how to be friends with a survivor

This post mentions sexual assault and domestic violence.

Hi everyone! As always, thanks for coming back.

I’m honestly just going to jump right in. I saw an acquaintance recently and while we were catching up, they reached out and touched me without giving me a heads up.

Now, I’ve kind of always hated being touched in general. Physical touch is not my top love language!

After surviving sexual assault, I’ve become even more adverse to unwelcome touch.

I quickly retreated and physically turned my body away from them. I curled in on myself as much as I could and willed my heart to slow down.

You are safe. You are in control.

I explained to them that I do not like being touched and that I didn’t appreciate them just doing so with no warning.

This is a lesson that doesn’t just apply to assault survivors, please ask people before you touch them, their hair, their earrings. Anything.

Ask first.

This is where things got weird. They proceeded to get an attitude with me because I wouldn’t let them touch me. In that moment I was filled with disbelief. How dare you feel entitled to my body because you feel like you can help me in that moment?

Within a few hours of that incident, I wanted to write this post as a blueprint for people who aren’t sure how to love their friend who has survived unthinkable trauma.

Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist, psychologist or anything like that. I’m simply a woman who has survived and knows how she wants to be treated.

  1. Trigger warnings aren’t wanted but needed
    • Triggers cannot be controlled and are the bodies response to a potentially dangerous situation. Triggers are very serious and should be taken as such
    • When talking to a friend who has survived sexual assault, domestic violence or any other traumatic situation, you must give them a heads up before diving into any topics like that. Confirm with them that they are in the proper headspace to even have a conversation surrounding the topic of their trauma. If they are not in the proper headspace, do not force it the conversation to be ‘helpful’. They know what they need in that moment.
    • Even if it seems small to you, I can assure you that your friend appreciates you in ways you may not understand
  2. Don’t touch them without their permission
    • I’ve already talked about this one a bit but I want to really drive the point home.
    • When someone has been sexually assaulted or abused by a partner, they lost the ability to be in control of their body for however long the assault lasted. It may seem small to you but touching them may bring them back to a time when they weren’t in control and may trigger flashbacks, panic attacks or physical changes in their body.
  3. If you personally know their abuser, you cannot be friends with both of them.
    • I feel like this shouldn’t even have to be stated but I know too many people who have tried to cultivate relationships with the abuser while being ‘friends’ with the survivor.
    • You need to pick. You’re either friend with the attacker/abuser or you’re friends with the survivor.
    • You are telling that survivor that you don’t believe them. Full stop.
  4. As a follow up to number 3, once you find out your friend is an abuser/attacker, you need to distance yourself.
    • You may not personally know any of the people they harmed but you choosing to stand by them is co-signing their behavior.
  5. Ask them what they need instead of making assumptions. If they can’t articulate what they need, make sure they are aware that you are there for them.
    • If you tell someone you’ll be there for them when they need you, please mean that. If you don’t have the emotional bandwidth to support a survivor, don’t offer yourself as that person. It does more harm than good for you both.

As a survivor, these were the top 5 tips that I feel I have needed in my own life as I navigate my healing process.

If you have more, put them in the comments. I’d love to see how you’ve helped your loved ones through their most unthinkable moments.

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