Sticks and Stones Do Hurt…and So Can Words

Feeling insulted and damaged. Never measuring up. Walking on eggshells. These are just a few of many indicators of an emotionally abusive relationship. Emotional abuse is the consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviors that wear down a person’s self-esteem and undermine their mental health. I want to help you recognize this often seemingly invisible, yet very real type of abuse.

The definition of abuse is regularly or repeatedly treating a person with cruelty or violence. In discussing abuse, physical abuse (like shoving, cornering, breaking and throwing things) is likely the first thing that comes to mind. Emotional abuse is often devoid of physical violence; it is speech and/or behavior that’s controlling, punishing, or manipulative. This can include withholding love, communication, support, or money as indirect methods of exerting control and maintaining power. Emotional abuse might also look like someone controlling where you go, to whom you talk, or what you think. Spying, stalking, and invading your personal space or belongings is also abusive because it disregards personal boundaries.

You may be experiencing emotional abuse if someone wants to know what you are doing all the time or requires you to be in constant contact; demands passwords to your phone, email, and social media (digital abuse); acts jealous; frequently accuses you of cheating; prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family; tries to stop you from going to work or school; gets angry in a way that frightens you; controls your finances or how you spend your money; stops you from seeing a doctor; humiliates you in front of others; calls you insulting names; threatens to hurt you, people or pets you care about; threatens to call the authorities to report you for wrongdoing; threatens to harm himself or herself when upset with you; says things like, “If I can’t have you, then no one can”; decides things for you that you should decide (like what to wear or eat); etc.

The most common form of emotional abuse is verbal, though it often goes unrecognized because it can be subtle. A client recently told me that she remembered a session from years ago when I stopped her now ex-husband from telling her to shut-up as she tried to speak. She did not even hear him say that, but she remembered feeling her body tense up. Research has shown that there is so much more to verbal abuse than people realize; in fact, some people are verbally abused on a regular basis without even recognizing it! Some forms of emotional/verbal use will undermine your self-esteem or make you feel inadequate as a way to establish hierarchy. 

Emotional and verbal abuse may be manifested outright or more insidiously in any of the following manners:

  • Using threats
  • Judging
  • Yelling
  • Patronizing
  • Criticizing
  • Lying
  • Blaming
  • Publicly embarrassing you
  • Ordering
  • Raging (showing violent, uncontrollable anger)
  • Belittling your accomplishments
  • Insulting your appearance
  • Digital spying
  • Tracking your whereabouts
  • Lecturing
  • Denying something you know is true (gaslighting)
  • Trivializing
  • Demanding respect (but not giving it)
  • Keeping you from socializing (isolating you)
  • Interrupting
  • Treating you like a child
  • Name-calling, even using derogatory pet- or nicknames
  • Disguising something hurtful or controlling by saying it in a loving, quiet voice, indirectly, or even concealed as a joke

Whether disguised as play or jokes, sarcasm or teasing that is hurtful is emotional and verbal abuse. There are innumerable signs of emotional abuse–unique to each couple and individual. If you fear you may be being emotionally or verbally abused, please seek help today. 

An emotionally abusive relationship can change you forever. You may feel powerless, controlled, worthless; you may question your memory, live in fear, change how you act to avoid upsetting your partner. Staying in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship can have long-lasting effects on your physical and mental health, including leading to chronic pain, depression, or anxiety. This is no way to live. Help is available and you DESERVE it. If you suspect your partner, family member or friend may be emotionally abusing you, contact a counselor, an advocate or a pastor for assistance. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or visit their website ( and chat online with someone right away. I will be posting a follow-up blog discussing what to do if you are in an emotionally abusive relationships in the future. Please, do not suffer through emotional abuse. You and your happiness matter. My door is wide open; allow me to help you! Contact me today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


When Someone Else Alters Your Reality: Gaslighting

Gaslighting:  The attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality.

In 1938, Patrick Hamilton wrote a mystery thriller play called Gas Light, where a husband manipulates his adoring, trusting wife into believing she can no longer trust her own perceptions of reality. He does this by dimming the gas-powered lights in their home, and then denying that the light changed when his wife points it out. From this the term “gaslighting” was born.

