We all have times where we need a shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to. There will also times where you are a listener for your friends as well. While you probably want your friend to be comforted, it can be awkward at times if you can’t relate. Perhaps you have not experienced the things that they are going through and the subject can be completely foreign. This can be especially true about child abuse. Your friend may have had a horrific upbringing. They may have little to no relationships with their families, but you may have your mom on speed dial.
How do you even begin to understand? What do you say?
A few months ago I was speaking at an abuse seminar. Not only did I have the privilege of being a part of this event, I was able to learn many valuable things from attending. In today’s “thinks” I want to share 5 things you should never say to a child abuse victim. Some of these points are from the seminar while others are things people have actually said to me. Keep in mind that these were comments from well-meaning people. I’m hoping that today’s post will help when trying to comfort a friend.
You’re an adult now and it was so long ago
Yes it was. But someone who has experienced abuse could also suffer from PTSD. Which means, scenarios can often replay themselves at any given moment. Something as simple as smelling a certain smell can trigger these memories. Insomnia is also common with abuse victims due to nightmares. So while the abuse may have happened more than 10, 20, or even 50 years ago, your friend may be reliving these horrific events on a daily basis.
Every parent is just trying their best
While I’m sure it is awkward for you to hear that your friend has abusive parents, you have only hurt your friend even more. Please understand what you are saying. You are saying that kicking, punching, molesting, burning, raping, abandoning, starving, and the list goes on was the “best” a parent could do. That somehow it was ok for this to happen. I certainly hope that no one in their right mind thinks for a second that this was just a “parenting mistake”. Call it for what it is, its abuse.
But don’t you miss them?
Yes… we do miss them… because we never had them. I know it might be hard to understand the brokenness and lack of family bonding if you have a close family or any type of family relationship. While I wish nothing more for people to have good relationships, this question can be extremely hurtful. No child ever grows up hoping that they will continue to be abused by their parents only to have a broken relationship when they leave and become adults. The parents that sat down and had game nights with you, took you to the movies, or even said anything nice to you when you did something good may not exist for your friend. There will always be a longing in their heart for wholeness but a strong understanding that it will never happen. So yes, they do miss what they never had.
Parents and kids aren’t meant to be friends anyway
You’re right, they’re not. But children aren’t meant to be bruised, beaten, victims of their parents addictions, and told they are worthless. In fact, this is not how any human being is meant to be treated. Please understand that your friend isn’t talking about being grounded from an iPhone. They are talking about literal torment that they were put through as a child. This can also mean that their abusers have laughed at them while they were screaming in pain from the abuse. I would hardly say that this would be an appropriate parent child relationship.
My parents are crazy too!
I know you mean well, but this isn’t the time to talk about that time your dad pushed you into the lake on a family vacation to teach you how to swim and recorded it so you could all laugh together later. Sure your parents might be “crazy”, but we are not talking about the same thing.
When we say our parents were crazy we mean… they did terrible things to us. They tried to stab us because they never learned how to control their anger, they allowed their friends to sexually abuse us, they put their feet on our necks as toddlers so that we would gasp for air and give them something to laugh at, they would punch our faces until we fell to the ground, and when that wasn’t enough to “teach us a lesson” they kicked us until we couldn’t stand. This is what we mean by crazy, and this is only some of the more “tamer” situations. So while we don’t mind hearing about your “crazy” parents, please don’t ever compare the two. You still have a good relationship with yours, please don’t relate your parents to the monsters that still haunt our dreams. Cherish them. You have no idea how blessed you are.
So, what do I say?
Sometimes its difficult to find words in these types of situations, because truthfully there are none. One of the best things someone has ever told me was, “I may not understand what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.” Your friend is coming to you for a reason. Not because they feel that you have all of the answers, but because they trust you. They trust you enough to cry in front of you, to support them, to hear what they have to say. Sometimes the silence may be the most peace they’ve had all week. Being part of their life is far more support than any “right words” you could say.
To those who have experienced abuse as a child
I just want to say thank you for reading this post. I know this might have brought back some painful memories. I am very sorry if it has hurt you in any way. I want you to know that you are loved and what happened to you was in no way ok. It was wrong and inhumane. I know it can feel like no one understands the nightmares you have to live through, but I want you to know there is hope and healing.
Can I share something personal with you? I still go to counseling sessions for the memories that try to kill who I am now. It’s like that voice is still inside of me telling me that I’m worthless or the physical violence is often replayed in my dreams. It’s not fair, I know. But you don’t have to walk through this by yourself. The best thing I ever did was reach out for help. It made me realize how much people really do care, and it helped me trust again.
You are also so much stronger than you know. I personally don’t think you give yourself enough credit for how hard you work, how much you love the people around you, and the talents and gifts you have. You know why I know that? Because I am the worst at putting myself down because of all the mess in the past. It sucks. But we can get through this together. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to seek counseling or join a support group. I promise it helps.
Oh, and one more thing, you are so worth it!
Thank you so much for reading this weeks “thinks”! I hope this post comes as a help to understanding your loved one who has experienced child abuse.
Thanks again for stopping in! See you next week!