The song now playing is "Angie" by the Rolling Stones.


Disclaimer: I'm not a professional therapist. What follows is what I have learned from my personal experiences as a loved one of a survivor, from reading books and from talking to other loved ones as well as survivors. It is not meant as a substitute for therapy but simply a stopgap measure to give you an idea of what lies ahead. Healing from the effects of past abuse is not an easy task and it's often in the best interests of everyone involved to seek the assistance of a qualified and licensed therapist, or at the very least, a support group run by such.

Now What?

When we first find out someone we love is a survivor of abuse, there is often an initial shock or disbelief. Maybe even a tendency to wonder if the survivor is not exaggerating what happened, especially when the abuser is someone we know personally and like or who is thought highly of by others. We can point to newspaper stories that tell of false claims of abuse and how rampant it is becoming. I even had one survivor tell me that she got very upset when her therapist could tell her how she was feeling even though the therapist was not a survivor. When she asked how he knew, the therapist replied that he'd read all the books in school. The survivor asked how he knew she was even telling the truth about being abused if it was so easy to get all the signs, symptoms and emotions from a book. What was to stop someone from making it all up and acting out on their twisted fantasy? Unfortunately, there are those who do just that for many reasons ranging from revenge to a need for attention. This is sad because it makes it all that harder for true survivors to be taken seriously.

It is very important when you first discover a loved one has been abused that you believe them. (Even if it turns out later that it is made up— the vast majority of them aren't— the fact that they made it up is indicative of a deep need for help and counseling.) The survivor has placed their trust in you and has turned to you for help in their healing. Do not voice any doubts you might have to the survivor. It took a lot for them to open up to you and it won't take much for them to shut down again. To close the door they have opened, delaying or stopping their attempts to heal.

It's also important that you remain calm and do not go into a screaming rage. Many survivors are very afraid of raw emotions because they have had to suppress many of their own emotions for so long. If the abuse they suffered was in a violent context (a drunken father who molested them, for example, or a rape or violent beatings), screaming will only make them feel as threatened as they did when the abuse was happening. If a survivor reveals their abusive past to you, it is usually because the turmoil of emotions within them has gotten to the point where they must face them or perish (emotionally or even physically). They need to know they have a safe place to discuss issues. A place where they won't have to deal with your emotional turmoil as well.

If you're reading this page, you may have just found our your loved one is a survivor of abuse. Hopefully, you've gotten past the initial shock and want to know "Now what?" What can you do to help your loved one? What can you expect? How long will the healing take? When will things get back to normal? How can you stop their pain? The list of questions is probably endless. There have been many books written about all these questions, but books take time to read and sometimes we just want simple answers right now. Just to give us an idea of what to do next. The more detailed answers can wait. This page is an attempt to give some of those simple immediate answers.

What can you do to help your loved one?

Probably the two most important things you can do are to believe them and to listen to them. And I do mean listen. They may not want a discussion. They may not want to hear your point of view or feedback. They simply want to say what they have to say.

Believing: It took a lot of courage and strength to break the silence and to tell you. Most survivors struggle with the belief that the abuse was in some way their fault. Usually because their abuser has blamed them— "if you'd only behave, I wouldn't have to do this" or "if you didn't wear that dress, I wouldn't do this". They may believe that they are bad or dirty or disgusting to others because they were abused. That you will not want to be around them anymore because they're a survivor. If you do not believe them, because, for example, their abuser has such a wonderful, upstanding reputation, you are only adding to their feeling that it is their fault.

Listening: The rate at which they reveal the details of their abuse, especially if it was sexual abuse, MUST be their choice. Relating the painful and often humiliating details of their abuse is difficult and painful. Some survivors will never reveal those details and you must accept that. On the other hand, hearing those details may be shocking and painful to you. It may make you very angry. But it is important that you do not react to that anger in front of the survivor or take any action against the abuser(s) without the permission of the survivor. If you get hysterical or start yelling, your loved one will be less willing to relate those details to you.

While your anger is not aimed at your loved one, at this initial stage, your loved one can't make that distinction and will take your anger on themselves. You cannot act on your anger at your loved one's abuser through confronting the abuser. Such a confrontation must also be the choice of the survivor. Other family members might not know about the abuse and when or even if they find out must be in the control of the survivor.

Find some other healthy way, away from the survivor, to vent your anger. Control of their lives and feelings is one thing that all survivors lacked during their abuse. It is the one thing that they need to start rebuilding their life. Listening and not asking for details before they are ready to give them is giving them that control. Be sure they know that you are willing to listen when they are ready to talk, but that you will wait for them to tell you when they feel able to do so.