In the last few years, there has been attention around this term. Awareness has been heightened about gaslighting in the media, in politics, and in relationships. Also known as “crazy-making,” gaslighting leaves its victims questioning their very perception of reality.  I frequently see gaslighting in relationships where one of the partners battles an addiction; the supporting partner may suspect a relapse or regression, but the using partner may use gaslighting tactics to protect themselves by convincing the other that their instincts are wrong. My hope is to delve a little deeper into the specifics of gaslighting so my readers are better able to spot it and be armed against it. 

The phrase “to gaslight” refers to the act of undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or their feelings. Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, at the workplace, or over an entire society. Targets of gaslighting are manipulated into turning against their cognition, their emotions, and who they fundamentally are. It is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the gaslighter a lot of power. Obtaining power and control is at the heart of gaslighting. 

In relationships, gaslighting typically happens very gradually; in fact, the abusive partner’s actions may seem harmless at first. Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and a victim can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed, and they can lose all sense of what is truly happening. Then they start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, which creates a very difficult situation to escape.

Gaslighting has several faces. The first is withholding–where the gaslighter pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Second is countering–where the gaslighter questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. The third is blocking or diverting–where the gaslighter changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. The fourth is trivializing–when the gaslighter makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. And the final is forgetting or denial–when the gaslighter pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. 

People are not born gaslighters like some are born introverts or extroverts. A gaslighter is a student of social learning, or nurture. They witness it, feel the effects of it, or happen upon it and see that it is a potent, effective tool. Although some individuals gaslight intentionally–like my previous example of an individual trying to cover up a relapse or slip, in their addiction, from a partner–others may not even know they are being manipulative. I have seen some people unknowingly gaslight because they lack self-awareness and/or simply think they are expressing themselves directly and saying it “like it is.” Whether intentional or unintentional, gaslighting leaves its victims discouraged, resigned, pessimistic, fearful, debilitated, and self-doubting. They also question their own perception, identity, and reality; thus, the gaslighter gains control.

The following are common signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

  • You constantly second-guess yourself.
  • You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
  • You often feel confused and even crazy.
  • You frequently apologize to your partner.
  • You cannot understand why–with so many apparently good things in your life–you aren’t happier.
  • You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  • You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  • You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is–even to yourself.
  • You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  • You have trouble making simple decisions.
  • You have the sense that you used to be a very different person–more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  • You feel hopeless and joyless.
  • You feel as though you cannot do anything right.
  • You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.

At its extreme, the ultimate objective of a gaslighter is to control, dominate, and take advantage of another individual or a group. But, as I always say, this is not a life sentence. If you have been or are a victim of gaslighting or believe that you have used gaslighting in relationships, you do not have to continue that pattern. Get help. Learn how to break the cycle and create healthy relationships. I am a trained, licensed therapist, and I am here to help. My door is always open! 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


When Your Consent is Taken Away

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Almost a year and a half ago, Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” 24 hours later, there were more than 500,000 responses. 12 months later, the hashtag was estimated to have been tweeted over 18 million times. The #MeToo movement has caught people’s attention worldwide, yet sexual assault continues to be a difficult topic. Although uncomfortable to discuss, it is prevalent and life-altering, and worthy of our attention and dialogue. I write this post in line with April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities on how to prevent it.

In my initial research for this blog post, I found some staggering statistics I would like to include:

  • Approximately eight out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim
  • More than half of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance.
  • A forcible rape occurs every 6.2 minutes within the United States.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) have been raped at some time in their lives
  • Most female victims of completed rape (79.6%) experienced their first rape before the age of 25, and 42.2% before the age of 18.
  • More than 1 in 4 male victims of completed rape (27.8%) experienced their first rape when they were 10 years of age or younger.

Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Let’s discuss the basics of sexual assault. The term “sexual assault” refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some examples of sexual assault include attempted rape; fondling or unwanted sexual touching; forcing a victim to perform sexual acts; penetration of the victim’s body; sexual intercourse against a person’s will; forcible sodomy (anal or oral sex against a person’s will); forcible object penetration; marital rape; sexual contact with minors, whether consensual or not; incest; or any unwanted or coerced sexual contact.

