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Posts Tagged ‘How do you know when friend can handle hearing about child abuse?’

On my blog entry entitled Feeling Better after Talking about Flashback, a reader posted the following comment:

A question Faith: how did you get to a place where you knew your friend could listen to such horrendous things? How do you feel okay about your friend being okay (not being vicariously traumatised)? I ask because I have an offline friend now who says she is willing to listen and really wants to support me, but I feel very unsure about telling her actual details. I think it would help me to be able to tell someone other my therapist, but I don’t want to hurt her or risk damaging our relationship because it gets too much for her. ~ Dawnawakening

I err on the side of taking is slow. I will drop a comment here or there about child abuse and gauge the other person’s reaction. If the person seems to want to talk about child abuse, I’ll talk about it generally and determine the person’s comfort level. Frequently, this turns into me listening to the other person talk about painful childhood memories, whether they were abusive or just painful. (I am a very good listener.)

A friend who really wants to hear about it will give me signs that she is open to hearing more. She might ask me basic questions, frequently beginning with, “If you don’t mind my asking…” I always clarify that I am 100% comfortable talking about my history but that most people cannot handle hearing about it. I will answer the questions asked but stay general, using phrases like, “He did things to me,” versus sharing anything graphic.

Over time (typically a period of weeks or longer), the conversations will circle around again to the topic with the other person making it clear that she wants to know more. If invited to share more, I will begin by asking her to tell me when it becomes too much. I am very clear that my childhood abuse was severe. If she says she is OK to hear more, I will share a little at a time and gauge her reaction. I’ll stop if I see that the person has heard enough.

Also, after I first share a much deeper trauma, I’ll wait to see how she treats me the next time we get together before sharing more. If she treats me the same, I’ll continue as invited. If she pulls away, I know not to go there anymore.

I am very skilled at reading faces, and I also trust my intuition. Most of the time, I can use both of those to help me pace what the other person can handle. Only a very few offline friends have heard my story because it is so intense.

I don’t worry about traumatizing the other person by talking about my history because I let her set the pace. If she doesn’t want to hear about it, then I won’t talk about it with her. If the other person tells me she can handle it, then I trust that she will take care of herself and tell me when she has had enough.

For the most part, I no longer feel the need to share my story offline except for when I recover a new memory as happened last weekend. I will only share my newer memories with one of my two friends who know my full story.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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