Helping Friends Heal

When a friend or someone you love has been through a traumatic event, it is common to feel overwhelmed and helpless. It’s hard to know what to say or do at a time like this, so here are some suggestions.

  • Acknowledge the event. It happened and can’t be ignored.
  • Don’t ask too many questions. Your job is to LISTEN. Allow your friend to share whatever they are comfortable with sharing at the time.
  • If they are considering reporting a sexual battery, advise them not to shower or wash the clothes they were wearing and to report quickly, as evidence is time sensitive.
  • Let them talk, cry and be angry. People experience a wide range of emotions after a traumatic incident, and they are all normal.
  • Believe the survivor! Fewer than 1% of reports of sexual battery are false reports.
  • Don’t judge the person’s reaction to the event. Some may wonder, “Why aren’t they more upset, they are not even crying.” However, everyone has different responses and natural reactions to trauma which are all normal.
  • Allow them to heal at their own pace. Don’t assume that the week after the event, they are going to be “back to normal”.
  • Let them make their own decisions, such as if they want to report or not report an incident; allow them to control what they can.
  • Remind them that it is not their fault. No one invites a violation.
  • Encourage them to seek all forms of support (such as from family, friends, or emotional, medical, or legal services).
  • Offer to help with daily routine tasks and suggest participation in activities they once enjoyed.
  • Get help for yourself and the feelings that the incident has also stirred in you.

We don’t always know how to put these into practice, so here are some examples of helpful things to say:

  1. Would you like to talk about it?
  2. This must be very painful for you.
  3. How can I help?

We want to help and encourage as best we can in the ways we know how. However, we want to make sure we are not saying things which can actually be hurtful or add to the survivor’s stress. Keep in mind some things to avoid saying to your friend:

  1. “I understand how you feel.” We really don’t – we all have our own way of processing traumatic events and our own feelings about our experiences.
  2. “What happened? You’ll feel better if you talk about it.” That may not be true for them.
  3. “When this happened to me…” Let your loved one express their own story, they probably don’t need the weight of your added emotions at that time.
  4. “If you don’t press charges, you are letting him get away with it and he will do it to others”. The survivor may only be able to focus on their incident and is making decisions based on what is best for them.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to campus resources, such as the counseling center or the Victim Advocate Program (both of which are confidential) with any concerns or questions on how you can continue to help and support your friend in crisis.