4 Rules to Help You Choose a Safe Place to Share Your Story of Abuse

Twitter. Facebook. At a cocktail party, while holding bruschetta.

What do these three things have in common?

They’re all bad places to share your story of abuse for the first time.

I know this firsthand because I did it. When I first started building my awareness about how the abuse I suffered as a child had impacted me, I just wanted to talk about it.

As a result, I put my wife in some embarrassing situations by opening up about my experience of abuse at social gatherings. While I was tearing up, my friends were muttering, “What is wrong with him?” At my wife’s urging, I worked to find a place to share and receive support other than dinner parties at our friends’ houses.

Social media can be an even worse place to share your story, because you can’t control what anyone does with the information you provide—and sometimes, people may choose to be cruel. After you become vulnerable with your most painful memories, you run the risk of peers leaving mean comments, or using what you shared against you.

Your story could trigger something fearful in someone else, which could come out as anger leveled against you. It's not safe to deal with those deep, deep emotional issues in an unprofessional setting, because you don't know what you're going to get.

You should share your story—it’s an important part of the healing process—but choose to share in a setting that is safe and supportive. In this article, we’ll look at four rules that will help you pick a place where you can be heard by people who are trained to help.

#1 Confidentiality

Make sure that the person or people you choose to share your story with will keep your story confidential. The group I found was ManKind Project, a nonprofit training and educational organization that hosts personal development programs for men.

At ManKind Project, we call our groups a “container” because of the confidentiality ground rules. You have no authority to share what another man has said, unless you have his permission—and those rules are enforced.

That’s a good thing; we all know we’re safe to be as open as we need to be.

#2: Empathy, Not Criticism

Share your story with people will support you, not criticize you. There should be no ridicule, mockery, or judgment. Find people who show empathy and compassion.

I was afraid that when people heard my story, they wouldn’t like me anymore. I expected them to evict me from their lives. Yet when I told my story at ManKind Project, nothing bad happened to me. The huge fears that had grown exponentially in my mind while bottled up were spoken out loud—and strangely enough, when I acknowledged them in the company of other listeners, they no longer seemed so threatening.

The other men didn’t criticize me; they loved me and leaned in. I wasn’t alone. This experience gave me the freedom to keep looking deeper within.

Abuse survivors often are hard enough on themselves. You don’t need other people being hard on you when you’re being vulnerable; mostly, you need a safe place where you can share your story and receive loving support from your listeners.

#3: No Interruptions

In our ManKind groups, there's a rule a man can hold the floor until he says, "I'm done." Even if he pauses for several minutes, the floor remains his until he gives it up.

In a space like that, you know you’re going to be heard out. There’s going to be time to think and contemplate, if you need it. Many times, the deepest, truest stuff would come out after those pauses. The not interrupting rule is useful for healing, but it’s also an important way for listeners to show their respect.

#4: Support

Before I found ManKind Project, I flew around the country attending healing seminars and workshops. Many of the seminars were helpful, but the “weekend workshop” model didn’t enable any long-term growth. I showed up, I did my “shtick,” and then I left.

At ManKind Project, I showed up every week for years, and committed to sticking with it. I got to know myself better in doing that, but also, I was there long enough that the guys learned to see through the mask I wore. They called me out when they saw I was being dishonest, and knew me well enough to help me work through my shadow.

If I made an agreement, they held me to it. If I failed to keep it, they helped me discover why in a loving way. The environment fostered integrity, accountability, and love. That accountability and support was huge during the hardest times in my healing journey.

The support came in other ways too. It was helpful to have trained leaders, who were knowledgeable about dealing with men experiencing high stress. They knew how to help men express rage in a safe way, and that was often important. We also were provided information and resources when we needed them.

Finding a Safe Place Makes All the Difference

In your healing journey, look for a place that can offer you support with resources and knowledge, in addition to accountability and love. As Laura Davis writes in Allies in Healing, “When the desire to heal is met with information, skilled support, and a safe environment, survivors grow in ways they never dreamed possible.”

Friends and family can help a lot, especially if they listen attentively, show you empathy, and keep your story confidential. Ultimately though, it’s going to be important to work with people who are experienced in working with abuse survivors. They can offer you tools, safety, and information that an inexperienced friend simply won’t have.

If you use these rules to guide your search, you’ll find the space that’s right for you.

Rick Huttner