SUPPORTING A PARTNER or FRIEND?
When the man in your life has been raped or assaulted, or when he feels able to finally tell you that he was sexually abused as a child, he will need a great deal of support from the people around him, as well as from people like counsellors, more so if he has only recently disclosed his abuse to you, and is currently feeling as if he is right back at the trauma stage of his abuse.
Many partners simply dont know how to deal with the traumas of sexual abuse, and become frustrated, angry and upset, (as if you're supposed to know!) and you can be left feeling that you are in some way failing the person you love.
Educate yourself about sexual abuse/rape and the healing process, because if you just get a basic idea of what he's going through, it will help you to be more supportive. If possible, make sure you get some support too, without breaking his trust or confidentiality, remember, however affected you may be by his disclosure, it is nothing like what he is going through
If he feels that he's traumatised you, it will make it even harder for him to cope with his abuse and more often than not, will leave him with even more feelings of guilt and confusion.
Every survivor responds differently to abuse, although there are certain feelings that are common, such as fear, distress, humiliation, anger, shame, confusion, numbness and guilt.
Those feelings may vary from week to week, day to day - even minute to minute; so it is important that you allow him to experience those feelings without any fear of having them invalidated or dismissed.
It is important he knows someone will allow him to talk and will try to understand his needs, rather than assuming they know best, rushing him to "get over it". It is essential that he’s believed, and allowed to begin to rebuild his life at his own pace.
The predominant feature of sexual abuse is that it was forced upon him, against his will, even though he may say that it was his fault, that he went back again, he didnt tell anyone, etc.
It is an act of violence and violation regardless of how much visible "violence" is used; and in doing so, takes away a person's control, and so it is vital that someone who has been through this be in control of their journey to recovery.
Survivors need to rebuild feelings of safety, trust, control and self-worth, all which has been lost through the abuse.
These are not easy issues to resolve, and it takes time, patience and inner strengths, something that he does possess, but very often fails to see that he has.
So, read on, digest, and help your partner support himself in this journey of healing, its worth it, however hard it may seem to be at the moment!
The following are some tips on "DOs" and "DON'Ts" to help you support the person you love.
BELEIVE HIM FULLY
Even if he sometimes doubts himself , even if his memories are vague, even if what he tells you sounds too extreme, please believe him!
Survivors don't make up stories of sexual abuse or rape. Let him know that you are open to hearing anything he may wish to share, and although painful and upsetting, you are willing to enter those difficult places with him to and to receive his words with respect.
BE CLEAR THAT HES NOT TO BLAME
No one asks to be abused or raped. He didnt want to be abused, and he had to do whatever it took to survive. The blame is always the fault of the abusers, no matter how he feels he is to blame.
That response can occasionally make things more difficult for him, and that is something nobody wants.
The focus, however selfish, needs to be him, so don't try to make him do anything he does not feel comfortable with.
This includes sexual acts, pressure to conform, people pleasing, doing something he feels uncomfortable with, etc.
All survivors need to recognise their gut reaction, and work with it, as it is often their only safety valve, and has protected them since they were abused.
DO try to remember that you may need support too, and in order to continue supporting your partner, counselling is available for you too.
DO NOT criticise him for being where they were at the time, for not resisting more or screaming, for not talking about it earlier...or for anything else. Anyone can be a 'victim', regardless of age, gender, looks, etc.
Any criticism of the way he handled of the situation, either during or after the assault, simply adds to that guilt, and it is important that the blame is placed firmly where it belongs - the person who committed the assault.
DO TRY TO UNDERSTAND.
Listen and understand why he felt unable to prevent it from happening. He may have been frozen by fear, or have been suspecting and trusting, or they may have been threatened or physically attacked and may have realistically feared worse would happen if they resisted.
You don't have to understand what hes going through, just be there to listen when he wants to speak, If he doesnt want to talk, respect his decision not to speak. Express your compassion.
If you have feelings of outrage, compassion, pain for their pain, do share them. There is probably nothing more comforting than a genuine human response. Just make sure your feelings don't overwhelm theirs.
DO LISTEN TO THEIR REASONS.
Listen to his reasons if he did not tell you immediately.
He may have been scared, ashamed or embarrassed, maybe he wanted to protect you from the upset of knowing, perhaps he chose to think it through first, or perhaps even chosen to talk to other people less personally involved.
