Please, No Platitudes.

At one time or another, everyone suffers a broken heart (except, of course, psychopaths and sociopaths). Some take longer than others to heal, depeding on the significance of the relationship/loss, how it ended, personality, place in life, etc.

You see your friend or loved one hurting, and you don’t know what to say, so you say something like this:

“There are plenty of fish in the sea.”

“Get back on the horse.”

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

“Sometimes relationships end.”

“You just weren’t meant for each other.”

Um. Not fucking helpful.

If someone is grieving because of the loss of a very significant relationship, don’t insult them by spouting platitudes. Their pain is real, and if you want to help, then listen. Offer them support, but be kind. One day, it will be you who needs the support.

If your friend or loved one has been abused or assaulted in some way, whether it be psychologically, emotionally, verbally, physically, or sexually, such platitudes can actually re-traumatize them and set back their healing.

Especially in cases of abuse or assault, never ever say:

“What is it about you that attracts people like this?”

This puts blame on the victim, something they’re already struggling with. Victims of abuse are trying desperately to regain their sense of self, the self-esteem robbed from them. Victims, on that long road to recovery and transition to “survivor,” struggle with self-blame.

How didn’t I see him for who he was?

Am I that naive?

Am I that stupid?

Did I do something to deserve this?

Maybe I wasn’t patient enough or loving enough or understanding enough…

By saying things like “What is is about you that attracts people like this,” you are inadvertantly reinforcing the idea that they did something wrong. If you have ever known (or have been) raped, assaulted, beaten down (physically or emotionally), battered, abused, or manipulated, then you know the victim did nothing to deserve such treatment.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to accept in the past couple of years is that some people are just evil, for lack of a better word. They abuse. They hurt. They know they hurt, and they keep doing it. They choose to do it over and over because they just don’t fucking care. Or because they get off on it. Whatever their reason, it doesn’t matter.

The idea that victims of abuse and assault do something to deserve it is not only balderdash, it’s re-traumatizing to the survivor.

Other things not to say:

“What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”

“God (Allah, the Universe, the Great Spirit, whatever) is trying to teach you a lesson.”

“God (et al.) only gives you what you can handle.”

“The best revenge is living well/success.”

“Just get on with your life and put this behind you.”

“Just let scorpions be scorpions.” (see below)

“You can’t control him/her; you can only control yourself.”

“Things just didn’t work out.” or “Sometimes things just don’t work out.”

“Sometimes bad things happen to good people.”

“Did you say NO!”

“Did you push him away?”

“Did you scream?”

“It takes two to tango.”

“Did you see the red flags and just ignore them?”

They’ll get theirs one day.”

“Karma’s a bitch.”

I think you get the picture.

No one wants to talk about rape or sexual assault. No one wants to talk about the gray area of nonconsensual sex, the part that’s not expressly against the law (as they have to be able to prove it in court beyond a shadow of a doubt, but is close enough that the after effects are still deeply traumatizing and damaging).

Sexual assault/rape. Psychological rape. Spiritual rape. Especially if no law was clearly broken, can be even more damaging because the victim not only has to deal with the after effects of a traumatic experience, often including the fun experience of PTSD with its flashbacks and increasing fear, but they have to do so alone. No community support. No legal validation. Their rapist gets to walk free and target other people. Right in front of the victim, causing the victim/survivor to collapse more and more into themselves and hide away out of self-protection, isolate themselves from their communities because the community embraces the rapist, not wanting to deal with the drama of the target.

This kind of treatment sets the survivor up to be victimized again. The rate of revictimization is staggering, and abuse is cumulative. After each new abuse, which the target because less and less able to protect themselves from because of previous abuses and the subsequent societal tendency to blame the victim, albeit inadvertantly, because they never get the support and validation they need. They never get to heal fully because the cause of the trauma was never recognized, let alone validated.

And PTSD from emotional and sexual abuse is rampant. The symptoms of chronic PTSD are often misdiagnosed as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and other such psychological ailments.

If anti-depressents have never worked on you, although you’ve been diagnosed with depression…

If some symptoms of a particular label or personality disorder fit you, but others don’t…

If your anxiety is situational, especially around relationships (and even moreso around relationships that turn out to be abusive)…

…then you might be suffering from chronic PTSD from a lifetime of unrecognized abuse rather than a chemical imbalance. It’s been quite the eye-opener.

