For a long time, I didn’t tell my side of the story. I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it because of my experiences of telling people in professional roles.
Some of the people I spoke to trivialized the abuse because there was no evidence of injury. It took me a long time to acquire a sufficient vocabulary to explain it to other people; I didn’t know how to articulate what was happening to me without feeling like I was overreacting or confused about what was happening to me. As I became more empowered and aware of the dynamics of abuse, my confidence grew to the point of knowing exactly what to say and how to say it.
As I talked to more people about what had happened to me, I noted many different reactions: 1. sympathy/support; 2. skepticism; 3. shock/horror; 4. admission of experiencing the same thing. While some people were reluctant to listen to me, others stepped up and asked what I needed from them. Initially, I felt very surprised by the number of women who chose to open up to me about their situations once they knew what I’d experienced; I now know that it’s not really a choice, but an involuntary admission which stems from the desperate need to tell someone what is happening. Abuse victims feel a bit of hope when they find someone who understands and validates what they’re going through.
When I made the decision to talk about my experiences, I knew that I would have to be ready for a multitude of reactions. I also knew that I would have to be mindful of my dignity; I didn’t want to “name and shame” or be accusatory/critical. I didn’t think about how I was going to deal with those who defended my abuser and, instead, cast blame on ME; eventually, I learned that the best way is to simply not engage in any dialogue since I can’t change how they feel or what they think. Silence has been an effective “response” but, if pressed, I would simply say, in the calmest manner possible, “I respect your right to your opinion about [abuser] but, because you were not present to witness what was happening in our household, your argument is invalid.”
Some things to remember:
- Allow enough time to pass, post-escape, before you decide to talk about your experiences. Only you know when you are ready to do so.
- Naming and shaming are not necessary, particularly if you decide to write about your experiences.
- Keep your statements factual and generalized. You can tell your story with emotion, but not from a place of anger.
- Educate yourself about what you experienced; the more knowledgeable you are, the more you can potentially help other women in the same situation.
- Don’t portray yourself as a victim; show your strength and determination.
- Don’t allow the abuse to define who you are. It is a part of who you are, but you are a stronger person because of it and that is what you should focus on.
- Don’t allow anyone to trivialize or be dismissive of your experiences.
Talk about it. Help others. Raise awareness. Heal yourself.