What can you expect?

Anything. And I do mean anything.

The loved one that you knew as a very gentle, loving individual who wouldn't harm a fly might suddenly turn into a raging individual who physically strikes out at anyone in arm's reach. If they were always the strong one that everyone turned to, they may now simply collapse themselves into their own pain, unable to make simple decisions on things like what clothes to wear to clean the house. If the memories of the abuse have come on through sudden recall, their world has just turned upside down and that turmoil is bound to manifest in their daily lives.

The return of memories or the acknowledgement of memories is the starting point of the healing journey. Many times, once these memories are in the conscious mind, they can be subconsciously triggered. When a survivor is triggered, often times it feels to them as if they are actually back in the abusive situation. They may literally see things right before them that are in reality from their past. Your face may suddenly transform into that of their abuser.

This can cause a wide range or reactions, from a screaming, hysterical fight for their life to falling onto the floor in a crying heap to a month long period of depression to denying that the abuse ever took place. Triggers can be anything. A song on the radio might trigger a memory of abuse. A smell, a sound, the way you say "Hello", the way you comb your hair, a certain time of year, the anniversary of a death, birth or the abuse (particularly if it is something like rape), a holiday, the end of school, a sporting event....

Finding out what triggers memories can be very difficult. It's not something that a survivor has conscious knowledge of for the most part. Suggest to your loved one that they keep a log of what triggers each memory. If they don't want to, keep one for yourself. If it's not possible to pinpoint the exact trigger, write down all the details of the time just before your loved one was triggered. What mood you were in. What mood s/he was in. What you were discussing. What time it was. What the weather was like. What cologne/perfume you had on. What clothes you were wearing. Whether you had your glasses on or not. What sounds were in the room. Where you were (ie, in the car, in the living room, at the movies, etc.) In time, a common denominator can usually be found.

Each survivor will deal with the healing process differently. And even then, how they deal with it will depend on where in that process they are. For some, the initial memories might cause a withdrawal into themselves because they do not know how to deal with the overwhelming emotions that are flooding them now. As time goes on and they become more comfortable with feeling those emotions, they may voice them more frequently, although not always at the appropriate person. They may suddenly become a ball of emotions that changes on what appears to be a whim. What brought a smile to their face one day might cause them to burst into tears the next. You have to learn to roll with the punches. To not take their mood swings as a personal attack on you. They are dealing with a lot of confusing emotions and half the time don't know what they are feeling or why they react any more than you do.

You have to be very careful here that you do not become a doormat or an enabler. Simply because your loved one acts out in a certain way in their pain and confusion, you must not become their punching bag. While it is not appropriate to retaliate in kind if, for example, they start hitting you or screaming at you, there is nothing wrong with doing what you can to protect yourself (without, if possible, harming him/her.) Gently point out to them that you are not their abuser and that you do not deserve to be the brunt of that anger.

You also cannot excuse inappropriate behavior simply because your loved one is a survivor. They must know what behaviors are unacceptable and what the consequences will be if that behavior is chosen. Then those consequences must be applied. It is acceptable to use the past abuse as an explanation, but when one starts using it as an excuse for inappropriate behavior, then a line has been crossed. For you to allow it to continue would be to enable them. There is the danger that such a relationship would become a co-dependent one, which isn't healthy for either of you.

In my humble opinion and my experience, probably the hardest of the effects of abuse to deal with is when the survivor expects the worst or sees things in the worst possible light. This is a survival tactic for almost everyone who has suffered a trauma— especially a repetitive trauma like abuse. Often times, it puts the loved one in between a rock and a hard place.

Let's take an example. A survivor might say, "I love you but I'm not good for you. You deserve better. We need to break up." Now, because they expect the worst, almost anything you say will be the wrong thing. If you say, "I don't care what you think I deserve, I know what I want and I want you! I don't want to break up!" they may see that as your attempt to control them or as you telling them they don't know what they're talking about or that you don't really love them because you don't care about their feelings.

On the other hand, if you say, "Well, if that's what you feel you need to do, I will respect your decision," they may see that as proof that you don't really care because if you did, you'd fight harder to keep them in your life. Or they're take it as proof that you agree with them: you DO deserve better and they're not good enough for you.

Or you could say, "Well, if that's what you feel you need to do, but you have to know that's not what I want," they may see it as an attempt to make them feel guilty or bad about themselves.