Sexual assault can happen to anyone of any age, gender, race, and socioeconomic background. It can happen at any time or place. Assailants may be strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family members, and they may use violence, threats, coercion, manipulation, or other forms of pressure or deception to commit sexual assault.

Not all sexual assault is rape, but rape is one of the more well-known forms of sexual assault,. For its Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” This can be done in one of three ways; the first is called a “blitz” sexual assault, which is when a perpetrator quickly and brutally assaults the victim with no prior contact, often at night in public.  The second is called “contact sexual assault”, and is when a perpetrator tries to gain their victim’s trust by flirting, luring the victim to their car, or otherwise trying to coerce the victim into a situation where the sexual assault will occur. The third type of rape is a home invasion sexual assault–when a stranger breaks into the victim’s home to commit the assault.

Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

The distinguishing line between sexual assault and consensual sexual activity is just that: CONSENT. Consent is a voluntary, sober, enthusiastic, informed, mutual, honest and verbal agreement. It is an active agreement that cannot be coerced. Consent is a process which must be asked for every step of the way. Consent is never implied and cannot be assumed, even in a relationship; simply dating a person does not give the right to sexual interactions. Legally, an intoxicated person cannot give consent!

Survivors of sexual assault often blame themselves for somehow behaving in a way that encouraged the perpetrator. When your consent is forcefully taken away, it is not your fault. I cannot possibly stress this enough: The victim is never to blame for the actions of the perpetrator! In my experience as a clinician, guilt is a feeling that each victim experiences during his/her healing process. Because of this, it is essential that victims get the appropriate and necessary treatment from a licensed, experienced therapist. I have treated numerous clients who have experienced sexual assault, and am equipped to help you or your loved one along this difficult yet beautiful path to healing. It is possible, and I am here for you. Please contact me today or click here to schedule a session.

Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


Abuse: When Love Hurts

“If you walked away from a toxic, negative, abusive, one-sided, dead-end low vibrational relationship or friendship—you won.”  ~Lalah Delia

Healthy relationships involve respect, trust, and consideration for each other. Relationships where abuse is present, on the other hand, involve mistreatment, disrespect, intense jealousy, controlling behavior, and/or physical violence. I tend to focus more on building healthy relationships in my blog posts, but after attending a recent training, I realized I cannot ignore a topic that so many readers can relate to. While Hollywood is depicting the vast majority of relationships as happy and fulfilling, more than 12 million American women and men experience some type of abuse in their relationship over the course of a year. Relationships where abuse is present, unfortunately, are NOT uncommon. I hope this post is not only informative for my readers that may find themselves in a relationship where any kind of abuse is present, but also motivational for them to speak up.

What types of relationship abuse are there?

Abuse is the misusing or regularly/repeatedly treating someone with cruelty or violence. While that definition is straightforward enough, there are many types of abuse that need to be discussed when defining abuse.

There is physical abuse (any form of violence, such as hitting, punching, pulling hair, and kicking).

There is emotional or psychological abuse (threatening the physical health of the victim or the victim’s loved ones, purposely controlling the victim’s freedom, and/or acting to undermine or isolate the victim, intimidation, gaslighting, putdowns, controlling behavior, and betrayal).

There is sexual abuse (being forced into any sort of sexual activity).

There is verbal abuse (yelling, put-downs, name-calling, making threats, constantly correcting or interrupting a person, and even employing the silent treatment).

There is spiritual abuse (also known as religious abuse; a form of controlling a person under the guise of religion or the misuse of religion for selfish or secular ends).

Basically, abuse is about domination and submission; it is about giving and withholding in the extreme. In a relationship where abuse is present, a form (or multiple forms!) of abuse is (are) employed by one partner to maintain power and control over the other partner in an intimate relationship. The feelings of love, loyalty, and devotion in the relationship make it difficult to recognize reality, break the cycle, and get help.

