Helping without burnout, or condescension
December 4, 2018 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I am housing a homeless friend and trying to figure out boundaries for all parties involved, including myself. She's been with me for a little over a month.

A few months ago, a friend who I met through our mutual involvement in activism began confiding in me about the domestic violence she was experiencing at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. I took her to get a restraining order, which helped, but honestly her problems are much, much beyond the scope of any single government or nonprofit agency or organization to help her.

She is formerly incarcerated and a lot of the usual options are closed to her because of her record. However, she is sober and committed to remaining out of jail.

A little over a month ago, her abusive ex-boyfriend had her evicted from her housing. So I took her in, and now, obviously, I'm having second thoughts.

It's not her staying with me that I object to. There are many days when I think I wouldn't mind helping her out indefinitely-- where she respects my time and space and boundaries.

Then there are the other times, when she unloads a level of personal trauma I'm not equipped to handle on me. (I am not her therapist and what I'm talking about is beyond the level you would ask of a friend.)

Or when keeps me awake until 2 AM playing music or talking on the phone, and I think to myself, I cannot handle this anymore.

(I asked her to stop doing that. She respected that boundary for a while.... and has now abruptly stopped respecting it.)

I also wonder if I'm disrespecting her agency by helping her out this much. I loaned her a bit of money and regret that decision-- I don't plan to cross that line again. I also regret getting her a job application somewhere I also work and speaking with my manager about hiring her on because she didn't follow up with any of it.

I have a tendency to "over help" and wind up overburdened, burned out, and resentful. Yes, I am in therapy.

But I also have a new appreciation for how difficult life is for the very, very poor. It's tempting to tell her she needs to get a job. Ok... well, BUT. Her phone is rarely turned on because she can't pay the bill. (I don't want to pay the bill for her.) She can't get to the interview because she doesn't have a car and can't afford a bus ticket. (Ok, I can pay for a bus ticket or drive her if I'm not working.) She is very obviously mentally ill.

Here are my sticking points:

1. I NEED some alone time. Or at least I can't entertain her or keep her company every second I'm in the apartment. And she has to stop telling me the same stories over and over again, all of which are full of trauma and are absolutely gut-wrenching to listen to.

2. I need her to get a job, or at least be looking a little harder than she is. I KNOW it's hard. I know she has SO MUCH stacked against her. In a perfect world, I would have enough cash to put her up in her own apartment for as long as she needed, to heal from all the horrible things that have happened to her. We do not live in that world. We live in my studio apartment which is really, really not big enough for two people.

3. Really just point number one, over again. It feels easier to enforce other, more tangible boundaries. It's easier to say, "I can't loan you money again," or "no, your boyfriend can't come over," than to say, "I can't listen to you tell the story of how your friend died in your arms one more time" or "I know how your ex-boyfriend hurt you, because I was there and I saw you after he gave you a black eye."

I really, really feel for her, but I can't keep absorbing her emotions and experiences like this or I will stop functioning. And I have to keep functioning because I am the one working and paying our bills.

I don't know how to tell her, I can give you direct material support, or I can give you emotional support, but not both at the same time. It's one or the other, because I'm stretched to my limits.

I'm planning on reaching out more to our little activist community because the main thing that would help this is if I had more support.

I don't know. I'm bringing this to Ask MeFi. How do I enforce my boundaries? Or at least maintain my own sanity? I think I'm fine with everything until some other stressor from the rest of my life catches up with me and I would suddenly give my left arm for a few hours to process my feelings, alone.

I can feel myself doing the terrible maladaptive thing I do, which is lose myself in other people's lives until my own life is a wreck too. (While all this was happening I was fired from a job and I... don't think that's a coincidence. I've since found a new job.)

