What any trauma survivor wants is one simple thing: to be believed. It’s enough to know that something out of your control happened to you. When you have the strength to tell someone that you were violated, and the person on the other end doesn’t believe you that is devastating. Your head feels like it has been turned inside out. You can’t understand why someone could be so callous, unfeeling, and choose to not believe the person who is standing in front of them saying plainly “this happened to me.” It happened and it was real and whether or not that is acknowledged, it doesn’t change the reality that you were hurt.
When you are standing in front of someone who you trust, ready to speak your truth, reveal a secret (perhaps) that you’ve never told anyone before you are hoping that they will listen first. The anxiety associated with that part of the experience is high. Once you’ve confirmed that they are hearing your story, which isn’t like a fairytale, but more like that screenplay to a horror movie, you’re thinking in your mind “do they believe my words?” As if it wasn’t anxiety provoking enough to gain the courage to speak up, admit what happened to you, now you have the added concern of whether or not your feelings and your words are being validated. That seems completely unfair and unjust.
How about this? Instead of questioning survivors, let’s just believe them. They wouldn’t be confessing their deep pain if something awful didn’t happen. Our obligation is to believe survivors of trauma, because if we do not, then they fade into the background, become sicker, and potentially might end up in worse shape than they were before. So please, when someone comes to you and says “I have to tell you something,” and the look on their face indicates that that “something,” isn’t a jovial story, but rather a secret pain that they’ve kept for a long time inside of themselves, listen to them and believe them. After their words are finished, look into their eyes and say these words: I believe you.
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