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This year… it happened to yet another one of my friends.

She’s brilliant, accomplished, beautiful.
The trifecta of admirable feminine qualities.
But still, nobody warned her…

She met him one Friday night at a Bible study group. She hadn’t been intending to go, but later she wondered if the reason she went anyway was because she was meant to meet him? #Godthing

He was tall, handsome, magnetic.
He didn’t mind name-dropping about his impressive career.
As the bible study leader, he also made a point to invite her back. #charming

sarah+mcdugal+blog+author+abuse recovery+coach+narcissism+abuse+friendsShe saw him again at church. They talked more and hung out with mutual friends. Church members commented that they looked like they belonged together. He texted and flirted, and rearranged Bible study group to better suit her schedule. When the subject of sexual boundaries came up in the study discussion, he looked directly at her while talking. They spent more time together, went on dates. He joked about buying her a house. The electricity was undeniable. She was falling for him, and falling hard. #fairytale

But as the months passed, things started to seem conflicted. At Bible study, he seemed vocally passionate about God. At church, he led out in testimony time. But his social media feeds told a different story. A visual story that looked a lot more like blatant hedonism than surrendered humility. Words and actions failed to add up. #confusing

In stark contrast with the man he seemed to be while leading Bible study, there were a string of other women, substances, entertainment. An attitude of disrespect and entitlement. Assumptions that boundaries were meant to be crossed. Her questions about these apparent inconsistencies were met with a range of responses — from feigned desire for change to defensive frustration to hostile projection. #abusive

She prayed for him.
She wrestled with God.
She counseled with friends.

She cut it off and walked away… chest aching with the realization that despite her years of experience and intuition she’d been temporarily duped by a shiny facade. Smoke and mirrors simulating spirituality where no depth of character truly existed. #heartbreak

sarah+mcdugal+coach+friends+author+speaker+abuse+advocate+blogMore months passed.
Slowly she healed.
Her joy returned.

One day, she gathered the courage to speak to her pastor. “You know,” he admitted, “that first time I saw you guys sitting together in church… I thought one or the other of these two is going to end up leaving our church. I knew some things about his past, and I wondered if I should have warned you.” #infuriating

She felt deeply disappointed and utterly betrayed.
Someone had known she was walking into a disaster, and said nothing.
Someone could have warned her, but stayed silent.

We talked about that for a while, she and I.
About why…

Why do the people who know something most often sit back and watch the pain unfold?

What psychological barrier, especially in a society that seems to know no other barriers, keeps those silent who could spare someone from the pain of yet another narcissistic abuser? #bystanders

I’m sure I don’t know all the reasons, but here are a few I’ve seen over and over:

  • they’re afraid you’ll “shoot the messenger” — few are brave enough to risk the wrath of a friend or acquaintance
  • they’re afraid their concerns are misplaced — maybe it really was the last girl’s fault, maybe they misunderstood the story
  • they’re afraid to trust their own instincts — when their gut tells them something is “off” but they have no physical proof
  • they’re afraid to be seen as judgmental — what if the person really HAS changed? maybe it’ll all work out this time?
  • they’re afraid you won’t believe them — and then they’ll have worked up all that courage for nothing in the end
  • they’re afraid you’ll tell other people — which means it might get back to the person they’re trying to warn you about
  • deep down, they’re afraid that they’re actually right — and they’d rather pretend that monsters don’t exist in their social circle/church family/work environment or wherever this is happening.

Notice the common thread here? #Fear.

People keep quiet because they’re afraid. And when fear reigns, entitlement runs high and accountability runs dry.

Fear is what abusers count on — plus cultivating sympathy and convincing their audience that they really do want to change, regardless of whether it ever actually happens.

Fear is what allows abusers to operate unchecked — the charming facade keeps onlookers confused and worried about being disbelieved if they speak up.

Fear is the abuser’s currency of freedom to keep moving from person to person — because who wants to keep re-living the trauma in order to protect someone else?

But here’s the thing, true friends don’t let fear hold them hostage from the truth. Staying silent is not loving your friend well. Silence ultimately makes you complicit in the abuse.

Friends don’t let friends date abusers.
Or narcissists.
Or addicts.
Or liars.

Not without saying something.

Should you go around just telling your friends what to do with their love life? No.
Can you force your friends to stay away from someone who’s outright bad for them? Nope.
Does that mean you should sit back, stay silent, grab popcorn and watch those friends self-destruct? No, no, and NO.

sarah+mcdugal+coach+friends+author+speaker+abuse+advocate+blogNext time you see a friend you care about getting involved with someone you wouldn’t be thrilled about dating your own child, how can you avoid being the pseudo-friend silently watching them head for heartbreak?

Here’s your simple three-step formula on how to #lovewell when someone’s headed for relationship trauma:

  1. Say something. Speak the truth, even if it’s just what your gut instinct is saying. Preface it with something like, “I trust you to make your own decisions, but I can’t NOT tell you what I know/sense/feel about this person/situation/dynamic. Please know that I love you enough to have this tough conversation because I really don’t want to see you hurt.”
  2. Stick around. They may need some time to figure it out, to watch the patterns develop, to pray and ask for wisdom, to do some due diligence and research what’s really going on. That’s okay — because remember, you’re speaking truth as you see it, not forcing them to jump to conclusions.
  3. Show empathy. Be a nice human even when you’re proven right… don’t gloat. Don’t rub it in. Empathize with the heartbreak that naturally accompanies devastated dreams. Show kindness. Do your happy dance in private, if you need to.

It’s really not that hard, even if it’s scary. You can do it, I promise.

Because having some courage now, means that later there’s less chance of them sitting there staring at you and wondering “why on earth didn’t somebody WARN ME?”

And that’s worth it.

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