Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Survivor Support: Part I

Self-care is vitally important for survivors of physical and sexual assault. One of our First Response Action Coalition members, Meg Long, tackles this issue in a new Self-Care Corner series that will run monthly. In these columns, Meg will discuss various issues that face Volunteers who are survivors of physical and sexual assault. In this first piece, Meg addresses the important subject of support.

It’s not you, it’s them

I recently provided a continuing education workshop on self-care and empathetic listening for the volunteers that I manage. I work at a non-profit organization where the volunteers are imperative to day-to-day function. As a result they have a lot of interaction with our clients, who are in crisis. All the clients have heart-wrenching stories, which they share with staff and volunteers. As I was taking part in the training I was reminded of something that is brought up frequently when discussing self- care and empathetic listening. It is a concept that I think we all are aware of, though I had never heard it put into a theory until a class I took in graduate school entitled ‘ Cultural aspects of coping with grief and loss’.

It breaks down to this: when one is grieving- and grieving pertains to any loss, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of one’s sense of power, any loss- those one speaks with will fall into one of three groups. One group will be very helpful and positive. This group will listen well and be actively involved in the grieving process, forming a positive support system. The second group is very negative and harmful. This is the group of people who are more interested in giving advice and judging than listening. They do not listen to what one is feeling, but tell one how they should be feeling. This group can delay and damage the grieving process. The third group is a neutral group. They are not harmful, but not necessarily helpful either.

The complication lies in who falls into which categories. It is a pleasant surprise when a casual friend turns out to be in the first group and is very sensitive and understanding, letting one go through the grieving process at one’s own sped without having to explain why they are laughing one minute and crying the next. It is a sad realization when one’s mother/sister/best friend falls into the second category. They tell one that one should ‘buck up’, ‘a lot of people go through they some thing’, or that ‘it has been ‘x’ amount of time, you should have moved by now’. Unfortunately these people now have become harmful, and distancing oneself from these people may be necessary for a healthy reconciliation.

Part of taking care of oneself is realizing whom we are surrounding ourselves with and how they are effecting us. This is true for everyone, but it is especially true for those who are working through loss and/or grief. While we cannot divorce ourselves from those who may hinder or reconciliation process, it is important to recognize that sharing with them will not result in a positive way. Therefore a more helpful and healing friend should be the ‘go to’ person for emotional support. Perhaps those who fall into our first category are the one we go to when its time to watch a movie or relax a local coffee shop.

Personally, I find support groups to be immensely helpful. When I am attending a support group I find my need to share and to be surrounded by those who understand my situation and listen non-judgmentally is fulfilled. As a result, it is not necessary to rely so heavily on my friends and family for understanding since I am receiving it through another outlet. Googling support groups in your area is a quick way to identify available resources. But be patient, not every support group will be a good match! It may take a few before the right group of people present themselves.

- Meg Long, RPCV Kenya

If you are a friend or loved one of a survivor, please consider how you may be able to better understand and better support them. Sometimes people aren't ready to talk and sometimes they want someone to gently open the door. If you are a survivor, try to find people with whom you feel comfortable. We hope to soon have resources available on this First Response Action blog to refer survivors to for more assistance. Many hospitals have support groups and also many non-profits have support programs. Here are a few links to national organizations that may be helpful:

If you found an online resource that may be helpful to survivors, please comment or email it to


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