Moving from Silence to Story: Choosing Safety

water-stepping-stonesThis is the fifth and final post in the series “Moving from Silence to Story,” exploring the space between the private and the public spheres.

Standing on the threshold between private and public, you may find yourself debating internally whether or not you should speak. This internal debate deserves attention: It may be about protection.

Kristin Brumm started her blog, Wanderlust, in 2009 to share stories of her affinity for travel and her day-to-day musings. When she and her husband began divorce proceedings later that year, she was open with her readers about the process and how she was feeling. But in 2010, in the midst of the divorce, she found herself a victim of domestic violence. She entered a state of fear that worsened after she discovered her ex-husband was in possession of child pornography and had several weapons hidden around her house. After the violence, she found herself hesitant and silent, uncertain whether and how to share her story.

I hadn’t talked much on my blog about what was really happening. I’d held off for fear of retaliation, either litigative or physical. Such is the dynamic of abuse: “Don’t speak or else.” So for the longest time I was afraid to speak.

Ultimately, however, Kristin reached a point at which she weighed her desire to speak against the threats she faced:

I was tired of running and I was tired of sitting in silence. And when so much had already been lost, the risk of speaking out took on a slighter weight. I made the decision to speak because I felt I was already in about as much danger as I could be in. And I thought maybe if I shine a spotlight on this danger that that would somehow help…

You are always the author of your stories. Ultimately, you are responsible for deciding what is appropriate to share publicly and what risks you’re willing to assume by sharing. That may mean taking into account very real matters of safety. When physical and psychological safety is at stake, it may be wise and necessary not to go public—at least not here and not now. As facilitators and trainers, we often must support someone’s choice not to tell a story as much as we encourage others to do so.

  • If your story is too raw, you may need emotional protection until you feel strong enough to share it.
  • When stories arise from violence or abuse, physical safety may remain a threat and must take precedence. Seek counsel from trusted agencies or authorities, crisis centers, safe spaces or faith communities.
  • If telling your story could have ramifications for those around you, consider these. This applies not only to legal implications if proceedings are in process, but also to the possibility that sharing your story may put others at risk. Remember, too, that stories that arise from violence, abuse or other trauma may contain “triggers” for listeners who may have suffered, and are still dealing with, their own trauma.

In Kristin’s case, coming forward with her story helped with the eventual prosecution and sentencing of her husband. Since then, sharing her story has lead her further into advocacy and she currently is executive vice president of a domestic violence services agency.

When I first began telling my story of living with abuse and coming to terms with my ex-husband’s crimes, I didn’t do it to change anyone else’s life. I did it so that I could connect with others in a time of need, and also to try to make sense of what I was going through. However, as the situation progressed, I realized that my story could make a difference in the lives of others as well. I was able to use it to advocate for other victims of domestic violence. And then when I started telling it, women, but also some men, began contacting me saying, ‘Thank you, this is my experience, too.”

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