How to Help a Friend Who Was Abused

Promo-1I was abused as a child. I spent my life finding solutions and growth for myself. Now I share solutions in order to help other people.

People who have been traumatized need a community around them. They need you, their friends. In fact, people surrounded by a community of supportive, caring friends have a much easier time recovering from tragedy.

  1. Look for the strong qualities in them and acknowledge them.

There is a spark of light, strength and beauty in the person you are wanting to help. Everyone has within them the capacity to heal. This is particularly true of traumas.

Our minds actually do what we need to do to get over an assault on our beings. You can help shore them up by remembering how capable they are.

  1. Be especially aware of boundaries, asking if you want to hug or touch them in any way.

Abuse is a violation of our bodies. People who have been raped, abused, and beaten have had their boundaries taken away. You can help them by being cautious to respect the absolute right they have to their own space.

In case you don’t know what a person’s space is, consider an imaginary circle one arm’s length all the way around them. They own that space.

  1. Listen, listen, and listen

Boundaries contain our bodies but also our thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, dreams and so on. It takes real friendship to hold on to your own feelings and not interrupt a hurting person. But it’s critical to do that. People need to regain their ownership of their thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, dreams and so on.

  1. Recognize that they have an absolute right to their own choices.

This includes whether or not they go to the police. There are two parts to this one. One is that people who’ve been assaulted have had their choices taken away from them. If you demand that they handle their attack your way, you too are attempting to take their choices away from them.

The other is that the police and court system are particularly abusive and intrusive. This is true for all forms of crimes against a person. It takes a certain personality type to be okay within this process. Not everyone wants to do this. Encouraging them to follow their own instincts is the most helpful support for them.

  1. Remind yourself that they are a person, not a victim, survivor or some other label.

People are sacred. A criminal act against a person defines the criminal. The criminal act does not define the person who experienced that act. How a person handles what they experienced defines who they are.

Take your lead from them. How they chose to think about what happened to them belongs to them. It’s another value inside their boundaries. They own that right to define themselves.

  1. Understand that the personal is not the political FOR EVERYONE.

This too is a personal choice like reporting the crime. Not everyone feels better from publicly sharing their struggles. Not everyone feels empowered by political action. It’s important, if you want to help them, to remember that in each and every situation their consent is required.

It will help them if you respect the other person’s right to say “no” or “yes” to any interaction or plan of action. Friendships require a kind of navigation where both people take an equal part in the friendship. In the case of a hurting friend, you can help them best by respecting their right to decide for themselves.

  1. Take to heart the ideal that the person is not damaged, broken, dirty or anything else no matter what has happened to them.

People who survive atrocious experiences have some real admirable qualities. It takes stamina, strength, courage, determination, creativity, and faith to survive. Criminal behavior does not transfer from the criminal to them,

I think that when society began to look at violent and/or sexualized crime, we publicized the awfulness of these crimes. And it’s true. The crimes are awful. Recovery is a painful and nasty bear. Yet, the person who experienced the crime is not awful, hopeless, dirty or whatever. What was done to them does not have to ruin their lives. Give up the sense of “it’s so awful!”

  1. Give practical help.

People recovering from immediate trauma may need help getting to appointments. Their home might have been trashed and they need help putting it right. Sometimes they need help cooking. It’s very similar to how you might help someone ill or in an emergency. Simply think about them, then think about your own limits. Only offer the kinds of help you can give.

  1. Come from a place of loving kindness.

Whether you are speaking to a hurt child like I was, an old lady like I am now, or anywhere in between, there is an injury there. Think about this as if the person had a compound fracture. You would not expect them to move their arm according to your wants and needs. You certainly wouldn’t touch or bump into their arm. You’d see the cast or whatever is put on broken arms today. Then you would give their arm a space. You would not ignore their arm, nor would you focus on it. Loving kindness means that you would be gentle with their feelings and needs. You would respect them.

  1. Know your own limits and boundaries.

This means that you stop when you cannot do something. If you cannot hear what they need to say, someone else can. If you cannot comfortably help them do what they need to do in their lives, there are other people in the world who can. You do more harm trying to help when you have issues around this yourself. People who have their own pain on this topic often unknowingly stop others from talking. If you cannot hear, let someone else do the listening.

This has been my attempt to turn what hurt me into a positive. I hope it helps you. Helping others is one of the ways I cope with what happened to me. It means that the hurt has been turned into something beneficial.

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©2016-18 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

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3 thoughts on “How to Help a Friend Who Was Abused

  1. This is excellent as always Laura. I would love to see your thoughts on how helping others who have been traumatized when it is not new trauma but the person is newly processing through it.

  2. This is especially powerful, Dr. Laura. You have such experience and wisdom. Such an honoring in your words. Loving kindness! Absolutely! Thank you!

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