Created by Evy Yeager, TraumaRoot
for Spitting In The Face Of The Devil
How to Support Someone
When we think that someone close to us is in danger, we want to get involved. Strong social connections can be a critical source of support. But sometimes the questions we ask are judgemental of our loved one’s decisions. We can accidentally misplace blame on them, instead of on the abusive person. Questions beginning with, “Why didn’t you...” usually fall into this category. Here are three of these commonly-asked questions, and some helpful perspective on the answers.
Why Didn’t You...?
Leave as soon as things got bad?
Even when your physical safety is threatened, leaving an abuser is a complex decision. In some moments, trying to leave can increase the risk of further abuse. The survivor knows the most about their situation, and what feels safe or not safe for them. In cases of domestic abuse, deciding what to do is rarely simple.
Call the police?
Calling the police can be helpful in many situations, but not always. Abusers frequently rely on keeping the abuse a secret. They can build a strong social network so that their “good reputation” is not likely to be questioned. Their abusive behavior can worsen when they feel that someone has challenged their power or authority.
Make peace with the person who abused you?
Every family experiences challenging relationships, but not all are alike. The effects of a traumatic environment, like living with someone who is abusive, can be intense and long-lasting. An important feature of recovering from trauma is feeling safe. Engaging with an abusive person can hinder both safety and recovery. A survivor should not be forced to engage with the person who hurt them.
If you believe that an adult in your life is experiencing abuse, and you want to offer support, try these tips:
If you believe that a child or teen in your life is experiencing abuse, and you want to offer support, call the National Child Abuse Hotline to learn what steps you can take, specific to your situation. All calls are confidential.
1 (800) 4-A-Child or 1 (800) 422-4453
Learn to recognize common signs of child abuse:
A key form of support for a child survivor of abuse is having stable, nurturing relationships. The most important thing you can do is to be present.
Facts & Stats
Sexual Abuse of Children
“One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.”
Many children and teenagers don’t yet have a clear understanding of what happened to them. They might not have words to describe their experience. It can even be hard to recognize harm or danger. Sexual abuse can sometimes involve some positive feelings, like emotional connection or physical feelings. This can be deeply confusing.
As a child or teenager, confronting the abuser can be difficult or impossible. It is very common to adapt to the reality of the abuse, rather than to challenge it.
Physical Abuse of Children
In instances of child abuse, about 4 out of 5 abusers are the child’s parents.
No one wants to believe that a parent would hurt their own child. However, abusers are usually caregivers.
Pedophilia & Homosexuality
“Sexual abuse is in no way related to the sexual orientation of the abusive person.”
There is no single type of person who abuses children. Abusers include people of all genders, identities and orientations. The same is true for survivors of abuse. In the past, pedophilia and homosexuality have been wrongly connected. This is an outdated and damaging misconception. Sexual abuse of children is not primarily an expression of sexual desire. Abuse is an attempt to gain power.
Domestic Abuse & Financial Abuse
More than 9 out of 10 domestic abuse situations include financial abuse.
Abuse doesn’t have to be physical to be damaging, or long-lasting. By controlling access to money, abusers can control many other aspects of life. Some examples include:
Domestic Abuse & Guns
In a domestic abuse situation, a gun makes homicide 5 times more likely.
A gun can cause harm without ever being loaded or fired. Just by having a deadly weapon, an abuser can gain control over others.
Domestic Abuse & Psychological Abuse
For many people, psychological abuse is more likely than physical abuse to cause PTSD.
The effects of trauma on the brain and body create many barriers to safety and recovery. Psychological abuse can have the most long-lasting impact.
Mental and physical health are closely connected. Trauma can weaken the immune system. It can also bring a greater risk of physical health problems. In some cases, trauma can cause structural changes in the brain. Research has shown that both mental and physical effects of trauma are reversible, with time and (formal or informal) treatment.
Trauma is extremely common, but it is not well understood. Here are 3 things to know:
Traumatic Events vs. Traumatic Environments
We tend to think of trauma in terms of specific events: an assault, an accident, or a natural disaster. There are also traumatic environments: human trafficking, domestic abuse, or systemic racism. The effects of traumatic environments can be much more difficult to overcome, because the threat is ongoing. A key part of recovering from trauma is safety. When establishing safety is more challenging, so is recovery.
Trauma & Memory
When we experience trauma, our brains and bodies change in an instant. We focus on anything that will help us to survive. In exchange, our bodies and brains pause some of their regular activities, including the storing of memories. When we remember a traumatic experience, some details may stand out very clearly. Others may blur or fade
completely. In the moments of trauma, our brains focus on the details that help us react and stay safe, while ignoring other details.
When we tell a non-traumatic story, we tend to follow the events in the order they happened. When we recall trauma, the sensory details (like smells and sounds) are much clearer than their timing.
Numbness is one of many survival responses that our bodies can use. It is an instinct that keeps us safe. Numbness can last long after the traumatic experience has happened.
Recovering from a traumatic experience is complex and challenging. Whatever you are working through, know that the way your body and brain has responded to trauma is beyond your control, and you are not at fault. Abuse is never your fault. You are not alone, and help is available.
For further reading about trauma and recovery: