Supporting through Believing
Believing and accepting that your friend/sister/brother/daughter/son/etc. has experienced sexual violence can be hard. Pretty much impossible in fact. For this reason, most supporters do not immediately believe.
This hesitation to believe doesn’t mean you’re shitty person. You’re feeling this way because to believe means to accept that you couldn’t protect your friend/sister/brother/daughter/son/etc. from this horrible thing happening, and that is heartbreaking. I get that. I get that a lot.
But if your loved one is saying it happened, it did. And now all you can do is—with all your heart—believe in the strength and resilience of the person asking you to believe their story. When you do this, believing your loved one becomes just barely bearable. And this is when you begin supporting your warrior the way they need you to.
After getting over the first hurdle of belief of the incident, you will need to believe (and accept) just how much this incident is affecting the person you love.
It’s shitty for warriors to have to explain or justify the way we are feeling. It’s exhausting enough trying to quiet the storm that’s going on in our own bodies and minds. We don’t have the energy to walk you through it and justify it every time it inconveniences, confuses, or scares you. That’s just the truth.
It can be heartbreaking, because you don’t want your loved one to feel (prolonged) pain, but blaming or judging us in any way — intentionally or unintentionally — for feeling this pain can lead to warriors shutting down and hiding the way we are feeling because we don’t want to—and can’t—keep explaining it to you. Even if you are just trying to help, questions that start with “why” and end with “are you feeling this way” aren’t helpful because, most of the time, warriors may not be able to put into words why we are feeling what we are feeling.
In the smallest silver lining possible, sexual violence has a weird way of making us all stronger people. This means when we are supporters, we have to put the needs of our warrior in front of our desire to completely understand what is going on with our loved ones. Pain is hard to witness, but having someone stick with a warrior through the pain is a necessary part of healing. If you must ask a question, ask them:
Where do you want to be right now?
What can I do to support you right now?
What do you need the most right now?
And if you don’t want to ask any of those, take a deep breath and look them in the eye and tell them how much you love them and how willing you are to sit there and keep listening. Tell them you might not completely understand, but you believe in them and their resilience and bravery.
That is what real support looks like.