…Continued from Part 2...
THE ROLE OF THE SUPPORT IN VICTIMS’ HEALING
The most profound gift a support person can offer a survivor or horror is listening without judgement. This is not the same as listening without boundaries, but I’ll get to that. Listening without judgement grants the victim a safe place to begin to put words to terror that is stored in deeply emotional context rather than coherent and organized story.
This means that story is going to be messy. You might hear things you later wish you could unhear. You might be shocked when the F-bomb slides off the tongue of a sweet little woman in a cape dress and bonnet. You might not know what to make of her anger. Or her admission that she sneaks liquor into the house to self-medicate so she can survive parenting and wifely duties. But you have one gift to offer: listen without judgement. The moment you judge, that door will close and she will lock up and not trust you. And she will be loathe to trust another.
Listening without judgement does not mean you listen to details you cannot cope with or stomach. If you are sensitive but want to offer care, simply outline early in the relationship what you are able or willing to offer. (In the next section I talk about boundaries and manipulation. This falls in the boundaries department). It can be beneficial to sit together at the beginning of the relationship and write out what is agreeable to you, what you can handle, and have it available to refer back. Keep that boundary firmly and gently.
Listening without judgement also doesn’t leave someone in a place of addictions. It means you offer compassion for the suffering that led him/her there, and don’t focus on it at the moment. When the time is right, and you have given them your heart and compassion, when you have spoken truth and purpose over them, you will have permission to speak into addictions and destructive behaviours. It won’t be about ‘fixing their sin’. It will be about caring too much to leave them stuck. It will be about empowering them to overcome, rather than condemning them.
In every phase, listen and care. And do so with healthy boundaries in place to protect their wellbeing and your own.
BOUNDARIES AND MANIPULATION
Abuse victims who are forced or feel forced to hide and bury their story learn to manipulate. To keep something of that magnitude under wraps, requires lying to oneself and masquerading as healed and together when really we are falling apart. Protecting oneself also requires managing people and relationships in ways that will prevent opportunity for hurt. To do this effectively, victims master manipulation. They have needs that they cannot openly address, so to get those needs met without being forthright and honest; they manipulate the world around them.
Exemplifying healthy boundaries in relationships with victims is not only important, it is critical and it is a gift. (It is also something I wish I had known before I started meeting with victims!)
One of the ways victims manipulate is through disregarding boundaries. They often do this in such a way that they play with emotions, and make the person whose boundaries they are violating feel guilty for keeping boundaries. For example, you may say to them that you are willing to meet for coffee once a week for 90 minutes, but they are not allowed to send you text messages about their trauma because it invades your life when you want to be present with and for your family. They may disregard this and text to say something like, “I’m in a really bad space right now, and I don’t have anyone else… ” Or, more extreme, “I might as well go kill myself. No one cares anyway.”
When victims send a message like, “I’m in a really bad space right now, and I don’t have anyone else”, they are really saying, “I’m not comfortable with myself in my pain and I’d really like you to be here with me.” Critical to healing is learning to sit quietly with our pain. It is easier said than done, and easier for some than others. It takes time, for most victims of trauma to get there, so be patient, but don’t cater to the demands. It will become a habit if you do, and you will find yourself sooner than later, unable to be present for them at all… unless you are codependent, and that’s just unhealthy. But that’s another topic for another day.
Immediately upon facing a severe trigger — especially when we aren’t aware we have been triggered — we don’t see it. Reaching out in a moment like that is likely neither conscious manipulation nor conscious violating of boundaries. It is reaction to trauma, and a desperate cry. And in that moment, reassuring the victim that you care and they will be ok, might be enough. Tell them you are not available in the moment, and encourage them to journal what they are feeling and send it via email in advance of your next meeting so you can discuss it when you get together.
Alternatively, with a newer or deeply traumatized client, I gave the option of sending a request to schedule another session between regular weekly sessions. The reality is if we don’t have boundaries, we will burn out. We will begin to resent the demands of the victim, and sooner or later we will be of no use to them, and likely needing therapy ourselves. With healthy boundaries, they grow stronger and learn to be comfortable with themselves and trust themselves again, and we don’t wear out.
