You’re telling someone about a trauma, the person you’re speaking to didn’t know it occurred and maybe was in your life at the time it happened. You worry they might feel guilty or extrapolate that you blame them. Here are some tips to keeping the conversational flow and giving subtle assurance without spending your energy on comforting them when they ought to be focusing on you, comforting you.
First, be upfront about how difficult this conversation is for you and indicate what the topic is. Saying vaguely that there’s something you wish to talk about will cause them to assume they did something wrong or that a current crisis has occurred. “Hey, I want to talk to you about something that happened to me. This conversation is difficult for me and I don’t really know how to talk about this, but—”
Affirm your bond, that you’re opening up because you trust them. “—I love you, and I trust you with this vulnerable, painful part of my past.” This conversation is one faith, connection, a desire to be known truly. Effective communication is important in any relationship.
When you describe the event, be aware of what’s going on in your body and mind so that you don’t overwhelm yourself. Going into great detail about the trauma isn’t advisable both for your sake and the other person’s sake. Boundaries are usually crossed if you unload a huge amount of graphic detail onto another person or if they ask you probing questions. Getting a feel for this balance may take some practice but try to trust your instincts even if they only manifest as a faint whisper asking, ‘is this appropriate?’. Don’t hyperfixate or allow insecurity to take command, but maintain some empathy— think about how you’d want someone else to approach this topic with you if the roles were reversed.
If you begin to feel obliged to comfort them, such as if they seem to feel guilty or blame themselves or are angry on your behalf, remember that you are the one in need of support. Some gentle affirmation can be helpful for you both but the focus should remain on you. Opening up about painful topics can be immensely strenuous and cause you to relive your traumatic events. Communicate that you are feeling emotionally drained and triggered, but that you’re grateful that they listened to you and are being supportive.
It’s ok to briefly state that the events of the past aren’t their fault but it’s not your responsibility to remind them, they should be able to prioritize your comfort over their guilt. If they also have experienced trauma then they may be more likely to take the situation personally because they’ve also been triggered, but for both of you these situations are learning experiences in being able to take care of yourself while also caring for others. If you know they will made upset by the situation, it’s often best to warn them and ask if they’re in the right head space for the conversation.
Communication is confusing, but it’s the driving force which keeps us understanding each other. We don’t live in a hive mind state. If we wish to know and be known, we must speak our truths and listen raptly. Sometimes the conversation is torture, but it’s a healing pain. There is great relief, and truly, you are unburdening yourself. This doesn’t mean you have burdened someone else— rather, you’ve given them a precious gift. You’ve given them your trust, your friendship, your vulnerability, you’ve given them a look into the deeper parts of yourself even your inner mind struggles to acknowledge.
Be proud of yourself, no matter how the conversation goes. These are special and honourable steps forward in recovery, healing, and personal growth.