DISTINGUISH BETWEEN "IF ONLYS" and GUILT
Help him distinguish between wishing it had never happened, in terms of wishing he hadn't been there at the time, etc, or it being his fault.It was not his fault, however much he may feel it was
Try not to over-simplify what happened. Let him say how he feels, allowing him to work through it in his time.don't tell him "to get over it" ! That won't help and will make him feel even more isolated from you!
REASSURE HIM YOU'RE BE THERE.
Reassure him that he has your support, and give him the time to work it through.
Make it clear that you will be around to talk to now or in the future, and help him to trust you by not pushing him into expressing things.Remember; he needs his own space, and may vary between dependency and aloofness, all typical manners of coping.
DON'T TAKE CONTROL.
Sexual abuse makes people feel invaded, changed and out of control; try to imagine how this feels, and try to do what helps him rather than what makes you feel better - listen to what he wants and needs.
It is crucial that he is able to make his own decisions and regain influence over what happens in his life, in order to rebuild trust and strength.
It is common for loved ones, themselves distressed, to step in and be too protective, perhaps treat him differently and make decisions for him, all of which will add to his frustration.
If it was a member of his family who abused him, and they are still alive, your anger will undoubtly rise, but remember to allow him to be remain in control, it is not your battle, however much you may want to sort it all out.
don't see him as a victim. Continue to see him as a strong, courageous person who is reclaiming his life.
Ask him how he wants to be helped, and in trying, you'll help rebuild his trust.
Often this means leaving him alone to deal with it in his way, but always be there, if he needs you around.
If he belongs to a support group that may make you feel unwanted, or unsupported in some way, it may also make you feel jealous, which is very common.
Please also know that once he starts healing, he will change, and will be a different person, but the person he ultimately becomes will the person he has always wanted to be, free from guilt, anger, shame and fear, to name a few negative emotions.
HELP HIM TO FEEL SAFE.
Help him to feel safe and take part in things again, at his own pace and in ways he feels best.
Knowing that he could speak to you about feeling unsafe and ask for your companionship when he’s need it, will be reassuring as he tackles difficult things.
DON'T FRIGHTEN HIM.
Don't come up behind him, touch him unexpectedly or in a way that reminds him of the assault. He may want to be held and comforted, or prefer not to be until he feels safe - ask him what feels safe and respect that.
Don't be offended if he finds it difficult to be close, emotionally or sexually.
It is often just the memories being recalled, and most of them are feelings of violation and fear.
Do try to encourage him to say what is comfortable and safe, without trying to add further pressure to him, only he will know what is comfortable for him, and only he will know how he wants to spend his time with you.
If you find that there is an emotional distance between you due to “problems, remember that it is not your problem, just something he needs to work through, either on his own or with outside support, so don’t blame him or yourself, nor put pressure on him.
Knowing that you listen and respond to him will help him re-establish feelings of closeness and trust.
DON'T DIRECT YOUR MISGUIDED ANGER AT HIM.
Don't direct the obvious anger and frustration you feel towards his abusers, although understandable if causing you problems, he may be more worried that what happened to him will hurt those close to him, namely you.
Reassure him that you know it is not his fault, but if you do feel anger, make it very clear that it is directed towards those who committed the assault and not towards him.
Do not allow your anger to become time consuming, remember, it is not your problem, although it may feel that way most of the time.
It can make him feel out of control of the situation, that his needs are being ignored, something hes already experienced, and possibly ran way from in the past.
You may need to ask friends or other trusted people for support and ideas about how to deal with your own understandable feelings of anger and frustration.
REMEMBER ~ his needs come first and he may not want you to discuss his issues with others. A hard situation to manage, but manageable.
DON'T BLAME YOURSELF
Whatever problems arise during your relationship, always remember that you played no part in his abuse, and therefore have no guilt, even if he directs it towards you at times
The responsibility, blame and guilt remains with those who committed the abuse.
Although it may seem like a hell of a struggle, it is possible to overcome all of this, and he will, in time.
One final thought, even though he may find it difficult to say, or express in emotions, he must love you, otherwise he would not have trusted you to tell you about his abuse, and in time, he will be the man he wants to be.
Good luck, and stay safe!
GET A LIFE.No, I dont mean that negatively, but you should try and stop living his pain and should do something else to distract yourself away from the trauma of the abuse and fallout that comes with it, and in doing so, allow him the time and space to come to terms with his past and his actions since the abuse ended.
It also helps to have an outside interest that you turn to, in time of need, to ensure your sanity dealing with these issues
Having said that, I don't mean he should be left to himself, and not do any work on the abuse issues, but please leave him to do this, as only he can do this, and no matter how hard you try to push him, by in letting him be, he will come back to you, in time.