Do you know someone who’s been sexually abused? Thanks to the strength and clarity provided by the Me Too movement, more and more people are speaking out about their past sexual abuse – and the odds that you know someone who now has the courage to talk about it have gone up dramatically. There are some things that you need to know so that you can properly support your friend or friends through this difficult time. Here are some tips from a therapist who knows how to help you and your friend move forward.
Listen to Them
The first thing that this therapist will tell you is to listen to your friend as much as you can. You aren’t there to judge or get outraged on their behalf (even though you’re a good friend and no doubt feel angry about what happened.) Instead, you’re there to listen. Lend an ear, as the saying goes. If your friend wants to rage about what happened, cry about the experience, or just get their thoughts and feelings out in the open, it’s your job to listen without judgment. You can ask questions if you need to, but your job is just to be a sounding board, not an inquisitor.
Learn As Much As You Can About Sexual Assault Survivors
As the saying goes, “the more you know, the more you can help.” This therapist suggests learning as much as you can about people who have been sexually assaulted. Read the stories written by survivors and dive into some of the literature. According to statistics, one in five women and one in 71 men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. You never know when another of your friends will come out with their story, so it helps to be prepared.
Remain Sensitive about the Situation
Try to be sensitive about the overall situation. If you can, avoid saying things like, “you should hear about the story I just read by another sexual assault victim.” This compares one person’s pain to another, essentially making it seem as though your friend’s assault is a part of a competition to see who can hurt the most. While you do want to read up on sexual assault in America, it shouldn’t be for this reason. You do want to be as informed as possible, as long as you can be sensitive to what your friend is going through. Never make it seem as though you don’t care because everyone feels things differently. This therapist needs to emphasize this point, as it’s too easy to think that everyone deals with things the same way.
Help Your Friend Find a Therapist near Them
If your friend wants to go into therapy in order to work through their trauma, then help and support them. If they ask you to assist them in finding a therapist, then do so. However, don’t be pushy about. Allow them to choose which therapist they want to see. They should make their own appointment, without being nagged about it. You mean well, but your friend must have the strength to do this on their own.
It’s perfectly fine to give them the names and addresses of some good therapists, and even to go with them to their first appointment (you’ll sit in the waiting room during it, of course) if your friend asks. Remember that badgering them will only make the situation worse. It will be as if you’re taking control of their pain, instead of helping them through it. Sometimes well-meaning friends can overstep their bounds.
Keep Providing Support When Your Friend Wants to be Alone
At some point, your friend may need some space to deal with the situation. This is fine, you should let them take their “me time” in order to process things. However, you shouldn’t allow them to vanish entirely. Try to keep checking in with them as they take their solitary time. When you do reach out to them, keep your messages short and make it clear that you’re checking in. According to this therapist, this is a good way of letting your friend know that you care and that you’ll be there for him or her when they’re ready to talk to you again. They need to realize that they’re not alone in this – even if they need to actually be alone for a while.
Take Care of Yourself
Yes, this therapist understands that your main goal is to help your friend. The only problem is that it can be too easy to wear yourself out emotionally during the process. You won’t be able to help your friend as much if you’re mentally and emotionally exhausted. Spending all of your time on creating a support system for them that you end up neglecting yourself can make things worse. Instead, make sure that you have your own support network that you can rely on. You may also need to take some time out here and there in order to recharge your own emotional batteries. Self-care goes both ways.
Work On Your Self-Care Together
Speaking of self-care, there are plenty of these activities that can be completed in a group setting. They include things like arts and crafts and traveling. Other form of self care include shopping, or just sitting around and talking about everything else in life. These group activities can help you and your friend take your minds off of what’s happening, while at the same time, providing a way to make you both feel better, emotionally and mentally. Handling these self-care tasks will cement your bond to each other while giving you both a chance to recharge.
If you have a friend who has been sexually assaulted and they want someone to talk to, then suggest calling the Grief Recovery Center. Our therapists are available to help. You can reach us at (832) 413-2410 or by filling out the form on our website.