8 Ways You Can Support A Victim of Violence

After surviving a violent assault, I wish my support network had helped me in these ways instead of following traditional support advice.

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Jessica Delp for Unsplash

Although I could logically accept that the attack was not my fault, I still struggled with toxic feelings on an emotional level.

First, let me tell you what it felt like inside my skin after surviving a violent assault, as a way to illustrate what it may be like for the person who is confiding in you. Although I could logically accept what my therapist and my support network reassured me of, that the attack was not my fault and there was nothing to be ashamed of, I still struggled with the feelings below on an emotional level:

It seemed like something I should be able to fix, and it confused me that I couldn’t.

Bewildered: Continuing from the above feeling, I also felt bewildered that I couldn’t find this broken thing and fix it. It seemed like something I should be able to, and it confused me that I couldn’t.

I had let myself down when I had always believed I would protect myself.

Disappointment: It took me a long time to identify this feeling, even though it arrived from the outset and stayed with me for a long time. I felt that I had disappointed myself; I had let myself down when I had always believed I would protect myself.

I felt very vulnerable and unprotected, and also like I had to rebuild parts of myself.

Raw: I felt that everything about myself and my reality had been stripped away, and I was nothing more than muscle and nerves, almost like I had to grow a new skin. I felt very vulnerable and unprotected, and also like I had to rebuild parts of myself that I could no longer access: my favorite color, my favorite flavor of ice cream; my desire for children; my dislike of TV (I watched a lot of TV in the first year after I survived, although I normally don’t watch any). For the first few months, I honestly wasn’t sure who I was, what I liked, or what were normal habits for me.

Try saying “I’m so sorry that happened” instead, and drop the “to you”.

1/ Acknowledge: It is common today for the receivers of news about violence or trauma to say, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” I know that it is meant with good intention, but it has the effect on the victim of distancing from them. “I’m so sorry that happened to you” because it’s never happened to me, e.g., you are different from me (sometimes this statement is literally followed up with, “I can’t imagine what that would feel like!”). Using the pronouns “I” and “you” in this way separates the listener from the teller and creates distance exactly when the victim need to connect.

They were the words I didn’t know I needed to hear.

2/ Appreciate: The first thing my best friend did when I saw her after I survived was to pull me into a bear hug and whisper in my ear, “I’m so proud of you.” They were the words I didn’t know I needed to hear, but they made all the difference in the world, and were far more powerful than any of the supportive words I received from anyone else. Because she acknowledged that, no matter how sloppy or clumsily I managed to do it, I survived.

The pressure to feel like a “survivor” can push someone into suppressing the vulnerable part of themselves with such force, it becomes an act of violence itself.

4/ Assist: Almost every victim of violence that I have ever met has felt what I wrote about frustration and disappointment above: that they somehow let themselves down, and they somehow could have prevented or even allowed the violence to happen.

Let them know that the emotional scars from the event they suffered are not visible to the rest of the world.

5/ Assure: This is especially relevant to someone who has very recently survived violence, but is applicable to anyone who has experienced violence: assure them that no one else can “see” what happened. Until a victim of violence has reached a stage in their recovery journey where they feel more whole, it’s important to let them know that what they’ve confided is safe with you, and that the emotional scars from the event they suffered are not visible or evident to the rest of the world. They may still feel very far away from normal, or not even be sure what normal is, but reassuring them that they will not be ostracized or avoided because of what happened to them is a way to help them onto the path towards wholeness.

If someone wishes to share with you, understand that this is an indication of a very deep trust.

8/ Listen: When someone you know and care for has suffered violence, it is important to provide a safe and calm space for that person to simply be. If the person you care about wishes to discuss the event with you, understand that this is an indication of a very deep trust, as well as a bid for help or relief.

Written by

Producer and host of the bi-monthly podcast, Artipoeus: Art You Can Hear, and founder of Pretty Deadly Self Defense. www.artipoeus.com / www.prettydeadly.org

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