It can feel really daunting to share your trauma history with a parent, particularly when you blocked it out of your mind for a significant period of time. First, know that it is not uncommon for the brain to react this way after you experience a traumatic event. It is it's way of protecting you from overwhelming distress. You may worry, however, that your parent will judge you or not believe you as a result. You may also feel some relief or hope that they will understand or support you if you tell them what you experienced. Whatever you are feeling. It is valid.
The first thing to remember is that your story is yours and yours alone. Whether you want to tell your Mom immediately, much later, or not at all is your choice. If you’re feeling ready to tell them about what happened, here are some things to think about.
What you share about your story is completely up to you. Even if your Mom asks for details, it may just be because she does not know what to say and wants to understand. Still, just because she asks, doesn’t mean you need to say more than you planned. Example wording to use could be “I wanted to tell you what happened to me but I don’t feel comfortable sharing any details right now.”
The way you choose to tell your Mom is also up to you. It can be in-person, over the phone, or in a letter. There are benefits and drawbacks to all options but only you know what will work for you. No matter how you choose to tell your Mom, it is a good idea to set some ground rules first.
If you choose to disclose in person, timing and location is important. You want to ensure she can give you her full attention and have time to process afterwards. Thus, if she is about to run out the door or go to sleep, consider waiting for a better time. If you feel safe with your Mom, choose a private, quiet place to talk. If you fear she might become angry or violent, a public location may be safer and you might want to have support on standby.
In explaining the concept of "blocking out memories" to a parent, it can be helpful to emphasize that blocking out memories is a natural response to traumatic events and is not a conscious choice. When someone experiences a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, it can have a profound impact on their mind and body. Traumatic experiences can overload a person's normal coping mechanisms, leading to significant distress. In some cases, the mind may employ defense mechanisms to protect itself from the overwhelming emotions associated with the trauma.
Repression is one defense mechanism that the mind can utilize in response to trauma. It is a psychological process in which distressing memories, thoughts, or emotions are pushed into the unconscious mind, out of conscious awareness. This happens as a way to shield the individual from the pain, fear, and overwhelming emotions associated with the traumatic event.
Blocking out memories can be seen as an adaptive response by the mind to protect the person's well-being. It is a way to create a temporary barrier between the individual and the traumatic experience, allowing them to function and go about their daily lives without being overwhelmed by the distressing memories and emotions associated with the assault. Memories blocked out due to trauma, however, can resurface at a later time. Memories may resurface gradually, triggered by certain events, sights, sounds, or emotions that remind the person of the assault.
You deserve to feel heard and understood when telling your story. However, not everyone responds well to disclosures and the conversation may not go the way you hope. Your Mom may feel many emotions. While this is normal, it can shift the conversation away from you and onto her. She may express anger, guilt, disbelief, or confusion. If she is taking up too much space with her emotions, redirect the conversation to you and your feelings.
Your parent might also express doubt or blame. This says more about them than you. Resist the urge to internalize these responses. If your parents aren't supportive, that doesn’t mean that others won’t be. Research shows finding at least one trusted support can really help the healing process.
It is also important to note that even if the conversation does go well, it can still be an emotional experience. Thus it is important to take care of yourself afterwards no matter what the outcome. There are many people out there who love and care about you. You are not alone. If you want to practice telling your story of trauma or healing anonymously, and learn from the disclosures of others, you can practice through our storysharing site. We see you. We hear you. We believe you.