Who can be in an relationship with abuse?

Anyone can be a victim to a relationship where abuse is present. No matter the race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender, anyone can be a victim (or perpetrator!). It can happen to people who are married, living together or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.

What causes abuse in relationships?

In relationships where abuse is present, often the offender has low self-worth, or has a history of abuse in their family-of-origin and thus feels powerless. Because of this, they use behaviors, such as threats, violence, and mind games to gain a sense of power and control over their partner. The following infographic from the National Domestic Violence Hotline outlines and gives specific examples of abuse in relationships. Regardless of where you start reading on the wheel, everything comes back to the center, the true motive for any kind of abuse: power and control.












What are the signs of relationships with abuse?

As previously mentioned, relationships with abuse are not limited to physical violence. Here are some warning signs to be aware of for any type of relationship where abuse is present:

  1. Trying to control where you go/who you see/what you say.
  2. Demanding to know where you are every minute.
  3. Accusing you of being unfaithful or of flirting.
  4. Isolating you from family and friends, often by behaving rudely to them.
  5. Constantly comparing you unfavourably to others.
  6. Deliberately breaking things you value.
  7. Threatening to use violence against you, your family, friends or pets.
  8. Harming you physically.
  9. Forcing you into unwanted sexual encounters.
  10. Punishing you by withholding affection.
  11. Insulting, demeaning, criticizing, or shaming you with put-downs.
  12. Controlling every penny spent.
  13. Preventing you from making your own decisions.
  14. Refusing to trust you and acting jealous or possessive.
  15. Telling you that you are a bad parent; threatening to harm or take away your children.
  16. Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons.
  17. Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.
  18. Making everything your fault (gaslighting)
  19. Controlling your appearance: your clothes, how much/little makeup you wear, etc.
  20. Using sarcasm and unpleasant tone of voice.
  21. Saying things like “I love you but…” or, “If you don’t _____, I will_____.”

It is common for someone who is being abused to believe that the abuse he/she is experiencing is his/her own fault and that the abuse is somehow deserved. This is a form of abuse itself and could not be farther from the truth! If you walk away with nothing else from this article, I hope that you know that you are never to blame for the abuse!

Being a victim of any type of abuse in a relationship is traumatizing. It can cause anxiety, lowered levels of self-esteem, diminished self-worth, distrust or difficulty connecting with others, and–in severe cases–post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Getting out of and moving on from a relationship where abuse is present will require a steady support system of family, friends, and often a support group. In many cases, the victim needs drugs an advocate–someone to give them a voice in order to break free from the toxic relationship.  That is where I come in; I am an experienced, licensed therapist who has seen multiple couples and individuals work through relationships with abuse. I can help. If you are concerned that you may be a victim of a relationship where abuse is present, please do not hesitate to contact me with questions or to schedule a session. My door is always open and I am here to help.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.





When #metoo Isn’t Enough: A Response

Metoo Campaign - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

According to the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), each year 321,500 Americans 12 and older are sexually abused or raped. More than 60% of women are sexually assaulted in college and 88% of them do not report it. The prevalent #metoo movement filling our feeds begs the question–what now? What can be done to stop sexual harassment?

Recently, there has been an outpouring on social media of the hashtag #metoo. You may have wondered what it means, and its purpose. Harvey Weinstein, American film producer and co-founder of Miramax, was recently fired by his company’s board of directors following numerous allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. Over the weekend, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted out this hashtag as a call-out to victims “so we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The hashtag, #metoo, was created as a bold declarative statement that ‘I’m not ashamed of what I went through” and ‘I’m not alone’ , as well as a way to say–from survivor to survivor–‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you.'” This hashtag has gone viral; it has been tweeted and re-tweeted, posted and reposted, and received thousands of comments, from both men and women!

If Alyssa Milano’s intent of re-tweeting #metoo was to “give the people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” it is working! This movement has caught fire across our nation. Many are shocked to see their friend, classmate, neighbor, cousin, or family member post #metoo. The numbers are staggering; sexual abuse and sexual harassment have touched the lives of too many. The sheer quantity of #metoo posts filling our social media newsfeeds is absolutely alarming. According to RAINN, every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, and every eight minutes that victim is a child. This statistic takes my breath away.

