Joseph, Savannah, Ginny, Hope and I are considered secondary victims. I’m not a big fan of this term, even though I understand its purpose. Because we are not the ones directly abused by Asher, the state does not consider us primary victims for its determination of victim compensation benefits (CVCP). But the term, secondary victim, makes it seem as though our pain and trauma in this event is somehow second-rate. That is certainly not the case.
Considering the statistics for victims of abuse, the probability of being a secondary victim is high. But the resources for us are ridiculously disproportional to that reality. Here are a few things we are learning from the first-hand experience of being a secondary victim.
- Every one has their place in the circle of trauma for any given event. Know your place and respect it.
- Just because you want to help doesn’t mean you are helping. During horrific events or painful seasons, your desire to feel useful and supportive is not the same thing as actually being those things. Step outside of your own assumptions and seek answers from the person you want to serve. Also, as a general rule, only go one step closer to the circle than you already are. If you are a colleague, then ask a true friend what the victim needs – not the victim. This is especially true in the very early stages of a traumatic event.
- In certain situations, your needs become primary and secondary-victims require people who can gently show them when they must put themselves into the center of the diagram. For instance, none of our children can understand the needs of a parent facing a criminal case against their son for the abuse of their other children. In this situation, we became the aggrieved. Now, we certainly understand that it would be painful and inappropriate to vent to our children about this experience, but it is also inappropriate for our children to never understand that we have valid experiences in this ordeal that sometimes take priority. And not simply the priority of the logistical schedule but priority of emotional investment. Our support system sometimes comes to console us and not always our children.
- Delegate. The reason it is good to have family or trusted friends that you can confide in is so they can, in turn, support you with answers or services that you simply cannot manage. If they are invested in your healing, they will learn what they need to in order to provide appropriate help whether it be appointment making and taking, meals, or recommendations for new therapies.
- Learn to set boundaries and then hold them fast. I genuinely believe that most people mean well in the awkwardness of what they say and when they say it to a hurting or broken person. But, holy poor choices Batman!, do people ever get it wrong. Boundaries can’t stop all the things from getting at you, but if you recognize that you are fragile and determine that only your inner circle should have unrestricted access to you, then make sure that you honor that decision. For us, it looked like asking members of our support team to sit around us during our first few weeks back at church and physically create a barrier between us and those with innocent-enough questions. It also meant not returning phone calls or texts for coffee dates with non-inner circle people during the first few months of our ordeal.
- Lastly, you do not need to apologize or feel guilty for any of the decisions you make regarding who you trust or who you don’t. Even if you make a mistake. The heart of a crisis is not the time to also take on the responsibility of explaining to your sister-in-law why she isn’t one of your trusted confidantes. You can circle back and have those conversations when you are more stable. And if these people genuinely care about you, they will accept your choice.
I think you can easily apply any of these points to primary victims, but primary victims are often given a pass on the etiquette of trauma negotiation. They are either too emotionally fragile or unavailable, or too physically broken for these points to matter to them. However, secondary victims are usually people with a vested interested in the well-being of the primary victim while also containing enough strength or sense to shoulder much of the primary victim’s burden. This puts them in a unique situation that requires the love and grace of others.
Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. -Exodus 17:8-13