Some horrifying statistics:

  • 80% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows
  • Over 50% of sexual assaults/rapes are not reported
  • Only 12% lead to an arrest
  • Only 3% will spend even a day behind bars
  • That means that 97% of the rapists are walking free
  • More Facts &  Myths Concerning Sexual Assault

This is a societal issue. By allowing victims of such heinous crimes to feel safe to talk and come forward, we can slowly tip these scales. By supporting our loved ones who have experienced assault (and whether or not YOU consider it assault doesn’t fucking matter. If they feel assaulted, that’s what matters. The effect on them is the same, and if you start questioning them about the validity of their claim, you are shaming them into staying quiet, and their abuser goes on to victimize others. The Predator Theory shows that about 8% of men commit 96% of the assaults, and it’s because we, as a society, lets them keep doing it.), you help them heal, regain the strength and self-respect stolen from them, and maybe help stop their abuser from hurting another.

If this abuser is part of your community, especially a sex-positive community such as polyamorous, BDSM, or swinger, spread the word. Their greatest fear is to be exposed. And by keeping their secrets, we enable them to victimize others. It is time to have this discussion openly. To teach community members to protect themselves from sexual and emotional abuse.

And, for all that is good and sacred, don’t tell the survivor the fable of The Frog and The Scorpion, inviting them to just let scorpions be scorpions. I have several problems with this fable as an analogy to excuse (or at least explain) abusive behavior, especially in the cases of those without empathy, like narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths (NPS), but even in the cases of other types of harmful abusers.

First: The frog knew the scorpion was a scorpion. Had the scorpion disguised itself as a frog and then stung him, that might be more accurate. These manipulative and abusive monsters (NPS) look and act very human. They aren’t. Big difference. If they showed themselves to be who they are up front, they wouldn’t hurt so many people.

Second: The scorpion had a fucking choice. His tail doesn’t sting on its own. He controls it. It might be in his nature, but he still has the choice of whether to sting or not to sting. That’s like saying a man has a dick, so he can stick it wherever he wants whether it’s consensual or not because, well, he has a dick! That’s what it’s for!

Third: It’s a parable for rape. Period. And, worse, it’s a parable for excusing rape.

So, my dear friends, listen. Don’t speak. Don’t judge. Don’t try to understand because you can’t unless you’ve experienced it yourself. My greatest support during this trying time have been other women who have been sexually assaulted, because they get it.

And I get it, by even allowing for the possibility that the victim did nothing to deserve such treatment, whether the assult was emotional, psychological, physical, verbal, or sexual, you are admitting that something like this can happen to you or your daughter/son.

Well, it can.

Accept that and teach your children and your friends/loved ones how to be self-protective. Teach them how to recognze abuse early. Teach them how not to trust so easily. Teach them what sexual assault looks like, even in the gray areas. (Because, seriously, just because a law isn’t broken doesn’t mean that it’s not dangerous. Would you want your daughter/sister/friend/GF/wife/mother dating a man who isn’t a legal rapist but just and emotional/psychological rapist? With a man who uses coercion and fear and manipulation to control her? To assault her just on this side of the  law? Even if it’s not “rape” or “assault,” do you want her with someone who uses sexual abuse as a control tactic?)

Some of us never got those lessons. It’s not our fault, but we are the ones who suffer for it. Again and again, it seems.

For someone who is healing, however, that is not the time for a lesson in self-protection or platitudes or suggestions of you should’ve known better. This is not a time to justify or defend your lifestyle because of a perceived judgment or similarities.

The person is hurt. Period.

They are struggling just to make it through the next day. Period.

Don’t make it harder on them by retraumatizing them. Don’t abandon them because it’s too inconvenient for you.

If you love them, then LISTEN.

Listen. Patiently, because they will say the same things over and over again as they try to rebuild their reality around the betrayal.

Offer to take them to a shelter. To sit with them as they call an abuse hotline with people trained to deal with abuse. To find a PTSD/sexual assault counselor (because those not trained in abuse/assault recovery can aslo retraumatize the survivor by saying things like “no one is to blame, he was just acting on his limiting beliefs, or he’s this way because he was abused, too.” Not helpful, and — as I’ve said before — when your pain causes others pain, repeatedly. That’s your choice to continue, and that is your responsibility).

