Nobody walks around with a sign that says ABUSE SURVIVOR
<—- I mean really does this look like the face of someone who put up with multiple types of abuse for years? Does it look like someone about to leap into the “Oh-My-God-I-Should-Never-Have….” ?
Not likely, but if you don’t see that, what do you see here?
If you met me today you wouldn’t know I’ve survived any kind of abuse. Most people say I’m kind, quirky (a word I love), and rather talkative. I’m a bit socially awkward, and rather possessive and protective of the people I care about (yes that’s a warning to my kiddo’s future partners). I also tend to either connect with a person or not, you’ll either like me or hate me pretty quick.
Its not that I’ve set out to polarize people so strongly, it’s just that after years of abuse I really could care less for some of the personalities and judgements out there.
You want to be seen as strong, go for it, but don’t tell me you are invulnerable because no one is. Believe me I’ve tried to be, it doesn’t work.
And if your putting out that kind of vibe, I’m not biting.
So if I’ve ticked you off, in all likelihood it was on purpose.
Because it’s easier to let you push yourself away then for me to tell you “no, I think differently”.
I don’t walk around telling people what I’ve been through in my life, mostly because people have this annoying habit of assuming I can’t be happy now due to said history (they are wrong by the way).
The part that really ticks me off is when they want the damn details, I don’t mind sharing when it helps someone else but don’t ask me to relive it for your entertainment. If you haven’t been there you won’t understand it anyway….
As I was saying, there is no way to tell by looking at me (or anyone else for that matter) what I’ve been through. We don’t have signs saying how to treat people when we walk up to them.
So when they act outside of the “social norms” we freak out and tend to blast them in some way shape or form. And with out meaning too we reinforce the cycle of self abuse and shame.
This means when I “randomly” get crazy emotional or I freak out, or even when I disappear for months at a time, it may not be obvious why I did to you. But it’s obvious and a big deal to me!
Simple things can still set me off. Touch my shoulder wrong and I may react ok one day, do the same thing 5 minutes later and I could have a total meltdown. Yup I can be volatile, some times that is part of the healing process.
So how do we help those who’ve survived deal when we don’t know their storey?
The answer will vary from person to person and most of them are common sense, but as they say these days “Common Sense is a Super Power.”
1. Respect people’s wishes
If they don’t want you to touch them, don’t. If you’re a “hugging family” but they don’t want to hug, DON’T. Anyone who has dealt with abuse of any type or duration has had their power over their lives taken away through that abuse.
By respecting their wishes you are helping them claim that power back. This goes for all ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds. I can’t tell you how often I’ve avoided people because their “culture” is a “touchy-feely-type”.
Not all survivors will know how to verbalized what they need, so watch their body language and let them come to you not the other way around.
2. Speak to them like normal human beings.
At first I needed to avoid some topics, it just hurt too much. But after a while it became tolerable, and now only sets me off when I’m in a sensitive spot.
For instance my appearance has been a point I’ve been verbally assaulted on for years. Anyone who made any kind of comment (constructive or negative) used to set me off in a torrent of tears and some serious mental tailspin’s in my own head. Now, I can handle my husband pointing out that I might need to wax because I know he is coming from a helpful stance. (He loves me whether I wax or not, he just knows I get self-conscious if it gets too long)
3. Don’t force help on people.
My family has been great, supporting me as best they can at re-building my life.
But on occasion they’ve been a tad pushy about the kind of help they think I need. (Yes psychologists are great, nope not going to see one no matter how many times you book an appointment for me) each person heals in their own way, at their own pace.
Think of it like grieving, the “stages” are all the same, but the path we take through them is very unique to each person who is experiencing it. What’s worked for me won’t necessarily work for everyone else.
4. Give us space
Personally this was the biggest one for me. Once people figured out what was happening they were constantly “touching base”. And trying to “be there for me”.
Honestly it’s creepy,
I’m not saying don’t be there for the person, but let them guide you on the how much.
I had 1 friend I turned to regularly for support, and I’m totally grateful for that person now.
They gave me space, let me make my own choices and were there when I needed with out being forceful yet constantly challenged me to reach outside my comfort zone.
It’s tough for people to do that. We all want to “fix” the problem when a friend is in trouble, but you can’t fix this, I have to do it myself.
Again this goes back to needing to take back our own power. To do that we need our space, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and most definitely physically.
5. Don’t try to fix the problem
That’s another thing, the more you try to fix the problem, the more I think there is something wrong with me.
Keep in mind, I don’t think like you do. My brain has thoughts and stuff but they don’t function the same way a brain that’s never faced abuse.
Someone who has suffered through the abuse and learned how to survive it is stronger then they know themselves but has taught themselves to continue the abuse even when the abuser isn’t there.
I still have moments when when I have a “melt down”. Please, stop, back up, and try to see it from my point of view. Do you really think that right now what I want to hear is “well if we do x, this will go away”?
When someone speaks to me like that I hear “well, you should have thought of this solution to the problem and put in place before you became a problem to me. Now will you fix yourself so you are worth kissing the ground I walk on?”
Not the message you wanted to send right?
6. Don’t keep bringing up the Abuse.
I touched on this earlier, but what ever you do DON’T KEEP BRINING IT ALL UP!
Seriously, I have someone in my life that kept bringing up what happened because they wanted to understand what happened.
And when it’s still fresh you can bet the person is already raw, and wishing to ignore it.
Let them lead on the discussion topics, if they want your input they will bring it up. If they are avoiding the topic leave them alone.
PLEASE, you don’t want to know how often I had to re-live the abuse because of well-meaning I-need-to-understand questions.
And I couldn’t just say “no, I don’t want to discuss this” when the person in question was a primary support person, I felt like I had to answer.
All in all, if you have someone you care about in a situation that is abusive you need to be the person who gives them back their power.
Let them be in control, encourage them to make their own choices.
Of all the amazing, supportive, and wonderful people who helped me the one friend I constantly turned to was willing to not only believe I deserved better but that I could do better.
Of course they challenged me, and pushed my limits on what I thought I could handle.
But you know what? Not so long ago we committed to a lifetime together, and now have 1 amazing little boy. And because he helped me rebuild my self trust I now know I will have a better life then I did. 😉
Friends and Family are key when we rebuild after anything, abuse, tragedy, loss, injury you name it. It’s our supports (like you) who stand behind us and let us get up and keep trying, who even sometimes might just piss us off (don’t be afraid to piss us off sometimes that’s the best way to get us to act), that make it worth the fight back to ourselves. And heck, some day you might just reap the rewards of a new, empowered, confident, happy person backing you when you need it most!
Have you been through trauma or abuse? What has helped you handle the aftermath? Who have you had help you learn your new normal? Let me know by commenting or send me an email.