Anywa, AskMe, do your thing. Please Advise.
posted by coffeeand to Human Relations (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Definitely ask your activist community to help. Monetarily, pulling strings, getting her therapy, giving her lifts, listening to her. You are the point person doing important work and your community should be supporting you. Make sure they know how hard it is. Show them this question.
posted by Mistress at 2:01 PM on December 4, 2018 [12 favorites]


Additionally I commend your lack of blame here and your honest accounting of your and her needs. You are full of compassion. But individuals cannot supply the lack that is caused by structural inequality and violence. We can’t save people as individuals, that’s why we need systemic change. You are not a failure for not being able to heal her, and you won’t be a failure if you need to put her out of your home to save your own life. As a community your activist network can maybe shake out some systemic and charitable help from agencies and its collective pockets. But even if she fails, or falls back into abuse or jail, you will not have failed. You will still have helped. It is so so hard but we all must come to terms with our awful and tragic powerless in the face of a horrific and violent system.
posted by Mistress at 2:04 PM on December 4, 2018 [56 favorites]


I think you need a set of House Rules and a house mate contract that's renewable every 6 weeks.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:10 PM on December 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


Is she on Medicaid? If so, is there a day treatment (I don't mean for the addicted) program she could get in?

Is there a clubhouse mental health program where you are?

That could really help.
posted by jgirl at 2:11 PM on December 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


My partner recently was in this situation. Two things that I learned from it:
  1. Just because the rest of your community isn't doing as much, that doesn't mean you need to do more. You are allowed to say "I can help in these ways and that's it." If other people don't step up to fill in the gaps, that doesn't obligate you to increase your contribution — it means your community isn't able to fully support this person, and it's time to be honest about that.
  2. Alone time is absolutely a need — and, even more than other needs, we are very strongly socialized against asking for it directly. There's this idea that if you have "good social skills" and you want someone to stop talking to you, you have to make it happen by nonverbally signalling disinterest, or by walking away, and you're never allowed to say flat-out "I need quiet and solitude right now." But if someone is in your space who isn't responding to those nonverbal signals, it is essential to preserve your sanity to be able to violate that norm and say flat out, "Please be quiet" or "Please let me have the kitchen to myself for a half hour" or whatever thing it is that you need. That doesn't make you someone with bad social skills, it makes you someone who's direct and straightforward — and if the alternatives are "get evicted" or "be told to be quiet sometimes," most people would prefer to be told to be quiet.

posted by nebulawindphone at 2:12 PM on December 4, 2018 [8 favorites]


Do you have a lease, a contract, a rental agreement, anything? Does your landlord know she's staying there? Do the laws in your area mean that she already has tenant rights?

If you are still at a point where you can get her to leave without this turning into a drawn-out legal nightmare, you should do so immediately. Your own situation (studio apartment, recently fired) seems too precarious to be able to take this on without imperiling your own wellbeing. You already know that you make bad choices "overhelping" people, so here is your detached internet stranger-friend telling you, you clearly have a good heart and the best of intentions, but you need to look out for yourself and give her notice that she needs to move out.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:12 PM on December 4, 2018 [25 favorites]


Is there a women's shelter in or near your community?
posted by Grandysaur at 2:18 PM on December 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


A google voice number would allow her to receive and make calls while on wifi, and allow for voicemail, so actual phone service is not as critical.

Since it is crucial that you get a good nights sleep every night, put up a wall clock with a sign "Silent Time is 10:30 pm to 7 am" and lay down the consequences if the rule is broken for anything but an immediate life threatening emergency.
posted by Sophont at 2:30 PM on December 4, 2018 [7 favorites]


Regarding the need for alone time -- which, I agree, is absolutely a valuable and legitimate need and not something you should feel guilty at all for needing -- one thing that might help would be coming up with particular spaces that she will go at particular times of the day, without fail, so you know you will have those times to yourself. She will have to do this as a precondition of being able to stay with you. For instance, perhaps she will be at the library or a local park until 6:30pm every evening, or from 8pm-9:30pm, or for every Saturday afternoon, or whatever. Get this written down and signed by both of you, and agree to revisit it every N weeks to make sure it's still working for you.

I think you should also agree on a phrase that you can utter which means that she needs to stop emotionally unloading on you ("Enough! I'm all full!"). Tell her when you have this conversation that you support her but you just cannot be her therapist, and if this continues she will have to find some other housing because this is unsustainable. You will probably have to deploy the phrase and be ruthlessly committed to just walking away after you do so, but if you do, that should cut down this behaviour considerably.

