Several of my friends and colleagues have suffered in recent years from a phenomenon that, in my head, I have begun calling “The Recoil Factor”. This is essentially a negative reaction that those close to the sufferer have after the person goes through a trauma, illness (mental or physical), bereavement or major life change. This reaction is baffling to those who do not experience it, and unfortunately means that a friend or loved one in great need of help and support suddenly finds those around them backing away, disappearing, and generally running for the hills. This can often contribute to feelings of isolation, depression, and a low sense of self worth.
Recently the victim of a sexual assault, one of my friends has bravely chosen to tell others about her ordeal so as to hopefully catch the perpetrator, and also so that others can avoid being in a similar situation in the future. The after-effects of the attack have been traumatic and life-changing, and she is currently suffers from anxiety, panic attacks. In the short period since the terrifying experience she endured she has been avoided, told to “get over it”, been given the distinct feeling of not being believed, and also due to a period of sickness from work to recover now feels her job may be in jeopardy. ‘This must be an isolated case’ you cry! No, sadly this is often the norm, and there are people all over the UK (not to mention the world) who are experiencing the same feelings of rejection and disappointment just when they are at their lowest ebb.
I can cite numerous examples of this. Friends with eating disorders who are “hard to be around”, victims of psychological and physical abuse who “should’ve just left”, an ex-colleague who survived cancer only to find half her ‘mates’ seemed to have lost her phone number, and a friend whose sibling was murdered who apparently was “just no fun anymore”. So what is it about tragedy that makes people so damned unappealing? When we have a relationship with someone, romantic or otherwise, is it not understood that this is for both good times and bad? Often it seems to be a case of when the going gets tough the tough are on their own and the rest get going.
Of course, not everyone does this. Conversely in the face of disaster there are those who step up, often those the victim of the personal tragedy would least expect to come to their aid. Perhaps it is the friend who always seemed a little self-centred before, or a colleague who goes the extra mile, or even a stranger on a train. Sometimes, just when it seems darkest, someone completely surprises you by giving you just what you need at just the right time. These people will ultimately be the real friends that you treasure for life, while those that recoil are consigned to the friendship bin of history.
Ultimately, your friendships and relationships are a reflection of who you are as a person. If you find yourself thinking, “that’s terrible, I don’t know what to say” then say nothing – listen instead. If the situation is difficult for you – perhaps it relates back to a bad experience of your own – then be honest and say so, don’t just switch off your phone or sidestep a person who needs you. Just remember, if you were in the same boat you’d wish there was someone around to help you keep your head above water.