My sister is in a verbally and mentally abusive relationship that has crossed the line and has become physically abusive. This once energetic, creative girl is now full of insecurity. She knows he isn’t good for her but can’t leave him. She holds tightly to the few good times, mostly make-up periods after the abuse, and talks herself out of ending the relationship. What can family or friends do when a person just can’t do what is best for them?
Create a soft spot in their hearts and homes for the loved one to fall. It is such a painful experience to watch someone choose a destructive life path. From the sidelines, it doesn’t make sense. But a person who believes she lacks the power to change her life and who assumes whatever she has is all she is capable of is stuck in a rut. After a while, that pothole is home.
In an abusive relationship, there is often an underlying addiction to adrenaline. When tension repeatedly builds to explosive anger, hormones surge. Soon, the body craves that adrenaline. Like any addiction, the frequency and dosage must increase to achieve the same high. That’s why verbally and emotionally violent behavior often escalates to physical violence. It’s also why people in abusive relationships frequently tell stories about other high-risk behaviors, such as excessive speeding or stealing or affairs. Those behaviors also increase adrenaline.
If you criticize your sister, she will dismiss your concerns as evidence of your inability to understand. In her mind, she has a special relationship, and you don’t have the capacity to see it. She may also be afraid to be seen as wrong, especially if she has given up a lot to stay with this guy. So every time you communicate with your sister, be as specific as possible. State this man’s behavior, when or where it happened and how you see it affecting her. Like this: “When you tell me that (his name here) said you were a worthless bitch last Saturday at the mall, I feel really sad, because he is so hurtful to you. I am angry that his behavior is being tolerated. If someone I was (dating/having sex with/living with) talked to me that way, I would end the relationship immediately. I deserve to be loved. Love does not include name-calling.”
Then, tell her two things you admire. Dig back into childhood memories of times when you saw her exhibit strength, courage and a voice. Remind her of those qualities within herself: “Remember back in sixth grade when that bully tried to steal your backpack? You told him to keep his hands off, and that you would tell our parents and his. I miss that strength in you to stand up against cruelty and abuse. But I know that strength is alive in you. Use it again. End your relationship.”
These conversations are planting seeds. Be patient. A few of seeds will be carried away by your sister’s irrational thought processes. Other seeds will fall on the dry ground of denial. Some seeds will sprout, grow and give her the power to change. Your willingness to firmly offer a new perspective is essential. Be consistent while communicating, no matter what.
Do not lose your temper. Don’t beg her to leave him. Don’t engage in the behaviors you dislike in her man: Don’t call him names, don’t try to read his mind and don’t generalize (“He always …” or “He never …”). Stick to modeling honest communication that points out what is wrong, clarifies what is right and reminds her of who she really is. That way, when she leaves him, she knows there is a safe place in your heart where she can curl up and heal.
Meditation of the week:
“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life,” said Seneca, the Roman philosopher. What do you think it means to live one day at a time?