Table of Contents:
- Dealing with self-blame
- Difficulty trusting others and/or self moving forward
- (Attempts at) minimizing an experience
- Trying to forget/ignore the experience
- Dealing with unsupportive responses to disclosures
- Difficulty remembering the experience
- Concerns about disclosing an experience to others
- Responding to a disclosure
- Helping/supporting a friend in an unhealthy relationship
- Taking care of yourself while supporting someone else
When I think about my experience, I keep blaming myself. How do I stop doing that? What can I do to change that?
- It can be a common reaction for people to blame themselves, but your experience was not your fault; the blame and responsibility is on the person who hurt you. Understanding this and changing how you think about your experience will take time. You can try thinking about and writing down positive affirmations about yourself. Set aside time to read these and reflect on them every day. Be patient and kind with yourself. Negative thoughts might come and go but remind yourself that these are just thoughts, not facts. Focus on the positive, self-affirming thoughts as a way of reminding yourself of your worth.
- Many survivors report struggling with self-blame. It is important to remember that you are not responsible for someone else’s actions, they are. They had an agenda that didn’t include your input. They gave themselves permission to do what they wanted without confirming or checking in with you.
- Blaming yourself can often be a way your mind tries to gain back some control of the situation: by believing you did something to cause the experience, there is a sense you can prevent it and protect yourself in the future and that the world is safer and more predictable. However, you are not to blame for what happened: the person who hurt you is. Surrounding yourself with supportive people who can remind you of this and help you to counteract self-blaming thoughts is important. These people might be friends, family members, other survivors, or mental health professionals.
- There are many reasons survivors of sexual misconduct may experience self-blame, including internalizing messages from society and/or the media that blame survivors, or myths in which it is conveyed that survivors are responsible for stopping an assault. No one is immune from societal attitudes, and these can influence your reactions as well. Being aware of this and not blaming yourself for the actions of someone else is a step toward changing your thought patterns and holding perpetrators accountable.
- Many have the idea that if they had just done something differently, this wouldn’t have happened or that they could have changed the outcome. This in itself is a way of trying to regain a sense of control. It may feel easier to take responsibility for what happened than to acknowledge the very scary feeling that in that moment, you did not have the ability to stop it.
Here are some potential ways to counter thoughts of self-blame:
Learn more about Yale’s definitions of consent and assault. To learn more about these definitions, click here.
Imagine if it happened to someone else. If someone came to you and told you their story, how would you respond to them? Would you blame them for what happened? Hopefully not. You deserve the same compassion and understanding as you would give someone else.
Seek out support. Sometimes the people who care about you are not equipped or prepared to provide the support you need. Remember there are many pathways to get support, including online chat options and confidential hotlines. RAINN provides a free and confidential online chat option as well as a national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673. At Yale, Mental Health and Counseling and the Chaplain’s Office are also valuable resources, and the SHARE Center is always available for information, advocacy, and support. Talking to other survivors may also be helpful since it might allow you to see similarities in your experiences, which can be very validating. SHARE can connect you with survivor support groups if this is something that interests you.
- Allow yourself to have these thoughts, but try not to dwell on them. This is unfair to you. It may be natural to speculate (most people do), to want to pinpoint something specific that could have been done, or that you could do in the future. Be kind to yourself and understand that these thoughts and feelings will come, but that you can let them pass without judging yourself for having them. Remind yourself that what happened to you was not your fault, that you did not do it to yourself. No one asks to be assaulted or disrespected. Making a judgment about your actions in a highly emotional circumstance, after the fact and with current information that you did not have at the time, is not fair. When someone is determined to hurt you, surviving is the decision that matters the most.
- Self-reflection, or the ability to examine your own actions and explore how you may have contributed to a situation, can be helpful in some situations, but that is not the case when it comes to sexual assault. An assault is, by definition, something that happens to you against your will. If you find that you are placing blame on yourself for the experience, it may be time to reach out for support. For many, part of the healing process is moving away from blame to self-acceptance and understanding. Many think they will instantly recognize what is happening and respond with strength and force and fight back. Often times, when you are in this situation, there was some hope that the person you’re with might be someone worth knowing or someone who cared for you. If it is someone you thought you knew, it can be confusing and disorganizing to have this conflicting information at a very intense moment. It can be hard to believe that someone you know might willfully hurt you, so blaming yourself is a way of preserving that hope. All of these are part of the process of understanding your experience.
