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What Survivors Wish You Knew: 7 Ideas That Help + 6 Ideas That Harm

Survivors are overcomers. They are here among you and looking for ways to recreate a new normal. As survivors, they’re working on two major realities--what has happened to them and what they need to move forward. This process can be easily derailed by their own detrimental thinking and behavior. However, it is also interrupted by the way the people in their environment or sphere of influence, also known as “Allies and Support Systems,” tend to re-victimize them through a variety of behaviors and attitudes.

Allies and Support Systems, there is no doubt that you want to be a part of the right thing and to do what works. Below are ways that help and ways that enable or harm survivors.


Ways allies help:

Believe their story. You are not the investigator, neither am I. Tip: The person seeking help is very different in purpose and presentation than those who defend themselves. In fact, a tell-tale sign that you’re working with a survivor of violation is that they approach you feeling sympathetic toward the aggressor, if not at fault for it.  

Learn how to detect those who violate. They are commonly known as those who deny, deceive, deflect and dismiss.

Tell the survivor that you want to learn how to be a safe person, who strengthens them to fight their battle their way. And then, define what you can do. Be careful not to overpromise and underdeliver.

Non-invasively check in with a text, a greeting card, or leave a little gift where they can find it. These overtures communicate that you are thinking of them and stand with them. No strings attached.

Think of sensate calming and comforting things like something to drink, eat, a blanket, a stuffed animal, calming music, lower lighting when speaking with them privately.

Convey that you trust that they are doing the next right thing for themselves and that you believe that they will know what to do each step of the way. Remember, they have a right to make mistakes with this.

Define your job description. I may be a therapist professionally, but outside of the office, I am only the friend, the sister, the wife and the mom, not an advisor or treatment specialist.


Ways allies enable or harm:

We tell them what to do. “You need to leave, report, get counseling, get a divorce.” “You need to forgive.”

We ask them invasive and/or doubtful questions. “Are you sure?” “Why now?”

We get keyed up (reactive) and reflect on our own stories in front of them, rather than remaining calm and comforting. “Me, too. And this is what I needed so I think you should. . .”

We give them services or help they never asked for because of our belief of what they need to improve. “I hired a house cleaner for you so why is your house so messy?” “I am having my pastor/priest visit you for healing prayer so you should feel better soon.” “I set up a counseling session because it’s time you get real help.”

We doubt their process for change rather than letting them decide what works for them.

We don’t define our role so in our “rescue attempts” we look for the victim to define us. Ultimately, this can lead to burn out and possibly resentment.

Please comment on this blog and share your experiences with whether these sorts of ideas have helped or harmed you. Offer your own ideas of what helped, too, it takes a village of voices to create change.

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