How can I be a friend to someone in need? The psalmist wrote:
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.1
One of the most difficult challenges for a victim of abuse is to be believed. Even by their friends. Abusers play on this and often use tactics to perpetrate further abuse through other people. These third parties are colloquially known as “flying monkeys”, reminiscent of the servants of the Wicked Witch of the West. Some might be only too glad to join in on hurting someone, but many will be innocent and unaware of the way they are being used.
In personal and family relationships it is often difficult for those who are close to an abusive situation to know whom to believe. The abuser is typically very convincing. A narcissistic abuser is likely to be charming, competent, respected, and helpful. They are good at getting love and respect from others – that’s their fuel after all. However, a different narcissistic tactic might be to convincingly portray themselves as the real victim. When they can combine that with other tactics, such as provoking reactions from their victims, it can all become very convincing.
Antidotes to abusive behaviours
An abuser might have dozens of types of abusive behaviours. But the good news is there are some antidotes. They do take work to put into practice.
One antidote is to learn more about what abuse looks like. That might sound technical, but at the core, this is really just learning about love. What kind of behaviour is loving? And what is the opposite? We have a calling in the Christian community, to carry love as the hallmark of our faith. That calling carries a responsibility to reflect on our behaviour so we can keep improving at caring for others.
Another antidote is to do with knowing each other. Abusers are often skilled at pointing out and overstating the faults of their victims. But when you consider the character of your friends and the way they conduct themselves over time, what do you see? Honestly, amongst your friends, it would be normal to have a mix of both safer and more toxic individuals. Knowing people well takes effort and the development of social and emotional intelligence. Part of our mission at The Abigail Project is to help that process. The Bible is full of clues about who to trust, and the difference between love and not-love. It’s a wonderful resource in fighting abuse!
Letting good people know you trust them
Psalm 20 makes some bold statements!
“May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.”2
That’s a deep statement of trust in someone’s character. I can think of friends I could make that kind of statement about. They are good people. Not perfect, but easily good enough to trust. Their character sings. I know and trust that the desire of their heart is for good things.
Perhaps oddly, among those friends are a good number who have been harmed by abuse, and who have had those same abuse tactics applied: the abuser has provoked them, undermined them, lied about them, made the most of every possible failing. Often they have used gaslighting3 and other tactics to completely demoralise the victim so that the victim struggles to see their own goodness.
Yet to stand back and look at these friends – they would be the first to acknowledge they aren’t perfect. But they are good, and I trust them.
When an abuser has worked hard to undermine a person and perhaps recruited flying monkeys to help them, clear, specific messages of trust and affirmation can be like oxygen. Don’t hold back. Let them know.
Our calling to be present
In the previous post I mentioned single parents who are exhausting themselves caring for their kids, doing all they can to protect them from the abuse. I can well imagine what “the desire of their heart” might be.
Paul implores us:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn4
Psalm 20 resounds with that deep empathy. When thinking about those who are fighting to be free of abuse – a complex and difficult task that no one should have to go through alone – here is this emphatic longing to see that point of triumph. It comes when we see and love someone enough to enter into their world, to see the battle through their eyes, to understand the choices they wrestle with. To be a true and trusted friend.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May Yahweh grant all your requests.5
This is not a prayer one can pray from a distance, like a glib statement of “thoughts and prayers”. This is a shared longing for victory. There are so many good people fighting battles in isolation – they deserve this kind of friendship.
So how can I be a friend to someone in need?
- Just believing victims is a wonderful start. It is such a welcome relief to those who are under constant attack.
- Learn all you can about abuse. Some things are obvious – what does love look like? But some abuse tactics are more complicated, and the more we all learn, the wider the safety net for those who are facing abuse each day.
- Spend time thinking about your friends, and reflecting on their behaviour as well as your own. Are they consistent? Do you see red, green, or orange flags in their behaviour? Paying attention to their character can help us see more clearly when someone is in need. Educating ourselves about abuse can help us spot more devious tactics such as the use of smokescreens to hide abusive behaviour.
- Communicate trust and support. It’s like oxygen. Be bold. Those trustworthy friends you have? Let them know you believe in and trust them.
- Be present. Do whatever you can to go the extra mile in support. None of us have the power or strength to fix all the world’s ills, as wonderful as a magic wand would be. But we might be able to be a Godsend to some. I find the idea of “helpful help” useful: it’s worth checking what kind of help a person wants. But victims of abuse commonly face abuse every day, even once they’ve escaped the physical location of abuse. What a gift to have friends who stay present with that daily experience.
Obviously enough, this list is the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a start.
Doing what you can
Some of the ways we can help others require expertise. Even deep expertise. I’m so thankful for those professionals and others who have invested in that kind of learning. But in many ways, we don’t need to be experts to be helpful. Paying attention, being as generous as we can, staying present: these things can make a profound difference, and if that is important to you I pray for your every success in being the kind of friend you deeply want to be.
We will shout for joy when you are victorious!6
Steve WadeOne of the most difficult challenges for a victim of abuse is to be believed. Even by friends. Abusers play on this, and often use tactics to perpetrate further abuse through other people Click To Tweet
- Psalm 20:4
- Psalm 20:4
- Gaslighting: the action of tricking or controlling someone by making them believe things that are not true, especially by suggesting that they may be mentally ill. Cambridge Dictionary
- Romans 12:15
- Psalm 20:5
- Psalm 20:5