Healing from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse is an ongoing journey. For those who go on to develop trauma symptoms as a result of these experiences, relationships become difficult to master. There are a host of concerns with feeling safe in relationships in general with their loved ones due to the fact that the abuse is generally perpetrated by a close relationship or acquaintance.
Whether you are a friend, spouse, or a family member of someone who has endured abuse, tapping into your own discomfort in hearing about the traumatic experiences of your loved one may help you avoid unhelpful responses. Responses should foster safety, intimacy, and trust so that your loved one can begin feeling the support he or she may need in order to heal. If your loved one is having trauma symptoms, your responses need to support the recovery for your loved one rather than hinder it.
The following general tips can help you respond in a compassionate manner when a loved one share’s these difficult memories with you:
- Allow for him or her to decide how much to share and what to share.
- Allow him or her to express feelings including sadness, anger, or even shame around the trauma.
- Do not pressure him or her to share details or aspects of their trauma he or she is not willing or ready to share.
- Do not invalidate your loved one’s experiences by denying the memories of abuse your loved one is sharing or by asking if he or she is sure the trauma occurred.
- Be sure that your response does not relay blame to the victim for the abuse. For example, by giving advice of what he or she could have done differently to avoid the abuse from happening.
- Validate their emotions by making supportive statements that show you have been listening. “I can see the sadness you’re experiencing as your share this with me.”
- Learn to respect boundaries that he or she is setting when saying yes or no to requests. This helps your loved one feel safe or more in control over their environment.
- Understand that at times your loved one may need space and at other times closeness.
- Physical contact may be difficult for some time, if your loved one is having active symptoms.
- Show a gesture of support, such as holding their hand or giving a hug if he or she is open to it.
- Lastly, recognize that your loved one may be feeling vulnerable by sharing such memories. Your response can be an opportunity to foster emotional connectedness and closeness.
Taking the brave step of approaching these memories and sharing them with you is probably difficult enough for your loved one. This crucial step in another step toward recovery. Your response can foster love and acceptance, which can lead to feeling supported in a way that can help your loved one heal and recover in a healthy way.