One of my challenges in my early years of healing was feeling the need to take care of others while they were trying to take care of me. As an example, I might have just recovered a traumatizing memory involving being forced to kill an animal. I needed to talk about what happened as well as how it made me feel. However, I wasn’t always sure that the other person could handle hearing about it.
So, instead of just letting loose and unloading what I needed to share, I would dole out the information in pieces and gauge the other person’s reaction. I might begin with, “When I was seven, I was forced to do something.” I’d gauge the other person’s reaction before continuing. I would then share a little more and see if the person could handle the direction I was going.
I had one friend who could handle hearing about most of my stuff, but she is a huge dog lover, so she stopped me as soon as I said the word “dog.” She was direct about it, but not every friend would be. I wouldn’t know until I said one thing too many and saw in the reaction on the other person’s face that I had gone too far in my disclosure. I would then feel the need to shift gears to comfort the other person.
The worst part was that I was already feeling so much shame and self-loathing over what I had remembered. Seeing a strong reaction on the other person’s face would sometimes reinforce that shame, even if the other person said the “right” things. I am an expert in “reading” other people, so the body language would overshadow the words.
My therapist was the one person who never flinched face-to-face no matter how gruesome my story was. I also felt completely free to share all in the My Stories forum on isurvive, which is a message board for child abuse survivors. I would put up a trigger warning, and anyone who read my story knew to expect a graphic recounting of what happened. I didn’t do that to shock anyone – I simply felt the need to pour out what happened in graphic detail. Once it was out on the screen, it felt like I had poured the memory out of my spirit.
This is one reason that finding a qualified therapist with experience working with child abuse survivors can be so helpful. If you are only talking with your friends about what happened, you might find yourself unable to let go and share all when you feel the need to do so. I have told my friends that as difficult as it is for them to hear about my story as an adult, I assure them that it was much harder to survive as a child.
Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt