Monday, May 30, 2016

Supporting Loved Ones Dealing with Trauma

the simplicity of FB friend lists...

There was a moment about three months into my time as a domestic and sexual violence advocate where it was no longer a job.

Up until that time, I found it curious that I was good at the work and felt such a passion for it. My coworkers were amazing. They all had a personal connection to someone that had experienced Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), sexual assault, or Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA), and had an instinct for the work that benefited the women seeking our assistance.

That night in group, we were working through a popular workbook, discussing families of origin. As I skimmed the questions, one leapt off the paper. I recognized it. Someone very close to me had also used the workbook, and I had come across their answer a long time ago. I also had a personal connection to several individuals that had experienced violence and trauma in their most intimate relationships.

(I know that is a very vague description of what was an important moment in my advocacy life, but I do not want to use this post as a way to tell someone else's story for them.)

I borrowed my employer's copy of the book, and read it cover to cover in a day. I saw my work in a different way. I encountered people in a new way. I was thoroughly overwhelmed with the responsibility my new awareness carried.

I was trained to help strangers. It was tough work to listen to personal accounts of trauma every day, but I was able to disconnect most days, and leave work at work. Realizing the struggles of people I loved and not being able to compartmentalize it as work was difficult. When I listened and helped clients at work, there was a clear role: I was their advocate, not their friend or relative. My duty was to provide them information, help them sort out their needs and sift through the services that might help. I helped them define the support they already had access to, and what they still were seeking. It is not as easy to be an advocate for people you know personally. You are their friend, sister, daughter or loved one first, not an advocate.

I remember feeling very confused about a few of my personal relationships specifically. I now had knowledge that had opened my eyes to their struggles, but I didn't know how it impacted the relationships, for better or worse. I turned to my coworkers for help.

I was reminded that I was not my loved one's advocate or therapist. I was their friend, or family member. The choices they make impact my life, whereas the choices my clients made often did not. The connections were different, even if I did come to care a great deal for the women and their families.

It has been a few years since I have been paid to be an advocate. From time to time, readers reach out with their stories, or others find me and I am able to help. Often, I am contacted by the friends and family of survivors and victims. It is difficult to watch someone you love go through this sort of trauma. It is overwhelming and scary to know that, as much as you want to scoop them out of a violent relationship or dangerous situation, you can only be there to listen and offer support.

A gentle reminder to those supporting victims of violence: it is okay to set boundaries. We are not meant to be friend, family, counselor, and advocate all in one. It may be difficult to have that conversation, but your relationship will be healthier (and you will better be equipped to support them) if you set boundaries and remind them that there are people that can provide the help that will be better suited to their situation.

Feel free to contact me for information or help finding local numbers for assistance. Peruse the blog archives for more sites to check out. Take care of yourselves!