1. We want you in our life.
Trauma survivors want friends, loved ones, and partners. We want a social life which fits into our own comfort zone. We may not be able to adapt to your social preferences in the same way you are able to adapt to ours. This can be for many reasons. For instance, something you enjoy may cause us anxiety. This is where you will need to be willing to accompany us while at the same time accepting we cannot always accompany you.
We want the same things in our lives that most people do: happiness, peace, and security. We just sometimes require them under different circumstances, and we need you to both understand and accept this.
As a trauma survivor heals, we also gain a maturity and an understanding that not everyone is equipped to be in our lives. We respect you when you are honest about this. If you don’t feel a trauma survivor is the right fit to be in your life, that is okay. You do us a favor when you do not enter our lives if you are not invested emotionally.
If you do decide that you want to enter our life, be willing to take things very slow. We need your patience. The more we heal, the more we grow, release triggers and can bloom. Connecting with a healing trauma survivor can be a rewarding and celebratory experience. We really do appreciate when someone cares about us with the intent of supporting our way forward.
2. We need to know we can trust you.
Survivors of child abuse are conditioned from very young ages that we cannot trust people who claim to love us. This is because the people we were supposed to be able to trust were the same people who hurt us. Sometimes a child abuse survivor is still learning to define what the meaning of love is. Many of us who have suffered sexual abuse were groomed lovingly into being coercively raped. This can cause confusion when an abuser is also loving toward a child, resulting in confusion when we reach adulthood.
It will take more time and open communication to gain our trust.
For trauma survivors, things can sometimes be very black and white. When trust is broken with us, it can either take us a long time to regain it, or we do not ever regain it with you again. I am one of those types of people. If someone shows me their true colors are rooted in manipulation, ill intent or disloyalty, I will most likely never interact with that individual again.
You may find that many of us have a deep need for loyalty and strong ethics in the people we relate to. When we are in a trusting space with someone, we feel safe. Because we rarely felt safe as children, feeling safe as adults can be a major factor in the balance of our mental health. Be trustworthy and loyal. It can be an honor to be in our lives since many of us rarely allow others in deeply.
3. Know our trauma.
Get to know what happened to your friend or significant other. Be genuinely interested. You may not understand our childhood experiences. It may feel horrible to you. It is natural to feel disgust at hearing about abuses happening to children. This makes you human. It means you care. We appreciate you for feeling WITH us. When we are healed, many of us survivors do not live a daily private life of continually speaking of our trauma. However, understanding the depth of what has happened to us and how it has affected us will help you understand who we are.
Some of the things you might hear may be difficult to wrap your head around. Imagine having experienced it. We survivors often feel the same way about our own experiences.
Be willing to listen with acceptance. Remember that you do not need to have the same experiences as someone else to understand and accept their experiences.
If we write about our trauma, be willing to read it. Once, I dated a man who asked me about my childhood. I suggested that he read my book, Cult Child, which would let him know everything that happened in my childhood. I spent seven years writing my biography. While I can give a summary of my experiences, if someone is going to be in my life on a romantic level, they should be willing to know the details of what I endured. His retort was that he shouldn’t have to read a “manifesto” of my life. He didn’t get any more of my time. Do not speak to us this way. It’s an honor to read our journals and experiences since it is not easy for us to write about it.
Healed trauma survivors can be very strong together as friends, business partners and in romantic relationships. Because both have experienced traumas, they will most likely have a higher level of mindfulness and understanding with one another. This can be a strong dynamic. If you are healing, strive to connect with other healing survivors. Healed survivors most often inspire one another.
4. Educate yourself about our impairments.
Many child abuse survivors carry impairments such as Complex PTSD, Anxiety, Agoraphobia, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Hypersensitivity, Startle Response, OCD, Depression or other bi-products of what mentally ill people did to us. Because an abuse survivor’s scars are not visible, many people forget their friend or significant other carries such impairments. This can be difficult for us. We want and need you to remember that we have impairments.
For example, I am deaf in my right ear. Because of this, I can have higher vocal volumes, especially in loud spaces, or I need others to speak up, so I can hear. Once, when I was watching a movie with a friend, she remembered my hearing impairment and put on subtitles, without me even asking. It warmed my heart. These small moments of mindfulness mean the world to me.
If you are interested in personally connecting with a child abuse survivor, educate yourself on what our impairments are about. Read credible information. Learn what the signals are for triggers and how you can be a support person if a trigger happens. The brain is an amazing organ. Learning how trauma affects the brain of a developing child is astronomic in understanding why child abuse survivors operate the way we do.
When you can speak our language, it is easier for us to communicate with you. This creates an ease for us. We do not have to struggle in communicating what we may be going through, because we are aware that you get it. For example, a couple signs of a trigger could be the pupils of the eyes becoming larger and a frozen body stance. Knowing these symptoms can help you recognize them if they arise. Sometimes a trauma survivor feels shame and stays quiet about what is happening in our head. When you recognize the signs of our triggers, and softly rein us in, it creates an open channel for us to move through it.
As we heal, you will notice that changes occur. Things which once triggered us may not trigger us anymore. We may have highs and lows of anxiety or depressive periods depending on what happens in our lives. We don’t deal with situations or see the world the same way as non-trauma adults do. Knowing how our impairments work can give you the tools to support us through this journey. Plus, nerding out on the way the human brain functions can be super fun.
5. Don’t take our abuse personally or try and fix it.
You may want to fix everything. You may become frustrated that you cannot fix some things. You will meet child abuse victims who are still in their abuse base. You get to choose what your own comfort level is. Don’t make a victim your pet project. Victims must choose their healing as they learn the tools to do so. You will find yourself exhausted if you fall into the belief that you can fix a person who has not chosen to heal themselves. It is okay to softly move on before you become vested. It is better for all parties involved when you decide responsibly to do so.
It can be difficult to watch someone you love have days of crying or silence; a state of being that you may not understand, or even think might be your fault. Remember that not everything is about you. Sometimes we just need to be heard or hugged. Sometimes we need to cry. Let us. This is where holding space is a necessity. A healing survivor will possibly ask for your input for self-care. We may be more open with what we are feeling and dealing with in our head when you hold space for us.
There is a saying; Let the past go. I disagree. If trauma survivors could wave a wand and make the past go away, oh, how we would. No. The past holds onto us, and we spend our lives prying its fingers away.
As we heal and face our trauma, we learn the art of taking dominion over our memories. We learn that we do not have to relive the flashbacks when they arrive. It takes time to accomplish this state of being.
Connecting with a trauma survivor requires a great amount of empathy and patience. If you don’t understand us, study and read up on what we live with each day. I personally respect when someone is honest with me about whether they are or are not a good fit in my life.
Be kind. Be gentle. Most of all, be real.
– Vennie Kocsis
Vennie Kocsis is the best-selling author of Cult Child and other publications. She is also a poet.