Things People Shouldn't Say to Trauma Survivors
Being assaulted was one of the most horrific, difficult things I’ve ever had to experience. Despite this event, there’s something I’ve found to be almost as difficult: admitting I was assaulted.
There are a lot of things people say to a loved one who was assaulted. These things are meant to be helpful, but can actually end up making the individual feel worse.
1. “This will make you stronger. Find the silver lining!”
2. “You won’t heal until you forgive him.”
3. “Be flattered. They wanted you that bad.”
4. “Talk to me. You won’t get better until you talk about it.”
These statements tend to put the pressure on. They may seem like good things to say, but to us, for the most part, they are hard to hear. Some of us can find a silver lining, and some of us can’t. Whether we do or not, we need to get there on our own. It's not up to someone else to push that on us and can actually feel invalidating if we aren't in a place to hear it. We all heal at our own pace. There’s no set timeline. Another focus tends to be on forgiveness, which is a personal decision and differs for everyone. Read this post on forgiveness for more information. There also seems to be a belief that talking about trauma is important, and for some it truly is, and for some it isn't... At least not yet. Pushing a survivor to talk about their trauma before they're ready can actually lead to them being re-traumatized.
I know most of you have good intentions, but these statements can make us feel bad. So, that being said, here are some things I recommend saying.
1. “It’s not your fault.”
2. “I believe you.”
3. “I’m here for you.”
4. “What do you need?”
5. “You can talk to me if you want, but if you’re not ready, that’s OK too.”
Overall, please know nothing you say can take away our pain. There’s no magic fix. Just let the individual know you’re there. Please don’t put pressure on them, and don't make it about your anger or how uncomfortable you are. However awful you feel about it, know the individual that experienced such a horrific act is likely feeling much worse (this doesn't mean your feelings aren't valid, just that you shouldn't make their experience about your feelings. And you are 100% allowed boundaries if the circumstances are too much for your mental health). A lot of this depends on an individual, for example, I am personally reassured when others tell me they are angry on my behalf. It feels validating, but there's a huge difference between someone expressing anger on my behalf verses them letting their anger be the sole focus and ending up with me trying to comfort them. Talk to someone and point number 4 is important. Ask them what they need.
Offer your support and love, and let them heal at their own pace. For more suggestions on how to listen to a loved one talk about their trauma, please check out this post written on the topic.