#Metoo has swept not only our nation, but the entire world.
Those who have stepped out and stepped up have responded in immense courage.
You see, what sexual assault and abuse does to someone is create immense feelings of shame. Like you just want to hide. Like you did something wrong. Like you’re dirty.
And when you feel shame- stepping out is the last thing you want to do.
Because that would expose those things you want to hide in the light. Everyone would see that you are dirty. In fact, shame not only feel like hiding, it also feels like if you expose it then life as you know it will cease to exist. Many clients I’ve seen describe exposing shame as an experience that feels like death. That to speak up means they may die.
To those who haven’t experienced sexual assault or abuse, this may sound extreme. Maybe you can’t imagine needing to harbor anything inside to that intensity. But those are the effects. So to be doing what women (and men!) are doing worldwide speaks to the immense bravery of those individuals.
I commend them. Their journey has not been easy.
Chances are, you may know someone touched by this movement and who has their own personal experience as a survivor. You care deeply about this person and desire to care for them in their pain. But it can also be a scary place to enter into because you may fear saying the wrong thing or responding inappropriately. If that’s you- don’t let it stop you. Your friend has been alone in this for too long and desperately needs support.
Below are some guidelines to help you care for people in your life who are survivors of sexual abuse. Your care and empathy will speak volumes to that individual, but if you’re still feeling stuck and without responses then read on.
Helpful Guidelines To Support #metoo Survivors
“I believe you.”
Hearing someone validate and believe a story of sexual abuse is immensely healing. Often survivors keep quiet because they fear not being believed, or worse think they will be blamed. In fact, having a close relationship believe what happened is an important part of recovery. Research shows that not being believed by an important relationship can actually create more hurt than the act of violence or abuse itself. Your job is not to investigate and ask ‘why?’ questions, but instead is to support. Being known and believed is vital. Thank them for their courage in sharing this with you.
“You didn’t do anything wrong. It is not your fault.”
Chances are your friend has replayed and relived those moments countless times in their mind, continually asking themselves what they could have done differently to stop the abuse. Wondering if they are at blame because they weren’t able to stop it. They need your assurance that what happened to them was wrong, they didn’t do anything to invite such behavior towards them, and it isn’t their fault that another human being abused them. This may take some time for them to actually believe, but you can support them by reminding and reassuring them that it isn’t their fault.
“I care about you and really want to be here for you. You’re not alone in this.”
Offer to hear their story if they are comfortable sharing. Also assess their level of support around what has happened. Remind them of resources available to help heal and see if there is anyone they feel comfortable going to with their concerns, symptoms, and story.
“This shouldn’t have happened to you. I’m sorry this happened.”
Their experience has immense impacted their life in ways you may never understand. But you can communicate empathy towards them in your efforts to support. Phrases like “I can’t imagine how difficult this has been for you”, “this must have been so tough”, or “I’m so glad you’re sharing this with me” will clearly and effectively communicate your empathy towards them.
Continued Support For #metoo Survivors
Continue to Check in Periodically
Remind the person you care about them after the event. While the actually abuse or assault may have happened a long time ago, it takes time to heal. Checking in will communicate your care over the longevity of time.
It might seem strange that a survivor is not over what happened, but avoid judgement. The effects can stretch out for extreme lengths of time and everyone’s healing journey is different. Phrases to avoid include, “how long will it take you to get over this?” and “it seems like you should be fine by now.”
Know Local Resources
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a strong supporter of someone who has experienced pain. Thank you for the role you’ve played in their lives. It too takes courage and bravery to walk alongside someone who has experienced sexual abuse and assault. But that does not mean your responsible or equipped to handle their health on your own. Know what resources are available to you and when to refer to them.
Get Your Own Support
You may find yourself in a position of helping and supporting that is taking a toll on you. Also, vicarious trauma happens when someone has prolonged exposure to others stories of abuse and pain, leaving you feeling immense doubt about the world you live in and feeling anxious or depressed yourself. If you’re feeling the effects of providing support, it is wise to seek out resources to support you in this journey.
Hopefully this guide can help you bracely support a person in your life who has been impacted by #metoo. If you’re feeling unsure still, we would be glad to do a consult with you, providing you the tools and support you need to continue being a help. Call or email me at Optimum Joy if this could be helpful to you.
Written by therapist Alexandra Hoerr
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