Two rules of thumb when you support your daughter
- Firstly, she is already being controlled by her partner, so some of your instinctive reactions might seem controlling to her and will drive a wedge between you and send her more deeply into dependency on him. Therefore it is not really what you say to her that’s important, it is how you support her that matters.
- Secondly, find ways to support her that keep the doors open and that let her know you are there for her in the long run. Offering a loving, kind compassionate, concerned and non-judgemental presence creates trust.
Here are some suggestions to support your daughter
Keep the doors of communication open:
- Let her talk
- Just listen
- Be empathetic
- Let her get things off her chest
- Ask questions aimed at helping her hear her own story out loud
- She is not stupid — women gain deep insights when someone just listens without any agenda
- Don’t try to convince her of anything
- She needs you to believe her
- She needs to trust you and she needs to make sense of her situation in her own way and in her own time
- Tell her that you are there for her when she is ready
- Create a welcoming safe atmosphere for her to come to (even if this is only for one hour, one day, or a one minute phone call)
Keep conversations casual:
- Chat to her about what you’re doing in your life
- Chat about funny things
- Chat for short times
- Chat about general stuff — nothing to do with your daughter’s relationship
Things to say to her:
- I’m afraid for your safety
- I’m afraid for the impact his abuse is having on the children
- Research shows that many boys who witness this kind of abuse copy their fathers and grow up to abuse women and many girls learn to be doormats
- The ways he behaves towards you are not your fault
- You do not deserve to be abused
- You deserve better than this
- Use praise to build up her healthy behaviours and ignore the behaviours you see as destructive
- Use praise that connects her personal worth with qualities she’s using to survive
- I know you want to help him because of the weaknesses and vulnerability you notice in him, but research shows that the pattern of coercive control only ever gets worse
- Lots of women stay because of a compelling sympathy for his vulnerabilities. Women say they don’t want to hurt him, so they choose to stay and suppress what they really want. It is okay to leave a man who refuses to take responsibility for his abusive and controlling behaviours.
- Anecdotal evidence shows that when you draw this line in the sand, it is only then that he might start to take responsibility for his behaviours and get help to change
- Abuse is not respect and it is not love
Ask questions to try to draw her out:
- It must be confusing for you living with a man you love who abuses you, what is it like for you?
- How can I support you?
- When he calls you names how does that affect you?
- If he continues to treat you this way, what do you predict for your future in 5 years time? And for your children’s future?
- I notice you believe the words he says, but you seem to separate that from the reality of his behaviours. Would you like support to deal with that?
Safety always comes first:
- Check with her when it’s a good time to call
- Hang out with her at a safe place
- Ask if she’d like to brainstorm a safety plan to use while she’s in the relationship and one if she ever decides to leave
- Keep yourself safe, because some men abuse anyone who supports your daughter, and many men will abuse you if you confront him.
- If she abuses you, assert yourself and make your boundaries clear to her.
I make the following suggestion with a vehement warning:
You could suggest good books you’ve read that might give perspectives outside the perpetrator’s mindset. However, I must warn you that if the controlling man discovers her reading anything about domestic violence and power and control, it is common for those men to hit or otherwise abuse her and it is common for him to up his game and isolate her from you even further. And a second warning: If you offer reading materials to your daughter, she herself might refuse to take the information, and the offer may drive a wider chasm between you.
Remind yourself that manipulative mind games lead to a double bind:
- She loves him and he cares for her AND he despises and disrespects her and abuses and controls her.
- He flexes his muscles, puffs out his chest and clamours for continual power over her AND he regularly reveals his vulnerability, anxiety, shame, weaknesses and fears. This causes many women to try to not want to hurt him and to want to help him. He uses this mix of power and powerlessness to keep her hooked in.
- She entered the relationship with hopes and dreams AND she still has hopes and dreams that the relationship will work.
- She used to trust him and she used to trust you — remember the ways controlling men manipulate and distort her belief systems.
- Your daughter is experiencing the same impacts as those experienced by prisoners of war, people who have been sucked into cults, and slaves who are whipped into shape.
- Unfortunately it is not straight forward trying to encourage her to leave. The daughter you used to know is still there. It is a natural survival strategy for anyone experiencing coercive control to tuck away large chunks of themselves in order to survive the abuse.
- She trusts you AND he’s played mind games aimed at making her not trust you.
- She goes through stages in making sense of the abuse — check out this series of blogs to help you understand her processes:
No matter how much control he has over your daughter — full control over her is never complete…. there is hope
Young women controlled by their partner struggle between believing in their own voice – and believing in his voice. She switches back and forth – as demonstrated in this picture of the young lady and old woman. Notice how it’s extremely difficult to see both women at the same time. Women describe not being able to hold tight to their own voice. Empowerment entails a long process of reclaiming her own voice, reclaiming her intuition, re-developing the ability to critique what’s been going on, and the development of independent thoughts that differ from his. Your aim is to let her know you are always there for her no matter what. And that you love her no matter what. Her rejection of you might mean you are not able to tell her that directly, but it can be indicated to her just by your presence. Or, depending on your intuition — you can say it directly and explicitly.
Getting your lost daughter back might take much longer than you hoped
Unfortunately all of these suggestions for supporting your daughter may appear as if they are not working. One mother told me that when she confronted her daughter, her daughter:
“vehemently denied everything, said she was happy, accused us of having it in for her husband and judging her marriage, and mostly refused even to hear our reasons for concern, so it was all very difficult.”
Watching your daughter suffering is painful in the extreme. But don’t give up hope. Many women have told me that just one thing that someone said to them months or years before had made the difference to them being able to eventually seek a way out of the relationship! Planting one small seed can make a very big difference. Some seeds take time to sprout. Seeds need the right nourishing conditions. You can be one person who offers those nourishing conditions. For many mothers you have to take care of yourself, have clear boundaries, know your limits, and seek support for yourself. If you have given all you can give and you know you’ve fully informed your daughter and extended your hand one too many times, you might need a huge dose of self-compassion and to stop providing active support. You have every right to step back and leave the door open when your daughter decides for herself to return, and you have every right to close that door if your health is being impacted detrimentally.