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Sugar Ray Leonard and Reacting to Survivors

I was listening to the latest BS Report podcast on ESPN today, an interview done by Bill Simmons with Sugar Ray Leonard. I was aware that Ray openly discusses the sexual abuse he suffered as a child in his recent autobiography, but I hardly expected that to be a major portion of the interview.

If you want to hear that part, and don’t care much about the boxing talk, skip the first 20 minutes or so.

The interesting thing that I took away from the discussion, among a few really interesting things about the difficulty of talking about sexual abuse in a macho culture, was his description of telling his wife early in his marriage. Actually, the same scene played out in both of his marriages. He told his wife, she just stared at him, not knowing what to say, and he changed the subject, never to bring it up again.

It got me thinking that, even as a survivor myself, when people tell me about being abused, I’m not sure what to say either. I hate to think that is causing them to change the subject and never talk about it again. I hope that hasn’t ever happened, but if it has, I hope whoever it was is reading this now! 😉

So survivors, here’s your chance to let folks know, how should people respond, what should they say? Is it ok to not know what to say? For me, I think it’s ok to not know what to say, but say that. Don’t stare at me like I’m a freak, I already feel like a freak for having experienced this, and now talking about it. Just admit, you don’t know what to say, and show that you care. It goes a long, long way!

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  1. Exactly right, Mike! I agree with you 100% that it is ok if you don’t know what to say; but say that. Silence emphasizes the shame. Words spoken from the heart break through that silence and the shame begins to fade. We talk about this exact topic in our women’s small groups on the very first night. We suggest some things that can be said to someone who has just made themselves vulnerable to the group. Some suggestions are, “I am so sorry that happened to you.”; “It wasn’t your fault.”; “Thank you for sharing that with me.” Even these simple words go along way to break through the shame. Thanks for sharing this post, Mike.

  2. Another excellent post, I would say the honest reaction is the best reaction even if it is negative or you say “I don’t know what to say”, I stayed friends with that honest person before he emigrated. I don’t need people pretending they are fine with it before they drop me and I never hear from them again, I’ve exchanged the one email with “Mr Fake” since disclosing and am well rid of him.

    Also, if you are a naturally perky person, fight the urge to smile if you’re going to ask questions, because that can be misconstrued as making fun of the survivor.

  3. Great point – better to say “I don’t know what to say.” I think a big hug and an ear to listen is more powerful than anything. Survivors don’t want to be alone, we don’t want to feel alone. Blank stares leave us wondering how long until that person runs off in the other direction.

  4. It’s definitely not too helpful to give the “revealer” the silent treatment. The listener might be the first person with whom the information is shared. The revealer just wants an open mind and an ear. In my opinion, an open ended response that lets the revealer know that he or she is with a friend would be nice. Something like “I’m here for you” is all it takes.

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