It will be hard (for you, psychologically) to get yourself to ask her for these things but I think both are really necessary to preserve your own health and to clearly set and enforce your own boundaries. You are doing a great job here at understanding your needs and balancing those with your own empathy, so I am sure you have the toolset to do this. You can also look at this situation as an excellent opportunity for practicing and developing your boundary-setting skills further. I promise you that once you do this you will feel better about the situation. And if she doesn't follow through on her part of the agreement, you will feel less guilty about whatever has to happen as a consequence: she is an adult too. Also, I suspect that getting out of the house (particularly if she can find something regular to go to) will probably be good for her too.
posted by forza at 2:38 PM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


The MeFi There is Help Wiki has links for worldwide domestic violence resources. I'd look into finding her a place in a shelter near you, on the basis she fled domestic violence and is essentially now sofa surfing as a result (even if she's not literally on your sofa, she doesn't have permanent housing). The refuge would then be able to plug her in to whatever other resources are available in your area in terms of financial aid, job hunting, sobriety, etc. I know you say her problems are beyond what a single government organisation or charity can do, so let them hook her up with multiple organisations that can help her. If it's beyond a single organisation, it's definitely beyond a single individual (you)!

Then you can breathe out and just be her friend.
posted by penguin pie at 2:40 PM on December 4, 2018 [14 favorites]


It sounds like the foundational issue here is mental illness--while not the total cause of all the problems, it is surely a major contributor to each. More than anything, I would try to see if there is any kind of treatment available for her.

But that is a long-term amelioration project. In the meantime, you need to have a conversation with her laying out your expectations. You can't really tell her to get a job, but you can say that you can only afford to let her stay in your apartment without paying [$specific amount] rent for [x specific additional amount of time]. You must also lay out clear and specific expectations re: quiet hours in the apartment and re-directing emotional support needs to whatever kind of mental health treatment the two of you can find for her. If she can't do those things, she can't stay.

You seem to be having trouble acknowledging your own needs as worthwhile, and are starting to fall back a little on some of the BS rationalizations society offers for not helping people in her situation ("disrespecting her agency") as a result to justify what doesn't really require that justification. You're already doing something immensely compassionate. You're allowed to need quiet hours in your apartment. You're allowed to set boundaries in conversations. You're allowed to put a time limit on rent-free living. These things are about you and your life, not her.
posted by praemunire at 2:43 PM on December 4, 2018 [9 favorites]


DV shelters exist for this very reason. And at least here they are staffed with therapists, group counseling, housing and employment support because you really really need all of that together.

Have you looked into what domestic violence services are available? They might not have a bed right this second, but they may have day services she could be a part of. Or even if she doesn't qualify for their shelter due to criminal background,
she may qualify for some other services they offer. If there are waitlists she could get on them. It's very common for people escaping DV to need everything you listed.

I think getting her compassionate people who can support her will help you enforce better boundaries because b you can say you should talk to your therapist about that, or whoever. Obviously regardless of her support you do need to take care of you, but it is easier when you know that she has other options.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:00 PM on December 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


Definitely reach out to your fellow activists, and have someone else house her for at least a couple of weeks. This may have to become a rotating schedule (on preview: yes, likely including DV shelters) until your friend is on her feet. Please see prize bull octorok's excellent point about tenancy.

(To be on the phone / playing music in the middle of the night when you're crashing, rent-free, in someone's studio apartment is really, really rude.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:05 PM on December 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


regarding this -

I don't know how to tell her, I can give you direct material support, or I can give you emotional support, but not both at the same time. It's one or the other, because I'm stretched to my limits.