The level of frustration when dealing with a survivor can reach proportions you've never even imagined. You have to learn not to take any of it personally, which is a lot easier said than done.

But none of this really answers the question. Some of the more common stages of healing (all of which your survivor may not experience and not in any chronological order) are as follows:

  • Initial realization: Some survivors know that they have been abused, but they either dismiss the abuse or downplay it until their life gets so out of control that they can no longer deny the impact the abuse had on their lives.

    Others honestly have no memory of being abused until something triggers a memory. The reappearance of these memories can take time or it can be like a dam bursting and all the memories come pouring out at once.

    In either case, there can be a period of denial, intense anger, confusion and/or deep depression/despair. They may become withdrawn or they may go to the other extreme and throw themselves so much into activities that they don't have time to think.

  • Revelation: It takes a lot of courage for a survivor to reveal their abuse, even to themselves. To open up to another human being about what happened is utterly frightening. The survivor is facing many fears: fear that you will stop loving them when they reveal the abuse, fear that because they love you they will make you "bad" like they "made" those who abused them bad, fear that you too will start to abuse them (don't take this personally since for many survivors, their abuser was someone who said they loved them then proceeded to hurt them) and/or fear that you will leave as they start to heal.

    Revelation— even if only to oneself— is the first step on the path to healing. There might be doubts as to whether or not the survivor wants to continue to pursue the healing process. While that must be their decision, without some sort of resolution, it will be difficult for them to maintain a healthy relationship because of the depth and scope the effects of abuse have on a survivor's life.

  • Obsession: For many survivors, there is a period of time when their healing becomes almost an obsession. It is the first thing they think about when they wake up and the last thing they think about before going to sleep. It pervades their dreams during the night and their conversations during the day. Sometimes, this might get to the point where they become unable to function in a "normal" day— unable to work as they spend hours crying over memories, inability to make decisions as they remember past decisions that led to more abuse, or simply reading book after book on the healing process.

    During this time, it is particularly important that you, their loved one, make sure that you take care of yourself. Your needs in your relationship with the survivor become second fiddle if they are thought of at all. You may very well get to the point where you do not want to hear about the abuse anymore. You need to know that this is perfectly fine and that your loved one will have to find others to talk to about it while you take a break. If you succumb to guilt feelings at this point and stay when you want to leave (even if only for a few hours), you will begin to resent the survivor and start to avoid them. If you allow yourself time to refresh your own emotional needs, you will be better able to help them over the long run.

  • Confrontation: Not all survivors go through this stage and whether or not they ever confront their abusers MUST be their decision. You may be very angry at their abuser and may get very angry at the survivor for not wanting to confront them. But they need to make this decision and have your support on that decision, even if you don't agree with it. Not all survivors need to confront their abusers to heal. For some, confrontation is not possible (their abuser is dead, they don't know who raped them, etc.) but needed by the survivor. This can cause a lot of frustration and anger to both of you.
  • Depression/Despair: This is one area that may be revisited time and time again on this journey. How long it lasts depends on so many factors. Hours can turn to days can turn to weeks can turn to months. This can be particularly difficult for you, the loved one, since there is often a feeling of helplessness. You have to sit and wait until the survivor works through it. There might also be threats of suicide, which should be taken seriously, although care must be exercised not to let threats of suicide be used as a manipulation tactic. Remember that most survivors learned that no one was going to take care of them emotionally and have learned how to take care of their emotional needs by themselves, oftentimes by whatever means possible.
  • Pushing Away/Pulling Back: Many survivors will go through periods of time where they push you away from them emotionally and/or physically (cutting off contact, intimacy (if applicable), etc.), only to turn around and pull you back into their lives a short time later. The reasons can be many, from feelings of unworthiness to inability to trust. It can also be a test of your love— how often will you allow them to push you away and pull you back before you stop loving them? Will you fight for them and try to convince them to not end it? This is one area where you will have to set limits (which will be discussed later) or you will be emotionally destroyed.
  • Lack of intimacy: In romantic relationships, especially when the abuse was sexual, a survivor may go through periods where they cannot deal with physical intimacy. Some may "only" be unable to have sex but others may not be able to handle any physical contact with their partner. In some cases, this period can last for years.

