How to Support Survivors

When someone presents themselves in a vulnerable and honest way, it can be a tough position. Sometimes we feel the only way we can cope is through equivocating. We think (or say), “Oh, my friend’s mom’s uncle’s brother totally had the exact same thing happen to them!”  Maybe we feel desperate to return to social normalcy. But the reality is that our inability to allow a given victim’s discomfort to resonate with us is actually doing more damage than we realize.

We think we’re providing a way for people to feel less alone, by reminding them of all the other people who experienced the same thing. However, what we are really communicating is much more sinister: “Your pain is not worth me being uncomfortable for a couple minutes. Here are some reasons why you ought to cheer up so I don’t have to deal with the burden of your experience”—effectively stripping these people of their chance to grieve, and moreover, grieve with you. After all, there’s a reason that he or she decided to open up to you in particular. Instead, accept the discomfort for five, ten minutes, and just let them evoke that suffering with you, even if just for a little bit. Show them, don’t tell them, that they aren’t alone. Seriously, it’s the least you can do.

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