You might try just.. saying exactly that.. and seeing how it goes. It's not an unreasonable sentiment and I can imagine it being said with caring and compassion for both you and her..

you're a good egg, coffeeand
posted by elgee at 3:08 PM on December 4, 2018 [16 favorites]


All of this seems very undefined. You both need to write up a plan for what she needs to do, which is find a job (which means resume, etc.), and then find housing. Ask her how long she thinks this should take. Agree to that as your time limit. Tell her you want to know each day what progress she's made. As she runs into obstacles discuss with her what she's going to do tomorrow to overcome them.

As far as the other stuff goes, just tell her the truth, which is that you want to help her, but her stories emotionally drain you and you expect her to go to bed at a reasonable time. This stuff is non-negotiable for you. You both want this to work out, so don't let it happen again. You don't want to discuss this further.

------

For what it's worth, I've also found that life is just very, very hard when you're poor. I found out that one of my workers didn't have a license because of parking fines. I figured I could help out. Turns out, the law in Chicago is that you can't negotiate municipal debt. You can't even declare bankruptcy to wipe out municipal debt. I'd like to help this worker establish a business. He's smart and capable. But the obstacles are so much more profound than I thought, and I can't even get him to see a free lawyer to discuss his options.

Anyway, it's profoundly depressing, and has opened my eyes to how hard it can be out there. However, I'm not giving up. Not yet. You're a good person for just trying, and the world needs more people like you.
posted by xammerboy at 4:34 PM on December 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


Thank you for your responses.

I think I just needed y'all to tell me I'm not a monster for having needs and that it's ok for me to assert them. I don't know about creating a schedule for her to be out. If there is a job or a social service on the horizon, then, sure. But setting a deadline for her to be out without those things is... well it's a last resort. I'll do it if I have to to "save my own life." But not until I really can't stand it anymore.

She mentioned one of those big nonprofit agencies called her today and I'm praying they can get her connected to... something. All I want is for social workers to do their jobs and actually help her.... (and that's a whole other rant.)

I have a community activist meeting coming up this week which might be an opportunity to get some help, or at least start the conversation of getting help.

I think some of it is just.... needing to enforce boundaries, as crappy as it feels. I am sick, which is almost forcing me to articulate some of this to her. (Sample exchange that just happened: her talking, me going off to take medicine and change into comfy clothes, her acknowledging that I am sick and she doesn't want to "talk my ear off." Cue her calling her friend to talk instead. Which is giving me a break for a bit.)

For those who raised legal issues, legally she is a tenant and I can't evict her, and yes, that is technically a danger to my own housing and I am willing to take that risk.


But the obstacles are so much more profound than I thought, and I can't even get him to see a free lawyer to discuss his options.

Yep, we criminalize poverty in this country. It's shocking how much.


Your own situation (studio apartment, recently fired) seems too precarious to be able to take this on without imperiling your own wellbeing.

Dude, I don't know what to tell you. When you're at the bottom in America, the only people you have are the other folks at the bottom. The ones at the top seem bent on killing us instead.
posted by coffeeand at 5:36 PM on December 4, 2018 [18 favorites]


You might try to find (or help her find) your county, city, or state's mental-health center and call and ask for guidance. If she's unemployed, homeless, and dealing with mental illness, she may qualify for services that include case-management. (She sounds very similar to a lot of clients I work with through county mental health services.) I would google "[county name]" or "[city name]" and "mental health services" and look for .gov addresses. There's usually a 24hr "crisis" or "Access" phone number, and the people there can help with navigating the system.
posted by lazuli at 9:39 PM on December 4, 2018


You, yourself, would benefit from getting in touch with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Family Members and Caregivers resources.
posted by jgirl at 10:50 PM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


I just want to address one part of your follow-up:

I think I just needed y'all to tell me I'm not a monster for having needs and that it's ok for me to assert them.

I am related to people who are kind of like your current housemate, and I grew up around a lot of people like this. In a lot of cases, they end up where they are after loved ones have tried to help them to the point of financial and emotional exhaustion, and for whatever reason--addiction, mental illness, untreated trauma--the person keeps fucking up.

