When violence enters a person’s life, there is a ripple effect of trauma on all the people around them. Parents, partners, friends, children, and other loved ones of survivors experience a wide range of emotions and responses in the aftermath of their loved one’s assault. The way secondary survivors respond to their own trauma in the wake of violence can have a profound impact on the primary survivor’s ability to process through their experience and feel connected to the people around them.

Secondary survivors often have a deep desire to support their loved one but may not be sure how to do that.

After a loved one is victimized secondary victims may have some of the following responses:

  • Anger and frustration
  • A desire for revenge
  • Feeling powerless to protect the people they love
  • Shock and disbelief
  • Guilt or shame

They may fear saying something that will further upset them, they may not fully understand sexual violence, and they may not know what to expect from the survivor in the aftermath. Some people may even find themselves minimizing or discounting the experience as a coping reaction to hearing that a loved one has been hurt. While it can be hard to know what to say to relieve your loved one of pain, here are some tips on where to start.

It’s common to feel powerless, confused, and afraid after a loved one experiences sexual violence.

Secondary survivors are also often coping with their own trauma response to the violence their loved one has experienced.  Secondary survivors are often also tasked with the emotional labor of supporting their loved one through the aftermath of violence, leaving them vulnerable to suffering in silence. When secondary survivors also have their own trauma history, they may be personally triggered by their loved one’s experience, making it even more challenging to be present and supportive. Secondary survivors can benefit from having a separate support network. This will give them space to grieve and process their trauma without shifting the focus from their loved one. It’s also important to take care of yourself so you can continue to support your loved one. Some ways to practice self-care while supporting the survivor in your life could include:

  • Acknowledging and processing your feelings
  • Reaching out to supportive friends and families
  • Take care of your spiritual and emotional health
  • Caring for your physical health and well-being
  • Seeking professional help, even if for a short period
  • Engaging in activities you enjoy

Even though it is painful to watch the people we love suffer, know that your presence and support will make a world of difference in the life of a survivor. It’s okay to feel your own grief, loss, and pain in the aftermath of a loved one’s victimization. Remember to care for yourself so you can continue to be present for the survivor in your life.

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