After my experience, I’m afraid to trust anyone (including myself). How do people go forward with that?
- It is not unusual to have doubts and questions about trusting others after someone has hurt you. This can be especially present when the perpetrator is someone you’ve known and may have trusted in the past. It is important to be compassionate, gentle, and patient with yourself as it often takes time to feel comfortable trusting others again. Listen to your instincts and do not put pressure on yourself to do anything you do not feel ready to do. It is often more helpful to focus on taking care of yourself right now before being in a place where you feel ready to care for someone else. This in no way means that you will never be able to trust others or be in a relationship, but give you time to work through your feelings first. The SHARE Center provides ongoing counseling related to sexual misconduct to all students as well as referral support to other members of the Yale community.
- For many, one of the major goals of healing is feeling comfortable trusting others again. A sexual assault may impact your daily life and sense of self. After having this type of experience, there can be a shift in your perspective on close or intimate relationships. It can be difficult to differentiate between a potential partner and a potential harm-doer. It can be hard to gauge who to talk to about these experiences and how to process the responses and reactions of those in whom you do choose to confide. Losing trust in yourself may also be a factor. Sometimes a loss of self-esteem may be part of your experience. If you knew the person who hurt you, it is often hard to accept that they would willfully harm you. Loss of trust in yourself, loss of confidence in your judgement, or doubting your ability to feel safe in the world are not uncommon responses following a sexual misconduct experience. It might be helpful to know that the person you have to trust the most is yourself. Listening to and respecting your gut feelings and instincts is a great place to start. It is important to have compassion for yourself and to focus on the self-care you need first and foremost, and to be okay with knowing that you may have been deeply affected and need time to heal.
- Figuring out who can be trusted (in which roles, with what information, and under which conditions) can be an important focus in moving forward. It may be helpful to do this in a supportive setting such as SHARE, with a therapist, in a support group, or with friends or family. Over time, choosing who and when to trust – and getting helpful responses and support from those who really matter to you – will help rebuild your sense of trust in other people, in the world in general, and in yourself.
It’s not always easy to trust again after you have been hurt. This can be a common and self-protective response following a sexual miscondcut experience. Allow yourself time and space to process what happened to you. You do not have to trust everyone, and your trust does not have to be unconditional just because someone is your partner, family, friend, etc. As you process your experience and accompanying reactions, trust yourself by trusting your feelings and intuition. If there is someone you feel comfortable talking to and sharing your feelings and concerns with, ask that they listen without needing to respond or feeling compelled to give advice. At this time, it is important to feel heard. Alternatively, document what’s on your mind in a journal, on your phone, on your laptop, etc., so that you can get your thoughts out of your head and onto something visual that will enable you to see, assess, and organize how you are working through trust moving forward.
- Any experience of sexual misconduct or assault can be tremendously unsettling, no matter how “small” it may seem, because it can get to the core of your sense of safety in the world and your relationships with others. At the same time, each person is unique in their response and reaction, and there is no wrong or right way to react or feel. And sometimes our view of these events can change over time.
- It’s possible that a less “bad” new experience may re-expose past wounds to the point that you can no longer suppress or ignore them. It’s also possible that you are at a specific time and place in your life in which you have the capacity to see more clearly how past experiences affected you and only now begin to process them. What’s important to remember is that whatever your reaction or whatever you are feeling, it is a valid, important, and an understandable response to having experienced sexual misconduct.
- Asking yourself, “What is a normal response to an abnormal situation?” might help you to see that there is no right or wrong response. Your resources are different today than in the past. You may not have had the resources, vocabulary, or support in the past to address your experience. Most often people don’t do this until they are ready, and this may take a long time. These experiences happened at different times in your life. You may not have had the same level of understanding in the past that you do now. Having a second experience may make it feel like this is going to keep happening, so it may be important to find someone to talk to about that thought process. It’s also important not to compare your recent experience with something that happened in your past. Each experience has an impact and the accompanying feelings need to be acknowledged. There might be elements about this recent experience that are new or uncomfortable, or maybe you cannot yet describe how it makes you feel. That uncertainty and discomfort in and of itself might be what’s upsetting you. You may be at a different place, mentally, physically, emotionally, etc. than you were when these past experiences occurred, and the aspects of your current life may contribute to your feeling more upset now than you would expect. You have a right to feel whatever you are feeling. If something upsets you, regardless of how it compares to something else, acknowledge it.