To further understand the #metoo movement, I think it is important to understand the definitions of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Sexual abuse, or molestation, is unsolicited sexual behavior by one person toward another, often done repeatedly.  When the interaction is infrequent, or of short duration, it is called sexual assault. Beth’s story is sadly a common example of this: she and her boyfriend were watching a movie alone in her apartment, when cuddling led to kissing, kissing led to him carrying her back to her bedroom, where he forced himself upon her despite her persistent pleas to stop. Once he finished, he left her alone in the dark, feeling sweaty and dirty, where she justified his behavior by thinking she had not done enough to stop him.

Sexual harassment occurs in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, and involves unwelcomed sexual advances or obscene remarks, often by a person in authority toward a subordinate. Sara’s story exemplifies this: One day, during work at the retail supercenter, her boss approached her from behind and stuck his hand up her miniskirt. When Sara approached him to talk about the inappropriate placement of his hand, he advanced again, forcing her into the corner of his office. She fled the scene and lost her job.

The above abridged stories are only two of the many, many that exist. I share them not to invoke anger or to be triggering; I share them in the hope that it will empower–empower parents to teach their children, and for others to know that they are not alone and that it was not their fault. This movement has definitely served as a strength to so many women (and men) who have dealt with the repercussions of being sexual abused or harassed. But is solidarity enough? Is there more that can be done?

Admitting #metoo takes an incredible amount of courage. Many have never told anyone about their experience, and know that they may re-experience pain by recalling the memory.  By putting #metoo on your social media, you are adding credence to the significance of the problem. And to those of you who keep typing and deleting, #metoo, I see you. I understand where you are coming from. There is nothing wrong with not putting yourself out there and wanting to keep your experiences from the public eye of social media. Sharing your story with close family and friends can be just as powerful and important!

If you are not posting because you feel that what happened to you is not as significant as someone else, I would like to encourage you to reconsider. Your story is yours. What happened to you is no less significant because it is different than what you are reading on social media. My hope would be that by reading all of the #metoo posts, you will feel validated and not alone. I am certainly not saying that it is imperative for all victims of sexual harassment or abuse to share the hashtag, #metoo! What I am saying is that absolutely no amount of unwanted sexual advances or behavior is okay; regardless of “how far it got”, sexual assault or harassment, in any form, is wrong! Please do not invalidate your experience by thinking you are somehow to blame!

So we have said, read, or felt, #metoo. Now what? Yes, this movement has been striking and powerful, but we cannot let the momentum stop there. We need to act. I urge you to get involved in raising awareness so we can decrease the staggering statistics of those affected by sexual abuse. Here are some ideas:

  1. Speak out. On Thursday morning, the Chicago Tribune released an article urging men to speak out against sexual assault and harassment.  Women are not the only ones that are affected here! You have a voice. Within the realm of your comfort, speak out, speak up, and raise awareness.
  2. Share what you have read or experienced (to the degree that it is appropriate) with close friends and family members. Many people are not on social media; tell them what is going on around them and help them understand the implications of movements such as these.
  3. Teach your children about appropriate and inappropriate touch, and create a safe relationship where they feel comfortable asking any questions they may have.
  4. Listen to and support survivors. We all know someone who has been affected by sexual abuse or harassment. If someone comes to you saying they have been sexually mistreated, be there for them. Believe them first and ask questions later. It is astounding how many people around us have experienced some form of sexual abuse. Let us be a safe place for each other.
  5. Respect. Women and men do not like to be groped, receive cat-calls, or have certain body parts be the object of attraction. Operating like this means you are more likely to commit sexual harassment, assault, or rape–even if you think you are not capable of those horrors. Men and women need to stop objectifying each other!
  6. Advocate for better education and prevention. Meaningful, lasting change can happen through a series of  educational and institutional messages about prevention, and comprehensive training for staff and leadership. Holding one assembly at schools/campuses, or bringing in a single speaker isn’t enough to shift attitudes and behavior. Get involved in your community to improve education and prevention.

