At one time, keeping the abuse secret might literally have been a matter of life and death for some people. The person that carried out the abuse might have made threats to hurt or kill them or people they cared about, or some other awful threat. The decision to not tell may have been the safest thing to do.
If you have already tried to tell someone, either in the past or recently, and they did not respond in a very helpful or supportive way, it can be hard to work up the courage to tell someone else.
Who can you tell?
While it can be helpful to find someone you can tell about your experiences, it is also important to take care about how you do this. Not everyone you know will be ready to hear about your experiences or what you are dealing with. Even friends or family who you get along well with are not always going to be able to support you in the way you would like. It can be useful to ask yourself :
- What am I looking for from this person?
- What kind of response would I like?
- What tells me that this person will be able to hear what I am saying?
- What are my worries and concerns?
- How might I prepare them for what I am about to say?
- How might I take care of myself and not place too high an expectation on this person?
Unfortunately, sexual abuse is such a secretive issue that you might have to educate your ‘supporters’ about how to help along the way. Some people might want to be there for you but simply don’t know what to do. Let them know that just being there to listen or to be with you IS helping; that takes the pressure off both of you. You might like to show them some of the information in this app.
Words of encouragement from a professional man, aged 51, sexually abused from ages 9-15…
“Do not feel you are alone – there are (unfortunately) thousands of us out there who share your pain, hurt and grief. Find someone you can trust – partner, friend, counsellor, doctor – and tell them what happened. This will not be easy the first time, but it is better talk than to keep it bottled up. The hardest part of the whole experience is keeping the secret – once you begin to talk about it you can begin on the road to recovery. Know that there is hope, recovery, a better life.”
Remember it is your decision if, who, when and how much of your story you want to tell. If someone presses for details that you are not ready or willing to share, it’s OK to let them know this.
If you feel unsure about what someone is thinking, try asking them; sometimes their silence might be because they are uncertain what to do, not because they are making judgments.
Telling people about your experiences of abuse is not necessarily a one-off event. It is often more of a process, involving a lot of thinking, hesitations, ‘checking out’ people’s responses, and so on.