If a survivor of child abuse wants to or needs to tell you their story...
That's it... Just listen. The person needs to be heard. Not healed.
I have read many survivor stories and blogs and unfortunately there is a repeated pattern of people either not knowing what to say or responding with blame or guilt aimed at the survivor.
I have gotten the "people change" or "you should forgive" or my favorite... "God loves you... Turn your life over to him" responses.
Yes people change and can change but have you ever seen a leopard change it spots? It's spots are ingrained in its fur... Permanent. Just like the personality traits of many abusers. Forgive? I have forgiven. Forget? I can't. My nightmares are full of the fears and experiences I had as a child. When I'm awake... I am constantly working on changing the messages my abuser gave me as a child either thru action or deed. I am growing in a positive manner as an adult. Mainly because I have forgiven the past for not being what I needed it to be and forgiven the past for never becoming what I hoped it would become. As for God, faith, belief, whatever you wish to call it. I have God. I have faith and I have a belief. For anyone to assume that a survivor doesn't, is judging them. Trust me, judging a survivor is the least sympathetic thing anyone can do. Faith, belief and God is the only reason Im still here. For some survivors this is true as well. Again don't assume.
So what does one say when being honored with the trust of a survivor who is sharing their experience...
First, listen. Just listen. There is pain, agony, shame, fear, hurt, and a host more emotions behind the words. Behind the experience. Listening with your heart is necessary.
No judgment! Meaning- dont clarify the experience for the person. ( Are you sure you didn't misunderstand what happened?). Uh you weren't there. The experience is not yours to judge or interpret.
Don't excuse the abuser ( she was probably having a bad day... she didn't mean it). Again, you weren't there in that moment in that experience. Don't tell someone how to experience their experience! It's their's ... NOT yours!
Don't tell the person how to react now. ( That was a long time ago... Just put it behind you... Live for today.) Trust me you have no idea how the person feels. If they could they would put it behind them. You have no idea how much they wish it never happened in the first place.
There are so many more positive responses that you can say or do....
A hug- although some may not want to be touched. Positive touch can be very reassuring for those that are open to receiving this.
Verbal Reassurance - that you care about the person and appreciate them opening up to you. Confirming that you are there for them. How do you do this? Tell them using words of meaning and purpose. Be direct. Letting the person know that they are still loved and appreciated and accepted by you. There needs to be clear communication. The stress of sharing their experience with you can cause a survivor to get lost in the emotion of the past. This is why clarity in communication from you to them in this moment is necessary.
There are many other ways too....
These are just a few of the responses that can allow a survivor to be able to open up and trust you with their pain....
I know I appreciate being validated by being heard and not judged. Actually doesn't everyone. It's that the basic essence of acceptance and love?
If you are a survivor? Can you relate? What responses have you had when you told someone your experience? What responses have you had?
I thank you for reading this... It's part of my experience!