November 14, 2023

Your Voice is your Choice: The Power of Story in Trauma Processing.

Trauma refers to an emotional, mental, physical, and even spiritual response to a distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms our ability to function within the world in the same way we did before the incident/s occurred.

This could be caused by a single event, such as a natural disaster, accident, or violence, or it could result from ongoing experiences, such as abuse (physical, sexual, spiritual), neglect, or chronic stress. The consequences being symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, and difficulty in relationships.

The impact of trauma is profound and reinforced by the fact it often creates isolation for us. Either others don’t understand us or we feel unable to disclose what we have endured. We then feel helpless and hopeless. Thankfully, there are ways we can still move forward in life. One particularly powerful healing tool is listening to the stories of other trauma survivors. By listening to and sharing narratives, survivors can find healing, validation, and support while also creating a sense of community and connection.

Research has shown that sharing our thoughts can be a protective factor to us developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Survivors can break free from the silence and shame that often accompanies traumatic experiences. Telling others about our trauma provides a sense of courage and strength.

Psychologically, when we recount the trauma, we start to organise the memory into a coherent narrative that will begin to make sense. Over time, this can make the memory less triggering. It is the organisation of fragmented memories into a cohesive whole that reduces feelings of confusion and disorientation. We need to understand what has happened to us and the impact this has had upon us.

I have worked with clients who have no conscious memory of their trauma, maybe because they were unconscious or drugged or dissociated (emotional, mental, and physical cutoff—a survival strategy). This is to such a degree that it can take months or years to piece together details of what has happened to them and to understand their emotions and sensations physiologically stored in their body as a result. I had one client many years ago unable to speak to me for six months. She could hardly tolerate being in a room with anyone. She would wear a hoodie with the hood up and look down. We communicated through the narratives of books. She would point to choose books we would both read, the storyline telling me something about her inner world. I would share my thoughts with her about what may be relevant to her life. Then six months later she felt safe enough to find her voice and started to process what had happened to her.

Building a narrative allows connection between current symptoms and the traumatic event. This offers a framework to promote healing through greater self-awareness. It can set the scene for us to re-enter our own bodies as we begin to understand why we have the sensations we do. Sharing helps us to correct unhelpful beliefs about the event and find a sense of validation, support, and connection. Imagine a survivor of sexual assault who is engaged in a process of self-blame or minimisation of what has happened to them. When they hear someone else’s story and see that person connect with a sense of knowing it is not their fault, this can be extremely powerful for their own healing.

The value of “story” is not a recent discovery. Indigenous tribes were well aware of the power of storytelling many moons ago. They see it as a means of passing on traditional knowledge, history, and cultural values from one generation to the next. It is considered a vital way of maintaining and strengthening the community identity, connection to their land, and understanding of their place in the world. These are all things we can feel isolated from the moment trauma enters our orbit. Through story we can access ancestral wisdom. There is power in numbers. This promotes healing through messages of resilience and inspiration. There is a sense of belonging and acceptance as we learn how our experience fits with those of others.

Speaking our truth allows us to release burdens but also it lays the foundations for reshaping our identity to who we are beyond our trauma. The reality is that we are different to who we were before, but we can regain a sense of personal agency when it comes to rewriting our life script from now onwards. Verbalisation offers a route to mastery and control over our experiences. It can also be a lifeline to others as we’ve seen with the #metoo movement.

If our words land on validation from others, this is then incredibly empowering, as it challenges the feelings of isolation and self-blame, planting seeds for self-compassion and acceptance. This is particularly poignant if our trauma has been something where someone has chosen to harm us and the act itself has been an invalidation of our right to safety.

While sharing trauma stories can be immensely beneficial, it is important to navigate the process with care. There are several challenges to consider, such as selecting the right audience and timing the sharing appropriately. Sharing in hostile environments or at a time when we don’t feel ready to do so can lead to a re-traumatisation. For example, survivors of sexual violence may face unique challenges in sharing their stories due to cultural stigma, which can have implications for their well-being. The cultural climate surrounding sexual violence can silence survivors and create a less receptive environment for their stories.

Sexual violence trauma stories are often perceived as more difficult to tell, and research shows the storytellers may be seen as less likeable, which in itself holds the silence for those wishing to speak up. By disliking a victim, people distance themselves from the fear that what happened to that person could also happen to them. As humans we adapt perceptions to keep ourselves feeling as safe as possible. Be that the complex development of Stockholm Syndrome and identifying with our captor or abuser in order to survive, or having to believe that a victim did something so different to how we would do it. The latter, leaving us with no choice but to conclude “this couldn’t possibly happen to me,” none of which is true, but the belief offers an apparent supportive and protective internal script when the fear of uncertainty is present.

Social media platforms have provided trauma survivors with a means to share their stories directly with the public. This can be a powerful way to raise awareness and advocate for change. Survivors can connect with others who have had similar experiences, find support, and inspire resilience. However, it is important to recognise the potential risks associated with sharing trauma narratives online, such as triggering negative reactions, receiving unsolicited advice, or facing online harassment. Survivors must consider their own safety and well-being before sharing in this way.

You are entitled to your voice. Others will benefit from it, but you are also entitled to your inner peace. Telling your trauma story on social media can be a powerful and liberating experience, offering numerous benefits: it can provide a sense of catharsis, allowing you to release pent-up emotions and find healing in the process. By speaking out, you may find solace in connecting with others who have had similar experiences, fostering a sense of community and support.

Additionally, you can raise awareness and educate others about the issues you have faced, potentially leading to greater understanding and empathy. While negative judgements may exist, it is essential to remember that your story is valid and deserving of respect. By sharing your truth, you have the opportunity to inspire others, break down societal stigmas, and contribute to a more compassionate and inclusive society. Remember, your voice is your choice.


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