When someone has been through trauma and is considering talking about it to other people, there are usually mixed feelings about it. This blog post is going to explore the Stigma of Talking About Trauma and why some survivors choose to talk about it and why some don’t.
There are many reasons people may make survivors feel they shouldn’t talk about their trauma. Survivors who talk may be told they are “attention seeking” or that “real survivors don’t talk about it.” Some may say that they are “ruining the mood” and “making everyone sad.” People might argue that they “should be over it by now.”
Some people may say “it’s too hard to hear about” or claim that the assailant has a “promising future” that may be “tainted” by sharing what they did. The pressure to stay silent can be even worse if the one who traumatised someone is a friend or family member of those who might be listening, or is in some way a public figure or celebrity. These are only some of the many reasons there is a stigma on talking about trauma, both in personal relationships and in society as a whole - and all of that can happen even if the person listening believes the survivor and doesn’t consider them to blame for what happened.
When it comes to personal relationships, it is completely valid if the other person isn’t in a headspace to listen to trauma topics, for whatever reason. But there is a significant difference between not being able to personally handle hearing about trauma and invalidating that trauma or pressuring a survivor to be silent about it in general. This can be direct, such as when a survivor tries to open up to a family member and is told to stay quiet. It can also be indirect, such as when a survivor sees the way the media treats people speaking out.
Stigmas against talking about trauma can be powerful, and this may cause people to wonder why any survivor would talk about it. I think that’s a good question, with a lot of answers.
For me, I talk about trauma because a lot of my followers tell me that it makes them realize they aren’t alone, which makes them feel heard and validated. I’ve also been told that people have felt less shame, guilt or like it wasn’t their fault from reading some of my personal posts and experiences. And that means a lot to me. When I wrote my book, it felt healing to me. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulder. On some level, it felt like accepting what had happened to me and beginning to learn to live with it in a way that was less painful.
Here are some other reasons people talk about it. These are quotes from submissions sent in to me.
“Well, i want my pain to be validated. “ “Speaking out will help the victim actually understand what home life should be like, what happiness a child should have experienced, to understand that it's not a child's problem to keep the parent happy, it's the other way round, how to set boundaries, and to tell everyone that the victim is not making stories up. It helps us create a community where we can help each other grow out, slow indeed, but i believe it's worth to heal.” - ibi2smile
“I feel like sometimes it helps and I want to be my authentic self around my friends and not hide who I am or what I’ve been through”
“Sometimes it helps to talk about it”
“I just want to feel heard and not feel like I’m suffering alone”
When I didn’t talk about my trauma at first, it was because I felt ashamed. I felt embarrassed. Like I was going to be blamed. (Spoiler alert - I was). And it was terrible. It made me vulnerable and it also made me a target.
Here are some submissions people have sent me about why they don’t talk about it
“one reason why i think i don't talk about trauma is because of the fear of being judged, being misunderstood / blamed for the trauma, being told 'get over it' and stuff like that makes talking about it uncomfortable; as well as not safe enough to open up to some people. some have even used my traumas to manipulate me or make fun of me as well. some people just cannot be trusted with that amount of vulnerability sometimes.”
“I’m scared of being blamed for what happened to me”
“What if no one believes me?”
“I don't want people to tell me others have it worse. “ “I already blame myself for so much. I already tell myself I should have known some things were wrong, that I should have fought or spoken out more about so many things. I don't need anyone else to tell me that.”
Are you noticing a pattern here? I am. There are a lot of fear, shame and other negative emotions tied into how other people treat survivors that talk about their trauma. In a lot of cases, the narrative towards the survivors talking about their trauma is worse than the narrative towards the perpetrators.
Even if people do not respond negatively to a survivor, they often have certain expectations of how the survivor should respond to their trauma. For instance, one of the submissions I received said:
“I don't want people to say I should feel specific way about things or report people.”
And that is an extremely valid concern to have. Some people, on hearing a survivor, will project certain feelings and reactions based on how they think they would feel and react to a trauma, and judge the survivor if they don’t do that. Some will push a survivor to report their trauma to law enforcement or other authorities, and will not recognize the many reasons this could be difficult. (We wrote an article on why someone may not report here if you’re curious). There are even people who will claim if you don’t report it that it is “your fault” if the person who assaulted you goes on to assault someone else - it is no one’s fault except the person committing the assault.
Whenever people listening to a survivor have expectations, this can easily lead to the survivor failing to live up to those expectations. This then often leads to judgement, shaming and other negative emotions and consequences for a survivor who was just trying to talk about what they went through.
I do want to take time to say that this article is not saying survivors should or must talk about their trauma (which I have heard some people say), but that they should have that option without having to be concerned they will face victim blaming, shame, and other negative reactions. (This is not to say they are entitled to be able to tell this to specific people. There are many valid reasons someone may not be in the headspace to hear about trauma, but survivors should be allowed to talk to people that are okay to hear about the trauma, on their own social media, etc.)
It’s important to note that you should never push a survivor to talk about their trauma. It is not a healing thing for everyone. In fact, if someone is pushed into doing this and they aren’t ready to (and it may not be a step in their healing), it can actually re-traumatize them.
The stigma surrounding talking about trauma is harmful. Pushing survivors to stay silent reinforces feelings of shame and allows perpetrators to remain hidden. This can cause survivors to feel more alone and it can make it more difficult and isolating to navigate healing from trauma. Telling survivors they “shouldn’t talk about it” or pushing blame on them can allow perpetrators more freedom to do harmful things. Having a more open dialogue is a good thing for so many reasons and on so many levels.
No trauma survivor should ever be pressured or forced to talk about what they went through. But we need to work to remove the stigma from talking about it, so that if and when a survivor wants to talk about it, they feel like they are free to do it. And that starts on a personal level - by doing our best to not make others feel a stigma about talking about trauma (such as by avoiding making comments about news stories on what a survivor “should have done” after their trauma), and by listening and giving comfort to someone if they want to talk to us about it (if we are in a place where we can handle hearing about things), without expectations or judgement.