How to communicate with survivors of violence - Labirint

How to communicate with survivors of violence

If you are talking to a person who has survived a traumatic experience, it is important not to hurt them even more. Unnecessary questions and inappropriate remarks can seriously hurt the distressed person. How to support a person who has experienced violence?

Gemma Chua Tran / Unsplash

Should you start a conversation about what happened?

There are situations when you know or suspect that a person has experienced violence, but she doesn’t talk about it. In this case, before discussing this topic, you need to tell yourself why you are doing this. If you are a volunteer and it is important for you to find out what kind of help she needs, you can ask a polite question without going into details. If the person is your friend and you want to offer your support, you can ask her if she needs your help.

The main thing is not to ask questions just out of curiosity and not to ask about details that she is not ready to discuss. If you have tried to start a conversation, but she doesn’t want to proceed, don’t insist. Mind her boundaries.

You can ask a direct question: “Do you want to talk about what happened?”

If she prefers not to discuss her experience and tries to return to the normal rhythm of life, then this is what she needs. Respect her decision, do not focus on what happened to her, and do not ask too often about her well-being.

How should I react if I am told about the experienced violence?

To begin with, try to honestly answer yourself: “Are you ready to discuss this topic right now”? People who have been abused are often afraid to talk about what happened, because they know that their story might scare or shock others — and that makes them feel even worse. If you realize that you may be overreacting, it’s best to postpone the conversation.

In such a situation, it is best to thank the person for their trust and explain that you need some time before you are ready to hear any details. In the meantime, you can offer them something else: for example, to find a psychologist, to help them move to a new home, or buy groceries. Don’t overrate your strength and do what you really can right now.

How to discuss what happened?

01.  Don’t shift the conversation to yourself

Do not interrupt her, don’t give examples from your own life, don’t talk about stories that happened to your friends, even if they seem similar to you and you think that their experience can help in some way. 

02.  Don’t give advice

Sometimes we think that we know exactly what people need to get out of a difficult situation. In reality, however, it can be not so simple. They may not have strength or resources to do what seems simple. Maybe there are some circumstances that are stopping them from doing that. Or maybe they know themselves what to do and it is not advice that they need but a listener. In any case, you can only give a person advice if they ask you for it.

03.Talk about your emotions

It is normal to express your feelings as you talk. It can be especially important as those who are experiencing violence may not fully understand that their situation is not normal. Perhaps if you talk about your emotions, it will help your interlocutor realize that she needs help. You could say, for example: “I’m so sorry this happened”, “I think it’s unfair to you”, “I’m worried about you”. It is important, however, not to make your emotions the main subject of the conversation, so that she wouldn’t have to comfort you. 

04. Don’t judge her actions

It’s important to remember that it is the aggressor who is always to blame for violence. Even if he says that he was provoked or forced. There is always a choice. Even if you think that the abused person has behaved carelessly or messed with the wrong person, do not judge her. First of all, no matter how careful you are, it won’t guarantee your safety. Secondly, no matter how the survivor behaved, it does not excuse the person who committed the crime. Thirdly, blaming the survivor can only make her condition worse.

05. Don’t berate the aggressor

Even if you are very angry, you don’t need to berate the abuser or insult him/her. Perhaps the survivor is not ready to hear such things about the person who abused her (this person can be her relative or lover). She may even start defending him. It may push her away and she won’t seek your help again.

What is the right way to offer help?

01. Don’t push her

If you think you can help, offer your options. But if she does not agree, you don’t need to insist or repeat yourself. If the situation gets worse, don’t say: “I told you so…”.

In any case, you should never take any steps without her consent. 

02. Ask how you can help

Sometimes people would need your help to find a doctor or a psychologist, sometimes just to talk. Let her decide for herself what she needs right now.

03.  Don’t do the impossible

Offer the help that you have the strength and resources to give.

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