If you are one of the many people who typed, thought, or relate to the #metoo sentiment, please do not stop there. Now is the time to seek further healing. You do not need to do it alone. As a trained, experienced therapist, who has seen many clients in similar situations, I encourage you to honor yourself by seeking help and support. I urge you to not push this to the backburner. Get the help you need and deserve; schedule your first session with me today.

If you have experienced sexual assault, you can call the free, confidential, National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or access 24-7 help online by visiting

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Allure: “A Note to Survivors Who Aren’t Ready to Share Their Sexual Assaults”
CBS: “‘Me Too’ trend on Twitter raises awareness about sexual assault”
Chicago Tribune: “It’s time for men to join the chorus of voices speaking out against sexual assault”
Cluff Counseling:  “Are You are Secondary Survivor?”
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
CNN: “An activist, a little girl and the heartbreaking origin of ‘Me too’”
Huffington Post: How To Respond If Your Partner Has Been Sexually Assaulted Or Harassed”
LiveYourDream.Org: “Understanding Domestic Violence: Facts and Figures”
Mashable: “5 crucial ways men can help end sexual assault”
RAINN Website
Refinery29: “Alyssa Milano Details What Needs To Change In Hollywood After Harvey Weinstein”
TSM: “Literally, Why Can’t I Say #MeToo?”
Wikipedia: “Harvey Weinstein”
Wikipedia: “Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct allegations”
Wikipedia: “Sexual Abuse”

Are You a Secondary Survivor?

Cluff Counseling - Sexual Trauma SupportI read an article last week about a young woman, barely 18, who was accosted and raped as she walked to the beach near her house one night. She wrote about her journey to finding self-worth and peace after that traumatic incident. Her story, and all those like hers, strikes a chord with me. One of my areas of focus is trauma; I see many patients who are survivors of rape and sexual abuse. While their experiences are heartbreaking and difficult to work through, I am always amazed by the courage these people have to pick themselves up and get on the path of healing. This process of restoration takes time and requires support from family, friends, and loved ones. According to recent research, whether you know someone who has been a victim of rape or sexual abuse or not, it is likely you will come to know someone touched by sexual abuse, and so this article is for you.

If you have a family or loved one that was sexually assaulted, you are a secondary survivor. Although what primary survivors go through is horrifyingly difficult, your job is also quite strenuous. You sit by, walk next to, and cry with the primary survivor–or the individual who suffered the abuse. You hear their story, comfort them, remind them they are not to blame, and support them to pick up the pieces of their seemingly-shattered lives. You play a fundamental role in their healing and progression!

Secondary survivors commonly feel helpless and incapable of being a support to those who suffered the trauma. They may wonder what to say, what to do, and what specific steps they can urge the primary survivor to take to recover. I fully understand that watching your friend or loved one suffer also causes you great pain. It is difficult to think clearly in this situation! I have five pieces of advice that I would like to share with you secondary survivors:

1) Know that you are capable of helping your loved one through this incredibly difficult trauma. They need you–your love and your support. Your mere presence will play a crucial part of the healing process!

2) Remember that they need your compassionate and validating responses. This can make a real difference for primary survivors–especially as they may suffer feelings of guilt or shame for something that was not necessarily their fault or choice.

3) Remind yourself that it is okay to not have all the answers. You may not know the perfect things to say, and that is 100% okay. Remember #1, they need you. They need your empathy and to know they are not alone. Just because you may not have all the answers, please don’t avoid your loved one during this shared painful time.

4) Use your resources. There are a plethora of resources online and in libraries for both you and the primary survivor. This page contains a list of helpful reads tailored especially for survivors of rape and sexual abuse.

5) Get help. I am trained to assist survivors of rape and sexual abuse in the healing process. I have completed years of school and specialized training in order to be educated and qualified enough to do so. I know how to guide your brave loved one along the path of recovery. Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have, or click here to schedule your first appointment.

Pandora’s Project: “Resources”
Pandora’s Project: “For Friends, Family & Partners of Rape & Sexual Abuse Survivors”