Want to Tell Your Family You Were Abused? Here's Some Advice
Experiencing the pandemic lockdown and quarantined life has been challenging for survivors of trauma and abuse, but with it does come some silver linings. The forced physical barriers as a result of the pandemic can make creating or enforcing your boundaries with loved ones and peers a little easier (this has nothing to do with those who are currently on lockdown with their abusers, which is heart breaking). For example, sometimes I don't want to be hugged by others because it can trigger me. Trying to avoid hugs among friends, family or even peers can be awkward. Well, ain't nobody trying to hug me now, ha! Thanks, COVID-19!
Okay, but in all seriousness, this realization made me think about the time I shared with my family that I was sexually abused as a child and the boundaries I needed to create thereafter which was quite uncomfortable for me to do (I didn't want to hurt my family's feelings). Sharing my secret was not easy to do and I did it roughly three months after my repressed memories were coming back. Sometimes it takes people years to admit it and some never do, which I can understand. There were multiple reasons why I rushed this, too many to go into detail about here, but the main one was to "fix" everything. That didn't exactly work out, and so I want to candidly share what I learned during the process in case you are considering opening up about your abuse to your loved ones. I am not a trained therapist or psychologist, so I offer this advice based on my personal experiences and conversations with my amazing therapist.
Reactions to your news: My therapist warned me that the reaction I am hoping for from my family would probably be far from what I was envisioning. I knew that it would be hard for my parents to hear, especially since it was a family member, but nonetheless I wanted to "clear the air" so that we could all heal together. I am thankful that my family believes me and truly want to support my journey to heal, but the family dynamics are still complicated. I wanted my abuser to admit to it, apologize and say, "I was wrong and I need therapy."Once I realized that those words would never be spoken and that being the "black sheep in the family" was this person's M.O., I started to focus on my personal journey to heal and I stopped trying to create the "perfect" family. Focusing on my own recovery is not easy for me, it is more comfortable for me to place my energy on others.
Triggering details: Sometimes your family or friends will ask prying questions to understand what exactly happened to you. This can be an uncomfortable situation. There are things that happened to me that I have yet to even say out loud to myself or to my therapist or even written down in my journal. It is okay to tell your loved ones that you don't want to get into specifics because it could cause a panic attack from reliving it again in your mind. If you are pressing charges against your abuser, then all of this is a different story because you will need to retell as many details as possible to make your case. I suggest getting tips from a therapist on how to ground yourself, breathe and create a safe space for yourself mentally, so that you don't re-traumatize yourself during the process. My safe space is sitting on an empty beach, listening to the ocean waves crash and feeling the hot sun on my face.
Setting boundaries: Like I said, boundaries may be easier to make right now because of quarantining. Think about your triggers and what you need in order to have a safe space around you. For example, are certain topics off limits; do you have certain times of the day or week that you need alone time to meditate; are there activities that you refuse to do or refuse to let your children do? This is about you putting your mental health and well-being first, especially if you are a parent or caregiver. As you get more comfortable setting boundaries, you will notice a load is off your shoulders. You will feel satisfied knowing you are taking charge of your journey to heal and educating those around you on how to support you best. Remember, it is okay to tell people how you want to be spoken to, touched, or even how you prefer to be contacted about certain topics (i.e., preferring to text or email vs. a voice call). You are worth putting yourself first!