5 ways to support victims of trauma
I'm going to be talking about 5 ways you can support people around you that have been victims of trauma, be it sexual assault, domestic violence, hate crimes, verbal abuse, a mugging on the street, you name it. Here are some common things that can be done to help let them know that you are supporting them through their journey of healing.
// let them do things to facilitate healing at their own pace. //
It personally took me so long to be able to tell anyone about what happened to me. It's still difficult for me. Some people have told me straight up to my face to "get over it already, it's been long enough." I've had people try to force me to talk about what happened when I very clearly didn't want to. I've had people who have tried to continuously prod me towards getting professional help, even when I voiced my concerns over experiences with previous professional help. I ended up getting professional help again, but only because I was finally ready for it on my own and when it was my choice. (It took me over four years to willingly go and actually have a good experience.) Forcing victims to take a step in the healing process that they're not ready for (while we know it's because you're concerned and want us to feel better) can be really harmful. Everyone heals from trauma at their own pace and on their own terms. You can't force healing. It has to happen naturally. Sometimes, you may not understand their reasoning from not being able to move on from a certain aspect of trauma. You may not understand why, even years after the traumatic event, someone will still flinch if someone moves their hand too fast or why someone always has a grip on a knife in their purse when they're walking outside. People will heal over time, whether they work through it on their own, get professional help, etc., but they need to be able to do it on their own terms.
// ask them if there are any triggers you can avoid in your conversations and interactions with them. //
Triggers are different for everyone and all for different reasons and they should be taken seriously. For those who don't know, a "trigger" is defined as "something that can be read, seen, heard, or felt, that causes distress in a person, typically as a result of feelings or memories associated with a particular traumatic experience." It's truly a really kind and meaningful thing to us if anyone double checks with us if there are any specific triggers we have so that they can do their best to avoid any of them. It's so calming and warming knowing that the people we surround ourselves with care enough about us to make sure that we're okay and put the effort into avoiding something like a certain phrase, or scents, or whatever a trigger may end up being. It means much more than you think. It may be difficult to change words out of your vocabulary with them or try your best not to move in sudden motions, etc., but your effort will mean the world to the victim of trauma you're interacting with, I promise. You don't have to treat us as if we're fragile and on the verge of breaking all the time because we're not, but those little actions go a really, really long way.
// just simply listen to their story if they're willing to tell it. //
By "listen to their story," I mean just listen. Many victims are not telling you their story because they want advice or opinions (unless, of course, that's what they specifically asked for, and in that case, definitely go for it!) I know when I tell people my story, I'm telling them simply because I want them to know. I want someone to listen and to hear me and try to understand me. It can be hard sometimes to not input an opinion or well-meant advice, but there are time where we just don't want or need it. Personally, for me, it's healing to be able to tell my story in my own words and my own fashion. It gives me power over my situation to choose who I tell it to. In a way. my ability to own how I tell my own story takes my rapist's control over me (that I still feel to this day, even though we have not been in contact for years) away and gives it back to me. I get a little piece of myself back every time. I don't tell my story for pity. I tell it for strength, and sometimes, we just need to tell someone. We're telling you about our experiences because we trust you with our story and our feelings. Letting us tell you our story without judgement is an amazing way to support us.
// be really careful when considering the phrases you use. //
Phrasing is very important. Choose your words carefully. Just like you wouldn't say something rude or insensitive during a work interview, make sure you're being conscious of your vocabulary choices around victims of trauma. A personal example that I have that really gets to me is how often people throw the word "rape" out like it's not a serious subject. "Oh, man, I totally raped him," when talking about a video game or, "Wow, leg day's got me walking around like I got raped," or anything of the sort. That's not an acceptable use of the word. For me, hearing someone equate the most harrowing and violent experience of my life to beating someone in Call Of Duty or because their legs hurt from a work out isn't cool. The violent act that can destroy entire lives and world views being used as a joke or a way to tell your buddies you're better than them at a video game is pretty hurtful. Using words like that in the wrong context downplays the meaning of the word, and subsequently downplays how people react to hearing about the actual perpetration of the act because the word itself has lost its intended meaning. I suppose it's just one of those things that's hard to understand unless you've been through it, but please just take your phrasing into consideration.
// be an advocate for victims of trauma (!!!) //
This one is honestly THE most important one of this whole list. Your support seems offhand and haphazard if you are not helping to stand up for those affected by these acts. We don't need people who pity us. We need people who are willing to stand with us in saying that these acts of violence and abuse are not acceptable. We need people who aren't going to joke about trauma and the people who have been through it. We need people that will call congress and their state legislatures if they see a bill proposal that can be harmful to people working through trauma. We need people that are willing to call out their friends' inappropriate comments and behaviors instead of standing by and letting it happen. You see that your friend is making someone uncomfortable at a bar or party? Go and take your friend away and explain to them that they need to respect other people's boundaries. You hear someone making a rape joke? Tell them it's not funny. You hear someone in your family or friend group make a comment like, "Well, they must have done something in order to cause him or her to rape or hit them?" Explain that these acts of violence are not the victim's fault and it's the perpetrator's fault for committing the horrid act. Speak up about the injustice in the system when you see cases like Brock Turner's rape conviction and mediocre sentencing happen. Be a voice for those who don't have one yet. Speak up. Fight the culture that allows these things to happen over and over again with no change. Believe victims. Stop making excuses for your friend's predatory behaviors. Call apologists out. Do something!
There we go. Outside of this list, there are definitely many other things you can do to help support those of us who have been through traumatic experiences. Everyone is also different due to their experiences and some of us need different forms of support than other need. The best bet to see how you can truly show your support to victims of trauma around you is just simply asking what you can do to support them!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. It's very much appreciated!
If you have any questions or comments, leave them down below and I'll be sure to respond!