a survivor to store the essential items she may need to take with her when she decides to leave. Offer childcare on Family Day to help relieve the stress that can trigger violence.
Here’s Katy Humphrey’s message for survivors, “Don't ever let someone make you feel worthless, or belittle you, or hurt you. You are worth so much more, you might not believe it right now, but you are. Things do get better. I promise.”