Monday, 13 February 2017

Breaking the silence

When someone shares a difficult or painful story, it is sometimes hard to know what to say. But an uncomfortable silence can sometimes hurt us more than words. In the case of survivors of abuse, they have probably hidden their story for a long time. Therefore, breaking the silence is of utmost importance. So imagine how they might feel if their story and feelings are not acknowledged?

Our response can be simple but effective, and most importantly it can show that we empathise. Whenever I listen to survivors and they share something that I sense is difficult, I say, “I’m sorry to hear about your experience, and I’m sorry that you are hurting right now.” My response not only shows empathy, but it also shows that I am joining the survivor in breaking the silence. I also thank survivors for sharing their story because I know how difficult it can be to put a traumatic experience into words.

Unfortunately, some people are insensitive and ignorant, and they are the people that could break the vulnerable. I’m sure we’ve all met those people whose response to your story is an experience of their own or another story that they have heard. I have experienced this myself and I know how hurtful it can be. The person may well have heard a similar story but they didn’t hear my story. What these people are really saying is, “Your story isn’t important.” They are wrong. Everyone’s story is important and everyone deserves a voice. 

The most critical factor in recovery from trauma is the strength of the surrounding community. That is why survivors often support each other through strength and compassion. However, in society, survivors of rape and abuse are often discouraged from speaking about it, and people generally shy away from the topics. But silence makes an epidemic seem rare and isolates survivors further, which makes it terribly difficult to speak out. It is for this very reason that we must bring the topics of rape and sexual abuse out of the shadows. It may feel uncomfortable to talk about it, but it is certainly more uncomfortable for the people who have endured these awful experiences.