Support a family member

Childhood trauma is NO excuse for abusive behavior
Childhood trauma is NO excuse for abusive behavior

Protect the people you love.

Abuse affects whole families. Particularly for children who witness or experience violence, watching a parent or other family member deal with an abusive relationship is extremely challenging and raises complex emotions that are difficult to process. If you’re still living at home or have younger siblings at home, you may also feel guilt or fear over your family’s ongoing safety.

Having feelings of love and attachment for parents who are survivors of abuse — or even abusive partners themselves — is nothing to be ashamed of, despite how confusing it might seem; what’s important is understanding how to process these emotions and get survivors the help they need.

What to know

We receive contacts from people of all ages whose parents are experiencing relationship abuse. As with anyone who witnesses someone they love being abused, these contacts are primarily focused on finding ways to make the abuse stop.

While every situation is unique,

we usually emphasize a couple key points to contacts interested in supporting a family member:

Abuse is not the survivor’s fault.

The only person responsible for abusive behavior is the person committing the abuse, and only they can decide to change. It’s not your responsibility to “save” someone and they know more about their situation than you do.

It’s normal to spend a lot of time and energy trying to fix a problem that causes so much pain to people you care about, but ultimately you can only control your own actions, not those of an abusive partner. Instead, spend that time learning about power and control and the reasons why people abuse to better inform your support for others.

Leaving is hard.

Ending an abusive relationship isn’t like a typical breakup. People who exert power and control in their relationship through abusive behaviors will go to great lengths to maintain their grip on power. This makes leaving the most dangerous period of time for a survivor, and while it may be something that your family member wants, the circumstances of their situation may make it harder than simply walking out the door. Learn more about why people stay.

Cultural context is important.

The community and culture you come from can play a large role in how people respond to abuse. Understanding your family’s history, values, and beliefs will give you more context for why your family members may hold certain ideas or react to abuse in specific ways. Learn more about abuse and cultural context, and contact an advocate to find out if there are culturally-specific resources available near you.

How to help

Finding the right way to support a family member experiencing abuse is never easy, and there’s no single approach to helping someone in an abusive relationship. Family dynamics can make complex situations even more confusing, and opportunities to help aren’t always clear.

What’s important is showing them your strong support to demonstrate your love, and respecting their agency to make decisions for themselves.

The following examples are useful suggestions to guide your forms of support.

  • Offer loving support. Survivors are often isolated from others, making support all the more important at this time. You can be a strong source of support for family members experiencing abuse by finding ways to spend time together watching a movie at home, going to lunch, or doing a fun activity. This will give you an opportunity to talk safely and remind them that you love them. Let them know that you’re concerned and that they deserve a healthy, loving, and respectful relationship. If you don’t live with the family member, you can also show your support by sending regular messages expressing your love and validation. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can also give them information about the National Domestic Violence Hotline or love is respect, and encourage them to call. Just remember that decisions about leaving an abusive relationship can ultimately only be made by the survivor themselves.
  • Encourage self-care and practice it yourself. Support your family members by encouraging them to take care of themselves in a way that feels good, supports their well-being, and brings them comfort. Do the same for yourself. People who experience abuse often feel like they’re undeserving of love or care; self-care is an important way to cope and reclaim your sense of self when dealing with stressful or scary situations. By doing what you can for your own emotional well-being, you enable yourself to continue being a source of support for others, including family members in need. Help them see the benefits of self-care for themselves and others.
  • Create a safety plan together. Work with your family member to create a personalized safety plan with ways to create safer conditions at home or preparations to leave. Safety planning includes everything from deescalation strategies, emotional safety planning, plans to disclose your situation, and suggestions for self-care. If possible, sit down with your family member when you have time and space to make a plan together with no distractions. If you need support creating your safety plan and identifying resources, contact love is respect 24/7 by text, phone, or live chat.