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Speaking Our Truth, Even When Our Voice Shakes: When we disclose our survivorship stories with loved ones

There is something really powerful that occurs when we speak our truth(s)*. Sometimes we hide the truth for fear of judgment or because we worry that others will see us differently. This truth we carry lives inside of us. It can feel hard to hold or contain when the truth begins to rise to the surface, where it occupies more of your mental real estate. It’s all you can think about, and you can no longer help it.

It’s time to release this truth.

Speaking our truth can be freeing. It can be liberating. It can be a relief to share it with those who love and support us. Disclosing our stories of survivorship takes a great deal of courage. Courage is the small whisper that says, “I am worthy. I matter. I have a right to share my story.” As survivors, we do it in spite of the tremble that reverberates in our voice or the quiver in our hands and bodies. We speak our truth; we tell our stories even when our voice shakes.

First, let us consider that you are contemplating whether or not to share your story. Some questions that come to mind: Should I talk to someone? What if I don’t want to disclose? What if I am scared? What is the point? What if I am not ready? Regardless of when it occurred, you have a right to share it on your time. If it does not feel like the right time, then it is not. Trust your instincts on this. Do not rush yourself into sharing. It is okay to take the time that you need. Courage is also about trusting ourselves enough to share our story on our time.

Or perhaps you may feel that you are at a place in your life that the small whisper is growing louder and louder. You begin to think that it is time to share your story with others. You may be wondering how do I disclose, where do I begin? Who do I tell?

Here are some tips as you prepare to share with those you trust or consider loved ones.

1. Take deep breaths.

Breathwork is a powerful practice that helps us connect to our bodies when we are ready to release our truths* into the world and with our loved ones. Learning how to breathe can help one feel centered, connected, and present in one’s body. Being conscious of our breath is one way we learn to take care of ourselves and our bodies. Most people take short and shallow breaths into their chest. This can actually make you feel anxious, deplete your energy, or just make it difficult to feel calm. With this technique, you’ll be able to take bigger breaths all the way into your body. Do this when you begin to feel the internal stirrings of discomfort when you share your story. Remember that you can always pause and return to your breath at any time.

  • Get comfortable. You can lie on your back in bed or on the floor with a pillow under your head and knees. Or you can sit in a chair with your shoulders, head, and neck supported against the back of the chair. You can close your eyes, or you can center your attention on the ceiling or an object in the room.
  • Place one hand on your belly. Place the other hand on your chest.
  • Breathe in through your nose. Let your belly fill with air.
  • Breathe out through your nose or your mouth by letting out a big sigh (sounds like Ahhhhhhh).
  • As you breathe in, feel your belly rise. As you breathe out, feel your belly lower. The hand on your belly should move more than the one that’s on your chest.
  • Take three more full, deep breaths. Breathe fully into your belly as it rises and falls with your breath.

*As multidimensional beings, we hold multiple truths within us.

2. Ground yourself.

Grounding is a coping tool that is designed to connect you to the “now” moment. It is common for survivors attempting to tell our stories to have flashbacks or be transported to the traumatic event. Grounding techniques can help you get out of your head and into your body and away from upsetting thoughts, memories or feelings. It is a true gift to be able to share your story when you are feeling grounded and connected to yourself and to the person(s) that you trust.

Grounding techniques often use the five senses—sound, touch, smell, taste and sight—to help immediately connect you with the now. For example, the 54321 method is a popular grounding technique that uses all senses.

Before starting this exercise, pay attention to your breathing. Slow, deep, long breaths can help you maintain a sense of calm or help you return to a calmer state. Once you find your breath, go through the following steps to help ground yourself:

5: Recognize FIVE things you see around you. It could be a chair, a spot on the ceiling, a painting or anything in your surroundings.

4: Recognize FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be one of your body parts (hair, elbow, knees), a sofa, or the ground under your feet.

3: Recognize THREE things you hear. This could be any outside sound. The birds chirping on the windowsill or the “quiet” noise of city living. Pay attention to things you can hear outside of your body.

2: Recognize TWO things you can smell. Perhaps you are in your room and smell your sheets. Or you can take a walk to find a scent. For example, going outdoors to smell nature.

1: Recognize ONE thing you can taste. You can have a taste of your drink. What does the tea taste like? Or you can chew gum or savor candy. What does that taste like?

Source: University of Medical Center of Rochester: Behavioral Health Partners Blog

Take a deep breath to end.

Remember grounding is highly personal. What may work for one person may trigger anxiety or flashbacks in another. It is best to give yourself grace when trying out different techniques. It may require some trial and error on your part before you find the one that works best for you. In other words, try the one that works for you and feel free to disregard the others. The point is to be able to speak or share from a place where you feel safe, comfortable enough and present.

3. Be present.

Trauma has a way of making us relive the past as if it were still happening. Our memories, thoughts and feelings can often take us away from the present moment because of the pain of past events and traumas.

One way to practice being present is using affirmations. Affirmations can help you fully focus on the moment you are living in now and help you overcome any thinking, memories or feelings that cause hurt, pain or discomfort. With affirmations, you can learn to let go of your worries, to get in touch with your truth (in the NOW), and to practice exercising connecting with the part of you that is strong, courageous, resilient, brave, and powerful.

As survivors, it is important that we practice reclaiming our truths and we can do this by affirming our power, our presence, our gifts and strengths. Affirmations are used to challenge unhelpful thoughts or narratives that tend to influence our internal and external worlds. We can use affirmations to reframe or develop a narrative that can affirm our truths which can ultimately change the way we look at ourselves. Practicing affirmations can be simple, all you need to do is pick a phrase or mantra and repeat it to yourself.

When you write your own affirmations keep these in mind:

  • Make them personal and customized for you. When you write affirmations, be sure to begin with an “I” or “I am” statement. For example, I am powerful. I am perfect just the way I am. I am surrounded by love and support.
  • Use the present tense. Affirmations are most helpful when they are used to change our feelings in the now. Which is why you want to channel being positive and strong in this moment. The present tense helps you feel: “I am feeling calm. I am feeling relaxed.”
  • Be concise. Affirmations are meant to be short, simple and sweet. “I am confident. I am love. I am brave.”
  • Always make it positive. You are using affirmations to help improve your life and thinking empowering statements can help to motivate you to make this improvement. “I am at peace right now.”

4. Think about who you’d like to share it with.

Think about the support you’d like them to offer. Social Worker and researcher Dr. Brene Brown, LMSW, reminds us that we must talk to someone who has earned the right to hear our story. Who in your life do you feel safe with and believe is a good listener? That is the person you talk to. Remember you have the right to express your anger, your fears, worries, and sadness. You don’t have to recount the trauma, but you can share how you are feeling.

5. Consider your needs, guidelines, or boundaries that you’d like to begin with before you disclose.

Think about what you’d like your loved one to say or do when you speak your truth. What would be helpful to you as you tell your story? Would touch, cuddling, or physical closeness help? Would you prefer direct eye contact or that they look away? Would you like for them to nod or do nothing at all as you speak? What sorts of responses would you like to hear from this person(s)?

It is hard to feel what you are feeling or even be in your body at this moment. The effects of a trauma such as sexual assault take time to process or to make sense of. It is important that you remember that disclosing comes at your pace and your time. But reaching out to someone for help can mean that you begin to create a space for you to trust someone and move towards the direction of your personalized healing.