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Unsolicited Advice: Don't Abandon Your Friends in Abusive Relationships

Recently I was having a frank discussion with a close friend about someone in our social circle we were worried about. I haven’t seen her in a bit in person, and my close friend and I had noticed that her online communications were turning dark lately. She seems to be caught up in an organization that is bordering on a cult at this point. I’m not talking about MAGA or Hillary supporters. Not some kind of political cult of personality. I’m talking about genuine, bonafide cult that looks to be in its early stages but is already causing her to exhibit some concerning behaviors.

She has slowly begun to cut longtime friends out of her life, while spending more and more time with this budding cult leader. She won’t take calls from concerned friends. Sometimes she repeats the same mantra as her cult leader/friend over and over and over again on social media. She is increasingly physically isolated and seems more and more irritable. Her online persona seems more and more combative every day. She can’t seem to recognize that she’s drifting away from the people who care for her, and when someone points that out, they become the enemy.

My friend is not the only person I’ve seen fall into isolation after falling in with the wrong person. I’ve known several women who have found themselves stuck in abusive relationships. It’s always the same – for the woman seduced by a cult or a woman seduced by a man. At first it is love and rainbows and passion. The “lovebomb” phase. Then it morphs into something more sinister, and like a frog slowly boiling in a pot, the woman doesn’t realized she is in danger until it’s too late. Then she must disentangle herself both financially, emotionally, and sometimes even professionally. It is truly a Herculean act for some women to rescue themselves from an abuser. By the time she’s ready to leave, she’s already cut out everyone in her life. She’s alone, just like her abuser intended.

I tell you this because perhaps you have someone in your life like this, someone who has entered a relationship with a person or organization and begun pulling away from you. Maybe, like my friend, she seems to be changing and not in positive ways. Maybe she’s isolating, maybe she’s rejecting you right now and that hurts. Maybe she’s making terrible life decisions that hurt you, hurt others, but worst of all, hurt herself. Maybe you’ve told yourself that you wash your hands. You won’t chase her down anymore. You won’t be the only one trying. You refuse to waste any more time worrying about her if she’s going to continue to abandon everyone around her who cares for her.

I get that. It feels hurtful when someone you love appears to abandon your circle of trust. But I’m here to tell you, beg you, not to push that person too far away from you. She may not return your calls. She may drop weird posts on Twitter or vague posts on Facebook. She may even rage at you for even suggesting she’s in trouble, or not thinking clearly. It may hurt.

But don’t push her away.

There’s nothing you can do to force her to pick up the phone, but you can stay in her orbit as much as possible. Leave a voicemail once in a while, send an email, pop in on one of her crazy posts. Let her know you’re there, you see her, and you haven’t abandoned her.

Because one day she’ll need you. One day, when she’s bruised and broken and looking around at her life, she’ll suddenly realize that she’s left behind all the people who could help her. She’ll hate herself for it. She’ll cry, but worse than that, she’ll probably stay way longer than she should. She will need to know that at least one person hasn’t completely cut her off; that there is at least one person out there she can make a swift, secret cry for help to in her hour of desperation. She will need to know that there is at least one person out there who won’t shame her or make her feel like an idiot, and who will only offer help.

She will need you. So, as tempting as it is, don’t throw up your hands in frustration and wash your hands of her. Express your feelings to others, but determine to make sure she knows you’re there and you won’t judge her.

You could save her life one day.

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