How to celebrate the strength she shows today while respecting her past.
I have a friend who was raped a few years ago by two men and nearly lost her life. Today, she is a vibrant young woman who has just started a budding career. She is confident, strong but inside, I know that the memories still hurt her. However she has found solace and sanctuary in her new job.
We had a brief moment where for a few months we were together physically, emotionally and mentally and it felt like we were the perfect match. We both said the same thing and wanted the same things but due to situations out of our control and people interfering, it was not to be for us…
Now that the overview is done, the real purpose of my email is as a friend to an amazingly strong woman who has been hurt by men in the past and seems to be over it most of the time. How do I best support her when she does feel the insecurities of the rape? How do I be there for her in such a way that I support her unconditionally and in the right way as not to drive her away from men in totality as there are still good men out there? While at the moment, she is in an amazing space and hopefully she will stay in that space for good, but as we all know life sometimes has a way of knocking us to our knees as it did me.
So really my question is what is the best way to support a woman who has been raped in the past, who seems to be over it but sometimes it seems to knock her self confidence and confidence in men.
What a great and important question. You’re already aware of the most important part: That even when the crisis has passed and someone has “recovered” from trauma, they can still be plagued with bad memories, insecurities, and fears.
The most important thing you could do is say exactly that: “I see how strong and happy you are and I am happy for you. I know, though, that sometimes the dark times will come back and cloud your view. I want you to know that I am here and I’ve got your back.”
Let her know that you are aware of her. If you are unsure of something, ask “I had a thought that….would be helpful. Is it?” Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek clarification. Many times, people think they are bringing up a painful topic and just try to stick to mind-reading and that doesn’t work.
Ask her if she’s comfortable sharing her triggers or personal boundaries. These can be hard for survivors to share. However, know if she has any special needs around personal space. She might need you to let her know if you’re behind her. If you know what environmental things (sounds, news events, weather, etc) bring up memories, you can be more aware of her when they happen. Ask her what she needs and recognize that she might be fine and not need anything.
Remind her of her strength. Reassure her tharmal that she has “bad memory” days and that doesn’t mean she hasn’t healed or has taken a step back.
Invite her to share her thoughts and feelings, if she wants. Listen, validate, and try not to problem solve. When you hear her being self-deprecating, instead of telling her not to feel that way, suggest that maybe that’s her trauma talking and that she won’t always feel that way.
Some days, it really will just be in her past. You may find yourself thinking about it, when it’s not on her mind. That’s normal, too, and it’s ok to talk to people you trust about that. You don’t have to hold that weight alone.
You didn’t ask about this but I do think it’s important to say…being this friend…helping her with this….you might not be the right person for this. I get that you’re trying to stay friends even though a relationship between the two of you didn’t work. You love her and staying connected and bonded over something so intense and personal will undoubtedly make things messy for the two of you. It’ll be hard to move on from your romantic relationship with her if you create a situation where you’re the person she goes to when she’s in pain.
You’re so sensitive to her, her needs, and her experience. Be sure to spread that sensitivity to yourself, as well.
Thanks for starting an essential conversation.
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