Research what you can do to be more supportive. There are countless websites listing ways to help and be there for your friend or loved one. GOOGLE IT!

Expect suicidal ideation. Expect confusion. Expect them to love their abuser through it all. The trauma bond is extremely strong, and confusing feelings around abuse and assault are completely normal. Someone they loved and trusted betrayed them in the most heinous way imaginable: a violation not only of that love and trust, but also body, mind, and soul.

Don’t judge. Validate. Be supportive. LISTEN.

And, please, no platitudes.

~ by omgrey on July 18, 2012.

16 Responses to “Please, No Platitudes.”

  1. Well said. There’s been a lot of debate on my facebook lately about whether rape jokes are okay, and the defenders of the jokes do not understand that many victims suffer from PTSD. Hell, the debate managed to trigger some bad memories of things that fell into that grey area you mentioned (and that grey area is a really frightening place even when people downplay it). Anyway, I’m glad you wrote this because I always feel a little bad for not saying anything, but I’d rather give silent support than say something that really does not help.

    • There is nothing funny about rape.

      And, yes, that gray area is terrifying. You are there alone, usually. I’ve been lucky to have the support and validation of my husband and some dear friends who have also suffered psychological, emotional, physical, and sexual assault, so they understand.

      Silence is the abuser’s greatest weapon, of course. We mustn’t keep silent about abuse.

      I’m not sure about this situation. People who joke about rape are misogynists, at best, and I think it’s important to speak out against misogyny. Jokes about rape are indeed triggering, as any offhanded, insensitive comment is, intended or not. But jokes are worse because the intention behind it is to make light of a horrific experience that society already tries to sweep under the rug. Jokes about rape

      I feel bad when I don’t say anything to overt misogyny, too. Sometimes, it’s not safe to say anything. Like when I was on the train from Oxford to London last year and a group of drunk, frat-boy types boarded the train. They sat across the aisle from me around a table, leaving the fifth in their group to sit in the row behind them. I offered #5 my seat, directly across the aisle from them, so he could interact with them. He and a few of the others thanked me profusely. One offered me a drink. Then another said, “Or how about a roofie?”

      Really?

      My kindness was met with an offer to rape me.

      Not funny.

      Also, not safe to confront the misogynist in that situation. A woman alone at night on a train headed back to London with a group of five drunken men. Had I said something and I had been gang raped, still not my fault. But I chose to not say anything and get out of them, minimizing the risk.

      How many men in that situation would’ve been afraid of being gang raped? Men don’t understand the constant fear around rape. I read something online the other called Schrodinger’s Rapist, and I’ll be writing a post about that soon.

      Otherwise, I think the more we stand up against misogyny the better. As far as rape jokes go, ask the person if they would think it funny if it was their sister or daughter or mother who was the butt of that joke. If they still think it’s funny, they’re likely a psychopath. Get away from them. Sometimes it’s a case of education, other times, there is nothing you can do either because of their inherent lack of intelligence, empathy, or conscience. Or all of the above.

      Seems to me, any one with the capacity for empathy and compassion can understand how hurtful rape jokes are to those around them. Use me as an example, if you’d like, as your friend who has been raped, to let them know there is nothing funny about it. It destroys, and sometimes ends, lives.

      • On Tuesday we were discussing humor on the Galley Table, and we brought up the fact that humor is often used as a release valve by people in order to deal with high pressure situations without going crazy.I agree that many people who make jokes about rape are just stupidly insensitive, but I think there is a large percentage who want to deal intelligently on the matter, but don’t know how to do so. Caught between the pressure to say something and the desire to NOT say the wrong thing, they fall back to humor, thinking that by making light of the subject they are defusing the tenstion. Instead, they are re-defining the concept of the wrong thing.
        Usually, I am all in favor of humor. It is one of the social lubricants that allows people to keep from killing each other. But there are a few (a very few) subjects that should be taken seriously. Rape is one of them. It should always be made very clear, by everyone, that rape is never acceptable or excusable. Never, ever.

        Doc

      • Totally agree, doc.

        I think most things can be joked about. Even horrible things. But rape is one of those very few that it is never appropriate to joke about. And I think part of that is because of how much is excused by society.

        Thank you, as always, for your comment.

