Ah, the art of disclosure. Actually coming forward and telling someone about the childhood abuse you experienced. Seems like it should be so simple. Something bad is happening, or did happen so tell someone about it. If only….
It’s not that simple, and we all know that. I recently saw someone sharing an article from the Younique foundation that was actually posted almost a year ago. It’s titled The Challenge of Disclosing Your Abuse, and while the site is written for female survivors, I think the challenges are mostly universal. (I will admit the types of stigma might be different, but the risk of being stigmatized are just as prevalent for non-female victims.)
I think the article does a good job of laying out some of the challenges that we face. It also does a good job of pointing out that there are reasons, plenty of valid reasons, why survivors don’t disclose until much later in life, and some not at all. In fact, it’s actually fairly common.
First, and maybe foremost, is the shame of being a victim. The blame we have placed on ourselves for having been abused, either for allowing it, or deserving it. That initial reaction that we have to it as a child is very difficult to overcome on it’s own.
Another part of it is the unknown of what happens. Disclosing can break apart families, it can end relationships. It can, in some cases, put a family member in jail. That’s a whole lot of drama that may be waiting for you, at a young age.
And the, once you’re a bit older, and healthier, and willing to go through some of that, comes the biggest question. Who do you tell? How do you tell them?
Be honest, how many people in your life are you close enough to that you could sit down and have a conversation about child abuse with them? How many people do you trust to react in a helpful, non-stigmatizing way? I’m willing to bet that number is small. It’s small because, well, some people can’t be trusted that way, but also because most of the people we know, we don’t know well enough to know how they’d react. Again, that’s a lot of pressure to take on. Maybe it’d be easier to not talk about.
I know that a lot of people give me, or other bloggers, credit for telling our stories, and being willing to disclose our past abuse publicly. I get that, but sometimes I also wonder if we didn’t take the cowards way out too. By writing here, and sharing the posts on Facebook or other social media, my friends, coworkers, acquaintances, etc. all have an opportunity to be aware of my past abuse, without me having to tell them. I don’t need to sit and talk to them about it, or see their initial reaction to the news. They can also choose to acknowledge having seen it, or not. There’s some element of safety in that. A safety I didn’t have the few times I’ve actually had to tell someone in person and talk about it. That is a tremendous challenge, and a very complicated thing to consider.
I hope, if you’ve never disclosed, that you can find a way to do so, but be patient. It’s no small thing. Go back and read that article for some more insight, especially about the details of disclosing, because what you have to say, to who, is all your choice:
You don’t have control over the way people respond to what you tell them, but you can seek out loving and supportive friends and family. Ultimately, only you can decide who to tell and how much to say, and these are important questions for you to think through. Be thoughtful and purposeful in what you share with others, and you might open up a new door on your healing journey as you take your story out of the dark and shed some light on it.