My community would benefit from a three pronged best practice model of consent: prevention, perception, and healing.
A healing guide is an enormous undertaking as every situation is quite different and people are quite different – victims, abusers, situations, intentions – they’re all different from one situation to another. Nonetheless, I’m sure as a community we can come up with something worth a read-through even if we disagree at times. The following is my meager attempt at one part of such a guide.
So you’ve experienced some kind of trauma (statistically, it’s likely sexual assault, physical disempowerment, or death) and don’t know what to do. Think of Zorro’s circle.
Zorro focuses only on what is inside the circle and everything else to cease to exist. The circle begins very small inside your mind and grows outwards as you gain strength and emotional ninja skills.
1. Practice self-compassion
- Be patient with yourself as much as possible, but don’t get stuck in a loop thinking about the same events. Obsession is never good. Patience gives you options.
- Ignoring your feelings to make it all just go away will slow the healing process and draw out your suffering
- The emotions you’re feeling like shock, bewilderment, sadness, frustration, anger, and rage – even intensity verging on insanity – they’re actually all normal
- The physical symptoms you’ve been feeling like sleeplessness, sweating, heart palpitations, light-headedness, cotton-mouth, and regular illness are normal
- The cravings for coping mechanisms (companionship, talking, cuddling, alcohol, drugs) are also normal although only some are healthy – try to grow up from this low point and use it to make you healthier and stronger wherever possible
- The denial, guilt, and shame are not evidence of your part in what happened, but are a normal part of surviving trauma
- The medium-term triggers and ongoing problems are okay and normal throughout your rehabilitation process – and it is a process with healthy coping strategies available to you
- If it has happened multiple times, it’s still not you. Being traumatized once increases your likelihood of experiencing trauma
- The “just get over it” approach doesn’t work long term. The “things could have been worse” approach seems to have mixed results. Be really careful not to invalidate your feelings.
2. Increase your coping resources
- reach out to friends and loved ones you trust and feel safe with
- it’s okay if a loved one/friend does not understand
- research various sites, i.e.: The National Institute of Mental Health Resources for Coping
- in your spare time, increase your Emotional Intelligence (EI). Read up on personality types and how they cope with stress and trauma: maybe try the enneagram (short form personality test, link to full guide pdf or book)
- Cultivate closeness with a friend or family member. Become closer because of this. Trauma can strip you of your trust of other human beings and damage all of your close relationships. Repair and grow just one.
- Talk to at least one person who will help you feel heard even if they’re unrelated to the situation. Ensure they understand that you just want a sounding board, and that they know there’s risk of vicarious trauma and that they need to acknowledge that.
- Know this happens to others and it isn’t uncommon. What happened is not about you, but what you do with it is.
- Learn to hope again. Learn to make plans and have dreams. Remember that human beings can be truly good animals who can work together and help each other. Increasing your knowledge of body language and gestures can help you feel smarter and safer.
- Pick-up healthy coping mechanisms like creative art, exercise, writing, routine creation, focusing on a new skill, having a new experience like a night out or trip to an art exhibit, or do something just for you. Keep a list of what works for you.
- Create a list of healthy boundaries and reasonable steps you can take to enforce those boundaries. Run it by someone you trust.
- If that list helped, create other lists like lists of helpful coping strategies or lists or things you do that slow your healing or make your life worse
- Put your boundaries into practice and advocate for yourself.
- Practice self-esteem building exercises that remind you how awesome you are and what you have to offer your friends and the world.
- Monitor your Internal Monologue or Self-Talk like a hawk. Treat yourself well, the way you’d treat a stranger who experienced the same trauma but who wasn’t you.
- Take care of yourself physically like remembering hygiene, attempting to sleep, shopping for food and toilet paper, eating, and other basics. Depression is awful to deal with but it always feels only temporary once you’ve pulled through, and you will pull through eventually.
- Try to come to a place where this experience does not define you, but offers you a Post Traumatic Growth opportunity, a concept popular in social psychology (look up Shawn Achor and read one of his books like The Happiness Advantage) but not yet a household concept like PTSD is yet.
- Research happiness and EI and learn more about yourself and how to manage your feelings and interpretation of your experiences. It helps.
- Remember that in a very real sense, you are grieving for a loss even if it’s a loss of trust or a sense of independence or security or love or even just a friend or friends or community you can associate with no longer.
4. Check in with immediate external people (family, found family, close friends)
- Sometimes self isolation happens for our emotional safety – it’s good to reconnect with those most important to you – you can do this at any step but if you haven’t done it yet, here’s a reminder
- Others may deal poorly with what has happened not because you’re untrustworthy or a bad person, but because they need an easy out, a scapegoat. What happened is so horrible they don’t want to even admit it happened because of their other friend/at their event/to their loved one. Many will be in denial as a symptom of their own minor traumatic reaction. Their reaction is not about you. It’s okay for them to be messed up even though it happened to you. Just like you deserve your space and your time to heal, so too do they deserve theirs.