I'm not saying people in this situation don't deserve help--quite the opposite (and everyone deserves a stable living situation, nutritious food, and access to health care by virtue of being human). I'm saying that, as someone pointed out above, But individuals cannot supply the lack that is caused by structural inequality and violence. We can’t save people as individuals, that’s why we need systemic change. You're not a monster for having and asserting needs, and you're not a monster if you can't, on your own, save this one person.

Being poor is horrible and is indeed accompanied by a whole host of other problems that makes it all harder. Some people living on the margins genuinely do just need a couple of breaks, like a place to stay and a lead on some jobs, and they can get back on their feet. Others have far more complex needs that you can't fix as an individual by giving them housing and guiding them toward work or education.

There's a lot of good concrete advice above about what you can do to help. I just wanted to reiterate that you have done a huge amount so far, so much more than most of us would do for an acquaintance. If it doesn't work out, it isn't your fault. Please take care of yourself, and put yourself first.
posted by tiger tiger at 11:38 PM on December 4, 2018 [10 favorites]


I think I just needed y'all to tell me I'm not a monster for having needs and that it's ok for me to assert them.

I was tired last night and forgot to address this in my answer -- You are not a monster! I think it would be good to get her connected to mental-health services that include both case-management and mental-health treatment because (a) it would help her and (b) it would take all the burden off you. That is a lot for you to carry, and you need help. The NAMI recommendations are also a good idea; they tend to know how to navigate the system, too.

Feel free to MeMail me if you want help finding the services in your area. I know they vary a lot from state to state and city to city, so I can't promise there's a major solution, but I'm happy to help try.
posted by lazuli at 7:36 AM on December 5, 2018


I think I just needed y'all to tell me I'm not a monster for having needs and that it's ok for me to assert them.

You have very good intentions, and your awareness of your limitations seems extremely important, because there could be risks to you and your friend if you try to do more than you have the capacity to do. Please keep in mind that you can also call hotlines for support; in my own experience, hotlines can be a valuable support when trying to assist others in crisis, because trained professionals can offer feedback and guidance.

It can be a lot easier to enforce boundaries when you can refer people to community resources that are trained and funded to provide the help your friend may need. The MeFi Wiki has pages with a variety of resources that may be able to help you and your friend; for mental health support resources, including for survivors of domestic violence, ThereIsHelp.

If your friend needs free legal assistance for things like public benefits and help with access to services, or protection from domestic violence, they can visit the Get A Lawyer page to find links to free legal resources.

In addition, the Homeless Survival Guide includes links to emergency resources. All of these pages include collections of AskMe posts, including questions about how to help others.

I also believe that information management is crucial in a situation like this, so I suggest helping your friend get a small plastic file box, with a closable top, and a bunch of file folders. Keeping track of the applications and paperwork for things like food stamps, medicaid, housing assistance, et cetera, is even harder for someone experiencing barriers and limitations, and one thing that you may be able to be a significant help with is to help your friend develop a basic system of organization, and make sure there is a calendar included to keep track of appointments. It can really be like a full-time job to interact with all of the services, especially for someone experiencing health and/or mental health issues, because often people must bounce from one agency to the next, and especially at the beginning, progress can be slow and frustrating. However, staying organized can help speed up the processes, because these agencies often want the exact same information and documents to apply for services.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:49 AM on December 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


one thing that you may be able to be a significant help with is to help your friend develop a basic system of organization, and make sure there is a calendar included to keep track of appointments.

That is a really good suggestion. She already does some of this on her own-- she brought a calendar, which she uses. She's pretty good at using food banks and I think she's already on food stamps. I'm pretty terrible at organizing myself, but I will do what I can. She's also just started a job-readiness class which I feel like at the very least is putting her in front of people who may have more resources for her. My struggle with getting her connected to these agencies is that I don't understand what exactly we have available. The few times I have sat with her as she made phone calls I found pretty overwhelming. If anyone on this thread wants to help me with this, I'll DM you my location and you can look up stuff that could help us.

Realistically her most serious needs right now-- at least from my POV, and granted I am not her-- are Medicaid, some kind of therapy or counseling, and someone else with a car to get her rides to places.