    Sometimes, this period can come before the survivor has any memory of being abused. In fact, this lack of physical desire for intimacy with one's partner is what leads many couples to therapy, where the abuse is discovered. This may cause some survivors, especially in the early stages of their healing, to "blame" your desire for intimacy (and therefore, blame you) for the pain they are feeling. You need to remember that the blame they are placing on you is much like the blame a child places on a parent for "ruining" their lives by disciplining them.

    If you are a very sexually driven person, then you have to ask yourself if the lack of intimacy is something you can deal with. If not, then you need to figure out what to do about your relationship.

  • Letting go: This can involve either the survivor letting go of you as part of their healing process or of you letting go of the survivor as part of taking care of you.

    During the process of healing, the survivor will undergo many changes. Until the healing started, so much of how the survivor defined him/herself was dictated by the abuse that was suffered and their behavior was dictated by the coping mechanisms they learned that enabled them to survive. As the survivor heals, what was once an acceptable relationship might now become unacceptable. The reasons can be many.

    If you are the parent, sibling or other "parental-type" figure to a survivor, they may go through a period of blaming you for not stopping the abuse. In cases of incest, where family members maintain contact with the survivor's abuser and the abuse is hushed up for whatever reason, it may be too difficult for the survivor to maintain a relationship with those family members who still speak to the abuser. If you maintain a relationship with someone who refuses to believe the abuse took place, the survivor may not be able to maintain a relationship with you.

    If you are a partner of a survivor, the dynamics of your relationship with the survivor might too closely mirror those of the relationship in which the abuse took place. This is not to say you are abusing your partner, but perhaps you argue in the same manner as the abuser or your family interacts in the same way that the abuser's family interacted. Or it might be a co-dependent relationship— after all, each of us has our own issues to deal with in addition to those brought up by the abuse. Or it might be the need to experience life as a whole person free from any commitments for the first time in their life in order to discover what it is they really want from life.

    As difficult as it may be to think about, there are no guarantees that a relationship will survive the healing process. While the survivor may need to be free of you for a while, it does not necessarily mean the end of your relationship forever. It is important for partners especially to realize that the child that was abused is finally coming into his/her own, much as each of us who are not survivors did when we moved out of our parents' house for the first time. If given the freedom to see what's out there, they may realize that you are what they've wanted all along.

    The other side to this coin is your need to let go of the survivor to take care of your needs. While it often feels like abandonment to both the survivor and to you, and it sounds very selfish, you MUST take care of you first. You cannot fix the survivor. They must want to heal. If they stop their healing, or begin using their abuse as an excuse for unacceptable behavior, then you might need to let go of the survivor.

    We all have our limits as to what we can or cannot handle. To attempt to take on more than we can handle will only assure that not only will everyone be hurt, but any chance at salvaging any sort of relationship with the survivor will most likely be lost. When our limits are reached, to take on more only causes resentment and anger. There is nothing wrong with you saying "I've had all I can take right now" and walking away from the survivor. It is a very difficult and personal decision, and one that is not made lightly, but should be made free of guilt. The person you were in this relationship will be undergoing many changes. How deep and how profound those changes are depends on a lot of factors. It may be YOU who discovers that the healed person is not someone you choose to be in a relationship with anymore.

  • Grieving: There will most likely be a period of grieving during which the survivor must come to terms with all that was lost not only during the time the abuse took place but also before the healing started. For the loss of innocence as a child. For the loss of the ability to trust. For the loss of a parent/sibling/other family member in cases of incest. This can be particularly difficult for those who are older before they realize they were abused. When they look back at any failed relationships and see how the abuse affected that relationship, there can be a lot of grieving associated with the loss of those partners. And then, simply, for the loss of all the time when they were surviving in fear instead of living in joy and happiness.
  • Unexplained illness: Oftentimes, our emotions will manifest as illness. Butterflies in our stomachs is a good example: our stomach feels "fluttery" when we're nervous. Research is showing that trauma like abuse actually changes the brain chemistry and that some mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder, can actually be caused by the abuse.

    As with the lack of intimacy, often these unexplained illnesses can come before the abuse is remembered. And dealing with the illnesses can be what causes the memory of abuse to surface.

    Ailments like stomach and intestinal illnesses as well as headaches and body aches are not uncommon since, if an issue is not dealt with on an emotional or mental level, it will manifest in the physical body. One survivor of abuse had a doctor say, "If you don't deal with this issue, I'm going to have to keep cutting pieces of you out until there's nothing left to cut." That was after a third occurrence of cancer before the age of thirty. [Please note: I'm not suggesting that all illness means someone has been abused or that all cancer is caused by abuse.]

