Learning How to Talk About Your Assault: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
One of the biggest issues that I faced when I began to talk about my experience with sexual assault was the perceptions of telling people I loved. Whether friends or family members, it is a difficult conversation to have with any individual that you care about or who is in your life. Telling other people about one’s experience with sexual assault is not always necessary. This act is one that often emerges, and when it does emerge, it is important to understand and prepare for these types of conversations.
No one told me what to prepare for and sadly, there is no one way to tell someone you care about your assault. These conversations are always certainly emotional and many times, they can become a place where they are not productive or helpful. We don’t talk a lot about sexual assault, especially with men. Thus, we don’t always talk about how to have those conversations. Responses received can swing anywhere from being those of shame to being overly emotional to projecting. On the reverse side, they can be extremely supportive and cathartic conversations that provide a stimulation for positive growth and ultimate healing.
When preparing to tell people about the experience, there are some things that I learned that took me time to develop. I wish someone had shared them with me before hand. They made a huge difference from the first conversation to the last in helping me heal.
First, identify what you want to tell and what you won’t discuss. People are curious, and they may not realize that this curiosity can come across as invasive or crossing boundaries into your personal comfort. Where some people just may wish to help with their inquiries, seeking to understand more so that they might have a powerful conversation, they may not realize how their questions come across. Be upfront about what you will and won’t answer. Always decide this beforehand, and stick to only continuing a conversation in your comfort zone.
Next, know the best medium to tell others. We all have different relationships with friends and families, and these relationships might impact how we express our story. For me, there were people I needed to talk with, but only felt comfortable doing so over the phone to help add separation and distance. For some people, I was fine talking in person. For others still, I wrote to them, the simplest manner that allowed me to express my thoughts. Everyone has a different manner through which they share their self. Decide yours and again, use this to guide healthy conversations.
Also, make sure that you are having these conversations in a safe space. Only you can define what this safe space is, but it is important to define it to make the most sense for you. This space can be in a neutral location or a place with significance to you. It can be in a home setting or public. It can be with multiple participants in the conversation or one on one. Again, only you can define how you feel safe and it is your right to demand these conversations happen in safe places.
The last part comes down to preparation. Preparation can mean a variety of things. It might mean that you give the other person you are talking with an advanced notice of what it is that you will be discussing. It also means preparing yourself for the conversation by getting in the right emotional state. These are often never easy or simple talks, and it is valid that you expect some form of emotional impact. Prepare for this impact for both yourself and whatever party you include in the conversation.
Overall, the process of healing is an extremely personal one. Only you can define what feels healthy and productive. This process includes telling the people in your life about your personal experience with sexual assault. The three items listed above were pieces that helped me eventually better process my conversations with loved ones. These are not the only tools towards meaningful conversations, but they are meaningful tools that can make a world of difference.
Tim Mousseau is a storyteller who focuses on using his writing and speaking to reframe how communities approach the cultures they are creating. As a speaker for CAMPUSPEAK he talks with college campuses across America about sexual assault prevention, using his own story to connect with students when facing this issue. Tim received a Masters degree in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga, his research focused on curiosity and creativity. To connect with Tim, he can be reached on Twitter @TimMousseau