You Are Not Alone: Support Groups for Survivors of Domestic Abuse

by Virginia Brady

Joan puts the finishing touches on the bridal bouquet that will be carried down the aisle that afternoon. Her floral business is thriving and, for the moment, she forgets the terror she feels as six o’clock approaches. In her shop, Joan’s self-assurance is obvious. The security she feels and radiates crumbles, however, in the face of her husband’s emotional and physical abuse.

As she closes her shop for the day, Joan prepares to pull an imaginary protective shield over herself. She feels the panic and uncertainty that has been a hallmark of her life for the last two years. It is the terrible loneliness, though, that envelops her. She is sure that she is the only woman in the world whose dreams of a loving relationship and a happy marriage have been shattered.

Within the last decade, organizations committed to helping survivors of domestic abuse have been chipping away at this terrible secrecy. Magazine and television commercials and popular talk shows give daily notice to those who are living in houses of terror that they are not alone. Most communities fund agencies whose particular function is to provide safe havens for women and children whose lives and spirits are in danger.

Women’s support groups are often part of the standard menu of services within these agencies. Participation in support groups can be a key to unlocking the loneliness, shame, and isolation that surround households threatened by domestic violence. Support groups fight this isolation on a number of different levels.

  • They connect women who are experiencing or have experienced violence in their relationships and give them a safe, confidential forum in which to speak about the unspeakable and draw comfort from those who understand.
  • They provide the acceptance necessary for women who are unsure of their next step, even if that next step involves remaining with the abuser.

Neil Jacobsen and John Gottman, in their landmark study of domestic violence, describe support groups as a place where women can explore alternatives in lifestyle and life goals. An atmosphere of respect, safety, and empathy rekindles the resiliency, strength, and inventiveness of women who have coped in relationships that are demeaning and, in some instances, life-threatening.

It is important that the structure of support groups encourage the natural strengths of women survivors of domestic violence. Women who are considering participation in a support group should be able to get information on the structure and the style of the group and the credentials of the facilitator. Generally, support groups:

  • Are held in a location that is safe and not publicized.
  • Have participants agree to keep discussions confidential. This allows women to feel safe about disclosing personal information.
  • Respect the silence of participants. No one should feel pressured to speak if they would rather keep silent.
  • Have an empathetic facilitator who has training in leading groups and uses materials that will encourage discussion and growth.

Information about groups and other services for survivors of domestic violence are available at the following sites:

Whatever decisions an individual woman may make about her own future, the recognition that other women are available as sounding boards and supportive allies in that decision-making process may allow her to see other possibilities for herself and, with time and continuing support, to realize a brighter future.


Jacobson, N., & Gottman, J. (1998). When men batter women: New insights into ending abusive relationships. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Date published: 4/27/00
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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