Educate yourself about sexual abuse/rape and the healing process. He may not want tell you exactly what he’s feeling; what he’s been thinking about; the nightmares he’s been having reliving the details of the abuse, for fear of traumatising you. If he feels that he’s traumatised you it will make it even harder for him to cope with the legacy of the abuse he suffered and more often than not, will leave him with even more feelings of guilt and confusion. If you can get just a basic idea of the things he’s probably going through, having that insight will help you to be more supportive and understanding.
Every survivor responds differently to abuse although there are certain feelings that are quite common, such as fear, distress, humiliation, anger, shame, confusion, numbness and guilt. Those feelings may vary from week to week, day to day, even minute to minute; so it is important that you allow him to experience those feelings without him fearing they will be invalidated or dismissed.
It’s important he knows someone will allow him to talk and will try to understand his needs, rather than assuming they know best. Rushing him to ‘get over it’ really won’t help at all, in fact it will only make things worse for him and the both of you. It is essential that he’s believed by you and allowed to begin to rebuild his life at his own pace. The predominant feature of sexual abuse is that it was forced upon him, against his will – even though he may say that it was his fault, that he went back again, he didn’t tell anyone, etc. It is an act of violence and violation regardless of how much visible ‘violence’ is used and in doing so, takes away a person’s control. So it is vital that he’s in control of his journey to recovery.
All survivors need to rebuild the idea of feeling safe, of trusting again, of control and self-worth, all of which have been lost because of the abuse. These are not easy issues to resolve and it takes time, patience and inner strength – something he does possess but often fails to see he has. Remind him of the strength you see, but only if you genuinely do, its there, you just need to step back and minute and look. Any hint of disingenuous will be picked up by him straight away, remember he’s an expert on spotting that!
Make sure you get some support too! But remember, do this without breaking his trust or confidentiality. However affected you may be by his disclosure it’s nothing like what he’s going through.