DISCLAIMER: Triggers for talk of rape and abuse. Absolutely NO disparaging comments allowed or your comment will be deleted!
In the era where there are more people coming forward about being abused despite their perpetrators trying to silence them, there is still much work that needs to be done to help these survivors heal. One way this can be done is by saying things that will help the survivor heal and move forward despite all the horrible things that have happened to them. In my experience in dealing with people that have been abused and/or bullied, here are things that I think they need to hear from you:
- “I believe you.”–Many survivors suffer not only from the post-traumatic effects of having been abused but also from the stigma of not being believed, especially by family and/or friends of the perpetrator and sometimes even people in their own circle of influence. Saying to them that you believe what they went through was and is valid and real will help them heal because saying this validates their experience and feelings surrounding the traumatic event. It says you will be there for them and that you acknowledge their value and their worth.
- “This was not your fault.”–Many survivors also believe, at least to some extent, that the abuse was somehow their fault. This is what the perpetrators want them to believe because they (the aggressors) often do not want to a.) take responsibility for their actions and b.) believe that they are that bad of a person that they need to change their behaviors. However, this is NEVER true. For instance, even if a rape survivor wore revealing clothing, it does not mean it is the survivor’s fault that they were raped! It is totally and completely the perpetrator’s fault for not controlling himself or herself and treating someone in a vulnerable position like an object of their twisted and selfish pleasures!
- “You are valued and loved.” —Many survivors I know struggle with low self-esteem or self-worth. Even people who are not survivors can struggle with this, but survivors even more so because the perpetrators have brainwashed these survivors into thinking that they are much less than they really are. Often perpetrators want their victims to think lowly of themselves, so it is easier for them to control their victims. Survivors of abuse often struggle with this long after their perpetrators are out of their lives. Telling the survivor that he or she is valued and loved, with a sincere heart, of course, will help them to regain their confidence and rebuild their lives. Going a step further, and actually showing them that they are valued and loved, of course, can drastically improve survivors’ lives and/or outlook of their future.
- “I am here for you.”–A lot of survivors I know feel alone and/or struggle with depression. This is often because the perpetrator often wants to silence them. If the perpetrator is successful in doing that, a survivor can feel that they have no one to turn to and that no one can really be trusted. Thus, they feel alone in their pain and suffering, and many can only tell their accounts of the abuse years after it happened. Some, sadly, even take these accounts to their graves, or the perpetrator is believed instead of the survivor and thus is never punished or disciplined for their crimes. Saying “I am here for you,” will make the survivor feel less alone in their pain. It shows solidarity with them and will eventually open the gates of trust in their heart because saying this with a sincere heart will assure the survivor that they are not alone in their pain and that they don’t have to suffer alone.
- “You are beautiful.”–Abuse survivors, especially if they were abused sexually, often struggle with how they view the person staring back at the mirror in some way. Saying this in a platonic and sincere way can help survivors regain their self-confidence. However, one should also be careful to say this in such a way that it emphasizes their infinite worth as unique and awesome creation. One should never say this half-heartedly or in a seductive manner!
- “You are not alone.”–As I said before, a lot of abuse survivors think they are somehow alone in their trial and anguish because they are often silenced or sworn to secrecy by their perpetrators especially if the survivors were abused as children. Saying “You are not alone” to an abuse survivor can mean the world to them. Even though some may know logically that they are not alone, it is often refreshing for them to know that they a.) don’t suffer alone. b.) their anguish is not so unique that no one can ever understand or relate to them in some way.
- “I care about you” OR “I will support you.” –Some abuse survivors may feel that no one really cares about or supports them, especially if they have been told by some people in some way that their experience is not believable (even if what they experienced is 100% true). Saying and demonstrating in some way that you care about them and are willing to support them can be a boon to them. This will mean to the survivor that they have a friend (you) who will help them through the up and downs of the recovery from their abuse and will show to them the perseverance of true love.
- Any other validating words.–What this world, and especially abuse survivors, need is love and validation. Be careful when offering advice or criticism, because these things can hurt the survivor even more even if it is not intentional. Often abusers control their victims by demeaning them not only physically, but also with hurtful and unnecessarily devaluing and mean words. If you must offer advice or criticism, do so gently. Never verbally attack a survivor! Always think of them before yourself. Validate them by reminding them of their worth to you and to society, and do so sincerely. Most people can see through fake gestures of “kindness.” Be sincere and kind in your words to others, especially survivors, always.
These are some things an abuse survivor needs to hear from you. If we validated everyone, especially people who have been through so much, I believe this whole world would heal from their pain and anguish, and it would be a much better place to live. Who can you love and validate today? Please discuss in comments.