  2. Was screaming last mth becuz i am a middle aged woman still getting followed and harassed by men when walking! A beautiful woman walking alone..ooh! Jerks. I travel EVERYWHERE alone! For many years. The trained worker many years ago was not helpful to me. They dont always know either. Coupled with female fam members that do and did nothing because THEIR financial lifestyle their man provides..no wonder i have ptsd nightmares! Good thing is.. Id forgotten about most of it. Men DO see some people as target of bullying. Its all part of this. I wasnt upset at peoples responses if they were meant to be helpful. I do have problem with those who do nothing to stop the people. I have developed ways to ensure i dont get bullied anymore, but it is not our fault if we are repeatedly treated this way. It is our job to LEAVE And not tolerate.

  3. Can completely relate Grey with your pain & heartache; I’ve been there many times. My wish for you is that the next ‘loves’ are just as enriching, if not more, as this loss (of positives & less negatives). Long warm hugs Beautiful. 🙂

    Perhaps CA is the new phase! Stay passionate too Love!

  4. […] “He has a problem that will ruin his life, he’ll be sad and alone when he dies.” (i.e. more concern for the rapist than the survivor)…and other such platitudes […]

  5. […] Please, No Platitudes […]

  6. I agree completely, many of the upon issues I have been dealing with in my own life. However I note one thing whenever these topics are brought up, there is always a sexual lean towards women as the victims. What many don’t realize is men, like myself suffer abuse as well, and because of how men tend to be raised we suffer in silence, no reports are ever made. A man being abused by their other half, or forbid being raped which does happen, would be mocked or laughed at. For seven years I endured a violently abusive woman who beat me daily, convincing me I was completely deserving of the punishment I received at her hands. Years later I still do nothing in my defense, and won’t, I know I should, but it doesn’t matter.

    • ..though I had never considered I may be suffering PTSD, depression perhaps, but nothing for depression has ever helped me. I don’t know if it will change anything but maybe I’ll talk to some people and find out. Thank you.

      • You very likely are. After that kind of abuse, even for a few weeks, but especially after 7 yrs. Depression is a symptom of PTSD, which may be why anti-depressants aren’t working for you. That’s why they don’t work for me. When depression is the symptom rather than the cause, often times anti-depressants won’t work.

        Same with anxiety. Symptom of PTSD.
        So is self injury and suicidal ideation.

        I’ve written a blog post on PTSD from Emotional Abuse, which many still erroneously believe one can’t get PTSD from “just” emotional abuse. The one thing that is present in all forms of abuse: emotional, verbal, physical, and sexual, is the emotional aspect of the abuse. It is the most difficult to cope with because one can’t see the scars of emotional abuse, unless through PTSD and self-injury, we externalize the internal injuries, but then all society sees is someone who hurts themselves. They don’t see someone who is trying to cope with invisible, intangible injuries in a tangible way.

        Read a lot on PTSD. Go to a therapist who specializes in PTSD and trauma recovery. The problem with those of us who have been traumatized, we are often retraumatized because predators can see the damage. They see the vulnerability, and they exploit it.

        Peace.

    • Since coming out as a rape survivor, virtually every. single. woman. I’ve spoken with has told me she, too, is a survivor. Easily 99% of the women I’ve met/spoken to in the past 4 months. It’s staggering.

      I’ve had men come out to me as survivors, too. Sometimes for the first time. Men are victims of abuse and rape, too. Rape, not only by other men, but by women, too.

      Not okay.

      It sounds like you were in an extremely abusive relationship. It also sounds like you got away. Did you get out safely?

      Please call your local domestic violence shelter, they will help you even as a male.

      Please talk to someone.

      • safely, I am honestly not sure anymore, shes no longer in or anywhere near my life. but during the process I lost everything that meant anything to me and ended up not able to leave the house for long periods of time for 3 years after, gave me panic attacks. Since then I moved 1200 miles from where i was, but still have issues leaving the house, and being around people overwhelms. Going to talk to a doctor in the morning, not sure what they’ll say.

      • These are classic symptoms of PTSD. Now that you know what it is, you can heal from it!

        Please, read up on PTSD. I’m glad you’re going to a doctor in the morning. Make sure they know about PTSD. If not, find one who does.

        xo

        Peace.

  7. […] of the many reasons this particular platitude infuriates me is because it’s a reminder that, as a woman and a survivor, I simply cannot […]

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