Show Survivors Support By Validating Their Experiences

Every October, we honor Domestic Violence Awareness Month. DVAM is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of these issues, share resources, and most importantly, support survivors.

This year, Joyful Heart is honoring DVAM by sharing tools for supporting survivors with our community. Each week, we are covering a new topic and invite and encourage you to share these tools with your community, as well as share stories about how to put them into practice.

This week’s tip is: Validate.

Think about a time when you felt vulnerable or faced a crisis in your life. When you confided in your loved ones, what made you feel supported?

Chances are it was not a specific conversation you had or a word of advice you received, but the knowledge and comfort the person you told was there for you, heard you, believed you, was on your side, and was committed to supporting you through a hard time.

We refer to this as validation: assuring a person that they have the right to feel whatever emotions they are having, that their experience was not their fault, and that you care about and support them.

In order to validate a survivor who shares their experience with you, it can be helpful to communicate—gently and repeatedly—that what happened to them was not their fault, and they are worthy of support. You may want to draw on some positive, supportive messages, including (but not limited to):

  • “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
  • “I believe you.”
  • “This is not your fault.”
  • “You’re not alone. I’m here for you and I’m glad you told me.”
  • “Nothing you did or could’ve done differently makes this your fault.”
  • “No one ever has the right to hurt you.”
  • “I promise, you didn’t ask for this.”

Society bombards us with myths and messages blaming survivors for the trauma they have endured. But no action excuses a person hurting someone else. Violence and abuse are never the victim’s fault. That responsibility and shame lies with the perpetrator. By reminding a survivor they are not alone and they are not to blame, you may help reduce their depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

While you cannot undo what someone has gone through, you can reassure a survivor their feelings are valid, the experience was not their fault, and they have your support.

What tips do you have for validating survivors’ experiences? Tweet us your thoughts at @TheJHF using the hashtag #SupportSurvivors. 

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