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Tools For Loved Ones

Tools for Loved Ones

The healing journey for survivors of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse can be long and arduous. Depending on the severity of trauma and the stage of healing, survivors can experience periods in their lives that are very emotionally taxing for them and for their loved ones. The experiences of flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and recurrent fears make them feel powerless and serve as a reminder of the abuse. Feelings of shame and guilt and the desire to isolate themselves and hide are usual for survivors. Feelings of low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety are also common.

This is just some of what survivors experience on a regular basis. If you are a friend, a partner, or a child of a survivor, you have likely seen this play out in front of you. You might feel confused, frustrated, angry, or sad that your loved one had to experience such horrible trauma as sexual assault. And you may be feeling powerless as well. This is not a reason to give up because healing is possible. Know that DCRCC is here to support you and your loved one.

Here is some information that can guide you in the relationship and to support the survivor:

  • Most survivors see anger as a threatening feeling. Here is what you can do:

o   Talk about anger
o   Try to understand the survivor’s experience of anger
o   Identify high-risk situations and trigger words
o   Create nonverbal signals and alternatives
o   Express anger in safe ways

  • Survivors of sexual abuse often experience touching as fearful and have limited experience with nurturing or playful touch. Here is what you can do:

o   Understand the underlying difficulty
o   Ask before touching
o   Differentiate between nurturing and sexual touch
o   Learn how to ask for what you want specifically
o   Learn how to communicate about touching in general

  • Often survivors of sexual abuse respond to sexual relation in extreme ways ranging from avoiding sex to dangerous sex. Here is what you can do as a sexual partner:

o   Emphasize the importance of making choices about sex
o   Talk about initiating sex
o   Talk about how to stop sex once started
o   Talk about likes and dislikes
o   Talk about triggers

  • Survivors of sexual abuse grew up in problematic families where they did not learn healthy ways of communicating. Here is what you can do:

o   Use “I” messages
o   Begin with positive statements
o   Stay in the present
o   Listen to your partner and reiterate what you hear
o   Say what you want and what you are willing to do

  • Survivors of sexual abuse are used to keeping their feelings bottled up and struggle with practicing relaxation. Here is what you can do:

o   Discuss ways of relaxing
o   Increase pleasurable activities
o   Exercise
o   Make time commitments to relaxation
o   Learn to play

  • *The suggestions above are excerpts from the book “Outgrowing the Pain Together: A Book for Spouses and Partners of Adults abused as Children” by Eliana Gil, PH.

 

HOW TO RESPOND TO DISCLOSURES

  • Disclosing sexual abuse or assault is painful and often a traumatic experience for many survivors as more often than not they face denial, blame, and accusatory questioning. But disclosing sexual abuse or assault can be a transformative experience.
  • When a survivor decides to disclose the abuse or assault it means that the survivor has chosen to move through the secrecy, shame, guilt, and the isolation induced by the experience and is willing to create a space for open, honest, healthy, and compassionate relationship. It also means that the survivor believes that you, the listener and receiver of the story, are a person of trust that will respect such a difficult moment and will listen with compassion and non-judgment.
  • As you listen to the survivor, please remember to:

o Thank them for sharing such a difficult and important moment with you.
o Affirmation their courage for opening up.
o Let them know that it was not their fault.
o Ask what the survivor needs right now and how you can help.
o Believe the survivor’s story.
o Instill in the survivor a sense of hope.
o Let the survivor know that they are not alone.
o Encourage the survivor to seek out professional help.