#MeToo — Now 8 Ways to Be a Better Friend
By now many of us have become acquainted with the #MeToo and #WeCommit hashtags. As a fellow #MeToo, nothing has been as remarkable as friendship. Support systems, such as family and friends, are crucial for survivors of violence. They empower survivors to share their experiences, have them validated, and find resources.
Existing research highlights the psychological benefits of social support that aid us through traumatic experiences. In many situations, real and perceived support structures can create a “stress buffer” for those who experience traumatic events.[i] Positive, high-quality support prevents and mitigates the symptoms of trauma-based psychological disorders,[ii] Research specifically examining survivors of interpersonal violence has corroborated the link between high levels of emotional support and concrete mental and physical health benefits.[iii] This connection is crucial, considering that, according to one study by the Center for Disease Control, approximately three in ten women in the United States and one in ten men who experience intimate partner violence or stalking report at least one measured effect of the abuse on their wellbeing.[iv]
Conversely, negative responses from friends, family, or other support providers can cause survivors to suppress their psychological responses to traumatic events, impeding their ability to process and work through their trauma. Additionally, PTSD and other trauma-related conditions often skew survivors’ perceptions of available support, making it all the more important for friends and family to provide unwavering reassurance.[v] In the wake of traumatic events, it becomes much more difficult for us both to give and receive support; however, with time and effort, friends and family can help survivors navigate the confusing and painful effects of violence.
Here are eight ways you can show support for your friends, and all survivors:
8 Tips to Be a Supportive Friend
1. Validate survivors’ stories and experiences. You might be the first person to whom your friend chooses to disclose their experience with abuse. Being the first is also the most crucial — you set the tone. You do not need to have all the answers; oftentimes, your friend may just need you to actively listen and believe. It’s important that you do not minimize someone’s pain or blame them for the abuse. Given that societal messages and pressures often convince survivors that they are to blame for their abuse, it is crucial that survivors have friends who believe them.
2. Get In-formation. Getting information to be a supportive friend means getting information about domestic violence and its effects on survivors, such as trauma. Understanding trauma and mental health can erase the stigma surrounding mental health and allow you to be a better friend.
3. Stay in your lane. Being vulnerable is risky. It isn’t easy for someone to disclose that they have been the victim of domestic and sexual violence. Be available and do not assume that you have the right to know everything.
4. Stay present & patient. This lets your friend know that no matter how long it takes, or even if they choose not to leave their abuser, you’re sticking by their side.
5. Offer your help, not your advice. Being available doesn’t always mean knowing the right words to say. Offer to help with chores, cooking, and other everyday tasks that may not be the easiest at the moment.
6. Take action and stand up for change. Contact your representatives and tell them about the importance domestic violence services through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), and the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).
7. Connect your friend with resources: Sometimes the best thing we can do is tell our friends about resources that can help them. State coalitions against domestic violence have specific information about state legislation, policies, and local programs and services for survivors. The U.S. Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 and may be reached at any time for assistance at 1–800–799–7233 or 1–800–787–3224. WomensLaw.org also provides state-specific plain language legal information for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
8. Take care of yourself. It is difficult to think rationally when your best friend is hurting, but you cannot serve from an empty vessel. Supporting someone else through their journey means being aware of and taking care of your own.
[i] Kaniasty, Krzysztof. “Social Support and Traumatic Stress.” PTSD Research Quarterly 16, no. 2 (2005): 1–8. Accessed June 2, 2017.
[ii] Ozbay, Faith, Douglas C. Johnson, Eleni Dimoulas, C.A. Morgan, III, Dennis Charney, and Steven Southwick. “Social Support and Resilience to Stress: From Neurobiology to Clinical Practice.” Psychiatry (Edgmont) 4, no. 5 (May 2007). Accessed June 2, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921311/.
[iii] Coker, Ann L., Ken W. Watkins, Paige H. Smith, and Heather M. Brandt. “Social support reduces the impact of partner violence on health: application of structural equation models.” Preventive Medicine 37, no. 3 (2003): 259–67. Accessed June 2, 2017. doi:10.1016/s0091–7435(03)00122–1.
[iv] Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R, The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report, (2011), 12. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[v] Kaniasty, Krzysztof. “Social Support and Traumatic Stress.”