  • Self-destruction: This can take on many forms, from perfectionism to obsession with exercising to eating disorders to alcohol/drug abuse to self-mutilation (cutting, pulling out hair, ripping off finger-nails, burning oneself with cigarettes, etc.) to sabotaging relationships (having affairs, lying, etc.) to excessive risk taking. All of these serve two purposes:

    1. they "punish" the survivor, who often hates him-/herself because s/he feels as if s/he is to blame for the abuse
    2. they act as a safety valve for the survivor who feels his/her life and/or emotions are out of control.

    One of the things that all survivors share is that the abuse they suffered was a time in their life when they had no control over what happened to them. For this reason, many survivors are often "control freaks" because in their subconscious mind, loss of control equates to pain and suffering. Whether it is trying to do something perfectly or cutting oneself with a razor or sticking one's finger down one's throat, these are acts the survivor can control and in doing so, they get a sense of relief from the almost constant feeling of fear at loss of control.

    Unfortunately, this "benefit" is only temporary and after the fact, many survivors are filled with even more self-loathing (because they didn't do it perfectly or because they cut again or got drunk again) and a feeling of having even less control (because they can't make themselves perfect and they can't stop cutting). So the cycle continues....

How long will the healing take?

I don't know that there's ever an end to the healing, but for most, there is at least an end to the intensity of the emotions and a point at which the effects of the abuse no longer have control over their lives. A big factor in how fast the healing takes place is how deeply and how quickly your loved one is willing and able to delve into the process and the emotions that are surfacing, perhaps for the first time. No matter how willing they are, there will be times where they will simply be overwhelmed and need to step back, slow down and take it one day at a time.

Another important factor is how soon after the abuse did they receive help or support in their recovery. Research shows that children who get therapy and help with the abuse shortly after it happens are far less likely to suffer long-term effects from the abuse. Unfortunately, far too often the survivor doesn't get help until long afterwards, when the effects have had time to worm their way into the very thought patterns of survivors.

Just know that it is going to take time. It's not something that will likely be healed in a couple sessions with a counselor or a few long heart to heart talks with you. Memories are tricky things and oftentimes we can't control when they return. A lot will depend too on how long one has known about the abuse, how long it went on, how severe it was and what kind of support system the survivor had in place over the years. For those survivors who are also dealing with DID (dissociative identity disorder— what was formerly called multiple personalities), the healing process might be something that goes on for the rest of their lives.

In general, "healing" will take longer:

  • the longer the abuse went on
  • the more severe it was
  • the less support they got at the time
  • the closer they were emotionally to their abuser
  • the longer it's been between the end of the abuse and the start of their healing
  • the smaller their support network during healing

But again, these are just rules of thumb. Healing is an individual journey and some people heal faster from the effects of abuse just like some people heal faster from surgery than others.

When will things get back to normal?

Define normal. Things will never be the same, but that does not mean that they will be worse or that your relationship with the survivor will be any less fulfilling or rewarding. There will probably be major changes in your relationship with the survivor. Anything from how s/he dresses to how the two of you interact or even if you continue to interact. To expect the relationship to return to what it was before is to expect the survivor to stay the same as they were before the healing. This isn't healthy for either of you. With a lot of patience, love and understanding, your relationship with your survivor can not only survive but become stronger and more "equal".

How can you stop their pain?

Quite simply, you can't. This is something they ultimately have to face alone. You can be there with support and love and a shoulder to cry on, but you cannot take away their pain. It's like having a splinter that is deeply embedded. As long as it stays there, it's going to fester and cause them a lot of pain. And in order to get it out, they are going to experience a lot of pain as they have to dig deep to remove the last shreds of this splinter. Yet once the removal starts, there will come a time when the wound will heal. It may leave a scar and it may continue to hurt a little at times, but the pain will not be as overwhelming and as unbearable.

Setting Limits

This is probably the most difficult thing that a loved one of a survivor must do. Our first instinct is to do whatever is necessary to help the survivor to heal. The more we love them, the more eager we are to see the healing completed. We sacrifice our own well being in order to help the survivor. No matter what behavior they exhibit, we are prone to let it slide because they are under so much strain from dealing with such emotionally charged issues. No matter how unfair it is that the survivor takes out his/her anger and pain on us, we endure it, saying it was just as unfair that they were abused in the first place. No matter how inconvenient a call for help might be, we feel guilty for saying "No, I can't do that now". No matter how tired we are of hearing about our loved ones abuse, we feel guilty for asking them to find someone else to talk to this time. After all, why should we be able to walk away from dealing with this when our loved one cannot?

