Have you heard any of the following: break the silence, stop the silence, speak out? In activist and healing circles, survivors are often encouraged to talk about their traumatic experiences. Why is this the case? Should you talk about your abuse?
As is so often the case in healing, it is a matter of when, how and to whom.
Some survivors have spent years keeping their abuse secret, or they have disclosed to someone who responded poorly, perhaps expressing disbelief or victim blaming. Not telling anyone about your abuse can be a form of avoidance coping. Avoidance can worsen post traumatic symptoms in the long run. It can even prevent you from fully understanding your experience.
Some trauma survivors may go to the other extreme and feel compelled to tell their story indiscriminately. This form of talking is often somewhat dissociative in nature, and does not reap the healing benefits that come from processing trauma. Some survivors are not able to make healthy decisions about who to tell or anticipate what the consequences of telling might be, possibly resulting in retraumatization. I work with clients in therapy on developing the idea of zones of closeness, from your most trusted inner circle to acquaintances or co-workers on the outer edge. This included learning to make decisions about who deserves inner circle status! While it might be a very positive experience to share details of your trauma history with your closest friends or support people, can you see how it might be different with a co-worker or a neighbor?
Timing matters too. Do you lead with all your most vulnerable information at the start of a friendship, or do you share a bit over time, assessing the other’s reactions, trust worthiness and ability to be emotionally present with you? Do you notice whether the other shares personally with you as well?
How does disclosure work online? Blogging, survivor forums, and social media can all be powerful ways for survivors to educate themselves, receive validation, and find support. Some survivors choose to disclose specifics of trauma online while others do not. I think what is crucial is that you have an understanding of your intent, the impact of sharing on you (and others). Ask yourself, is this contributing to my healing or not? When sharing sensitive material online it is always important to remember how public it is. Would you feel okay if your anonymous identity was compromised? Could what you are writing pose any kind of safety risk to you?
Early on in your healing journey, perhaps journaling online privately or even on paper might work best. For many trauma survivors writing about traumatic material is easier than speaking at some phases of therapy.
For survivors with dissociative disorders internal consensus is also important. Do you know how all parts of you feel about you disclosing traumatic experiences? Can you communicate about that in advance or will there be surprises and retaliation in store?
As with so many things in trauma therapy and life in general, it is all about balance. Either extreme, never telling anyone or telling indiscriminately, could adversely impact your ability to heal. Talking about trauma is part of the recovery process. It can decrease shame, help you challenge irrational beliefs, and reduce post traumatic stress symptoms. Outside of therapy, learning how to share your abuse history and with whom is one aspect of developing healthy, authentic relationships. When we share that which feels vulnerable, we form deeper connections.