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Abusive relationships are a taboo subject, despite the fact that they are relatively.common. "Abuse is an issue that brings about an element of shame, therefore a lot of people do not want to discuss it. When your friend is in an abusive relationship, knowing how to navigate the situation can be.complicated," says Nomkhosi Gama, a counsellor in Durban. "The difference between going about it in the right or wrong way can sometimes mean the difference between life and death." One of the most.common questions asked when it.comes to abusive relationships is: "Why do people stay in them?" She explains that the reasons can be as varied as the different types of abuse. "People have many reasons for staying in abusive relationships. Some of them include the fear of the abuser, being alone or financially stranded, the belief that you will never find love again, being ashamed of divorce, etc," she says. While it may be frustrating for you as a friend or family member to watch a loved one go through abuse, the extent to which you can help is limited. "Most people try to help by getting involved. Many tell them to leave, thinking that it is a simple solution. But, in reality that is not the case," she explains. HELPING A MEND IN NEED Zukiswa Dlamini shows ways in which you can help a friend who is in an abusive relationship.FRIEND OR FOE Even though your gut reaction would be to encourage your friend to leave an abusive relationship, it is important to recognise that how you go about doing this will either leave them feeling empowered or more powerless. Avoid the need to tell them what to do. Instead, listen to them and find out where they stand on the matter. "The knowitall advice that people give often makes abuse victims feel worse about their situation. No one wants to hear that they are foolish for staying; they already know that their situation is not ideal, so repeating that doesn't help," Nomkhosi warns. One of the.common mistakes people make when their friend is in an abusive relationship is to get angry. "It can get emotionally exhausting dealing with the same story over and over again. But, as a friend, getting angry and cutting out your friend can be extremely dangerous. Abusers like to isolate their victims. So, when you 'drop' that friend, she is more alone in the abuse than before. That is what most abusers want," she explains. It is important to keep in mind that abuse victims are going through a lot, and need support in order to stand a chance of leaving that relationship one day. "Leaving is also not simple. Many women are killed when they try to leave abusive relationships, so saying 'just leave' is not real advice," she adds. A LISTENING EAR Listening without having the need to interfere is something that many people struggle with. One of the effects of abuse, be it physical, mental or emotional, is having your selfesteem negatively affected. "One of the best things you can do for an abused friend is to listen," Nomkhosi advises. "Many abused people are not heard. Instead of projecting your own judgements and opinions, try to listen." Another way to help is to be a source of support. You can do this in various ways, including getting them out of the house so that they can see that there is more to life, helping with the kids and giving them the space they need. "Because many abusers are manipulative, I often suggest that people do not approach them directly. Doing so can put your friend in even more danger because the abuser will punish them for telling you what is happening," she warns. Abuse is.complicated and hurts many people, including children. So, intervening can save lives, but only when done correctly. Seeking professional help is always something to consider because you aren't equipped to handle matters of this nature. At GET HELP South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) Call 011 262 6396 or visit sadag.org Elim Clinic (Drug Abuse Treatment Centre) Call 011 975 2951 or visit elimclin.co.za RELATIONSHIP ADVICE Here are experts who can help you and your friend to navigate abuse better. The Family and Marriage Association of SA (FAMSA) Call 011 788 4784/5, 011 788 4737/4739 and 011 975 7106/7 or visit famsa.org.za SADAG Police and Trauma Line Call 0800 20 50 26 LifeLine (Trauma counselling) Call 0861 322 322 or visit lifelinejhb.org.za People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) Call 011 642 4345 or visit powa.co.za Tips to help you support your friend in the right way. Be a source of support instead of being another voice of judgement. Keep an eye on what is happening because abused people can hide a lot of things. Accept that even though you are concerned, the final decision is not up to you. Fight with the abuser; many of them go to great lengths to harm anyone who stands in their way. Call the victim names or shame them. That, too, is abuse. Ignore your gut. If something feels wrong, there might indeed be a problem. Think that abuse only happens to certain people; it happens across classes, races and income brackets.