The Purple Door: A tough conversation

Published 8:00 am Saturday, May 12, 2018

Kent: This article is factual about a real situation and conversations surrounding that situation. 

This situation/conversation began approximately four months ago.

At that time, a close friend of mine, Anne, asked me if I could speak with her after a meeting we were attending. I said “Of course.”

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After the meeting, Anne said to me, “I am in an abusive, relationship. Not physically abusive, but emotional and mental controlling abuse. I just wanted you to know that.”  My reaction was (I did not learn what my reaction was until last week…more about that later) to end the conversation as quickly as possible with the statement, “Let me know if I can help.”

Throughout the next few months, I reassigned tasks I had given Anne because I knew she had a lot going on in her life.

Did I tell her why I reassigned those tasks? Did I even tell her that I had reassigned the tasks?  The answer is no.   

Not realizing it at the time, I did not want to get into that conversation with her about the abuse she was experiencing.  Why, you might ask?  Because I did not know how to have a conversation about abuse, so I avoided having it. 

In my life experience, I have found that people (I am at the top of that list) avoid things they fear, and not knowing can bring fear that creates avoidance.

Here is my friend, confiding in me, trusting me to give her emotional support, and I was running from it. This begs the question, how does one emotionally support someone being abused and someone who has been abused? 

I have learned over the past two years as board president of Steps to HOPE that we all have people in our lives who are and have been abused.  How do we as a community want to address supporting these people?  How can we, as individuals, support our friends who have been or are being abused? 

Below is the other side of the misguided conversation, and potential solutions on supporting those we love.

Anne: Why I picked Kent to open up to, I honestly don’t know.

Maybe it was just in the moment. Maybe I was bursting with despair and he was just in the right place at the time. Or maybe on some level, because of working with him on different projects, I was aware of his take charge attitude and I was subconsciously screaming for help.

Maybe all of the above.

When you are in the middle of the hell we live in as we are being abused, our minds go into survivor mode. We may think we are being rational, we may think we are continuing our productive lives or hiding the effects of our situation, but the reality is we are not. 

In most situations, it affects our relationships with others, our productivity at work and our own reality/self esteem.

Some of us become so miserable or scared we try to reach out and ask others for help, or we stay silent and suffer and unfortunately, may end up dead.  Most are afraid to ask others for help, for a million different reasons.

Kent’s reaction is the most normal and real and to be honest, the ones we, as victims, are the most afraid of.  I was alienated and pushed further into isolation and hopelessness. Silently being relieved of my responsibilities just added to my doubt about myself and my feelings of hopelessness and isolation I was already feeling.

I had hoped for words of encouragement, someone with authority to help me find a solution, but what I got was the reaction you get from people who don’t know what to say and don’t want to get involved, much like when someone dies and you don’t know what to say or do.

It’s not a judgement about the person, it’s just a sense of uncomfortableness that people don’t like to feel, so they avoid.  It’s human nature.

Hopefully, this conversation will help someone help someone else.

I am safe now.  I am working on rebuilding my self-esteem and independence.  I still feel the effects of the trauma, but with daily work the good days are becoming more frequent than the bad.  Recovery from an abusive relationship is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, but it can be done with support, professional help and belief in yourself.

How do we support family and friends during their time of transition and healing? It all starts with caring and a conversation — an honest, heartfelt conversation.

It isn’t so much what you say, it is the emotional and empathic way you say your words.  If you don’t know what to say (like Kent), be sincere and say “I am not sure what to say or how to help you.  Can you tell me the best way to support you?”

This opens the door for an honest and caring conversation. 

Steps to HOPE will, in the near future, be offering a series of seminars on How to Support Victims of Abuse. Call the Steps to HOPE office (828-894-2340) for more information.

Kent Holden & Anne Moss