Caring for a sexual assault survivor can be an immensely rewarding and equally overwhelming task. They’ve turned to you for a reason. Being a good ally requires a conscious level of self-care. Remember, you can’t look after someone else well, if you don’t look after yourself.
It’s important to track what you are feeling and then find an outlet for those feelings. Anger, fear, sadness, and a sense of helplessness are all common. Find someone safe—a close friend or a mental health professional—to talk to who is not the survivor. Alternatively, RAINN has a free, 24-hour hotline you can call at any time: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
As you check in with your emotions, also be aware of your triggers. If the disclosure is bringing up memories of old trauma or makes you feel unsafe in any way, pause and find ways to re-establish equilibrium.Watch for signs of secondhand trauma as well. Secondhand trauma is a condition where witnessing the trauma of others can cause distress for the allies or caregivers of the survivor. While this most commonly happens to individuals in career fields such as nursing, social work, or teaching, it can happen to anyone. Symptoms may include intense feelings of guilt, dissociation, hypervigilance, and others. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a fantastic resource for coping with secondary trauma stress.
In the age of social media, it’s easy to reach for our phones and start scrolling when we want to escape. The trouble is that we don’t have much say in what we come across as the images slide past. Be wary of your emotional weather before you open Instagram, Facebook, or any other platform. If you are already feeling heightened, it might be better to choose a book or a familiar movie. Social media, the news, and any other challenging content can wait.
Self-care is important because it allows us to refill our energy reserves so we may to be fully present for those who need our support. Avoid changing your routine as much as you can. Stick to your normal activities and pace yourself. Say no when you need a break. The more balanced we are, the kinder we can be to those in need.
Remember, healing is a long, non-linear journey that will not happen overnight. Be patient. Be kind—to the survivor and to yourself.