Finding out that a friend, partner, family member, or other loved one has a history of childhood sexual abuse can be a confusing and upsetting experience. Although it is important to respectfully and carefully receive their story, it’s also okay to experience your own feelings and frustrations. Understanding that this is a complex situation to be navigated, while still supporting your loved one in a positive way, is critical to supporting them, and yourself, in a healthy way. When an individual is disclosing a history of abuse, or is coming to you for support when they are struggling with any long-term effects of the abuse, mentally, emotionally, or physically, there are a few things to keep in mind. Some of these include, but are not limited to:
Demonstrating attentive listening behaviors, such as eye contact, focused attention, and warm body language can make your loved one feel at ease when coming to you for support. Letting them know that you are listening to them, and telling them that you believe everything they are saying are also great ways to convey that you are paying attention and receiving their story in a meaningful way. A comfortable environment may encourage your loved one to disclose whatever they need to and experiencing healing.
Choosing the right words
In addition to telling your loved one that you’re listening to them and that you believe them, there are also other things you can say to encourage them and make them feel supported. It’s important to remind them that the abuse is not, and will never be, their fault, and that you respect and care about them no matter what. No matter how long ago the abuse occurred, who abused them, or what the characteristics of the abuse were, reminding them that healing is possible and that you’re there for them may make a big difference. You can also ask your loved one what their goals are and what they’re looking for, especially when it comes to your relationship. Some individuals may want to begin the healing process, but may also want to do it on their own terms. They may just need for you to be an active and respectful listener. They may not want you to suggest potential treatment options or next steps to take.
Taking and suggesting positive actions
If you talk to a loved one and they want you to have an active role in their healing process, it may be a good idea to encourage them to seek professional support. This may come in the form of suggesting therapists or support groups in your area for them to try, after doing your own research. In addition to researching potential resources in your area, you can also educate yourself on the issue of childhood sexual abuse, and how it can impact a survivor. You can also investigate what warning signs you should watch for to tell if your loved one needs help in the future.1
- Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA). http://mocsa.org/info-resources/adult-survivors-child-sexual-abuse. Accessed January 25, 2018.