How people respond when we share our stories of trauma can have a tremendous impact on our healing. Last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy was titled “Silent All These Years” and it did an amazing job addressing sexual and domestic violence. It followed 3 main story lines which included providing support immediately after the crime, conversations that happen years later, and talking about consent.
When someone shares their experience of sexual assault, rape, or domestic violence, it may feel like opening up a wound, or it may feel like sharing a chapter from a book that happened long ago. There can be a whole range of emotions depending on where the person is in their healing journey. How it feels can also vary based on who they are sharing with and the context. There is no right or wrong way to feel.
It is up to a survivor to decide who to tell and when. Again, there is no right or wrong way. Some may reach out for help immediately to one, or to a few, or to many. Some may not speak about it for years. Some may share at one point and then never talk about it again. For some, this may be a conversation that they come back to again one day in future relationships. Some may find that it gets a little easier to share their story as time goes on. For some, it may feel just as overwhelming as the first time. There is no right or wrong way to feel. There is no set timeline.
There is however, a right way to respond. When someone shares their story, they are being vulnerable both with you and with themself. When the person is met with compassion and support, it can contribute to greater healing. When the person is met with doubt or victim blaming, those responses can be internalized. One of the best responses is “It’s not your fault. I believe you.”
Towards the end of the Grey’s episode, we see a survivor being brought to surgery by her doctors. When they enter the hallway, it is lined with women. No words are needed. The message is powerful. We are here to support you.
Scene from Grey’s Anatomy: Silent All These Years
It’s the showing up that matters the most. It’s the compassion. It’s the solidarity. It’s someone saying, “It’s not your fault. I believe you.” It’s knowing that we are not alone. When we are met with those things, our strength grows. It is in those moments and in those conversations that healing is happening.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. If you have been impacted by sexual violence and need support, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in San Diego, call the Center for Community Solutions 888-385-4657. For more information, visit the RAINN website. Contact me to consult further on this topic or to schedule a therapy appointment.