How to Support Friends in Toxic Relationships
When your friend is suffering from a toxic relationship it can difficult to see how to support them to make a powerful and positive decision for themselves. It can be so clear to you that a change is needed. It may take everything you have to not wrap your friend up in a blanket and lock them in a room until they see reason. Alas that is not how life-changing positive decisions usually work themselves out. So what short of kidnapping can you do to empower your friend to make a change from the toxicity that surrounds them? Below are 5 ways to support your friends in a toxic relationship.
1) Patient Listener - You may have a novel's worth of opinions to share - but don't. Do NOT run through your responses while your friend is speaking. Be an active listener. Hear what they say and look for clues that you can explore with them further about the toxicity that they weave into the conversation. Many of us send out small smoke signals to see if it is safe to dive into the whole truth. For the most part, keep your opinions to yourself. Embody the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates and employ his now-infamous Socratic Method. Continue asking questions and drawing out their own answers to stimulate their critical thinking. You may see it as crystal clear but we all have trouble seeing the forest through the trees of our own mind. Reaching their own conclusion is much more powerful than being fed a conclusion they had no hand in creating.
2) Flip the Script - They may be able to give the best advice to themselves. Ask them if you came to them and communicated a similar circumstance or incident what advice would they give you? We can be much more nurturing others than to ourselves. It can be easier for them to give the advice they need to hear themselves. Let them give you advice and prompt them gently to be as kind to yourself as you would be to me. Keep the focus on them and don't speak negatively about the toxic player. This can backfire and you could put the friendship at risk or be seen as "not liking" this toxic person causing your friend to stop confiding in you about the relationship. If news gets back to the toxic party they will work diligently to prevent your friend from spending any time with you. T Your friend will slowly be cut off from her friendships that the toxic partner view as "poisoning" your friend against them. Don't let that happen. Stay focused on supporting your friend versus degrading the toxic people.
3) Be a vault - When you are worried about a friend seeking help or opinions from others close to you (or both of you) seems like a healthy move. Unless you are speaking with a professional bound by patient-client confidentiality be a vault. Your friend may be sharing scary details that you want to discuss with others. Your friend needs to feel like what they say to you stays with you. It can be scary enough to say it out loud to someone. Skip the gossip, even if it is juicy, and be a vault.
4) Build them up - Self-confidence is usually the first thing to go when you are in a toxic relationship. Our smart, capable, talented friends can be reduced to feeling worthless before our eyes. This toxicity can seep into every part of the conscience and permeate the very core of them until they feel as if they are worthy of nothing. Create situations for them to shine and regain some of the ground lost by their toxic partner. Ask for their advice, and speak to them about the positive impact their advice brought. If your friend has talents or hobbies create those opportunities to let them shine. Go to an art gallery, karaoke night, or spin class. Help them feel strong and capable.
5) Be a resource - do your research. When they a ready to act be ready to react quickly. Do they want to seek professional help? Make it as easy as possible for them. Have a list of people they can reach out to immediately. Are they ready to make a safe exit from the relationship? Know where they can go to make a safe transition. Know the signs of abuse and how to help your friend realize that these are not the traits of a mutually respectful relationship. I like the guidelines outlined by the Women's Advocates (although they could apply to any gender). Let them lead the pace of the change. If their communication is being monitored adapt to how they feel comfortable communicating. Make it easy for them to reach you. If they want you to download a special app that makes messages disappear or have you email a new address or only speak in person or late at night...just follow their lead. Leave the judgment and the scrutiny out of the conversation. You are a safe space. A refuge in the maelstrom. There are also free 3rd party resources. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for call or text support. Then start planning the post-relationship victory vacation.
Watching your loved ones exist in a toxic environment is heartbreaking. You feel completely helpless against this evil force that has so much control over the mental and physical health of your friend. Use the 5 guidelines above to help you support your friend out of toxicity. This is a difficult situation to watch, but your strength and lack of judgment with help them feel supported enough to make a positive change. Your friendship will never be stronger.