Are you capable of helping an abuse victim?
IHM’s last post on victim blaming had a lot of people talking about their views on what victims should and shouldn’t do (note the use of should and not can or cannot). There were people who were accused of sympathising and thereby enabling the victims, there were those who claimed to be angry at how weak some people are and why they couldn’t just get out and there were a few who chose to be objective empathisers. There seemed to be some people who seemed to feel that they had burnt their fingers by helping an ‘ungrateful’ abuse victim who disappointed them by going back to the abuser. Now this is where I want to elaborate about how, when and whether you can help an abused. There are certain things one must keep in mind before going on there brandishing the sword of goodness 🙂
1. Why do you want to do it?
You might say what kind of a question is that, of course I want to help the abused. But while our conscious mind gives us this reasoning, what is important is to know what is going on within us. Some of us have a Mother Teresa syndrome. We think that God put us on earth to sort other people’s lives. But what differentiates us mere mortals from a Mother Teresa is that all the help gives us some sort of a high. It makes us feel important and we do it more to be perceived as a good human being rather than to help the other person. In this case, we could become over zealous in ‘helping’ the other person, only to realise that there were many dynamics that we missed out on. We may even blow out of proportion certain instances as abuse. So determine what is in it for you. If there is nothing and you find that you care about this person and that’s why want to help, please go ahead.
2. Are you over the abuse you faced?
Some of us feel strongly about abuse because we have gone through it. But if we still carry the wounds of the abuse, we may not be able to objectively assess the situation of the person we are trying to help. Also if we are not over the abuse yet, seeing something similar happen to someone else could trigger some leftover depression and helplessness within us. Please remember you can only help someone else when you are sound enough. Also never help someone at the cost of your own peace of mind, that is counter productive and reeks of codependence. Self preservation is not selfishness.
Helping a victim requires a lot of patience, because you are dealing with someone whose self esteem and basic concept of life has been twisted around by the abuse. It may so happen that they may not get what you are trying to tell them. It may so happen that in their confusion they may lash out at you. It may so happen that they take ages and ages to realise the truth of their situation. Are you ready to stand by their side, seemingly helpless or unproductive and lending only an ear to them? Will you be able to not take it personally if things don’t go well? If so, go ahead and help them.
4. Will you be able to handle failure and uncalled for blaming?
Though you may have the best of intentions, sometimes you will not be able to extricate the person from the abuser. For reasons best known to the victim, the victim might decide to go back to the abuser and nothing you say might help. Infact, the victim might resent you for pointing out the obvious problems. The abuser might gang up with other family members and blame you for being a ‘bad influence’. Is your self esteem good enough to handle this objectively and also to know that this is not your fault and that it is problem of the abuser and those who enable him? The victim herself might blame you for ruining her family unit, will you be able to handle this uncalled for criticism and know that you did your best? Or else things could go horribly wrong while you are trying to help the victim. Often abuse escalates when the victim tries to leave. At such times it is important for you to know that the victim was not harmed because you tried to help, the abuser would have harmed the victim anyway. Often abusers also end up maligning those who help the victim and they could start a smear campaign against you. At this point too you have a choice, whether you want to stick to helping the victim or preserve your reputation and there is no harm in bailing out.
5. Are you ready to lose the friendship of the victim?
Helping an abused is tricky. Some research says that it takes about 7 attempts for a victim to leave and everytime the victim returns, things start once again from the honeymoon phase. During this phase the abuser might convince the victim that they will be treated better and that they don’t need people like you. The victim also might feel embarrased about facing someone to whom they have badmouthed the abuser. In all such cases, the victim will now avoid you and may even cut all ties with you. Even if the victim does leave the abuser, you might end up as a reminder of those bad days for them. Sometimes victims try to move on by cutting contact with everyone connected to that period of their life. So either ways there is a chance that the victim might not want to be in touch with you, will you be ok with that? This is a possibility you need to consider before jumping into the fray.
6. The victim may not act grateful
After getting out, the victim may not act as grateful as you think they should be. The victim might acknowledge your contribution in helping them get out of the relationship, but they may not act ‘indebted’ to you. They may even rationalise that in the end it was they who got out (which is true in a way). Do not expect the victim to act like Nirupa Roy in a 70’s movie blessing someone who got her a piece of roti. Infact, treat it more like Neki kar kuve mein daal. Don’t expect the victim to help when you get into something similar either, like I said above, for the sake of not reliving those days, the victim might not be very empathetic towards other victims. Also though the victim is better off, they have not settled in the new life yet, so when they hit a roadblock there, they might end up blaming you for making their life difficult. Don’t take this personally.
Ok, have to admit, this one is inspired by Emma and the various screen adaptations of the novel. Sometimes people around you might applaud the courage of the victim and not talk about your helping the victim at all. They might do this for their own reasons or it might be that they believe everything boils down to the individual. Also victims who get out might find a new strength in themselves that makes others respect them a lot. There might also be people who give them more benefit of doubt because of sympathy. Will you be ok with being a stage hand when the victim is enjoying the spotlight? This again boils down to whether you helped the victim for the sake of helping or to feel nice about being a do-gooder.
The most important thing to remember while helping is to be objective. Also help is about the victim and not about you. And there is no standard type of victim. There might be some who appreciate your help and there might be others who dont. Just because someone rejected your help, doesn’t mean they are weak or bad, neither does it mean that every other victim will reject your offer, the reverse also holds true. Every person is different, so its best to take these things as they come. The best way to help is by spreading awareness in whatever way you can, that in itself might create a subconscious impact on victims. And last but not the least, do not judge anyone else’s life by your perceptions. What holds true for you, will never be true for others.