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Sexual abuse is among the worst experiences a person can endure. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the act, sexual abuse is almost universally traumatizing. Far more children and adults are affected by sexual abuse than we realize. The profound psychological wounds left by these despicable crimes affect a heartbreakingly large percentage of the population.
Abuse is a difficult subject to navigate. Every victim has had a different experience and may be comforted or triggered by different acts. By offering an open ear and allowing your partner to process their abuse on their own terms, you can best help them heal from past traumas.
Listen and Be Aware
If your partner has opened up to you about the abuse they have endured, listen to them. Thank them for their courage in opening up to you. Strive to genuinely hear what your partner is saying, both verbally and non-verbally. Note that asking questions about the abuse may be triggering to your partner. If you do want to ask a question, tread lightly and ask for permission first. If your partner is uncomfortable delving further into the past, express your willingness to support them and listen if and when they are ready.
“I can tell that you’ve experienced something awful. Please remember that it wasn’t your fault. If I can support you in any way, let me know. If you want to talk more, I’m here to listen.” Simple words such as these will let your partner know that you are there for them. Allow your partner to control the narrative and process their trauma on their own terms.
Despite the stereotypes, sexual abusers aren’t easy to spot. A friendly relative or trusted member of your local community may be an abuser. In your mind, you may question how anyone could commit such heinous acts, even seemingly “nice” individuals. Though you may be bewildered by your partner’s revelations, take them at their word. Never question whether or not hazy memories may be false. Instead, listen to your partner and validate their experiences. Your faith in them will help them through the healing process.
Understand Their Limits & Needs
An abused partner may have developed certain coping mechanisms as a means of managing their abuse symptoms. If your partner is uncomfortable being alone in a dark room or trapped in a job with a verbally aggressive boss, be understanding of this. Allow your partner to tailor their life and environment to their needs. If your partner cannot handle certain types of touch or particular sexual acts, respect these limits without complaint. Allowing your partner to feel safe in their daily life is among the best ways you can support them.
Learn Their Triggers
Sexual abuse often comes with a number of triggers. Something you said or did may have triggered PTSD flashbacks. If you realize that you have triggered your partner, stop what you are doing and do your best to assist them. If your partner needs to be alone for a while, respect their decision. If they need a positive distraction, create one. If something in your surroundings has triggered them, remove the trigger or temporarily leave the area. Though triggers may be difficult to avoid, recognizing and managing them can reduce the amount of traumatic flashbacks your partner has to endure.
The psychological consequences of sexual abuse are vast. Victims are often left with chronic issues ranging from depression, anxiety, and PTSD to more general feelings of numbness, anger, fear, shame, loneliness, and forgetfulness. If your partner isn’t ready for therapy, don’t pressure them. Let them know that you respect their decision regardless of what they choose to do. If your partner isn’t ready for therapy, consider finding a psychologist for yourself. The right therapist can help you better manage your own issues and may help you discover more ways to support your partner.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s natural to worry about your partner, particularly when you see them struggling. It is important, however, to take care of yourself, too. Being an emotional rock for your partner may leave you feeling heartbroken and exhausted. Check in with yourself on a regular basis to be sure that you’re meeting your own emotional needs. Treat yourself to a warm bath, a funny film, or a ticket to your favorite sporting event. By taking care of your own well-being, you’ll have an easier time maintaining a happy and healthy relationship.
Healing from sexual abuse can be extremely difficult. Sometimes you may feel as though there’s nothing you can do to help your partner heal. In times of difficulty, strive to simply be there for them. Lend an ear while compassionately attending to their needs. With love and understanding, even the deepest of wounds can begin to heal.
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