“We shall be friends to those
heartbroken and in sorrow.
We shall share their sorrow.”
W hen victims reach out to their family and friends after being victimized by a psychopath, many are disappointed by their responses. Deeply disappointed. A victim may have spent months or even years with someone who had no ability to feel love or empathy, and the last thing they need are loved ones who are unsupportive and invalidating.
People who haven’t had the experience of being traumatized by a psychopath simply can’t understand it. But they can see that their friend needs support, and support can be offered regardless of whether they understand what happened or not. Unfortunately, support sometimes is tied to understanding, so responses may lack genuineness and originality. Friends and family may offer platitudes and cliches which aren’t helpful and can even be hurtful to the victim. Here’s an example, These words were spoken to me by a friend:
“Why continue to waste precious energy? Why would you give him that satisfaction? It seems to me that you are responsible to yourself for releasing him from your life.”
To a traumatized person, words like these are completely meaningless, empty and lacking in kindness and empathy. They invalidate the victim’s trauma by suggesting he or she should simply forget the whole thing, just let it go, as if it should be an easy thing to do.
Our culture has been so permeated by new-age and pop-psychology junk that invalidation has unfortunately become the norm. Many people can’t think of original things to say during a crisis. Someone hears something, and ding! a new-age pop-psych platitude pops out of their mouth without any thought or care behind it, just like a Pop Tart pops out of a toaster, mechanically and devoid of any nourishment. Empty calories, empty words. Junk food for the soul.
So how do you help a friend who was victimized by a psychopath or anyone else going through any hard time in their life? By having empathy. Judging someone’s feelings, finding them to be invalid and then withholding support, is the opposite of empathy.
Empathy is the ability to be aware of another person’s thoughts and feelings, and having the wherewithal to express this awareness. It also means creating mutual understanding and a sense of caring for one another. It’s not empathy unless you respond appropriately to the other person.
“One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.”
~ Charles M. Blow
How can you show empathy for a friend in the aftermath?
First, listen to them, without judgement. Really listen, without thinking of what you’re going to say next. And not just to their words, but to the emotions they’re expressing.
Resist the temptation to utter anything that’s not completely original, such as any type of empty, meaningless (and often heartless) platitude. Tell them that you understand they’re suffering and that you’re sorry. If it comes from your heart, it will be very comforting.
Make an attempt to understand what they’ve been through. Ask questions, and let them talk about their experience. Even if you can’t understand what they’ve experienced, surely as a friend you can at least connect with the fact that they’re in pain and need your support and kindness.
Ask your friend what you can do to support them, and then do it.
Check on your friend daily, even if they tell you they’re OK.
If your friend is not functioning or is suicidal, find help for them.
And keep these words in mind:
“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
You don’t need to come up with the perfect thing to say or with the solutions to their problem. Your silent, caring presence can ease the pain more than you could ever imagine.
To learn what NOT to say, I will turn to an article on “new-age bullies” written by Julia Ingram:
“I call them New Age Bullies—those who, sometimes with the best intentions, repeat spiritual movement shibboleths, with little understanding of how hurtful their advice can be. Some of their favorite clichés are:
It happened for a reason.
Nobody can hurt you without your consent.
I wonder why you created this illness (or experience).
There are no accidents.
There are no victims.
There are no mistakes.
A variant of this behavior is found in the self-bullying people who blame themselves for being victims of a crime, accident, or illness and interpret such misfortunes as evidence of their personal defects or spiritual deficiencies.”
Many relationships do not survive because of the invalidation and lack of empathy shown to the victim. According to Steve Hein, MSW, “Rejecting feelings is rejecting reality; it is to fight nature and may be called a crime against nature, ‘psychological murder’ or ‘soul murder.’ Considering that trying to fight feelings, rather than accept them, is trying to fight all of nature, you can see why it is so frustrating, draining and futile.”
So what types of things should you say? The following statements convey validation and empathy:That must have been hard.
I hear you.That’s not good.
That’s a lot to deal with.
I would feel the same way.
That must really hurt.
I would feel the same way.
I can understand how you feel.
It sounds like you are really feeling ____.
I can see that you are really upset.
You look very sad.
Would you like to talk about it?
That really bothered you, didn’t it.
What bothers you the most about it?
What would help you feel better?
What can I do to help you?
In contrast, invalidation communicates that a person’s emotions, thoughts and perceptions are not valid—they are unwarranted, irrational, overblown, selfish, stupid or wrong. Invalidation is the last thing your friend needs. He or she got plenty of it from the psychopath.
When a friend is traumatized, make communication meaningful by choosing compassionate, validating words that come from your heart.
“Excellent, excellent book! It brought me understanding and closure!”
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“Insightful and informative! This book provides a good understanding of psychopath’s traits. It’s very helpful the author broke it down in different subjects for giving the complete view of a psychopath.”
“Five Stars. Very helpful.”