- Emotions do not follow guidelines of rationality so it isn’t helpful to try to analyze or compare emotional reactions to different experiences. Your responses to experiences are based on a number of factors including the nature of the experience, your biological and psychological make-up, other stressors present in your life at the time, available social supports, and past life events. Your emotional reaction is composed of all of these and many more variables and is not only related to the most recent experience.
My experience doesn’t seem “that bad” objectively, but has really upset me. Why is that the case?
- Check in with yourself about what “that bad” means, and ask yourself what about the experience affects you. What do you find yourself thinking about the most? Is it “not that bad” because you’re comparing it to the experiences of others or to experiences you’ve had in the past? Comparison in this case is neither helpful nor productive, and it also invalidates your current experience. You have a right to be upset. You can’t force yourself to feel a certain way. The fact that you are upset is valid. Try writing or talking about your experience and pay attention to the feelings it produces. Give yourself permission to let the feelings surface. Feelings are often full of information that can help you move forward.
After my experience, I thought I could forget about/ignore it and focus on work and friends and the good things in my life, but I’m just not myself.
- It can be natural to cope with negative experiences by putting them aside, and over time, if these experiences are not significant, the negative feelings can fade and sometimes disappear. You may try to deny the memory of what has happened in an attempt to regain the previous stability in your life. With intense experiences that impact you physically, emotionally, psychologically, and sexually, suppressing these thoughts and feelings doesn’t seem to work, at least not for everyone and not forever. Research has noted that when someone who has experienced a sexual assault tries to suppress or deny their thoughts about the incident, there can sometimes be a rebound effect with thoughts coming back, and in some cases, even stronger. In those instances, it may seem like your mind or body is somehow trying to signal to you that this needs attention. It can also take enormous emotional energy to try to operate normally and act as if nothing has happened, when inside you’re not feeling like yourself. If you find yourself in this situation, maybe it’s time to reach out for support and give yourself the opportunity to examine what has happened with someone you can trust.
- Trying to forget about things and move past them is a common reaction to challenging or traumatic experiences. These experiences often bring up difficult emotions and issues you don’t want to think about or feel. Forgetting/ignoring what you went through or are going through can work in some cases but it often falls short as a coping mechanism over the long term. You have feelings and reactions for a reason- they can be seen as the mind and body’s way of telling you that something is off, and that you need to attend to it. If you don’t feel like yourself after something has happened to you, try to get the thoughts and feelings out of your head and into your external world by writing them down on paper, calling SHARE, or speaking with a loved one or a health professional. Keeping thoughts and feelings inside and getting stuck in your own feedback loop isn’t helpful. When feelings are acknowledged and respected it can help you get back to some semblance of feeling like yourself again.
Following a difficult or traumatic experience, it is not uncommon for someone to try to “put it behind them” or move forward with life as usual. Moving forward usually requires some attention to processing and healing from your experience, given that may often have an impact on the way you feel about yourself, others, and the world around you. You may feel ready to work through the experience at different times. This may take days, weeks, months or even years. Your body may try to let you know when it might be time to process an experience with the presence of emotional symptoms such as upsetting, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares. You may also be feeling on edge or irritable or be avoiding activities or situations that remind you of your experience. Responses can also show up in physical symptoms such as nausea, irritable bowels, backaches, and so on. While the type and frequency of symptoms can vary greatly between people, the commonality is often that of feeling distressed to the extent that it interferes in your life, affecting your ability to fully engage with others and be fully present. These symptoms can be thought of like knocking at an emotional door that must be opened and walked through in order to fully move forward. A difficult or traumatic experience will not define you as a person, but just as with every experience in your life, it becomes a small part of who you are and how you understand yourself and the world around you.
