how i speak about my past

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This is for anyone to use as a template if they have trouble with how people talk to them about their trauma and abuse– and would rather stay silent than deal with second hand trauma from having poor reactions from people who are trying to help, or make it worse.

We speak of victims and abusers as if they are two distinct categories. As if victimhood is a rare experience that we must help the unlucky few overcome. But I’ve found nearly every person I’ve grown close to– and some who just needed someone to listen– has their story.  

The truth is that few of us manage to avoid abuse in our lifetimes.  It wouldn’t hurt if we could learn to speak with each other more effectively about this.  Even better if we could do so in a way that is sensitive to those of us that have already gone through hard times and specific traumas. We need to be heard and supported– and that doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes we need to learn how to hear someone’s words.

I can’t control how others speak to me.  I can only control how I speak to them, and how I respond.  This has helped me:

I share the good, before the bad or the ugly.

I’m not saying you have to do it my way. But this is how I do it– and that doesn’t mean everything about my life is wonderful. It’s just something I’m not ready to talk to you about.

This is about more than not saying, “Hi, I’m ______, my ex so and so did such and such to me.”  Nobody— or at least nobody I know or have heard of— introduces themselvese along with their trauma.  When a survivor speaks of their abusive past, it’s as much to help others avoid the same as it is to gain some kind of self therapy. It’s not bragging rights.

But it also may not be something I bring up for literally years. This is about me needing to build trust with the person before confiding in them (assuming this isn’t something actively happening to me or an urgent matter).  Because I have no right to a stranger’s belief in what happened to me.  I won’t demand their unwavering faith in me, when they barely know me.  I do ask for politeness and respect.          

But because of that, I’ve had people speak to me like perhaps my past wasn’t real or “that bad,” because I wasn’t forthright about it and I “hid” it.                                                                                  

I don’t appreciate and will not tolerate aggressive questioning, but please talk to me! 

I’m not seeking validation or support (although I cannot say I won’t appreciate it, if you’re so kind as to give me that). When I do finally bring it up, I’m trying to do something nice FOR OTHERS. A warning about what happned to me, so it doesn’t happen to someone else.

I might not give every single detail right away, or on an online comment. That doesn’t mean it’s not real, or I want you to immediately hassle me for every single gritty detail. I’m not going to take the chance on sharing my trauma, just to have YOU, a stranger, further assault me emotionally.

However, I’m okay answering questions and talking about it.  If it’s asked politely. It’s okay to ask questions. All I ask in return is that you are kind and polite.  That you don’t merely question me in order to bully me, but that you listen to my answers. If you don’t, I will check out and I won’t hear anything you say.

Anyone can do this for a person. If it turns out that I’m gaslighting you, well, there’s karma. And I believe karma is real. What comes around, goes around. 

Please remember that sometimes my trauma isn’t all my own, but also- or even mostly- that of those I love.

I am hesitant to share details that may not be mine to share. So I might leave out a lot of details.

I can’t help but feel empathetic, even to someone who has hurt me. Or who has hurt someone else. I get inside their head as part of my process in understanding what has happened. Sometimes this might make me appear sympathetic to the abusers’ side– and sometimes I even am sympathetic!

But that doesn’t mean I’m taking their side, that I forgive them, or anything that might lessen my support towards their victim. It’s my way of protecting myself against accidentally siding with an abuser against a victim (abusers will pretend that they are the true victims to further alienate their victims from getting support). Or maybe that’s just how my brain works. I can’t really help it.

It can be especially hard when I say something against someone you like. Someone well liked in your circle, perhaps.  It might be hard for me to tell you anything, knowing I might well be the one blamed.  So I might stumble a bit as I try to get my words out.  On your part, I know it’s hard to hear how someone who has always been good to you might have harmed someone else.  I am grateful that you are even giving me the chance to explain.

But it’s okay, even if you don’t believe me, so long as you listen, because, you see: 

I don’t expect you to believe me, nor will I ever require that.

This is very important. Please read my words carefully; twice, if need be. Because this might sound like I am not sincere about my claims. “If she’s not telling you so you know what happened, why is she telling you at all? Is this just some stupid story or fantasy to her? Some game she’s playing?”

I promise you, that isn’t it at all. It’s merely that the general expectation, it feels like at least, is that you won’t be believed. It’s taught to us when we’re children. We trust the first therapist we’re brought to– and that person merely sits and looks at us as we brave ourselves to tell the truth. Stumbling through our tears. And then tells us we’re making the whole thing up and tells our parents we need medication. Or the first person we tell about the friend that raped us, and the friend calls us a slut who asked for it.

I probably won’t consider that you might believe me, but I would like to have you listen, anyway. Maybe once you are my friend, I’ll trust you to believe me. But again, that takes time. For now, I just need to get the words out. I don’t need you to attack or verbally abuse the other person, either. Just listen for a moment.

Because what if the person who hurt me, one day hurts someone else you know?

Just maybe, you hear my story again. From someone else. And you wonder if maybe it is true. Or maybe you hear a similar story happen to another person, in another circumstance. And something in you compels you to help that person.  Maybe my story helps you believe another victim.  

Don’t think that you could have been fooled by that guy, he was so nice? Don’t think that girl got drunk and assaulted me? She doesn’t seem the type? Okay.

But when your friend hangs out with that girl who just “can’t hold her liquor, but you can’t judge her for it!”, can you at least warn her of what you -heard- happened to this other girl you knew? Help your friend protect herself?

I’m not sharing to gain your belief. I’m sharing to stop it ever happening again. Because I can’t unmake what happened to me, but I can try to stop it from happening again.

For what it’s worth, another reason that it doesn’t matter if you believe if I’m the sort of person to tell the truth is because I trust myself. I don’t lie about important things. Stay around me long enough and you’ll see the veracity of my words yourself. You won’t need me to say another word. I’m just doing this to help protect you, but if you don’t need my protection, that’s fair.

I want to hear your stories, too.

Sometimes it’s easier to share when we can mutually be vulnerable with each other.  I do hope you share your stories with me, however raw or painful. Let’s share our experiences. The good, the bad, and the ugly.  Life is hard enough, let’s help each other.  

It’s not a competition.  Maybe you went through worse. Or not nearly what I did. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I share, because it helps me. I hope it helps others. That’s all. I don’t mind you telling me about your pain. If I want you to listen to my story, I should listen to yours.

This is how I deal with speaking about myself and my past.  

If all of this helps you, great.  If it doesn’t, please let others know how you, personally, would like to be spoken to about your past.

Thanks for listening.  

2 thoughts on “how i speak about my past”

  1. “I’m not sharing to gain your belief. I’m sharing to stop it ever happening again. Because I can’t unmake what happened to me, but I can try to stop it from happening again.“ — this is exactly why I share my story. Thank you for telling yours. Your voice matters. <3

    1. I know it does, but it’s always nice to hear that from someone else. I hope you feel heard in your own stories…

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