What are you supposed to do when someone you love reaches out to confide in you — to tell you that they have been sexually assaulted? This can be an incredibly challenging and stressful situation not only for the person who has shared their experience with you but also for you who may not know how to handle the information and best support your loved one.
The truth is, there is no “right” way to handle this information. There is no “right” way to support your loved one. But, there are some techniques you can use to ensure that you are providing the best and most helpful support to your loved one as possible during this time.
Today, we’re going to go over these techniques so that you can feel that you are doing everything in your power to give your loved one the support and love that they need during this healing process.
1. Remain Calm
Hearing that a friend, family member, or other loved one has been abused is enough to make most of us pretty upset. However, this anger can often only add additional stress to an already stressful situation. Because of this, it is best to take this information as calmly as possible.
Expressing your upset emotions can make the person who has shared their traumatic experience with you feel even more hurt. Therefore it is important to listen to what your loved one tells you without adding a whole bunch of your emotions to the mix.
2. Respect Their Boundaries
These boundaries can be both emotional and physical. Often we may feel like hugging or otherwise physically comforting our loved ones — especially when they have shared a disturbing experience with us — but we must ask before doing this. They may not want to be touched, and hugging them could make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Your loved one may not want to share specifics — such as names, details, or anything identifying about the individual who assaulted them — and we must also respect this. Do not force them to share anything they are not comfortable sharing.
3. Go at Their Pace
Everyone is going to want to share things at a different pace. They may not want to talk about what happened for very long, or they may want to get all of it out at once. The critical thing is to not ask for more than they are willing to provide. Let them steer the conversation and simply focus on providing them with love and support.
4. Check In with Them
This does not mean calling them every day and asking about more details. As mentioned above, they may not want to talk about it so much. But, checking in gently with them can help them not isolate themselves. This can also show them that you are there for anything they need whenever they are ready to accept support.
5. Educate Yourself
Research the issue of sexual assault. We can be better support systems if we know what to look out for in our loved ones as well as what they may be feeling. This will also help to clear up any misconceptions you may have had about sexual assault in your own mind.
6. Thank Them
Sharing this information with you was probably very challenging for your loved one. Be sure to thank them for confiding in you and seeking your support. What they have been through and will continue to go through will be tough, and offering a simple “thank you” can make a world of difference.
7. Ask How to Help
Not everyone wants the “problem to be fixed” for them. Your loved one may simply be looking for someone to confide in. They may just be looking for someone to help them sort through their feeling and help them figure out the right next steps.
Ask your loved one what you can do to help them. This gives them the power and control over the situation — which can be a great comfort to those who have had that power taken from them through sexual assault.
8. Listen to Them
Give your loved one your complete and undivided attention. It took great courage to come to you and share the details or simply the truth of their sexual assault experience, and they deserve all of your attention when talking about it. Focus on listening to their feelings and how you may be able to help them process those or how else you may be able to support them.
9. Keep Up the Support
Your loved one’s recovery will take time. Being a consistent and reliable source of love and support can be incredibly healing and helpful for them during this time, so ensure that you keep supporting them throughout the entire healing process.
No two survivors will have the same healing journey; because of this, your loved one may need more or less time and support from you. Just be attentive and supportive, and in time, they will heal.
10. Keep It Confidential
Assume anything that they say to you is off-limits. Sexual assault is an extremely important topic; your loved one’s experience is not a story you can share with others. It is simply not your story to tell and not your call. Allow your loved one to share this information with who they wish to, and ensure you ask their permission before talking about any part of it to someone else.
11. Establish Your Own Boundaries
You aren’t going to be any help to your loved one if you are not taking care of yourself. Being there is important for your loved one, but you need to ensure that you are still living your life and not falling behind on important tasks and responsibilities.
12. Look Out for Red Flags
Some behaviors require immediate attention, or they could become extremely dangerous. These behaviors, or red flags, include things like crying all the time, suicidal thoughts or actions, losing interest in favorite hobbies, as well as major changes in sleeping and eating habits, which can all be signs that your loved one needs medical attention. In these cases, it may be crucial to encourage your loved one to seek out a professional counselor or contact 911 for immediate medical attention.
13. Respect Their Choices
You and your loved one may have very different ideas and approaches to how you think it would be best to recover and heal from an assault. The truth is, neither of you is wrong — some approaches simply work better for some people than others. Because of this, it is essential that you not force your own ideas on your loved one. Allow them to heal in the way that suits them best, respect those choices, and provide the support they need to recover.
14. Encourage Them to Seek Counseling
Sometimes we simply cannot provide all of the support our loved one needs during this time. There is no shame in this. We all have our own things going on in our lives. Maybe we do not have the emotional or mental capability to support our loved one the way they need to be supported, or we simply do not know how to best help them. Whatever the reason, we can encourage them to seek professional help through a therapist or counselor.
Professional therapists can be an incredibly valuable resource for anyone who needs some additional support and guidance in their lives. Because of this, you can be sure that your loved one will be getting the dedicated support and learning tools and techniques to help them recover and heal when they speak with a therapist.
So, if you have a loved one who has been sexually assaulted and is looking for additional support, please encourage them to seek the help they need to heal. You can reach out to us at Love Heal Grow to get in touch with one of our therapists today.