We are all different people, with different backgrounds. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. What effects one person one way, might not have the same impact for another. Our own processes for healing and recovery is also dependent on who we are as an individual.
Never tell someone that how they are feeling is wrong, or make assumption that you know better than them, how they feel
My first real understanding of the impact of assumption and judgement, was when I was studying for a counselling qualification. An essential part of my counselling training and qualification, is to be counselled yourself, and complete a certain number of supervised counselling hours to other people. We had to do a set number of hours each week in our work, , and once a week for an hour with someone on the course. Half hour each way, playing counsellor/client.
One particular week, whilst listening to another class member in the counselling session, where I was playing the role of counsellor, and they were playing the role of client, my ‘client’ talked about something that was an issue for them.
I listened, and stayed with them whilst they talked, but when the client said something that I THOUGHT I understood (due to my own experiences that sounded similar), I tried to offer support, with the mindset, that I thought I also understood how this person felt. I was wrong.
The truth came to light, that while our experiences were almost identical, how we perceived those experiences, were different. Our backgrounds were different, and our lives were different. This was the learning point of topic that week. To not sit in judgement, and to not assume that you know how somebody else feels, simply because you have been through a similar experience.
When the response to my assumption, was negative, it made me realise, how ineffective I was being at listening, and of being right there with the client. While not being judgemental, I was trying to have empathy, but I was applying MY life, to that persons situation, without exploring with that person what their life issues were. I was making assumptions, and those assumptions were wrong.
The truth is
- As people we are all different
- We are all here for different reasons
- All of us have differing support networks around us. Some have a lot, some have little, and some have nobody at all
- We have all came from different backgrounds, with different childhoods, and connections and belief about ourselves is different. Childhood and upbringing can (not always) play a big part in shaping our persona and how we see the world.
- The story that you hear, might be the same, it might be similar, but the reaction, could be totally different, dependent on the person.
Support should be non judgemental with the purpose of helping someone to communicate and to do their own processing for healing. It is to empower the other person to express how they feel and why, and to support that person through the process of change. Additionally we might challenge the person to question their beliefs, If you think that another persons beliefs are wrong, or harmful. Your role, isn’t to make the other person feel bad.
We need to be mindful, that we are all different. We might have all experienced an abusive relationship, but that doesn’t mean that we have the right to tell someone else how they should feel.
The importance of being heard
Any victim of abuse would know how it feels to not be heard and to have your feelings minimised. You would know how small and insignificant this makes you feel. This is often what the abuser played on in the first place, mirroring you, and reflecting back to you those missing parts of you, that empowered you…. until later it was taken away. In some cases, often and repeatedly.
When you try to tell someone how they should feel, indicating that their own feelings are wrong, you take away their right of expression. You silence them. Nobody else knows how you feel, apart from you.
For some victims, their lives have been burned to the ground. They have lost everything. For others, they might have met someone disordered, while they were in a period of bereavement or recovery from another traumatic event, or perhaps it has been trauma after trauma in their life. It is difficult to know online, just where a person is at, and why?
True support is to enable and empower people, to be able to support themselves. To make the right decisions, based upon truth and accuracy, to help them to reach conclusions for themselves.
There is nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘abnormal’ with someone who is slower at this process, than someone else. Perhaps they have more to deal with, perhaps they had a different background? Lots of other factors come into play. It is impossible to know unless you are in full possession of all of the facts.
I do know that in 25 years working with homeless people, that I didn’t work with two people who were the same. Every single person, was homeless. They had all traveled a journey to become homeless, but all of their stories and journeys to HOW they became homeless, and equally how they viewed their current situation was different.
Being judgemental and non understanding could send the victim RIGHT back to the abuser
If a victim reaches out on a support group online they do this for the following reasons (probably there are more reasons than this):
- To process what is happening to them (the question of why)
- To look for mutual support and understanding, from others who can understand (finding common ground with others)
- Because they have either been left isolated and alone, or – they feel that there is nobody that is in their support network that understands, they feel isolated, or they feel that friends and family don’t want to hear about it anymore
- They want to know that how they are feeling is NOT crazy, they are looking for reassurance
- They feel that they are ‘at risk’ that if they do not speak to someone about how they are feeling, they are likely to break no contact, and return to speak to their abuser
- They are looking to rebuild
- They are seeking advice
Healing and recovery is a process of learning and understanding that everyone must do for themselves. In my day job my work was to empower people. To offer tools, to help with change management, change, ultimately has to come from within.
The relationship with an abuser is not a normal relationship. It is controlled by one party, with the view to own, dominate and manipulate the other. Mind control, and brain washing occurs. It can take a long time, and a lot of healing and recovery work, to undo the damage that has been done to you, and your mind.
