By Rivka Joseph
Over the years, I have truly been blessed with wonderful and supportive friends. Each one of them really helped carry me through these difficult times and made it possible to heal from the nightmare of child sexual abuse that I went through. As a very private person, I am particular about who I choose to open up to and my friends have not given me reason to regret it. However, every so often, I will encounter someone who pushes for information or makes me feel guilty for not disclosing whatever information I have chosen to kept private. And then it stings even more. I’m sensitive and used to all of my best friends’ constant love. Call me spoiled, but after having no support and staying silent for over a decade, I’m not giving up these perfect friends for anything. And here’s what I learned from them, how to be a friend to a survivor of child sexual abuse.
- Don’t ask me intrusive questions: When I’m ready to share information I will. For now, just listen. If I feel under attack, I will withdraw and shut down.
- Validate my feelings: Sometimes all I need is someone to tell me that what I am feeling and experiencing is normal. It makes a world of a difference and can take me a lot farther than the greatest advice.
- Please believe me: If I sense that you doubt me at all, not only will I shut down but I will begin to doubt myself again. Because that is what he taught me to do. I have been silent for years, carrying this incredibly heavy burden that was eating away at my soul. Believe me and let me heal.
- If there is anything I have not shared publicly, such as the name of my abuser, don’t accuse me of protecting him or play guessing games till you get it right: Every survivor has a different and complicated story. We have many reasons for not telling the world whatever we choose to keep private. Perhaps he is in jail or no longer alive and I don’t want to be known as his victim. Or maybe it’s just no one’s business. So don’t try to guess. My poker face is nonexistent, it will be obvious when you’re right. That’s just cruel and manipulative. I won’t see you as a friend anymore.
- Its ok to set boundaries for yourself: I know you can’t always talk. I know you are my friend even when you need to take time for yourself. It’s emotionally draining and exhausting to talk about sexual abuse. Take that time; set up boundaries. Please don’t resent me because we haven’t done that. Self-care is important for both of us.
- Do not ask why I didn’t report it or tell anyone earlier: Questions like that are the reason I didn’t tell anyone for so many years. I didn’t think I would be believed. And that question reinforces that belief. Understanding that abusers threaten and coerce their victims into not talking is important, so much of our fear lies in that, even years later as adults.
One of my friends has a beautiful way of asking me questions. She says, “I am asking because I want to understand more so I can support you. But if you don’t want to answer just tell me.” When we can let our friends know that all we want is to be there for them and help them, not to find out a juicy, horror story of abuse- it opens up the channels of trust even more.
Everything I wrote here is based on how my good friends, survivors and non-survivors, have been there for me. The ones who I have opened up to and have stuck by my side for years may not be professionals or have experience, but they knew how to be a friend. And sometimes that’s all we need- just a really good friend to remind us that we are worth loving.