They keep hurting. So listen, help, and avoid duress or unsolicited advice.
As a woman growing up in India, you have probably been felt, groped, and touched inappropriately while commuting. Likely, you have been told by other women to not make a big deal about it. Chalta hai is the attitude. On the one hand, a family’s honor is between a woman’s legs; on the other, if a man touches a woman without her permission, she is expected to let it go?
I am not a survivor. I teach yoga to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I write about women’s safety. But I do have close family and friends who are survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. The older women survivors are dead, and so are their perpetrators. The secrets, the anger, the shame, the unhealed wounds, the trauma, the triggers, and the crimes all burned with their dead bodies. No apologies, no healing.
In Ayurveda, the inability to process emotions in a timely manner is seen as the main cause of emotional imbalances. Ayurveda believes that inhibited emotions can lead to illness, discomfort, and even disease. “Repressed emotions create an imbalance of vata,” writes Ayurvedic expert and legend, Dr. Vasant Lad, “which in turn affects agni, the body’s auto-immune response.” So many of the women I write about had an array of health issues, both physical and mental. The families never understood the erratic behavior, the need to please, the fear of intimacy, the mood swings, the sudden waves of insecurity in their loved one who was a survivor going through their triggers and pretending to be okay.
The survivors, both women and men, from my generation — whom I know very well — are still hurting. They are still alive, but they are no longer the person they used to be. Violence changes you. It shreds away your confidence and dignity. Men have societal taboos and shame to deal with, which are slightly more nuanced than women. The male survivors I know feel emasculated thinking about their domestic violence experience. The women are battling the trust they lost when someone close to them hurt them — for maintaining power and control. These people seem alive. Most of them are in high functioning professions making enormous changes in the world. But when I see them outside of their work environment — as a friend, family, or Ayurvedic practitioner, I see the pain. I see them triggered even when a truck honks. A few tried talking to their families, but they were asked to not be troublemakers. Recently, a friend kept circling the parking lot (I was with them in the car) because they thought someone was following them. That someone looked like their perpetrator.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month! As someone who teaches trauma-informed yoga to survivors of violence and brings Ayurveda, yoga, and mindfulness to communities at-large. This month holds an intimate place in my heart.
This Domestic Violence Awareness Month, here are five things you can do to support survivors:
- Stop sharing unsolicited advice: It’s so easy to preach and judge why people don’t walk out of violent situations. So easy to say, “Get help” if survivors feel triggered. But you don’t know a person’s situation and what causes them to stay and not speak up. Each survivor does the best they can to survive. So many of them try to get help and see therapists. Many can’t afford help on a regular basis. But trauma doesn’t go away overnight. It sits in our nervous system. One incident can provoke it.
- Don’t ask them to calm down: If a person had the ability to calm down, trust me, they would. How can a person lower their anxiety with a pranayama if the sound of their own breath doesn’t make them feel safe? For the mind to experience a Zen like state, there are layers of wounds within that need to be addressed first.
- Send a care package: Survivors don’t want your pity; they want acknowledgment. Like anyone else, they want to feel human. Instead of focusing on their trauma, ponder how you can bring joy in their lives. A friend of mine, a survivor, loves certain local snacks from NYC. Guess what they will be receiving in the mail soon? You don’t have to tell people you care; show them through gestures.
- Don’t force them to share their story: I am the gatekeeper of so many secrets and nightmares of women and men I care about. Sometimes, I have paid a price for their unhealed traumas and untold stories. But I refuse to say a word because it’s neither my story nor my place. Healing comes in waves and looks different for different people. While some survivors want to talk about their experience, others shut that part out to survive.
- Be a good listener: Set your intention. Before you want to be heard, learn to hear with compassion. How can we expect to lower DV rates in our communities if we aren’t empathetic listeners? How can we expect survivors to speak up if we don’t hold space for their narrative? How will anyone feel safe opening up if you have already made up our mind?
Every year, more than 10 million men and women in the U.S. are subjected to Domestic Violence. One in three women in India is likely to have been subjected to intimate partner violence of a physical, emotional, or sexual nature, reveals research. Given the statistics, chances are, you probably know a few friends, colleagues, and even family members who are survivors. They just haven’t told you about it. This upcoming Domestic Violence Awareness Month, learn to become more patient, understanding, and compassionate.
“You are not the darkness you endured. You are the light that refused to surrender.” ~ John Mark Green