Helping Your Loved One to Heal
When my husband and I first began discussing my history, he was rather distressed about the lack of resources for friends and loved ones of former victims and Survivors. He wanted to know what he could do to assist in my healing process, and what to avoid so I would not be more distressed than necessary at any given time.
I dedicate this to him- for his love, patience, consideration, compassion, and understanding.
The best advice I can offer you, as a former victim to a victim's loved one, is to pay CAREFUL attention to your loved one. Observe, listen, and keep in mind a few basic ideas-
Do Not Blame your loved one- they did what they had to do, or felt they had to do, to stay alive under the circumstances.
Do Not Assume your loved one is focusing their behavior at you- many times, these people really need to vent, and will only do so if they feel safe and secure enough to let things out without fear. Sometimes it will seem you are the target of their wrath. More likely, they simply feel safe enough with you to allow expression of their grief.
Do Not Rush your loved one- everyone has to go at their own pace. If the pressure of waiting for your loved one to come to terms with their grief is getting too hard for you, consider a support group or professional counseling for yourself. Encourage your loved one to receive counseling or attend support groups in your area.
Some of the things that might effect a relationship with a Survivor or former victim could include "Triggers", sudden emotional upheavals that seem unexplainable, an inability to carry out simple daily tasks on a regular basis, unexplained physical pains or symptoms such as cramping, headaches, etc., or lack of interest in continuing or maintaining a physical or sexual relationship. For some pregnant women and mothers, there is also a distinct lack of feeling or interest in nurturing their children in a loving manner. There may be seemingly unrelated or irrational fears involved, such as fear of driving or being alone. Possibly, Multiple Personality Disorder may be involved. Questioning what your loved one is going through at any time may lead to answers such as "I don't know" - or it may simply lead to more questions. In cases where there is Dissociative Identity Disorder involved, there is a need to tread lightly while the memories are being restored. It is a terrible feeling to have portions of one's life missing.
You can expect that when your loved one is making breakthroughs and headway, there will likely be a step backward as well. Remembering that your loved one is rebuilding their life requires patience and understanding. I wish you much luck and support along the healing path.
One thing many people do not understand are what triggers are and how deeply they can effect someone. Triggers bring up thoughts and feelings from the past, which may influence thoughts and feelings in the present. Common ways survivors avoid dealing with feelings are to either push the feelings away -"I can't deal with this now"-or to confuse them with current situations, events, or people. Encourage your loved one to explore their feelings when they can and when they feel up to it. Look for clues about triggers in their hand gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. Identifying triggers can help you to help your loved one avoid them.
Triggers basically come in three forms-
This usually involves a conditioning process where the victim becomes used to thinking, feeling, or behaving a certain way.
General program cues can be anything which causes thoughts or feelings that reinforce certain patterns of behavior -- i.e. "I deserve this" or "I'm a bad person"
Specific program cues might include sensory stimulation, objects, images, etc.
In some cases, Specific cues and General cues may be combined, as in a scenario where a symbol is used in conjunction with a phrase to activate some internal programming in the victim, such as requiring a person to perform a particular act or series of thought processes when the two cues are put together.
Reminder triggers can be anything that causes the victim to associate present circumstances with past influence. In these situations, it may become almost impossible for the victim to distinguish between past and present.
General reminders might include things like situations, holidays, feelings, relationships, etc.
Specific reminders could include things like colors, smells or sounds.
Echo triggers are those in which the situational dynamics are similar to the past relationship, which cause the emotions involved in that previous relationship to be duplicated in the present situation. An example might include a person who was attacked by someone in a position of authority, causing a feeling of distinct helplessness and discomfort for that person in the presence of other authority figures. Another example is where a person might be expected to do something they are unable to do, causing them to be overcome with extreme feelings of helplessness, fear, hopelessness, rage, etc.
This disorder is not uncommon in cases of child abuse or molestation. What happens is that the person is too overwhelmed to manage the pain of the situation, so the mind of the person brings out another identity to handle it for them. The person will probably not recall anything about the situations that caused the Disorder to arise. They may not be aware that they have more than one resident identity. This disorder requires careful and professional treatment.
This is similar to Multiple Personality Disorder. The victim may not recall the events. In this Disorder, the person experiences the traumatic situation as if it were happening to another person. This can cause a person to be easily triggered. Also, it is harder to understand and identify triggers beforehand when they are buried. It is common for these people to have fragmented memories and gaps in their lives that they can not explain. If your loved one is encouraged gently, they may be able to pinpoint some triggers and reveal these memories to themselves. Often, professional counseling is necessary to get to the heart of the memories.
Along the Healing Path
If you find yourself in discussion with your loved one about their experiences, they may be able to reveal how you can best help them. Communication is imperative, but only at the victim's speed. Something that my husband and I worked very hard on was allowing me space and time to develop a sense of control in everyday situations, trust in other people, and learning to set boundaries for myself. These things are essential to the healing process. They also can take what seems an interminable amount of time and effort. If you and your loved one are in a physical or sexual relationship, this can be even harder to do. Consider suspending sexual activity for a time.
Remember that whatever your loved one is feeling, it is not because of something you did or didn't do. Allow your loved one the privacy and space to feel whatever they feel, whenever possible, even if they can't explain it at the time. There are a variety of healing techniques available, but the best and most important are time and a secure, understanding environment in which to heal. If you wish to pursue healing on a spiritual, emotional, or less tangible level, you may request free healing for yourself or your loved one from this page.
Another excellent resource on healing is found here
Information on supporting a loved one while maintaining a physical relationship may be found here.
© Indigo 1998