What To Do When Someone Tells You They’ve Been Abused

So many years have gone by since I was raped and it still hadn’t really sunk in until just a few months ago… I am carrying all of the shame.

He took what he wanted after I’d said no. He was violent with me just moments after telling me he loved me. He treated me as though I were worthless. He committed this selfish, disgusting act. He did these things…and then he walked away as if nothing had ever happened.

I walked away wounded to the core of my being. Ashamed. Disgraced.

Years and years went by and I eventually moved on with my life but I never moved on from that feeling. The feeling of being less than, disgusting, and worthless. Why do I feel this way, when he committed the crime? For two disturbing reasons: society’s response and Satan’s lies.

Before this year, I’d only told my story to a handful of people. I couldn’t bear to say the words out loud to anyone outside of a counselor’s office or the walls of my own house because of the all-too-common responses that still make anger swell within me: silence and judgment. Telling someone that you’ve been abused is extremely hard to do and, unfortunately, often results in situations that play out something like this: The survivor shares a small detail of their past that reveals they’ve been abused. (A way of testing the waters.) The person they’re talking to breaks eye contact. What was just a few seconds beforehand a back-and-forth conversation, is now nothing but awkward silence as the survivor panics and tries to come up with a change of subject. Then comes a slightly disturbed look in the eyes of the listener as they shift in their seats. Here, either the silence remains, or the listener chooses to make judgements about the survivor’s experience. The air hangs thick with shame, and it is then that survivors will often resolve to keep the pain locked inside for fear of making the situation even more uncomfortable. This only intensifies the loneliness that comes in the aftermath of abuse. In my own personal experience, these interactions gave more power to the lies that distorted my sense of self-worth.

Abuse is a breeding ground for Satan’s lies. A perfect opportunity for him to convince victims that they are no longer worthy of love, dignity or respect. Abuse can leave a person just a shell of who they once were, feeling empty and powerless, when the reality is that there’s nothing that God can’t redeem, nothing too big for Him to handle, and nothing that can change the depth of His love for us. Yet, that love, power and redemption can feel out of reach for victims of abuse, as they constantly hear Satan’s whispers of defeat. He works his way in to our thoughts and convinces us that no one is safe and everyone is judging us. That somehow we deserved the abuse, and that our intense feelings of worthlessness are not just feelings, but reality.

So, what should you do when someone tells you that they’ve been abused? Here’s a few simple ideas that can be a great support to someone who’s suffered this kind of trauma:

  1. “I’m here for you.”: Simple as that. When taking the terrifying step of bringing one’s past out into the light, those four words bring immense comfort.
  2. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”: There are so many acts of violence in so many headlines daily that the world has become rather desensitized to it. Knowing that the person you just told about your abuse genuinely feels compassion for you means so very much.
  3. Offer To Help: Let the person know that you truly want to help, and be prepared to do so. It may be as little as a coffee date to chat or helping the person track down resources.
  4. Pray For Them: Either right there in that moment, or let them know you’ll be praying for them regularly. This may not feel like much, but it’s the biggest thing any of us can do.

When someone you know breaks the silence, join them. Choose your words with care, but use them. These conversations will make you uncomfortable. They should! We should hurt with those who are hurting. We should cringe when we hear of a person being treated like an object. Our hearts should break for what breaks God’s heart, and abuse is one of those things that absolutely breaks the heart of God.

Whatever you decide to do, be assured that your helpful words and actions can change, or even save, a life.

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