This may work for some people at certain points in time, but if ignoring things isn’t working, something needs to be done. What happened to you is now a part of your life story, and while it does not have to define you, it is an experience that is yours. You now have to decide how to proactively engage with that experience in order to understand its impact on you and how things have changed. You have the opportunity to decide how and in what way this experience will become a part of your history and when and how to move forward. This requires proactive and active efforts of processing and healing when you feel ready.
Give yourself time. You are looking at your world through a new lens and time is a really important factor in finding an emotional, psychological and physical way of incorporating this experience into this new outlook. Things are different now, and it will take time to find a path forward that works for you. There is usually may not be a complete sense of closure since the experience can’t be undone, but there is a way of deciding how you will move forward. One way that often helps is finding someone you can talk to about your experience. This can be a friend, family member, partner, SHARE, and/or health professional. Ongoing counseling and/or therapy can be very useful for those who want an impartial person and a structured environment through which to process what happened. Remember, it takes time. Others use artistic methods, such as art, poetry, writing, music, etc. to help them heal. You are the person that knows yourself best. Some paths may be highly recommended as they have proven to be more effective than others, but only you can determine which path to take and what might work best for you. Remember that it is okay to try different things to figure out what works for you. And if one thing doesn’t help, that doesn’t mean healing is hopeless. It means you can try something else. It may also change over time, but it is always important to check in and have a conversation with yourself to assess how you are doing and what you might need at any given time.
- Sometimes telling others about what happened to you is not a good experience. The reactions of those closest to you may sometimes feel more harmful than helpful. This person’s suggestion that you will get over it perhaps reflects a coping mechanism that they used to deal with their own situation. This doesn’t mean that it necessarily worked, but it could have been the only thing they knew how to do in response to their experience. It may also seem like a message that they don’t want to hear about it, and that this is a way of silencing you. Recognizing that they may not be the best person to talk about this with is important. You may find that such a response changes your relationship and may also be experienced as a loss. The person might have had their own trauma that they still need to work through. Maybe believing that they’d just get over it worked for them in the long term. But the fact that you told them shows that you want to speak with someone about it, and you need a person who is wholly supportive of your endeavor to process and heal from what happened to you.
- There may be a lot at stake when we choose to disclose an experience to someone. Will they understand? Can they even deal with it? Will they be supportive? In this case, it sounds like the person seemed to provide the best advice they had at hand based on their own experience, but in doing so minimized what you went through and also suggested a “suck it up” approach. Adding a shocking disclosure of their own can move the conversation away from what you hoped for right now. It’s possible that they had little support when that happened to them and had to cope on their own, but that’s about them and right now it’s important to focus on you. Everyone is different, and what seemed to work for them may not work for you. Your path toward healing may be entirely different, and this could mean relying on others besides this particular person at this time.
People sometimes feel that sharing their own feelings or experiences might be helpful to someone who has experienced a difficult or traumatic event. We know, however, that most of the time this is unhelpful to a survivor given that no two experiences or responses are the same or can be compared. It also often puts additional guilt on the survivor or gives them a sense that they need to take care of the emotions of those around them in addition to their own. Listen to your gut about whether you would like to try to continue to talk to this person about it. If you feel comfortable, it may be helpful to be open about how you are feeling and the impact that hearing about their experience had on you. Sometimes people may say things to try to be supportive, and it can be helpful for them to know when it does not have the intended impact. If you do not feel comfortable continuing to speak to this person about your experience, try reaching out to someone else you trust. You can also process your experience with a SHARE counselor or mental health professional. Most importantly, realize that every person is a unique individual and reacts to and processes experiences differently both in the short and long term.
- No one has the right to tell you how to feel about your experience. Perhaps this person had good intentions in trying to diminish the weight of your experience in order to make you feel better, but the impact of their statement had the opposite effect. If you feel comfortable, tell them that their comment wasn’t helpful, and it felt really hurtful. Remember that this is likely not the only person with whom you can talk about serious, hurtful things. If someone else in your life seems more supportive, you could also reach out to them for general support or for advice regarding your experience or the hurtful comment. Speaking with a SHARE counselor or another health professional can also be a helpful next step.
