I started writing publicly about my childhood sexual abuse over 9 years ago. I jumped in with a lot of passion but without much knowledge of what I was jumping into. I only thought about how freeing it was to speak the truth and how much I wanted to validate other survivors.
Writing about my healing process has been a wonderful journey. Through it, my voice has been strengthened and so has my resolve to continue to heal. I don’t regret any of this, but I wish I had been better prepared to face the challenges that have come with this.
Here are a few things to consider before speaking out about abuse:
- The secrets of abuse can be isolating—but so can disclosure.
I took smaller steps in disclosing my abuse before I made it public. That helped me to face my childhood fears of breaking the “no telling” rule. However, not all of my fears could be dismissed as childhood fears. The “no telling” rule still comes with present day consequences. Sexual abuse, especially incest, is still considered taboo to many people. Rejection in the form of avoidance is a reality to most survivors who speak up about their abuse.
I’ve been intentional about creating and maintaining a support system to insulate myself from the rejection of my public (and private) journey. Though rejection from only one person can feel like the whole world is against me, being surrounded by loving people is a reminder that I’m valuable and accepted.
- Total transparency won’t likely serve you any better than living with the secrets.
When I broke my silence, it was as though a dam burst. After living with secrets and lies so long, I started sharing too much, especially before I was ready. It took me time to recognize the boundaries I was comfortable with. Now I’ve learned to share my truth while still protecting my privacy.
One of the decisions I made was to share openly about my abuse (as I was ready) but not to share as much from other parts of my life. I’m more guarded about what I share on Facebook such as my other interests and activities. It’s my way of making a distinction between my public and private life.
I also waited a few years before I was comfortable writing about how my sexual abuse impacted my sexuality. There are a few other things that I have spoken about publicly, but I only do it when I have enough energy to deal with the types of responses that come with those discussions.
- It doesn’t help stop abuse if you’re abusing yourself to talk about it.
By speaking out, I’m bringing awareness to horrors that have been hidden and ignored for too long. I feel good about contributing to something important, but if it weren’t validating for me, I wouldn’t do it.
Being abused gave me the message that other people were more important than me and that I was obligated to serve and give at my expense. I was always tempted to do more than what was good for me. As I’ve healed, I’ve become better and better with my self-care. Now I know that I don’t owe it to anyone to share my story. It’s my story and I’ll tell it in my way and in my timing.
People who read my blog might assume that I share everything that goes on regarding my healing process, or that I use it as a journal. In reality, I only share things publicly that I’ve processed for some time. The timing depends on the issue but I don’t share things that I’m not ready to.
- The more you publicize your story, the less control you have of it.
Things that are posted online can’t be taken back. You don’t know who is reading what you post. It might be your boss or your coworkers or your child’s friends. Even if you’re comfortable with that decision now, are you ready to commit to that forever?
Since I don’t always know who has read my book or my blog unless they tell me, it makes meeting people awkward sometimes. A few years ago, I sold a chair on Craigslist and when the person showed up, she told me she’d read about me. It was a little uncomfortable that she knew so much about me and I didn’t know anything about her except her name.
One of the cruelest things that sometimes happens to abuse survivors who share their story is that they become the target of trolls. Trolls respond in ways that intentionally upset people. I haven’t experienced trolls on my blog but I’ve received many unkind comments. (I moderate comments so they don’t show up in public but they land in my email for me to read.) After sharing so vulnerably, it’s particularly upsetting to be invalidated by mean comments.
- Speaking out publicly isn’t a substitute for the actual healing work.
It takes a lot of courage to speak out about your abuse, but I think it takes even more courage to face the pain of your past. It’s much easier to focus on other survivors and how they are responding to what you write than it is to actually do your own healing work.
It can be validating to speak out, which can facilitate healing, but it’s not synonymous with healing. Sometimes, it can even compete with healing. Speaking out can be a distraction from the attention that you deserve to invest in yourself.
- You might be more vulnerable to being sued than you think you are.
The biggest and most dramatic challenge I faced was the lawsuit from my parents. My parents sued me for intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation of character. I “won” the suit but it cost around $7,200 to defend myself (which would have been much higher if my dad hadn’t died while it was in progress). The suit lasted about eighteen months and was very stressful and painful. It took its toll on every area of my life.
I’ve heard from many survivors who have assumed they can’t be sued because they don’t name their abuser or they use a pseudonym to write their story. Another misconception is that writing your own story as a fictional story will guard you from a lawsuit. However, those won’t necessarily protect you.
If your abuser is still alive, it’s a good idea to contact a lawyer to find out how to decrease your chances of being sued or to increase your chances of winning a suit if you are sued.
My lawyer’s advice to me was: Don’t say anything you aren’t 100% sure is accurate.
- You’re the one who has the greatest need to hear you when you speak out.
Finding my voice has meant that, as many people as I reach, the most important person who can hear me is myself. From a position of being validated by me, I’m empowered to decide what’s right to share with others and what to keep to myself.
Have you spoken out about your abuse? What have you learned? Please share your experience with me below and remember to subscribe to the comments so you don’t miss any of the discussion. You can post anonymously and emails are never shared publicly.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
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