Just because it didn’t happen to you does not mean it doesn’t happen at all.
Abuse victims are already under a lot of pressure and stigma as is, but there are some things that people around them do (intentionally and unintentionally) that can push those same people over the edge or send them down the spiral of questioning themselves and that is invalidating their trauma.
If someone had experienced abuse and you didn’t, don’t make it about you. Don’t even start a sentence with “But to me” or “From my perspective”. If you’ve never been through the form of abuse that the person on the other side is trying to share with you, then you do not have a perspective but you do have two ears and you can listen. Sometimes that helps. There’s no need for grand gestures or trying to “fix” someone, just listen.
As always on this topic, I am speaking from experience. Throughout my life I started keeping details of what happened during my childhood to myself, especially the worst parts because I am tired of people having that look of disbelief and telling me “Oh, it couldn’t have been that bad”. It was. I was there. You weren’t.
My first major encounter with this culture of invalidating and diminishing someone’s trauma happened when I was testifying against my father. I was a kid and it was not encouraging sitting in a room with people who constantly had that disbelief look. Then and even now as a grown adult, whenever people take that stance with me I still question myself and everything I know about my life and my past with domestic abuse because theirs “It couldn’t have been that bad” makes me feel like I am crazy or puts me in a position where I think that people around me think that I am telling them lies.
I am not of the opinion that people do this on purpose. Maybe it’s out of the need to believe that the world is not that twisted, cruel and violent so they downplay these situations in order to digest them more easily, but honestly… Stories of abuse are not here to be digested easily. We know that speaking about domestic abuse, violence, sexual assault makes people feel uncomfortable, but that is normal. These are not bedtime stories. We want the world to be uncomfortable with this.
“You know my friend also [insert a traumatic event] and let me tell you all about how she/he had it worse than you in hopes it will make you feel better” – It won’t. First, comparing abuse victims and the levels of severity of their trauma is extremely harming to people who are trying to heal from whatever it is that happened to them. It sends the message that the person is overreacting and that they are ungrateful. No story is any less important and there is no scale according to which society can rate how unfortunate or traumatized we are allowed to feel. Your emotions are valid and you have every right to feel them.
To be honest, when I read or hear some stories, I do say to myself that I was lucky but not in a way that I should pretend like my life was a ride in the park but in a way that I was lucky enough to have a mom that fought for me and that I was simply luck enough to stay alive. This belief does not make me question my own emotions but it makes me want to speak up for the people who might be in a condition in which they cannot do so for themselves.
I am going to repeat this again, I do not think people do this on purpose, at least not most of them. Some have good intentions, but you know what they say… At the end of the day, the best approach is to educate yourself about these topics if someone around you is going through or is recovering from any type of an abusive relationship and to sometimes just listen without the need to say something or find solutions.
#savingme is the community where abuse victims can publish their experiences just to let go and find comfort and support. Maybe it doesn’t feel like much but just publishing your story for others to read makes you strong. You can send your story about the abuse you went through to email@example.com and you can choose if you want it to be anonymous or not.