I think a lot of people who have endured abuse keep it hidden- first in childhood and then in adulthood when it still is a raw wound separating you from the rest of the society. It becomes a secret, a stain in your being that makes you feel dirty from the inside out and no matter what you do will make you clean.
When a Survivor decides to disclose their past to someone, there are so many things that can go wrong, mainly relating to how the other person reacts to the news. Personally, I have had both good and bad reactions; goods ranging from amazing support (see: I didn’t Cry But He Did) to appalling attempts to make sense of what I have told the other person.
For Survivors, the way other people react make a huge difference- it can either validate their pain and suffering and make you feel like surviving was worth it because people see you as a strong person because of it, or it can make you feel confused, ashamed, embarrassed or even suicidal. I would like to reiterate that most survivors don’t expect people to understand and we don’t want to hear empty words like that because outsiders cannot understand what it is like, but I would also like to say most of us want support, we want to be heard because that’s why we disclose.
When I first had my first memory I was in hanging out with a guy I had a thing with at the time. The picture came out of nowhere, it was dark in the room and I was making out with the guy when images of the abuse came into my mind. I immediately started crying and the guys asked me what was wrong. I told him, without thinking, that I had just gotten memories back from my childhood, and that I think I was sexually abused by my father because of what was happening in the images. I could not stop crying and he just held me and made me feel safe.
Subsequently, the next few weeks are a haze in my mind, but I know he really took care of me, sitting by my side when I cried for days. He still is the constant rock in my life, my best friend, my never-ending support. I count myself lucky, because had he not reacted the way he did to my disclosure, I might not have ever told anyone again, sought help, or survived for that matter.
I then decided to tell my other friends- I experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, was in shock and I had an enormous need to tell people. Most took it well, but soon grew tired of “the new me” and kind of just expected me to go back to being me after a little cry. Which of course never happened- I had discovered the biggest secret and lie about my life that has permeated every aspect of my life, and once I remembered, there was no going back.
One friend encouraged me to speak to our Pastor’s wife, which I did, and it was like a new shock when after blurting out that I was abused, she told me to forgive my father because that’s what God wants us to do. This conversation was like salt added to my wounds; how could I forgive? Just days after I had remembered, everything still a fresh wound in my soul?
She was one of the worst experiences that I have encountered with regards to disclosure. I generally have had okay reactions, and personally, it encourages me to be myself when the other person just offers support, doesn’t get fidgety or shocked or stop talking to me. I am still me, now you just know that little bit more about me, I’d say.
So for all of you Survivors, take care when disclosing. Realize that people who don’t understand might react in a way that will hurt you more, and so you need to take very good care of yourself when coming out as a Survivor to people. Try to be in a good place emotionally, where their reactions won’t have as much impact as when you’re weak.
Supporters– if someone close to you has disclosed their past to you, count yourself important. This person has decided trust you, knows you can handle it, or they simply want you to know about their dark secrets because you are someone of importance in their life.
Please treat their disclosure with respect. Listen, offer support, and don’t be quick to tell it’s gonna be okay, that they should forget their past because it was so long time ago, or that you understand. If you haven’t experienced childhood abuse, you CAN’T understand. Simple as. Sometimes just listening is enough, and telling them that you appreciate they decided to trust you. Be that rock in their lives that they lacked in childhood, and with people like you, they can build a house of rocks not hay, heal, and move on.
Sending much love to all of you,