Many survivors are too frightened to tell their story of trauma – because the unknowns from the consequences bring fear. What will people say, do? How will they respond – in anger, fear, criticism, encouragement, support? We have this catastrophic, worst-case scenario mindset. Sharing our untold story is the first hurdle.
The second is finding people who will support you in your untold story. And this part varies from survivor to survivor. Some find support right away while others –like me— do not for years. When we do find support, the part of our brains with catastrophic thinking is surprised. We thought we would be blamed, not believed, and not listened to! Then we find this person who offers support and we polarize them. We see them as completely good and trusting of our stories and our lives. They become our support heroes.
But there’s a third hurdle that survivors often forget about: continuing communication.
When my husband says or does something that I’ve told him is triggering, I think why on earth would he do/say that! When I’ve had a flashback, panic attack, or am feeling anxious and he keeps asking me to talk to him I think you just don’t get it. And other times I wonder why doesn’t he ask how I am or what’s going on.
Unless you are friends with the superhuman, the ones who support us can’t read our minds.
They may be support heroes, but they aren’t actually superheroes. That means that they may not know if you want something to be brought up again. They may not know how to respond when you’re crying. They may say something idiotic or something truly helpful. They may not be able to say anything at all. And while they showed initial support to you, they sometimes still don’t know how to respond or at least respond in ways you need.
Unfortunately, immediate reactions come in the form of platitudes, “it could have been worse” statements, and the advice-givers and fixers. At some point you may need someone to say it’s going to be okay. At some point you may need someone to tell you there’s a greater purpose to your pain and to acknowledge that things could have been worse. At some point you may need someone to say how they made it through or to provide new knowledge and insights on living with your trauma. And, really, you may never want one or all of the above.
But your support heroes will never know what you need until you communicate that need.
I’ve worked hard with my husband to establish a great line of communication. Especially when it comes to my trauma. He knows that sometimes I just need to sit in silence, sometimes to cry on his shoulder, other times to talk it out, and still other times to have a distraction – I’m just not always good at communicating what the particular situation calls for. And because of that, I’ve had to realize that my husband is human, he can’t read my mind, and he really does want to support me. So we work together. He will ask me what I need, and I’ll respond honestly.
While my husband is certainly my support hero, he isn’t a superhero. And that’s okay.