Last night after reading through the thread, while talking with her, I pushed back on some of the emotional venting and reminded her that I'm not a counselor, and that sometimes I don't know what to say or do with the information she's sharing. I think that made her realize what she's been doing. Fortunately she's open to the idea of getting counseling; we just need help finding it now. This may be something the campaign we're involved in can help with. I felt terrible asking for it but I did it and now maybe she can get some actual trauma therapy instead of my bootstrapped version that is based on my reading a few books. Thanks to all of you. I needed that push.

Thank you so much for your help!!
posted by coffeeand at 11:11 AM on December 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


I felt terrible asking for it but I did it

So I have some additional thoughts, in part related to one of your previous AskMes, where I thought you sounded vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation, because you seemed to struggle with your own sense of self-worth (similar to how you seem to struggle in this post), when you asked for resources related to secondary trauma for caretakers. There was something about that post that had me nope out of it instead of responding, because it was basically speculation at that point, but now here we are, with your boundaries disrespected, risking the stability of your housing, and expressing what seem like a variety of self-defeating ideas that may be harmful to both you and your friend.

So I have a list of concerns about your situation, and I am going to frame it according to what seems reflected in your post about your friend's needs and the damage that you may be doing to her recovery. For her own sake, it looks like she needs to leave your home soon.

First, your assumption that your friend is disqualified from services due to her criminal record is likely incorrect, and I am concerned that while you assume this, you are that much more vulnerable to thinking that you are the only resource available for your friend, which could make you feel like you need keep pushing past your own boundaries and capacity. There are often re-entry and other services available to help people stay sober and stay out of jail. These services tend to vary by location, but ruling it out at the outset does not seem like a way to be supportive.

Second, you do not seem to have the training and experience that your friend seems to need, and I am concerned that you may be doing your friend real harm because you don't seem to have an awareness of how the constellation of support services tend to operate. It does vary by location, but typically, when someone needs a restraining order, they contact a DV hotline, and a trained professional may be able to not only help them complete the paperwork, but also go with them to court, and perhaps help with advocacy related to law enforcement. So when I read that you took your friend for the restraining order, without any mention of working with the free and confidential services that are available nationwide, to me it looks like you may have caused her real harm by avoiding the opportunity to connect with the services that could actually address her multifacted needs.

Similarly, when you friend becomes overwhelmed and starts disclosing more than you can handle, it looks like you may be doing her a disservice by not connecting her to the crisis lines for domestic violence and/or mental health, because you again seem to stand in the way of her obtaining the help she seems to need by trying to support her without training and experience, instead of referring her to services that could help provide the support she seems to need.

Also, the food stamp eligibility tends to be very helpful for accessing services quickly, and the restraining order can create a similar eligibility for a variety of resources, including supportive housing. A community health worker may exist in your area to help fix the health insurance issues. Your friend seems to be farther along in the benefits process than you may realize, and she may be able to make better progress if you stop interfering with her access to services.

It does sound like your friend needs a social worker, and in the meantime, there are services that provide social work, like organizations that serve survivors of abuse (which may include transportation assistance), and organizations that engage in outreach for Medicaid (which may include transportation assistance), and organizations that support people with a history of substance abuse (which may include transportation assistance), that can help your friend until she has her own case manager. One of the easier things to get typically is a monthly bus pass, at minimum, but there may also be medical transport available.

I am sorry that I don't have the spoons to casework your friend's situation specific to your location, and I'm sorry that this sounds so much harsher than I would otherwise prefer, but I am trying to take a "tough love" approach here and appeal to your worthy goal of helping your friend. My point is that if you can see that you may actually not be helping, and that you may actually be making things worse, then maybe that will help you draw boundaries that are healthier for you and your friend.

You are obviously a very good person with the best intentions, and I encouraged you in my first comment to contact hotline support yourself so that you could get support and feedback, in part because they could offer guidance about how much capacity you actually have to deal with all of this, and how harmful it could be if you keep on as you have been. I encourage you to review the linked MeFi Wiki pages, to share them with your friend, and to encourage her to reach out to these resources, starting with organizations that serve survivors of domestic violence. That is likely the best starting point, because they likely have wraparound resources that addresses the wide range of issues that your friend is facing.

However, I am just a random person on the internet without all of the relevant information, and I have my own experiences trying to help people in crisis, both professional and personally, that influence my perspective. I am sharing my instincts and concerns, and perhaps you can test them by consulting with trained professionals who would be happy to talk to you about how you can better support your friend.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:44 AM on December 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


Okay, Little Dawn, I can't complain because I was essentially admitting my limits and asking for a bit of tough love in this AskMe. But there's a lot in this comment that like... I don't really know where it's coming from?

I thought you sounded vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation, because you seemed to struggle with your own sense of self-worth

I am in therapy and have talked with my therapist about all of this? I also don't really believe someone as vulnerable as my roommate is really... capable of taking advantage of me in that sense. I am incredibly scared of wielding my relative societal/institutional power over her, actually. Which is why I asked the question because I can sense I need that oversight, especially while trying to set boundaries.

Second, you do not seem to have the training and experience that your friend seems to need, and I am concerned that you may be doing your friend real harm because you don't seem to have an awareness of how the constellation of support services tend to operate.

Yeah, I don't have that awareness. She knows a lot better than I do which services will be useful to her in this situation, so I've been supporting her as she takes the lead on that.

to me it looks like you may have caused her real harm by avoiding the opportunity to connect with the services that could actually address her multifacted needs.

The day I took her to get a restraining order.... the night before, he had turned up at her house after being released early from jail, where he ended up after trying to harm her the first time. There is a service that was supposed to notify her when her abuser was released from jail. They did not. She was caught blindsided. She called the police. The police ruled it as a "he said, she said" situation despite the fact that this man had just been released from jail after trying to kill her.

It was not really a strong display of the capabilities of local social services to handle these situations appropriately. She told me she felt like she'd been left on her own to deal with everything, and after witnessing all that stuff going down, I saw her point.

In any case, I fully appreciate that we need help. I just don't know who to turn to (who she hasn't already turned to and been let down by). In one week she has an appointment with a legal organization who has helped her before, who may also be able to point her to other services. I'm going to let them do their thing. I will look into the resources you linked too.
posted by coffeeand at 12:13 PM on December 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


To clarify, I saw this question as related to boundaries, and a request for help and support with asserting them, so I was trying to speak to that aspect, but ultimately, I was trying to be more specific and encouraging about suggestions for social services.

I also don't really believe someone as vulnerable as my roommate is really... capable of taking advantage of me in that sense.

It's her crisis that could do that, and it seems like it already is pushing beyond what you have the capacity for. It's not that she is trying to grift you, or take advantage, it's how her crisis may be more than you can handle. Every situation is different, but based on my training and experience, overextension can be problematic for everyone involved - the burnout is not just bad for you, but it could also be very bad for your friend.

I am incredibly scared of wielding my relative societal/institutional power over her, actually.

I completely agree that it is very important to be mindful of not stepping on the choices of someone you are trying to help, and particularly with survivors of domestic violence, who have often been chronically denied the opportunity to make their own choices.

It was not really a strong display of the capabilities of local social services to handle these situations appropriately. She told me she felt like she'd been left on her own to deal with everything, and after witnessing all that stuff going down, I saw her point.

Ultimately, I am trying to push back against the idea that there is no help, because that self-defeating idea could interfere with finding help. I also appreciate your clarification, because it sounds like your friend only interacted with government agencies during terrifying events, and there is no mention of the nonprofit organizations that can be involved in these situations to help support survivors. It absolutely can feel like government services are not well-equipped to respond to domestic violence, but a variety of nonproft organizations try to address that experience by providing advocacy and support services.

The nonprofit organizations are very different than police or victim-notification services, and I am very sorry that your friend experienced that response from the government agencies. It can be traumatic, and it is normal to feel alienated and isolated by it, but there is help beyond government services, and I hope that you and your friend are able to find additional support.
posted by Little Dawn at 6:11 PM on December 6, 2018


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