5 Tips on How You Can Respond When a Survivor Breaks the Silence

Breaking the silence about their abuse can be one of the hardest things a survivor of childhood sexual abuse does. Even if it has been years since the abuse occurred, it is emotional, sensitive, and courageous to let someone else know about it.
It can also be difficult for the family member or friend who is receiving the news. Family members and friends have deep feelings of love and care for survivors, but many don’t know the best ways to support a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Hearing that a friend or family member was treated in such a horrible way can be very challenging. It might come as a shock, and most likely a flood of emotions will accompany the news.
So how can friends and family members respond appropriately?  To help, here are five tips on how to respond (and not react) to your loved one when he or she breaks the silence of abuse:

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    Believe Them

    One of the greatest fears a survivor has when they speak about their abuse is that no one will believe them when they break the silence. Your opportunity as a supporter is to believe them and show confidence in them.

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    Listen

    It is natural to want to ask a lot of questions about the abuse, but to the survivor that can be intrusive. Before you ask, listen.You don’t need to speak to be there for someone. Too many survivors, just telling someone they trust about their abuse will lessen the weight of isolation, self-blame, and secrecy.  Listen without interrupting. Listening without being judgmental can be the greatest support you can give to your loved one.

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    Validate

    Reaffirm your love for the survivor, and reiterate that your love will never change. Let them know they are valuable and important. Re-emphasize that they matter. Make sure that your loved one knows that you are there for them and will be there at their side. Many times survivors carry around the belief that they are to blame for their abuse. Reaffirm to them that this was not their fault. Make sure they know that you don’t see them differently because of their past. Reassure them of this often.

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    Help Explore Options

    Helping your loved one know their options on how to proceed on the path to healing can be helpful to a survivor. Work alongside them as they try to find professional services that can help them overcome the trauma. Knowing that they are not alone in this process can make a big difference in a survivor’s healing journey.

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    Take Care of Yourself

    You are also affected by this abuse. Even though the abuse did not happen to you, knowing that it happened to someone you love will impact your life. Make sure you assess your feelings and remember to care for yourself. It isn’t possible to be your best self in your supportive role if you are too tired to listen with compassion or overfilled with emotions. After every conversation, make sure you do a healthy activity to re-center yourself. This can be going for a walk outdoors, doing some yoga, or taking a jog around the neighborhood Taking care of yourself along the journey will help your loved one too as you both work to find peace.

While it will be difficult to hear that someone you love has been abused, the thing to remember is that healing is possible. With support and love from you and others, your loved one can overcome the trauma and find peace.