Victims move from victims to survivors, and then hopefully move on with their lives. The risk that they will return, depends on a lot of variables and factors
- What their support network is
- Hope for the future (whether they have any)
- Other issues that they are currently coping with (and their ability to cope)
- Whether they have been isolated
- Their past life history (how worthwhile they feel)
- Their knowledge and understanding about what has happened to them
- How they feel about their ex partner
- How they feel about themselves
How best to help a victim of abuse
- Listen to the words that they saying, take them seriously. Listen to their story, without judgement, don’t make them feel bad, or abnormal for how they feel
- Be with the person. Just having someone there with them, can help them to feel empowered and not return
- Ask questions about why they feel that way. Query what they say, if it sounds not right. For example, if the person says ‘but I love him/her‘, repeat back the reality, but not in a harsh way. A good response is ‘it sounds like you were in love with the idea of who they were‘. This is a good response, as it is non blaming, it doesn’t minimise how the victim is feeling, and it gives another idea to throw in the arena. What you are effectively doing is enabling them to see the truth, but to make their own decisions for themselves.
- Offer them hope, and help them to see a different life that could be available to them
- Don’t assume that you know how someone else feels. Even if your situation is almost identical, your background could be completely different, and therefore your needs, wants, and feelings towards a situation could be polar opposite. When you tell someone HOW they should feel, and that they are wrong – you effectively shut them off, and cut them off (again increasing the risk that they will return to the abuser)
- Understand, that people process in different ways, at different speeds. For some people it can take a long time for the head to catch up with what the heart already knows.
- Don’t minimise that persons feelings. They KNOW how they feel. Nobody has the right to tell someone, they shouldn’t feel that way. Doing this will provide a trigger reaction, reminding them of the relationship that they were in…. they can think ‘perhaps they were right about me‘, again it increases the risk that they will return.
Always it is about EMPOWERMENT, sharing love, sharing light, and increasing awareness
Don’t assume that you know how someone else feels. If someone is having a bad time of it. If they are going through the ‘glorifying of the ex’ in their head. Don’t put them down, or tell them that there is something wrong with them. their feelings ARE real, even if they are misguided. Help them to see the truth.
Take care of you too. If you feel that you can offer nothing positive, then remove yourself, and protect yourself. You might feel that what the person is disclosing is triggering you and your past experiences. Taking care of you, is first and foremost important. You cannot help someone else, if it is raising issues within you.
Ask the direct question ‘what kind of help would that person like’? Often it is nothing at all. Just for someone to listen. Sometimes they need practical advice. You won’t know unless you ask the question.
Be aware of your own limitations. If you feel something is beyond you, that you cannot understand, recommend that they seek professional support and therapy. If you don’t know what to say ‘signpost’ to someone who can help. You don’t need to know all the answers, support is often signposting
Help to ‘normalise’ the experience. This is an important one. Someone who has been abused, particularly with sociopathic mind control, their mind has been played with. Moving from victim to survivor mode, can take a long time, and a long journey through. Even if the outcome, right now, is not right. Accept this, and help them to understand that how they are feeling right now is NORMAL for where they have been. (check first other factors if necessary). Normalise, that other people felt this way on their journey of recovery too. If you can’t, – again ‘signpost’. Support is being realistic
Don’t assume often the story is far more difficult, complicated, and lengthy than someone could ever type online, or maybe even want to. Just because they do not say something, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist Support is without judgement
The blind factor It is also normal for someone to be blind, especially when coming out of the fog of confusion. The truth of what has happened, is often more painful to cope with, than believing the deception was real. Encourage people to open up, and that where they are now is normal. For them. That perhaps you were once there too. Support is being wide open, and seeing the reality and helping someone else with their process of change, to see the truth for themselves.
Believe them If someone has been involved with a sociopath, their story might sound incredulous, unbelievabe. They might feel isolated from people in their close social circle, or feel deeply ashamed about what has happened to them. Only another victim of sociopathic abuse, can truly understand, the crazy that made you feel like you were going crazy. Support is believing.
Have empathy Someone else, being there right with you, without judgement, can be the warmest feeling. For someone who has been in relationship with someone who has played with their mind. The warmth of feeling, when someone is there, and takes the time for you. Can be the most incredible, empowering feeling in the world. Support is empathetic
Help them to feel safe and understood – Have respect Feeling safe, is essential. Reassurance is key, realise that it might have taken a lot of courage for someone to open up. Have respect that they had the courage to do so. Support is being respectful.
What is written on this site, is as a result of life work. I have completed studies in counselling and life coaching, am trained to work with vulnerable people, and have worked with homeless people for 25 years. Daily I worked with drugs, alcohol, mental health, dual diagnosis, domestic violence, young people leaving care, families with child protection issues, long term rough sleepers, prolific offenders. What i write on this site, are topics that I have either learned in a work setting (Especially in terms of healing and recovery), experienced in a relationship setting or applied practically working with people. In addition to this, numerous academic and work related training courses.
If you are offering help and support to victims of abuse online, please be mindful of the above. Often many victims are left traumatised, and already feeling distrustful, and not knowing whether they will be believed. Please respect the courage that it takes to open up. Just because someone has also been through an abusive relationship, it doesn’t mean that their feelings are just the same as yours. If they are different, that is because we are all different, unique and individual.
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