- Sometimes you may have to contend with a secondary layer of emotional injury as you try to move forward from a sexual misconduct experience. Not getting a supportive response from others in your life (such as friends, suitemates, or even the authorities or institutions) can be incredibly hurtful, leaving you feeling more isolated and possibly accentuating your self-doubt. There are so many reasons why people get it wrong when it comes to their responses. Just as there can be a stigma against mental illness, there may be a stigma against survivors of sexual misconduct in our society, fueled by lack of understanding as a result of sexual assault myths. One thing that is really important as you face invalidating comments is not to let any comment deter you from getting the help you need and reaching out for support when you are ready. Trust your response to your experience above all others, and don’t give up looking for the support that resonates with your needs. SHARE is one of the resources that can help with this too.
- Research shows that there is little to no correlation between how a person thinks they might feel or react to a situation with how they actually do when it occurs. Realize that this person may be saying this to you for a wide variety of reasons, all of which have nothing to do with you or your experience. It is impossible to understand how an experience will impact another person since your responses are based on a number of factors including the nature of the experience, your biological and psychological make-up, and other stressors present in your life at the time. This also includes past life events and the availability of social supports. It is important to identify the people in your life who are helpful, supportive, and understanding of your experience, and try to avoid speaking with those who are not supportive or cannot give you what you need at this time.
- If you feel safe and comfortable in doing so, share with that person that their response to what you told them was not the supportive response you hoped for or needed. Many times, it is necessary to tell the person what you would like or need and not assume they should “just know”. If the person does not see how their response hurt you, perhaps try to limit your interactions or conversations with them, or at the very least agree not to speak about your experience with them. Is there anyone else you can talk to about what happened? Reaching out to SHARE might be a useful first step. Other possibilities may be a health professional, the Chaplain’s Office, or turning to self-reflection via writing, looking for in-person or online support groups or forums, or checking in with others to hear what they have done to help them deal with what they went through. Speaking with a professional who knows how to respond to disclosures of similar experiences can also ensure that you receive the support you deserve.
Is it normal for me not to remember everything that happened?
- During upsetting and/or traumatic experiences, memories are both encoded and stored differently than during other events. In states of extreme distress or fear, stress hormones impact brain functioning. This makes it more difficult to choose what you pay attention to and to process what is happening to you. For this reason, memories may be encoded in a way that is fragmented, incomplete, and difficult to retrieve.
- Yes, it can be a typical response not to remember everything that happened. The mind is a powerful thing. This can sometimes be connected to something called selective amnesia. When it comes to bad experiences or trauma, your mind may be trying to help you by blocking some things out or with an attempt at “forgetting” specific details. This can leave you feeling confused about the possible sequence of events, or with vague memories of only parts of what happened to you.
It sometimes seems that people are more willing to give harm-doers the benefit of the doubt than survivors. What do I do when that happens?
- A large amount of research exists highlighting the prevalence of attitudes that deny the seriousness of sexual assault. These “sexual assault-supportive attitudes” promote survivor-blaming in society. In movies and on television, survivors are seldom portrayed in ways that reflect actual survivors in real life in terms of gender and reactions/behavior both during and following the assault. A prominent belief is that most assaults occur between strangers, when in actuality most happen between people who know each other. People may consciously or unconsciously blame or discredit survivors as a way of feeling like people have control over their actions and use this as a way to see the world as a safer and more predictable place. The most helpful way to counteract these tendencies is by providing people with education about the realities of sexual assault and diverse nature of both perpetrators and survivors. This education may occur in one-on-one interactions or at a larger community-level scale. It is helpful when people make an effort to be informed. Join a discussion group, talk to survivors, listen when someone comes to you, and/or talk to SHARE counselors, CCEs or other campus resources that focus on helping others. Call SHARE to brainstorm about more ways to help educate others.
- In cases of sexual misconduct, it can sometimes be the case that people are more willing to place blame on the people who had a bad experience than to accept that the perpetrator is responsible for the harm, or that societal factors contributed to the experience. It is one crime where survivors may sometimes be questioned or discredited, with the implication that they must have been complicit in their experience or done something to contribute to it happening. This may also come from people not wanting to acknowledge vulnerability, not wanting to see it reflected in themselves or others, and rejecting vulnerability and then projecting those negative feelings onto the survivor. In some people’s minds, there must have been some way for the survivor to prevent that from happening, and this signals to them that they can also protect themselves. In this way, the discrediting often ends up being about the people who hear about the experiences rather than survivors themselves. People often have a fantasy version of what the “ideal” or “credible” survivor experience looks like or how they should act. If a survivor’s story or behavior does not match this fictional belief, then they use this model to decide that this survivor isn’t credible, and they couldn’t possibly be telling the truth. This can be even more problematic when survivors are men and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Should I tell my conservative and/or overprotective parents what happened to me?
