As we discussed in the last note, we will want to plan how and where we have this conversation. Below, we have some suggestions for what we might want to share. This is just a starting point, as we know that when we have something so heavy to say it’s hard to find the words. It may feel very overwhelming to start, and this is why we’ve put together some tips.
We can say as little or as much as we want. Remember that we have control over how we tell our story. Sometimes, we may have no choice (e.g., if we are being questioned by the police), but otherwise, we don’t have to share anything that we don’t want to. Especially when talking to a romantic partner about specific sexual activities or situations that make us uncomfortable doesn’t mean we have to disclose all the details of what happened but we can try something like: “I am not ready to talk about it in too much detail, but I want to let you know that I don’t like to do ____ and prefer instead ____ because of something really difficult that happened to me in the past.”
Our words - our rules. Sometimes people ask us about details because they want you to know they are engaged with our story and care about us, but we might not want to tell them everything that happened. We can reassure them that their empathy isn't tied to knowing everything that happened, and knowing that they care and support us is what's important for us.
Write a script to give ourselves confidence. When we’re nervous or anxious, especially when discussing trauma, it can be hard to say the words. It can help if we plan what to say. We can even write it on a piece of paper and clutch it for comfort, look at it if it helps, or be comforted just by knowing it’s there
Recognise discomfort and plan for safe exits. Recognising if a situation makes us uncomfortable because of the trauma is all part of the healing process. Planning in advance what to say and how to leave the conversation, by addressing the discomfort, or by creating a distraction or using an innocent excuse, can give us the confidence that we don’t have to be trapped in that conversation.
Structuring the conversation
Setting up the conversation.
Draw boundaries and set expectations of how you want the conversation to be taken. Something like: “There’s something I need to share with you, and I would appreciate it if you can give me the space to tell my story”.
It’s important to tell the other person how they can create a warm, encouraging and non-judgmental space for you. If you are in a mutually respectful relationship with this person, this should work. You could ask them to not interrupt you or ask you any questions during the story, or to cry and react only once you have completed telling your story.
Explain what happened or is happening to you in whatever amount of detail or style you want.
This part is the hardest. When we discuss our trauma, depending on our personalities, we may choose to give a factual account, or a more emotive account. It’s up to you how you do it, but remember to think about who you are talking to and why you’re telling them this. This may help you consider what would be the most useful things to say.
How this has affected you.
Explain how you have been and are feeling so they can understand you. When we go through trauma, it can change the way we think, behave and react to things. For those who don’t know what you’ve been going through or may not understand the impact of trauma, they may have found this concerning. By explaining how you’ve felt and how you are feeling now, you can take them on a journey towards empathy.
How someone can help (if you need it).
Talk about what that person can do to support you emotionally or practically, such as being in regular contact (or giving you space) or walking you to work.
Closing and exit.
Close the conversation so you can talk about other things or leave the conversation safely if you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable. You could say: “This situation is upsetting me and I’m not comfortable sharing why, but I need your help right now to escort me to a different location.” or “This situation is upsetting me and I’m not comfortable sharing why, but I need your help to inform the supervisor/moderator that I cannot be here right now.”