- Others may be very angry that you have been wronged or hurt by the action or inaction of others and may want to go “deal with it” which can do more harm than good. It’s best to prime people on how you want them to react before you tell them. Telling them how to react is okay. However it’s okay for them to react the way they react too.
- You may avoid implicated/involved people. That’s okay. A restraining order (in this case actually a peace bond) is okay if it is important to your safety or psychological well-being. You can get one without a conviction. You may need to go to a courthouse but you do not need to argue with them in court to the best of my knowledge (I’m not a lawyer. This isn’t legal advice. Research it yourself.)
- Counseling helps. It may sound like a waste of time – it may even feel when you start like it is a terrible use of your money, but it is actually very helpful and there are low-cost internship programs, inexpensive or free services available to you. I’ve used CHIMO Crisis Services in Richmond myself a couple of times. Here is a page of many other organizations that may offer inexpensive or free services. I also have a resources page.
- Don’t discount full-cost counseling either, especially if you have experience using counseling services before. Even if not, most pay services offer a free 30-minute orientation that lets you get to know your counselor.
- It’s possible younger siblings (children) may be involved in that they overheard or were outright told about what happened. It happens. This is a thing. This guide is one of many that has a section on how to approach encouraging children to express their feelings and to help them through their emotional stress.
5. Choose: should you confront your abuser?
- Think about writing an impact statement first and imo plan on not sending it. That can be healing on its own.
- Consider: does this person know you were traumatized? If you choose to inform them, you are potentially in a position of emotional stress, but you could also teach them what they did led to serious harm and prevent them doing it again in future to others. You could also get closure.
- Alternatively, recruiting an ally to tell them for you might offer more distance for you. It can be effective, especially if you send an impact-statement with the ally.
- Delivering an impact statement can be delicate work but I can offer your ally coaching services if they want some. A little shared experience goes a long way.
- Many people are good people, even ones who make terrible decisions and cause harrowing consequences to others (and themselves). However a small minority genuinely don’t care about others.
- My opinion: informing them about your perspective with a witness present in a quiet public place (like a slow coffee shop) before you go public is my opinion of the best practice in most cases.
- Consider: are you in physical danger if you tell them? If so, don’t tell them. However would you also be in physical danger if you told others and they found out? If so, be careful who you tell. Let found family and family help. Decide if you’re perceiving more danger than you’re actually in. It happens. Or maybe your fears are justified and you need to be protected. If so, consider serious options like a peace bond and or police report. It can be a stressful experience, but if you’re in serious danger it is one option. Another is to physically move and cut all connections to the dangerous person.
6. Expanding the Zorro Circle: Reconnecting with Community
- After the usual scapegoating and victim-blaming that happens, it can be really hard to reconnect with your community.
- If it happened at an event, you should inform the event organizer as blamelessly as you can. Constructive criticism on prevention can come later, but lead with the facts if you can.
- Try to have empathy that many of them were just trying to protect themselves from vicarious trauma leaving you on your own to deal instead of helping you out. People suck sometimes, but just because they didn’t have the courage to help you doesn’t make them fundamentally bad people.
- Become stronger from the experience and develop a fearlessness against what others think of you. Their opinions don’t have to matter to you (except in rare cases like employers or parents – and even then you have some freedom and choice).
- Reclaim social circles where physically safe. Be fair to your abuser if he or she seems to feel genuinely bad about what happened. They may never be able to make up for what they did, but if they genuinely understand how awful it was and you feel heard, try to remember that there are healthy ways to express your rage and unhealthy ways.
- Consider writing a scathing letter that expresses just how angry you are, just how violated you felt, just how much you hate them. Remember to preface it or explain to them before they read it that the purpose is for you to feel expressed and that the situation has left you with very intense emotions. They’re still a human being with emotions and needs. They may have treated you otherwise, but you don’t have to let that define you and how you treat others. There’s a delicate balance you must strike between your emotional needs and your emotional wants versus others’ emotional needs.
7. Should you go to the police at all?
- The traditional methods like going to the police may introduce risk of Secondary Trauma/Victimization, a process that may have happened already if the ambulance/police already responded depending on the nature of your trauma and how trauma informed those responders were. Conviction rates are also quite low unless you have witnesses or other tangible evidence – both of which are very uncommon. Having said that, the very process itself of going to court while it can be stressful for you, can also be very stressful for your alleged abuser. If you go this route, it helps to get used to hearing the word alleged.
- Pick your battles and think this one through. Do you need this? Do others? Is your abuser out there harming people? Some do get convicted (1/10 according to Stats Canada) and some convicted do go to jail (more than half of those convicted).