While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On people who have nothing nice to say about others: My mother was like that - she never said a nice thing if she had the opportunity to belittle someone in public. One day I had an insight and said, "Mom, you know when you talk like that it makes people sympathetic to Dad and they just think you're sort of a witch."
She went really silent and never did it again. People who continually put someone down are doing that oftentimes to push themselves up. However, the long-term effect is usually the opposite of what they intend.
On helping a friend who is being abused: After slowly being isolated from all friends and family - in short, everyone who made or was likely to make any comment about what a jerk my then-husband was to me - I had one single friend left, a particularly astute woman who was very familiar with abuse victims.
She focused all attention on him when the three of us were together, thereby feeding his ego and need to feel powerful, which ensured he would not sever the connection and would allow her to have time alone with me.
When we were alone, she bolstered my failing belief in myself. And on two occasions she simply said, "If you ever need a place to go, for whatever reason, whatever the time, come to me." She offered no explanation and made no critical comment. She was simply there and made me feel as if she truly cared.
One evening he hit that particular nerve. I called that woman and, of course, she opened her home to me. From that moment forward, my road to freedom began. She provided a nonjudgmental avenue of escape for a lifetime.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.