Sometimes family and friends wonder what they should or shouldn’t say to a loved one when approached about a traumatic event that happened or is happening in their life. What a person says, how one responds to another can make a life changing difference, especially when the individually may be dealing with a crisis situation. Only too often, however, we overlook what is right before our eyes, do not trust our own instincts and even look the other way from what we may hear, see or what is not even said.
The misconception as a result of what is spoken is that the individual is then not to be taken seriously when they finally come forward, open up or provide any hint that they are having their basic rights restricted, being hurt or harmed in any way.
This is considered a secondary wounding where the person that is seeking support and/or help is some how shamed, blamed or even called a liar or crazy.
Common example of secondary wounding is discounting and/or minimizing the person’s circumstances by downplaying the trauma, event or effect on them, i.e.:
– It’s not rape if you didn’t say, “No”
– At least he’s not beating you, it’s not physical abuse.
– It probably wouldn’t have happen if you hadn’t slept with him in the first place.
– Are you sure it wasn’t just a misunderstanding?
– You seem to have intimacy issues.
– It can’t be too bad, if you’re still with him.
Other forms are by blaming the person, who is the one that has experienced the trauma, i.e.:
– If you’re telling the truth, why didn’t you call the police and just leave?
– Did you even try hard enough to stop him?
– How can you love somebody that would do that to you?
– Well you chose to be with him; you made your bed, you lye in it.
– No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
– It probably wouldn’t have happened if you knew how to give fully to your husband, and just submit to him.
– So what did you do now, to make him so upset to do that?
– You must have done something that caused him to behave like that towards you.
There are also responses of stigmatization, in which friends, family, even inappropriate professionals will judge a person whom has been abused, raped or sexually assaulted and/or because of the typical response to that abuse, i.e.:
– You’re crazy; you’re just saying that because you have had a rough past/to get out of anything.
– You’re mentally unbalanced and everything you say is suspected. (This tends to be implied verses stated directly simply due to ones life experiences being different than their own.)
– Oh, you’re just obsessed about these abuse/rape stuff; you think it’s always happening.
– Note that some professional who are inexperienced and lack proper education in this field of expertise may also patronize anyone by stigmatizing them, assuming them all weak and stupid and even making statements such as, “I thought you were smarter than that,” etc.
There are various other forms of additional or secondary wounding to a person who has experienced these trauma’s in life, such as betrayal of confidence, denial of assistance, siding with or excusing the perpetrator, making it all about them, silence (changing the subject, leaving in mid-sentence), sheer cruelty (marital rape “jokes” in your presence, imply or stating you deserved it), and the demand of intimate details of the rape or sexual assault. (1)
These hurtful words happen because people, even family and friends, simply do not know what they are dealing with. This is called ignorance. The general social attitude is to minimize sexual assault because it is not widely educated with a working knowledge of what it is or the trauma it causes. There are a few states that are just beginning to pass a law requiring education of what rape, sexual assault, incest and molestation is, to be taught in school, along with prevention. This a proactive way of preventing and protecting children and adults from becoming a statistic and being part of the solution to world wide problem today.
Another reason for hurtful and harmful words is burnout; particularly from professionals today. Unfortunately, there are some folks that over some period of time they harden their heart to circumstances and thus people and the trauma they are experiencing, therefore respond inappropriately causing more damage than good.
For those whom tend to respond to individuals in the midst of trauma or whom share a prior experience with residual effects, with a distant attitude of, “you made your bed; you lye in it” or in essence, “you get what you deserve” attitude; have more than likely never really been truly frightened and/or experienced an injustice to their being. Generally, their attitude is that if the woman were strong, had value, quality/moral or were superior at all, she would have never been assaulted by her partner in the first place or would have chosen correctly from the start. Other common thoughts or statements even made may be, “if were me, I would have already left.” In order for them to feel superior and for what they say to feel correct and their own world to feel safe, they must believe that anyone who gets into trouble, is harmed in anyway, must have somehow asked for it. This is also the tendency and likely attitude in those who may judge people who are financially disadvantaged as automatically lazy. Just as for women who have not been abused or raped with this mentality, would look upon a woman whom had this experience as weak and/or immoral and themselves as somehow stronger and better, believing that they have and/or managed to follow some internal set of rules and therefore it will never happen to them. In doing so, this precept keeps them safe and therefore they also use their words to wound you to affirm them selves.
Another perception is generalizing. People may take an attitude towards a person that has had abuse, sexual assault or rape in their history and behave towards them as if you are a victim forever. In other words, everything you do is interpreted through those lenses or that perception of you; i.e. a valid angry response to someone disregarding your boundaries and your standing up for your own rights is judged and then put down as over reacting and a “mental problem.” (1)
Things to do to be supportive for a loved one and survivor, is to listen; be non-judgmental; encourage counseling with the appropriate professional; be patient; encourage them to report sexual assault or rape to the necessary law enforcement (911 in most areas) in the area; for more concerns, questions and support, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 1(800) 656-HOPE; empower them by not pressuring them to do anything they are not ready to do; listen; encourage medical care to ensure their health and well-being. (2)
(1) Aphrodite Wounded: http://www.aphroditewounded.org/secwou.html
(2) RAINN: http://www.rainn.org/get-help/help-a-loved-one