What is sometimes very difficult to see is that in NOT setting limits, we are doing our loved one a disservice.

  • When we do not have boundaries that they must respect, we are teaching them that boundaries for behavior are not necessary.
  • When we excuse their behavior because of the abuse in their past, we are teaching them that their past abuse is a valid excuse.
  • When we accept their angry outbursts, we are preventing them from facing the real cause of that anger and teaching them it is acceptable to hold others' responsible for a third party's actions.
  • When we put their needs ahead of our own, we are teaching them that they don't have to consider someone else's feelings or needs when attempting to have their own needs met.
  • When we do not speak up about what we consider unacceptable behavior, we are actually tacitly telling them it is acceptable.

But most importantly, when we are at the beck and call of a survivor twenty-four hours a day seven days a week fifty-two weeks a year, we are not teaching them how stand on their own two feet. We become a crutch for them to use, preventing them from developing the strength they need to stand on their own. They have been told so many times that they will never amount to anything. That they're not capable of making it on their own. That they are worthless and useless. That all the bad things that happen are their fault. Then, despite our best intentions, we reinforce those ideas in our loved one.

  • Every time we tell them, "If you need help, I'm here", the survivor may be hearing "WHEN you need help because you can't do it on your own, I'm here."
  • Every time we run to their rescue, we may be reinforcing their belief that they can't do it alone.
  • Every time we do for them what they can do for themselves, they may think we are telling them that someone will always have to take care of them because they're incapable of it.
  • Every time we accept their misdirected tirades, no matter how much it hurts, we may be reinforcing their belief that everything bad that happens is their fault.
  • Every time we excuse inappropriate behavior because of their past, we are reinforcing the idea that they don't know what's wrong or what's right— which can cause them to question whether they really were abused or in some way at fault for that abuse.

It's like teaching a baby to walk. If we are always holding their hand to prevent them from falling, they will never develop the sense of balance they need in order to walk on their own. In many ways, adult survivors of childhood abuse are very much like children learning to walk. We need to let them try it on their own— and fall if they have to— in order to develop the inner strength to walk through life on their own two feet, not dependent on anyone for anything.

Because some part of an adult survivor stopped "maturing" when the abuse started, during the healing, as that "inner child" matures, they may revert to childish behavior. As with all children, limits must be set. Limits provide a sense of security— if one knows where the edge is, one can avoid inadvertently stepping over it. At the same time, the consequences for passing those limits must be clear and appropriate for the "violation". And finally, they must be flexible enough to meet changing circumstances as the healing progresses.

It is important that these limits be set up early in the healing process. The longer one waits to set them up, the harder it is to hold to them and the more difficult it will be to get the survivor to recognize and respect the boundaries since they are used to having none at all. The boundaries don't have to be complicated or difficult. Something like:

  1. No calls after ten p.m. or before 7 a.m. If you feel that you are an imminent danger to yourself or others, you will call a suicide prevention line at _______.
  2. No discussions of abuse issues if you have been drinking alcohol in any quantity.
  3. Every other Saturday is my day. You will not contact me to discuss abuse issues. If you need to talk, you will call _______.

It doesn't have to be long, it just has to meet your needs, both practical and emotional. If limits are not set, the survivor may continue to do things that are more and more destructive not only to his/herself but to the relationship. They need someone to say, "That is enough. I love you too much to let you do this. If you insist on doing it, you will do it without me around." The survivor needs limits and you need limits for the relationship to work and for you to be of any real help to the survivor in their healing process.

It is also very important to realize that limits are NOT set up to control a survivor's behavior— because that lack of control might in itself be seen as abuse. You must make it very clear that the reason for your limits is your own health and protection.

In the example of limits above, the reasons could be:

  1. You need your sleep to go to work— so no calls.
  2. Alcohol affects the memory and the survivor may not remember things that were said or agreed upon. Then when you act on that agreement, the survivor feels as if you're taking control of (ie, abusing) them. In order to take away personal judgment about how inebriated the survivor is, NO alcohol will be consumed.
  3. You need time to unwind from the stresses of your work and of dealing with the abuse issues. This time is important for your OWN health and sanity.

Make sure you explain how YOU are protected by the limits set in your relationship with your survivor. If they still balk at the suggestion of limitations, then perhaps you need to reconsider whether or not it is healthy for you to continue to be in the relationship.