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Thursday, July 14, 2005

If You Are a Victim of Violence: How to Heal

By Latiefah Achmat **
June 22, 2005

If you are a victim of violence, you might feel like you are in a maze, trying to find your way out, trying to find healing and peace, but you are unsure of how to do it.

Violence is any act that causes physical or psychological harm or injury. It can come about from someone screaming, shouting, and threatening all the time, so that you live in fear of the possibility of that person actually doing something violent. For instance, a father who drinks, and when he is drunk, he is violent physically, but when he is sober he abuses verbally, he is moody and short-tempered, but when he is tipsy, he is nice. The question is always in the victim's mind, "What will he be like when he comes home?" The victim will always be looking for ways to keep the father calm and happy. This puts an enormous amount of stress on the victim and makes life miserable and continually uncertain.

How do you know if you're a victim? First, there has to be a perpetrator; the person who does the violent act to you. This person will disrespect you, fail to respect your personal space, fail to respect your opinion, force his/her attitudes or opinions onto you, and if you do not accept them, there is the threat of violence or emotional abuse and you have no say in the matter. This behavior results in you feeling demoralized, having zero self-worth, and becoming introverted. You feel that your opinion doesn't count and you don't like to speak up because if you say what you feel, you will get into trouble, so you find it difficult to communicate with people, even in normal circumstances. Sometimes, a person may have been a victim for many years, but doesn't realize it.

Young people are often taught from early on to be violent or to have a victim mentality because they were abused in some way. This abuse could have been from a family member or from being bullied at school: any violation of their person or being. Many such victims do not talk about what happened or what is happening, and so internalize their feelings of shame, guilt, worthlessness, and self-hatred. They often marry into abusive situations because being abused has become normal for them; sometimes, they even become abusive themselves.

The abuse could be one-off or continual; both take time to heal and there are steps that have to be taken in order for healing to take place.

How to Heal

The victim must not be removed; remove the perpetrator, not the victim. Sometimes the victim is removed and made to feel as if he/she is the wrongdoer. Because the victim is taken out of a familiar environment, he/she feels punished.

The victim's physical injuries, if any, must be taken care of and medical treatment sought if necessary.

The victim must avoid stress and exhaustion, be encouraged to eat properly and to maintain a balance in life.

The victim must avoid boredom and sitting alone, because that leads to thinking too much about what happened and that leads to negative thoughts.

The victim must be encouraged to do things that he/she enjoys, not punish himself/herself.

The victim should not withdraw from society and should remember that whatever happened, it was not his/her fault. Allah will deal with the perpetrator.

The victim needs to have a family member or trusted friend that he/she can open up to and say what is going through his/her mind. For instance, the victim may complain about things like, "I'm scared. I can't sleep." If this happens a lot, let someone sleep with the victim in his/her room, leave a light on, and generally allow the person to comfort himself or herself; don't make things more difficult than they already are.

The victim's support person must explain to the victim the consequences of the physical and psychological abuse. For example, a 25-year-old man was assaulted and stabbed and had a physical scar; he started to suffer from asthma. Everything was explained to him so that he could understand why he felt a certain way. This helped him to cope. Many people think they are protecting the victim by not saying what is really going on, but that is not always helping them to deal with reality, which is what they will eventually have to do. Another man was slashed from ear to ear and the perpetrator got off scot-free. This man was told that he would feel angry, weak, and helpless. When those feelings surfaced, he was more able to cope and to speak about what was on his mind because he felt that his support people had some idea of what he was going through.

The victim has to be taught how to deal with anxiety attacks, nightmares, and post-traumatic stress. They should know what to do when they wake up feeling scared.

Why me?

It takes time to deal with what has happened and to deal with the feelings of anger and the sense of injustice. Talk about it! Express your feelings, but know that Allah is just and He will deal with the evil-doers; find comfort in remembering this. Allah will help the oppressed (the victim), but you have to help yourself, too, by doing all these things and not hiding in a corner saying "poor me." Self-pity is very destructive and eats away at self-esteem. Avoid people who pity you too much; keep company with strong, positive people.

Sometimes, it is a good idea to join up with people who have suffered similar experiences. Perhaps you will realize that there are people who have survived more than you have. Perhaps, through your own experiences, you will be able to help someone else.

The most important thing is to remember that you are a victim of violence and whatever happened, it is not your fault. There is no shame in receiving counseling-Allah provides help from all kinds of sources. The best counselor is the one who loves and fears Allah and understands Islam and can inspire you with hope and help you face reality, not push you further into a fantasy world.

Some victims seek to escape the ugliness of what happened to them through using drugs and alcohol, but the reality always comes back eventually, so ultimately, you, the victim, will have to deal with what happened.

** Latiefa Achmat is an Islamic counselor and social worker in Cape Town, South Africa. She can be contacted at youth_campaign@iolteam.com.


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