Loving a Survivor of Abuse

I had a friend who was quite seriously abused when she was younger.

After it was over, for some years she cut herself, as that was the only way she knew of to distract herself from the overwhelming memories.

She contemplated suicide as she feared she would never be able to experience loving touch, because any physical contact with another person would give her flashbacks and panic attacks.

By the time I met her, years later, she had had counseling, was in a loving relationship, and was studying for her masters degree. Much healing had occurred, though physical touch did still sometimes trigger a flashback.

After she and her primary partner had been exclusive for a time, they had decided together that felt drawn towards exploring open relationships with other people.

Her partner wasn’t into bondage himself, and she loved to be tied up, so occasionally, schedule permitting, with the knowledge and consent of her partner, she’d get together for me and have a fun evening of cuddling, kissing, and bondage.

There are three levels of evil that result from abuse. There is of course the original abuse itself.

Then there’s the lasting wounds from the abuse: the post-traumatic stress, the flashbacks, the panic attacks.

And finally there’s the impact these have on her relationships.

When she’s had a flashback, and was huddled on bed, crying, gasping in pain from the memories, she wasn’t worried about herself.

She was worried about me.

She was worried that her flashback would ruin the evening for me.

And I felt anger. Not at her, but towards her abuser. I wanted to hunt him down, wherever he was now, and punish him for what he did.

I wanted to be able to do something to make the pain go away, to stop the flashback, to fix it.

I could do none of these things. My anger had no purpose here.

Instead, all I could do was to let her know that it was OK. To be calm, and comforting, and relaxed. To let her know that I wasn’t bothered that she’d had a flashback this evening, that I was fine. That I didn’t mind waiting patiently for her attack to subside.

Which was enough.

In a few minutes, the attack passed, and my friend returned to enjoying an evening she’d been looking forward to.

In the past there was a great evil, and yet ironically what robs the evil of its power in the present is not to give it a whole lot of attention and reaction. Not to suppress it or ignore it, but not to make a big deal over it either.

If there is something useful to be done in the moment, then sure, do it... but otherwise, to keep our attention on what we want.

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