How to Help a Parent in an Abusive Relationship
When abuse is happening in a relationship, it can affect whole families - including children who are witnesses to the abuse and violence.
Watching your parent deal with an abusive relationship is extremely tough and can cause a range of emotions, like resentment, guilt, fear, grief, and anger. It can be especially difficult if you are still living at home or have younger siblings still living at home. Having feelings of love and attachment to our parents is very normal, even if one of them is abusive in some way. If you feel like something isn’t right in your family, but you also have those feelings at the same time, the situation can become confusing, complicated, or overwhelming.
We are often contacted by people of all ages whose parents are in abusive relationships. Like anyone who witnesses the abuse of someone they love, these callers and chatters want to know how to help the abused parent. They are understandably focused on making the situation “right” and ending the abuse. While every situation is unique and there is no “one size fits all” approach, we try to emphasize a few things:
1) It’s not your fault!
Above all, you need to know that the abuse is never your fault, and it’s never the victim’s fault. The choice to be abusive is the abusive person’s; only they are responsible for their behavior, and only they can change it. It is also not your responsibility to “rescue” your parent(s). It’s normal to spend a lot of time and energy looking for a way to fix something that’s causing so much pain, but you don’t deserve to be under this kind of pressure.
Why does a person become abusive? That’s a really tough question to answer, because every person is different. What we do know is that abuse is about power and control; an abusive person wants all the power and control in their relationships. Their abuse might be directed toward just one person, or their whole family. No matter what, no one deserves to live with abuse.
2) Leaving can be very difficult for a victim, for a lot of reasons
Leaving might seem like the best decision, but so often a victim has many reasons for staying in an abusive relationship. Since an abusive person will do anything to maintain his or her power and control in the relationship, we know that leaving can also be a dangerous time for a victim. Leaving could be something your parent might want to plan for and work towards, but in the meantime it’s important to focus on staying as safe as you can and taking good care of yourself.
So, what can you do to help?
It’s really great that you want to help your parent, but something to remember is that we all have boundaries and that those boundaries should be respected. If your parent is being abused by their partner or spouse, their boundaries are not being respected by that person. Even though you may have the best intentions in helping your parent, it’s important to be respectful of them not wanting to talk about it at that moment. If that happens, you can work on the following suggestions—the details of which are explained a lot more over on the loveisrespect blog:
- Offer loving support
- Refer to local resources
- Encourage self-care, and practice it yourself
- Create a safety plan together
Remember: if you are living with an abusive parent and they ever become abusive toward you, you have the right to seek help. If you are under 18, you can call the Child Abuse Hotline to speak directly to a hotline counselor.
We understand that this is such a difficult thing to experience and that you know your situation best. These tips are very general, and you should never follow any advice that makes you feel unsafe. Looking for support, help, or information is a huge step and shows incredible strength. Remember, you do not have to go through this alone. Our advocates are here for you 24/7 if you need to talk to someone. Just be sure to call, chat, or text from devices that your abusive parent doesn’t have access to.