One common thread in my survivor story is feeling alone in my journey. I was told during my years of abuse that no one, even those closest to me, would ever believe my claims. Like many sexual abuse survivors, I have a community of people around me that love me and actively work to “support” me. Yet, the concept of support and people’s ability to provide that most loving of care is seldom understood. It is this lack of understanding at the level one might hope for, and require, that prevents proper exploration of the issue.
Currently, 2020 is acting as a magnifying glass in the sun towards communities seeking greater support from society. America is struggling with Covid-19 impacts that cause heightened levels of anxiety from coast-to-coast. In the wake of multiple murders by police, Black Lives Matters is demanding the world address systemic racism including America’s need for health and policing reform. In late June, an international movement exposing sexual assault in the wrestling industry (a global sport where men and women compete side-by-side) was created with the hashtag #speakingout. This newest sexual abuse movement is still evolving, but driving conversation about sexual abuse in the workplace, gender bias in sports, retaliation, lingering effects of trauma, and how words matter.
From listening to the news, interacting with loved ones and reading social media, I’ve noticed four types of supporters. There is also a type who is incapable of support, or ostrich, which consciously or subconsciously ignores an issue. By investigating each one, you may identify people in your life, what they are capable of handling, and how to maintain healthy engagement. The next blog will offer tips to improve communication and interactions with each group.
A person who avoids conflict and responds to turmoil with “I don’t see this as a problem.”
An ostrich is a person who may prefer not to see, let alone understand what is going on around them. This individual could be so focused on their life that they are unable to see the struggles and needs of others. Another possibility could be they have a similar issue and are not able to process it much less resolve it. Since they are unable to own limiting beliefs, they cannot assist anyone else through hardship.
Although an ineffective person to turn to for support. We must give compassion to the ostriches in our lives. To acknowledge the pain of another means they must be comfortable with processing difficult feelings or emotions. By creating a life of self-protection, an ostrich has created a cocoon of safety and a myopic focus that helps them navigate their daily life.
Has the phrase “I don’t know what to do” begun feeling hollow for you?
A bystander is someone who sees a person who is in need but is either unable or unwilling to help. This can produce the most difficult interaction for a trauma survivor. As a person facing hardship, a survivor might yearn for comfort or even action that is unable to be delivered.
This bystander essentially does not have the bandwidth to process what they are experiencing.
Therefore, they either react with a flee or freeze mindset. By fleeing, they find it safer for their own psyche to leave the situation, trusting a more suited person will be able to soon assist. In the freeze reaction, a person sincerely wants to help, but their brain cannot process the situation and so they attempt to extend support through passive methods, waiting for a person more suited to the situation to assist in the near future.
As a trauma survivor, you may easily conjure up an image of bystanders in your life. Their limitations might be a source of lingering pain on your journey to healing. Meet them, and yourself, with sincere grace. You may choose to listen to their words and work with them to potentially better understand your concerns and needs. You could accept the scant aid they are able to give you and set boundaries within yourself regarding what you share with this person.
Does it feel like your support systems are often trying to drive the car of your life?
Being a passenger in your life can be demoralizing for a person healing from sexual abuse and other traumas. You set out to ask for assistance or advice from a person close to you. However, instead of finding the compassion, understanding, and support you’re seeking, you find them forcing their opinion or solution onto you. This can be retriggering and set back a survivor on their journey to reclaim their narrative. Although well-meaning, when your support system moves to steer the car of your life, it can lead to unintended consequences like a strain on the relationship, resentment, and unnecessary stress.
It can be overwhelming when you feel like you have become a passenger in your life. How did it so suddenly go from asking for advice or support into a scenario where your support system is steamrolling you?
Take a breath and strive for an objective perspective. Perhaps this person is acting out of anxiety. They may be so overwhelmed by your situation they are driving their point of view out of concern for you. In their mind, by insisting on their “solution” you can get out of turmoil faster. They could be so uncomfortable by your truth that they can only see the problem from their perspective or risk having their foundation rocked.
A driver/passenger dynamic offers mixed blessings. This pattern could compound your hurt and possibly limiting beliefs. Conversely, it offers a chance for you to refine your Thriver mindset by tapping into your deepest levels of inner strength. Your ability to understand your issue from multiple angles and ways to set healthy boundaries can become refined. By working to improve this dynamic, you can learn how to more effectively use your voice and advocate for others that might be feeling lost or in need of nurturing.
In today’s hashtag movement this term is being loosely thrown around as someone who is more active in their support for a person or demographic in need.
To be an ally means a person is more attune to the complexities of the situation and willing to be an active listener to help solve a problem. Close friends and empathic family members are often the most common forms of allies in a survivor’s life. These are the people you reach out to when times get tough and when you need to take a break from the drama and breathe. By creating a moment or two of peace, you can work with an ally to see a situation more objectively to create a pathway forward that has purpose and meaning for you.
To foster a rewarding dynamic with an ally, ensure your relationship remains two-sided. An ally can listen and help guide you through turbulent waters, but be mindful not to create “compassion fatigue.” Confirm they have the proper tools and boundaries so the ally can assist you in a way that is most beneficial to you both. During your interactions prioritize time to discuss their needs and limitations. It is helpful for their wellbeing that you act as a friend and ally for them in the areas where they could benefit from your insight and effort. Finally, make sure you carve out space for fun and joy to avoid dimming either of your spirits.
When times are at their most pressing, an activist is a person that will fight alongside you.
To be an activist, a person must put personal investment into a situation. Although society can paint an activist as someone more militant or imposing, in reality, an activist is someone that not only takes notice of a situation but acts as a frontline supporter of a cause. Consider a recent conflict you might have had with an organization or individual. Did your spouse or best friend step up to the next level to advocate for your needs? If so, then they elevated from an ally into an activist role.
This entails a supporter in your life exploring all facets of the issue and taking an objective lens to be an effective partner in creating a meaningful solution to the problem. They work alongside you and put forth the most active form of aid possible. They won’t rest until they know you are further along in your journey towards wholeness and healing.
In movements like #metoo, #timesup, or #speakingout, activists are sharing their stories in a vulnerable manner to advance the broader cause of sexual abuse awareness and ending the lingering effects of this violation. In cases like this or #blacklivesmatters, people can use their privilege or standing in society to advance the cause in a way that more marginalized groups might face hurdles.
Bystanders, Drivers, Allies, and Activists all play central roles in the archetypes that make up one’s support system. Yet, we must be honest with our expectations of what part people play in helping us during our most trying times. Some individuals aren’t even capable of passive assistance while others are more willing to take an active part in facilitating healing. What is important is, if someone is in trouble, a person doesn’t walk away without confirming help is on its way.
During this chaotic year of 2020, we must answer the call to react to the pain and trauma around us with love, light, and empathic listening. We must empower people when they see someone struggling to say something and to provide the best support they can possible. It might not be what you expect it to be, but work to meet their efforts with grace and gratitude.
Finally, this blog marks a year since we launched Survivors to Thrivers. We are humbled at the growth and lessons we all have learned in 365 days. Thank you for all your input and encouragement as we grow into a global community cleansing the world of the shame and secrecy that surrounds sexual abuse.
As we embark on our second year, we are committed to listening and implementing your feedback to create a more inclusive community that reflects the values and experience of all individuals affected by the rippled effects of sexual abuse trauma. Please leave us feedback either in the form of a blog comment, email, or social media interaction. Thank you for being an integral member of this uplifting community.