- If this is a concern it is important to think about your motivation to share and what you hope to accomplish by doing so. It is important that you decide whether or not telling your parents will be helpful for you at this time. For many people who are used to sharing most experiences with their parents, it usually makes sense to want to tell them what happened, in hopes of gaining their support and understanding. Taking some time to think about what would be most helpful for you can be very useful. Trust your intuition. If you feel that telling them, while it might alleviate the guilt of not having them know about what happened to you, will put you through emotional, physical, mental, financial, etc. strife, then perhaps it may not be the right time to do so. If or when you feel that you can confide in them without great detriment to yourself and that you will still be safe and feel supported in the ways you need, then that may be a way to guide your decisions or timing. Making this decision might be more difficult to figure out if your parents are very conservative or overprotective, but it can also be challenging to tell even progressive and permissive parents. It really all boils down to how you think they will respond and how their response will impact you. It may also be useful to realize that you may have been processing your experience for a while before telling them, and they will be hearing it for the first time. This can elicit a strong response on their part. Processing the experience with them may take several steps with varying amounts of information each time. Deciding on the steps you might take may also be useful ahead of time. Parents are human, too, and their responses to an experience that negatively impacted you might not be what you initially imagine.
It is important to be sure that you want to share the information with your parents. You do not have an obligation to disclose the experience to anyone in your life, and paying attention to your intuition about who you feel comfortable sharing with and when the best time to open up is, will be up to you. Processing these issues with a mental health professional or SHARE counselor can be helpful. SHARE counselors can help you make a plan for a conversation with a parent or even speak to them directly if this is what you want. It is important to surround yourself with people who you think will have the ability to support you and understand the dynamics involved in your experience.
The emotional impact of abuse, harassment, or assault can be both immediate and long-lasting. A friend or loved one may confide in you 10 minutes or 10 years after experiencing sexual misconduct. The most helpful things you can do to be supportive are to listen, let them lead the conversation, and direct them to professional resources, such as SHARE. The person may be experiencing any of a wide range of responses and/or emotions: there is no “typical” way to react to these types of experiences. Note: You can read more about supporting someone who has experienced sexual misconduct on our Supporting Survivors page.
When/if my friend/loved one discloses to me that they had an experience of sexual misconduct, what should I say or how I should respond?
- Listen and be sure the person knows you will be supportive. It is important for them feel believed and not judged. If you find yourself doubting their story or experience, don’t express it. That is not helpful and is often re-traumatizing. When you can, call SHARE to talk through your own feelings and concerns.
- Be reassuring. Avoid judgmental questions/statements or using labels that the person has not used to describe their experience. Remind them that they are not at fault. The blame lies only with the person(s) who committed the acts of sexual misconduct. Take care of yourself. Remember, you too can call SHARE for support.
Let them lead the conversation. Allow them to determine the pace and focus of the conversation. Sexual misconduct is frequently a disempowering experience. An essential part of support is allowing the survivor to maintain control over what happens next.
Inform yourself about resources. Spend some time on this site learning what options exist, and offer information as appropriate. Help them to understand the available options, but they should be the one to decide how to proceed. Be sure to let them be the one to make the decisions about who to talk to, what services to access, and what actions to take next. You may offer to accompany them to an appointment or be with them while they call a resource they wish to connect with. You may disagree with some decisions but the important step is to listen and not judge.
- It is great that you want to check in with your friend to see how they’re doing. Your instinct about not bringing it up if they don’t is valid and shows that you respect your friend’s feelings and potential boundaries. Instead of bringing up the specific experience, try saying something general to the effect of: “I wanted you to know that I am grateful that you trust me enough to confide in me. Know that I care about you and always want to know how you are doing and that you can talk to me (or not talk to me) about whatever you feel comfortable sharing. Is there a keyword that we could use to signal that you want to talk about it?” You could also ask them what they would like you to do (bring things up or not) so they feel in control of how things proceed.
