Its not like you married an axe murderer
Its not like you married an axe murderer. For my exhusband I’m sure he felt like it though…

This is the last in a three part series that stemmed from one intended post on dealing with the world as a survivor of trauma, and for the world dealing with survivors. It turned into dealing with survivors as survivors ourselves, dealing with the world as a survivors, and one geared for dealing with survivors as the world.

What about the rest of the world? They exist too. And they might not know how to deal with people like me–from my anecdotal experience anyway.

So through your life you managed to grow up relatively well adjusted thanks to either the inherent qualities of you or the people around you. Sadly. This prepares you for kind of a burden you didn’t ask for: you get to deal with the rest of us who haven’t had the chance to be well adjusted yet. We’re working on it. Most of us. Some of us… a number of us are working on it. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you have your own traumas too. This information is less about internalizing how we view the world as survivors but more how the world can deal with us as survivors.

What is your relation to the survivor? OR: How do I even begin talking about this???!
Lets start here and go deep: The nature of your relationship is going to dictate what is appropriate in your response and indeed if you even need to have a method of responding. In a previous post I said a thing that is not quite true but was nice for emphasis: You as a person do not owe a survivor of trauma anything. Unless you want to have a close relationship with them.

If you want to have a close relationship with a survivor you are going to need to be ready to give them understanding, patience, empathy and to devote at least a portion of your time to learning about trauma with them as they learn about this thing that has twisted their life in ways they may not be able to completely comprehend at the moment they realize they have been traumatized.

If the survivor is your partner, child, coworker, friend, parent, sibling or whatever relationship you could want to have with them… there are different ways you can and cannot help. There are different things required of you. A friend of a sexual assault survivor doesn’t need to change their sexual preferences based around the boundaries of their friend. The partner of a sexual assault survivor DOES.

How long you have known them sort of dictates how much/what type of help you can give. Having known someone for a long time gives you an extra special power in their life because you can help them rationalize themselves with an outside view of the past. Having just met someone allows you to provide someone with perhaps some much needed understanding, the chance to be taken at face value and actually heard. 

Where your survivor is in their awareness and healing cycle is going to dictate what kind of things it is appropriate to do. A survivor in the beginning of their process of healing probably doesn’t need to be excessively held accountable for everything they’re working on. A survivor nearing the end of their healing process probably doesn’t need as much slack as they’ve been used to getting.

This is complex stuff that is really going to be very individual to you and your scenario. Rather than tell you specific things I’m going to go into some general theorizing.

  1. The point that someone becomes a survivor for you is really more related to when they share the information with you. Sometimes you might find out at the same time as them by being actively in their life when the trauma affects them. On the other hand you might not find out even if you are actively involved in someone’s life when a trauma affects you.
  2. There are lots of reasons a person will share history of a trauma with you. Sometimes they are hoping to bond with you through a shared understanding of experience. Sometimes they are trying to warn you of something specific… this might be that they will need you to be more understanding of their actions, maybe they want you to know that they won’t react well to certain things (and a number of things they might not be able to anticipate)… but they might not be in a place where they can express exactly these things in exactly this way. Sometimes people will think they have been SUPER clear with you by expressing that they might have a non-specific trauma.

    They might need help. They might not know how to get it in any way other than by telling someone that there has been a problem.

  3. This is their story. This is their experience. And you need to listen to them. Active listening is a tool that will help. Rather than providing opinions, ask questions about how things affected them, how they deal with things. You might have intense feelings about someone else’s trauma. It is your job to deal with that. If you want to help them rather than blowing up and putting your feelings about someone’s trauma on that person trying to express that they have had this experience to you… you have got to put your feelings where they belong: on the back burner. This is not about you. This is about them. You can address your feelings later but right now… its about them.
  4. This is about the end of my general advice.

This is fairly short because I feel it should be concise… I might update this later.