Guidelines for helping a Survivor
There are several things a friend who desires to help should understand about an
abuse survivor before trying to help: shame, dissociation, trust, 'worse' abuse,
healing through the gospel, and safety.
Shame: abuse produces shame. Nearly 100% of childhood abuse and domestic
violence survivors blame themselves for the abuse in one way or another. No, it does
not make sense to you, but this is a fact. Because children are usually abused by a
respected family member or close family friend, they have a nearly impossible time
accepting that this person is hurting them, there has to be a reason so they blame
themselves - hence the shame begins to grow. One of the greatest barriers to healing
is shame. Many well meaning individuals and family members compound the shame
by insisting that revealing or talking about sexual or physical abuse is unacceptable,
magnifying and compounding the original shame.
Trust: Survivors of abuse first learned that they could not trust themselves, then that
they could not trust others (usually adults, often times male individuals). This leads to
not being able to trust their God. To have the trust of a survivor is a precious gift, don't
damage it. Don't try to offer advice, but do ask questions that will help you to
understand. Do not ask questions that gratify your own needs. Survivors instinctively
know when you life to them or when you are hiding truth from them.
Dissociation: the victims of abuse stop associating with their emotions. Because the
pain and horror are so great, victims mentally separate themselves from their
experiences. This is a form of denial that,in the victim's mind, makes the experience
not real. Some victims say that they have viewed the abuse from above the place it
was occurring - this is dissociation. The mind separating from the horror. This is also
why victims have problems with remembering the abuse - they have blocked it out.
Signs of dissociation are often shown when survivors stated that they don't remember
events or conversations, that they were seeing something from outside their body, or
they are seen staring off into space and don't "return" when their name is called.
"Worse abuse": There is no such thing. Abuse is abuse. Each person experiences
abuse differently, and the effects of the abuse has different effects on them - no two
persons will respond the same way even if they experience the same abuse events.
What to you, as a non-abused person, appears to be "worse" is purely a matter of it
being your own opinion. The fact is that abuse damages - period.
"The Gospel is all that is needed for healing." Not true. Yes, there are a few
survivors who can heal simply with the influence of gospel teachings. Severely
traumatized survivors need more help because of the deep emotional and mental
damage that has been done. When sufficient healing has taken place, survivors will
often seek the healing power of the atonement. This is not something that can be
pushed onto a survivor prematurely as it has the power to compound the abuse when
done at the wrong time.
Safety: abuse survivors will not discuss their abuse with anyone unless they feel safe.
They could find no safety while the abuse was going on. To most people home is a
safe haven. To a child being abused by a parent, home is a prison or dungeon of
pain, fear, and confusion.
Responsibility: Abuse survivors need to be responsible for their own healing, they
do not need others to do their healing for them. Survivors need to understand that
their abuser is responsible for the abuse, not them. Because the abuser took away
the victim's power (agency), the survivor needs to be responsible for their own needs
as an adult. No matter how well intentioned you may be, if you take responsibility for a
survivor's healing, you take their power away again - essentially re-abusing them -
and teach them that they are helpless. This happens when the person has healed
sufficiently to discover that they need to reclaim their freedom (agency) and have the
strength to accept personal responsibility for their own choices.
"Child Within": Survivors of childhood abuse are emotionally stuck in their
childhood. Part of the healing process is becoming unstuck and growing up
emotionally. One sign of this is when a victim who is under stress reverts to acting like
a child or adolescent instead of the adult you normally interact with.
Truth: abuse victims had lies forced upon them from the day the abuse started.
Survivors need truth. They need to face the lies they have believed and discover the
truth that the lies replaced. There is also the memory loss that is hiding the truth of the
events, this is VERY painful to experience since it involved reliving the memory/abuse
as if it was just occurring. Again this is not something that can be forced upon
someone healing from abuse. It is very harmful to push a survivor into facing these
realities before they are emotionally ready to.