In my last blog, I encouraged us, as men, to “Not just Do Something, Stand There” when faced with a friend or loved one who has experienced some form of gender based violence. The main point being the extreme value, particularly in us as men, in not jumping into to taking action to “take care of” our loved one or “fix” the situation. There is real value in us standing still and offering quiet support.
Sometimes standing still is as active a position as we can take. Standing still should not be confused with being passive. Standing still, in the presence of a loved one who has suffered rape, domestic violence, harassment, stalking, and/or the rest is about as hard work as there is.
So while standing still, what can you do?
Without moving into action, there are a lot of things we can do (as loved ones in general and in particular as men):
- “I’m not sure I know how to support you right now, but I’m here. It may be all I got, but I’m here”
Sometimes we don’t know what to say or do. Sometimes we don’t have the answers, or a plan, or the solution, or the best idea (or any idea)… More often than not, in these moments, its best to just be honest and say so. When our loved ones are sharing these stories, they may well not want or need us to do anything more than sit there (or stand there) and hold their story.
- Sit on the couch and without saying a word, put your hand palm up on your own leg or the arm of the couch/chair.
As often as not, it’s the non-verbal clues you give that say as much as anything else how you are being present for your loved one. Silently putting your hand out palm up (without touching them) conveys more clearly than anything else you can do that you are ready to hold them if that is something they want. While acknowledging that they may not want to be held just yet. For some folks who have experienced rape or domestic violence, the last thing they want is to be held – especially by another man.
- “It wasn’t your fault”
Assume they’re blaming themselves. Assume that they have already heard countless folks blame them (both subtlety and not so subtlety). Even if they don’t say something that suggests they’re blaming themselves (“what was I thinking”, “Why did he do that”, “What’s wrong with me”, “Why am I still not over this”), it’s safe to assume that they are. Someone who’s been victimized like this can’t hear too much that they aren’t at fault.
- “You didn’t deserve what was done to you”
Similar to self-blame, people who are victimized will often own some responsibility for what was done to them. For example, a teen who went to a party and got drunk and then raped might “own” some of the responsibility for being raped. Or a battered woman (or man) may take responsibility for “making him angry.” Some responses to these can include:
“So what I hear you saying is that by virtue of going to this party and getting drunk you were “stupid” and therefore share some of the responsibility. I don’t agree with your premise, you weren’t stupid to go to a party and get drunk. But IF you were, it seems to me that getting raped is an awfully extreme punishment for being stupid.”
“Part of being in a relationship with someone is doing things that make that person angry. We’re all flawed. But all of us also have the full responsibility for what we do when we’re angry. No one, ever, under any circumstance, has the right to call you names, make you feel bad about yourself or put their hands on you. They may have a right to be angry, but that does NOT translate to them having the right to treat you however because they’re angry.”
- “I can’t understand what you’re going through, but I can listen. And I can listen with all I got.”
We don’t have to understand to listen, to be supportive, to be caring and thoughtful, to love someone we care about. There are some things we simply cannot understand (not really). Even if we have experienced something that looks similar, our actual experience is likely vastly different. Acknowledging this relieves you of the need to understand, and reminds you both what the real deal is. What your loved one mostly needs and wants is someone to listen. They don’t necessarily need someone to “understand.”
As important as anything else, you also have the right and responsibility to take care of yourself. Learning that a loved one has been victimized in these kinds of ways is a trigger of our own flood of emotions: anger, rage, fear, deep sadness, confusion, anxiety, self-doubt (depending on our relationship to the loved one who was harmed), etc. If we don’t take responsibility to take care of ourselves, we run the risk of having our emotional responses interfere with the our ability to be of support to our loved one.
Loving someone who experiences rape or domestic violence is traumatic. As men who love women and/or men who are harmed, we can fulfill a vital role in their healing. Sometimes, doing less is more.
© 2017 by Rus Ervin Funk