When the message is “I might as well kill myself”, you have to make a tough call, and how well you know the individual plays into that. Most victims know that other humans will respond to such a cry, as well we should. Whether the cry is urgent or not, makes all the difference in the appropriate response. It is one I have never ignored, and never will. However, the way I respond will in itself help with healthy boundaries.
In the past, if the victim was a young teenager, I made arrangements to meet face to face, if possible, when such a cry came in. Families have called me to come sit with youth in that place at ‘all hours’ and I made exceptions. There is a fragility to youth and especially youth in pain. They do not have the experience we have, even by age 22 to 25, to draw from and know they will be ok. Their pain really is the end of their world, and they tend to be more impulsive. They are also (in my experience) more responsive to having purpose, hope and life spoken over them. Once with them, I ask the typical questions, “Do you have a plan?” if yes, “What is the plan?… When?… Where? …. How?” etc. If there is no plan, we have a conversation to help ground them.
When such a message comes from a known manipulator, there is a time when the best gift to give is to call in and report a suicide threat. It’s not that the person isn’t genuinely tormented and wanting to die. That can be very legitimate in manipulation cases. The problem is when they draw others into it in such a way that it causes compassion fatigue (aka burnout). It’s a form of self-sabotage that in the end costs them more than one visit from police to ensure they are ok. I have done this, and in most cases – not certain if in all – I have told the person I am making that call. If it is a game, it will end. If it is a genuine cry for help and a suicide plan, they will be offered that help.
There is so much that could be said about boundaries and manipulation in victims, that a book couldn’t contain it all. For many it has been a necessary tool for survival, and learning to undo those patterns is the best gift we can give. In all things, we need to respond with compassion and care as well as firmness and boundaries. One without the other is not a gift.
How we establish those boundaries, and when we introduce the various steps in the healing process is a matter of relationship and knowing the victim. Introducing the ‘next step’ (not meaning a particular order) before the person is ready is not productive. If they say they are not ready, respect that. Their boundaries are important too.
And that brings me to the one hot topic that has been used, abused, neglected and confused…
Continued… (PART 4)
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger 2019
ANONYMOUS SEXUAL ABUSE SURVEY BY ANABAPTIST MEDICAL DOCTOR
Some time ago, a friend told me of a medical doctor (Anabaptist) who is doing research into sexual abuse in Anabaptist communities. To take his survey visit:
Anabaptist Medical Matters
JASON GRAY CONCERT:
NOVEMBER 2, 2019
Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster PA
CONCERT TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC: Here
NOTE: Due to the concert being the celebration for survivors of abuse,
we ask that any who have sexually abused as adults not attend out of respect
November 2, 2019: THE GATHERING, held at Lancaster Bible College, is a place where survivors of sexual assault, together with our support person(s), collectively invite God into our grief. It is exclusively for Anabaptist survivors of sexual abuse and trusted support persons to gather for a day of acknowledging the generations of suffering and sexual violence among us. We will cry out to God, together. Come as you are in your raw brokenness, if that’s where you’re at, or in your healed togetherness. We welcome you! The itinerary is simple. It isn’t about ‘who’ or ‘how’; it is about Jesus and a safe place to meet, to grieve and heal another layer, together.
NOTE: Anyone over 18 who sexually assaulted someone – whether child or other adult – is not welcome. This does not mean they are not forgiven if they have repented. It means victims should not fear being confronted with the source of their trauma on such a vulnerable day. Security guards will be present to remove any who show up and are identified as offenders by the victims.
Until August 1, 2019, registration for the day’s events includes lunch and attendance to the evening concert with Jason Gray, whose music had brought hope and healing to countless victims. Songs like “The Wound is Where the Light Gets In“, “A Way to See in the Dark“, Sparrows“, “Nothing is Wasted“, and many more speak a language we understand.
NOTE: After August 1 concert is included dependant on availability. Once concert tickets are sold out, registrations will continue until October 1 and include lunch only.
If you are able to contribute to Generations Unleashed and our work with and for victims, you may donate via PayPal or e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit Generations Unleashed Donate.