Tips from a Trauma Certified therapist
The “me-too” movement can evoke some polarizing reactions.
Depending on your personal experiences. You may have feelings fully supporting the movement, negative feelings about the movement or anywhere in between. Regardless of where you land on this evolution, it appears to be here to stay. More importantly, it is organically opening a door for survivors to come out of hiding and own their story without (as much) stigma.
Have you been a victim of sexual violence and tried to talk about it only to be dismissed or even blamed? You are not alone.
The average survivor reports having to tell SEVEN people before they are believed. A second (third or fourth) round of victimization occurs every time a survivor discloses and is not believed.
This creates a second trauma. They are already carrying a significant amount of shame from the original victimization, and now professionals, friends and family members are re-shaming them by peppering them with questions like “Why were you by yourself that late at night?” Or “Didn’t you just say no?” Or maybe, after years of burying the secret of your childhood abuse, you finally disclose to someone you thought was safe only to hear “Aren’t you over it already, that happened so long ago?” All of this is known as victim blaming.
Maybe you haven’t been the victim of sexual violence, but you’ve had someone tell you about their abuse. You felt caught off guard, you didn’t know how to respond. You became very curious and their story just didn’t sit right with you. You may have even, inadvertently, victim blamed them. Or let your curiosity run wild and you peppered them with questions. You wanted to know if what happened to them would never happen to you and you indulged your need to know more. Those are normal responses, but not particularly helpful to the survivor.
With one out of every three women 18 years or older and one out of every six men reporting some kind of sexual abuse, you certainly have a survivor in your social circle.
At some point, he or she may feel safe enough to disclose to you. It still may feel shocking, and that’s alright.
As a therapist who deals with trauma, I want to give you the tools you need to support them.
#1 First, put your curiosity aside and BELIEVE.
Unless you are an investigator, indulging your curiosity is making their disclosure more about you than them. It’s not the time to ask probing questions or to poke holes in their story. It would be most healing for the survivors to feel believed in that moment.
#2 Secondly, VALIDATE their feelings.
Are they angry about their abuse? Are they feeling sad and small? Whatever they feel, don’t try to make it go away. Those feelings are there as part of the grieving process. You cannot fix this! It has already happened. Be uncomfortable with them. There is connection and comfort in knowing someone won’t run or try to fix uncomfortable feelings but will sit with them in their grief. “Feeling sad makes sense to me. I would be sad too.” “You can cry with me, I’m not going anywhere.” This is not just validating but it is empathy in action.
#3 Lastly, EMPOWER them.
In other words, let them disclose at their pace. Allow their healing process to take as long as it needs. When THEY want to take action, support and encourage them. Again, never pushing your agenda on them. Maybe you think they should press charges against their perpetrator. Are you trying to fix the problem? You cannot fix this.
We are in a pivotal time in history as sexual violence is getting the attention that is overdue. We cannot predict what growth our country will experience because of this movement, but we can be prepared when people we care about become brave enough to come forward with their stories.
If you have experienced a trauma or upsetting event and have not shared your story with anyone…
That is okay. If an upsetting event or trauma keeps coming back to your mind, or is holding you back from living your best life, there is healing possible for you. There is no measuring stick to define your trauma. There is no expiration date on how long you’re allowed to think or feel about it.
When you’re ready to tell your story, there is powerful healing when you share your story. Several benefits are sited in Psychology Today. You combat any shame, change any unhelpful or incorrect thoughts and beliefs, the memory becomes less triggering, you realize you’re not broken and are so much stronger than you gave yourself credit for.
Cyndi Benner, MA, LPC is “trauma certified” by the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA). She brings clinical experience from the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center. Cyndi holds a gentle space for those struggling with trauma, anxiety, panic attacks, women’s issues, parenting and health concerns.
To schedule an appointment with Cyndi, or another trauma therapist at Inspire, email firstname.lastname@example.org or (847) 919-9096 ext 1.