FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS

WORKING THROUGH YOUR FEELINGS and REACTIONS

One of the first steps in helping yourself is finding a support person to talk to. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with a trusted confidante--a friend, family member, ORCC advocate, counselor, or minister can help you to work through this trauma. Some of your thoughts and feelings could be hurtful if expressed to the survivor. It will be helpful for you to have a safe person with whom you can vent all of your feelings and discuss any of the rape myths which you believe. When you directly express your thoughts and feelings to your support person, you will reduce the risk of acting in ways or saying things which can hurt the survivor.

If your usual confidante is the survivor, it will be important for you to seek out and talk to a third party. The survivor will be coping with his or her own feelings and will not need the added concern of feeling responsible for your distress. Later there will be times when you will share your feelings with the survivor, and you will be glad that you have sorted out your own thoughts and emotions before talking with him or her.

Often the immediate reactions of friends and loved ones place added stress on the survivor.  Therefore, it is helpful to be aware of common reactions to rape so that you can deal with these thoughts and feelings outside of the survivor's presence.

* Secondary survivors often report feeling very angry. They may feel anger for the rapist and even some anger toward the victim. If you are angry at the survivor, you may be holding him or her responsible for the rape. If you find yourself blaming him or her for what happened, criticizing him or her for not being more careful, or doubting the truth of his or her story, please talk to someone about your feelings. It will not be helpful at this time to share your doubts with the survivor.

* Work to understand your anger. Learn the facts of rape and begin to place your anger where it belongs; toward the perpetrator.  Many secondary survivors are eventually able to channel their anger into more productive outlets, for example, finding ways in which they can combat rape, speaking to groups, volunteering their time to agencies serving victims, etc.

*Feeling anger toward the rapist is a very normal reaction to rape, however, expressing intent to harm or kill the rapist only adds to the survivor's anxiety. Even if you have no real intent to seek revenge, expressing this desire to the survivor will add to his or her stress. Survivors may feel the need to calm and reassure you at a time when they need the support and reassurance. Survivors may also worry about your safety and possible legal problems if you should seek retribution. Offer survivors your gentle support and talk about your feelings for revenge with your own support person or ORCC advocate.

*Those close to a rape survivor commonly experience feelings of guilt for their perceived failure to protect their loved one. Secondary victims often remark that they should have somehow prevented the rape. It will be important for you to be kind to yourself and stop blaming yourself for something that you could not have prevented. Although you are unable to change the past, you can make a difference in what happens now, and that is a very important role.

*Some secondary victims attempt to support the survivor by being overprotective. Trying to “take care of” the survivor reinforces their feelings of helplessness. Making decisions for them, being too protective of them, and encouraging them to limit their activities prevents a survivor from mobilizing his or her own coping skills. You can provide support as they create their own adaptive strategies to stay safe and to heal from the rape.

* Secondary victims sometimes try to help survivors by distracting them from what   has happened. You may be tempted to keep him or her preoccupied by going shopping or taking a vacation. While distraction may have short-term therapeutic benefits, when taken to the extreme it can prevent a survivor from mourning their personal loss. This distraction can deny opportunities for healthy communication and emotional support.

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