- Let your friend know you are here for them and ask them to let you know what you can do that would be most helpful. It is not possible to predict how someone might be feeling following a sexual assault. Some people may find it useful to process their experience frequently with a friend and others may not want to discuss it again for quite some time. For some, it may be never.
- Being assaulted can be a disempowering experience so finding ways to regain power are often important. You can remind your friend of the connection you have with them and the support that is available when and if they need it. This can be a way of empowering them to make their own decisions about when and how they want to talk about it.
- As you find an intentional and thoughtful way to check in with your friend, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- An experience such as an assault can challenge a person’s sense of control, so supporting and encouraging them to make their own decisions is helpful in reestablishing a feeling of agency of their own life.
Follow your friend’s lead and be there for them whenever they let you know they need some emotional support.
There is no timetable for recovering, so even if some time has passed, a difficult feelings could still be present or seem to resurface when least expected.
- It is also important to take care of yourself. Listening to someone’s experience can be difficult for you too. You can talk to SHARE, Mental Health & Counseling, or another trusted person or resource.
How do I convince a friend that continuing a friendship/relationship with their harm-doer isn’t a good idea?
- Possibly one of the strongest tools you have at your disposal when it comes to helping your friend move away from a harmful relationship is providing non-judgmental support. You may feel like you are simply being a witness or possibly enabling damaging patterns of behavior, but it is important to remember that a person can only make a lasting and definitive change when the motivation comes from within themselves. People are more likely to reach this point when they have a space to talk things out without judgement. This does not mean you can’t point out things you see and provide your feedback, but keep in mind a process is unfolding and change may take time. The SHARE Center is also here to support you as you navigate this difficult situation. If you think your friend is in immediate risk of physical harm, always prioritize safety and take steps to help protect them. Call SHARE, Title IX, your dean, head of college, or the Sensitive Crimes Officer for the Yale Police (Kristina Reech), to discuss possible actions. In many cases, Sgt. Reech has come to the SHARE Center to join a meeting with a student and discuss possible actions before they are put into place.
- You can share your concerns with your friend, but you have to accept that ultimately the decision to continue the relationship is up to them. It is important to be as non-judgmental as possible. While you may not agree with their decisions, they have their own reasons for continuing the relationship. It is acceptable to let them know how you are feeling and how this impacts you. Saying that you are worried about them, that you are afraid things may escalate, that you fear losing them as a friend, and that you feel helpless when it sounds like they are being hurt and nothing is changing, can’t be disputed because these fears come from you. Reiterate that you are there for them and want the best for them. If your friend is a risk to themselves or is in danger of imminent harm, you can share with your friend that you may feel compelled to notify someone to plan for their safety.
- An important way to be helpful and useful to friends and loved ones, is to let them know you are available to support them and help them make their own decision whenever possible. While it may feel difficult not to share your opinion or view of the relationship, feeling pressured to end a relationship is unhelpful and often adds to the stress they are experiencing. It is likely that your friend may be feeling disconnected and disempowered if their relationship is abusive or manipulative. Reminding them of the connection you share may serve to reinforce what they have with you, give them a safe place to brainstorm and empower them to make their own self-protective decision.
A friend disclosed having experienced sexual misconduct and has been turning to me frequently for support. I am so glad that they did so, but am worried about how to make sure that I am not emotionally overwhelmed or completely consumed by supporting them. How do I navigate this?
- Be aware of your own feelings. You may feel hurt, angry, guilty, anxious, or frightened. Such feelings are understandable, yet your reactions may feel surprising, confusing, or overwhelming. Remember, there is no “typical” way to react to these types of situations.
- Know and respect your own limits. There is only so much you can do to help your friend. You can provide support and compassion. Try not to offer more than you can give, and encourage your friend to seek professional support. You may also reach out to SHARE together.
- Remember that it was not your fault. You may feel guilty, thinking that you could have done something to prevent your friend from being hurt. Remind yourself that the blame lies only with the person(s) who committed the acts of sexual misconduct.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help. Find someone other than the survivor to talk with about your feelings. Talking with someone else can help you understand your own emotions and give you a clearer perspective on the situation. SHARE is available for you, too.
- Do not forget to take care of yourself. This will help both you and your friend.