How the First Reaction to Abuse Impacts a Survivor’s Healing
Soon after I came out with my story of abuse, I was contacted by a woman. Reading my story had caused her to have flashbacks to her own story of abuse. She sent me an email and detailed her experience. Before this, she had never told anyone about the abuse she had suffered.
I was able to empathize with her tragic story, and walked her through the steps to addressing the abuse and getting professional help for her healing journey.
This brave woman took all of the steps herself. She shared about the abuse with those who needed to know, gathered information, and found a suitable therapist that could address her needs. All I did was give her a safe place to share her story, offer validation that is was in fact abuse, and point her in the right direction.
When she entered counseling, the therapist commented on how open she was about her story, and how victims at her stage in healing are often very ashamed of their story’s details. They deduced that her lack of shame was due to the correspondence she and I had shared with each other.
I was the first person she had spoken to about the abuse, and therefore I was the first one to give a reaction. Even when others did not initially believe her, this first impression reaction heavily influenced the way she thought about the abuse and her need to get help.
Here is my point in sharing this story: You don’t have to be an expert on domestic violence to make a big difference in the healing journey of an abuse survivor. You simply need to offer validation, empathy, and direction towards professional help.
Your first reaction to abuse disclosure can make a huge difference in someone’s life. It can determine whether or not they feel excessive amounts of shame, and whether they get the professional help they need.
In contrast, a negative response to abuse disclosure can have devastating effects. If an abuse survivor is disbelieved, judgmentally questioned, or blamed for the abuse, this can add shame and stunt their healing process. Additionally, if an abuse victim or survivor shares their story and you are not prepared to point them in the direction of professional help, you can miss out on an opportunity to offer health, safety, and freedom for someone suffering from the traumatic impact of abuse.
Even if there are subsequent negative or positive reactions to abuse disclosure the first response has a big impact on the way a person heals.
Friends, family, pastors, and Church leaders are often the first place a survivor of abuse will go to share about the trauma they are experiencing or have experienced. We need to be ready to offer a positive first response to abuse disclosure.
Click here for more information on How Not To Respond To Abuse Victims… and what to do instead. If you suspect someone is experiencing abuse, but you aren’t sure how to ask, try asking these 3 Questions to Ask Someone You Fear is Being Abused. For pastors and church leaders, take a look at these 4 Common Ways Churches Fail Abuse Victims (and What To Do Instead).
The Courage Conference is another resource for abuse survivors, and for those wishing to support abuse survivors. The conference will double as a healing environment for those who have been abused, and an educational experience for those who want to learn more about prevention and response to abuse. Get Tickets Here.
If you are in immediate danger, please call the police. For 24/7 help and advice, please contact the RAINN Hotline at: 1.800.656.4673