This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Post-Traumatic Stress” seminar. This portion is one element from “STEP 2: ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering.”

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This will be a big step; probably the most challenging thing you’ve done since you decided to start this study. Give yourself the grace that this reality deserves. That grace should take the form of patience.

“True hope never minimizes a problem in order to make it more palatable and easily managed. For the Christian, hope begins by recognizing the utter hopelessness of our condition and the necessity of divine intervention, if we are to experience true joy (p. 105).” Dan Allender in Wounded Heart

Here are several things to keep in mind:

  1. All your information is yours to do with as you please. Do not let the advisements of this study rob you of your voice in the process. If you’re not convinced this is a wise step for you at this time either seek greater clarification or wait.
  2. Sooner is not always better; ready is better. A premature step forward can be a significant step backward. Make sure you’ve established a sense of safety before engaging this step.
  3. Think about the post-disclosure timing. Is there anything coming up in the next few weeks (i.e., holidays, wedding, important business trip, etc…) that mean it would be better not to engage with disrupted emotions?

To whom is it beneficial for me to acknowledge what happened?

The biggest factor in selecting the person with whom you initially discuss you trauma is trust. As you talk about something that will generate many associations of feeling unsafe, being in the presence of someone that you trust is vital. You want the trust that you have for them to begin to transfer a sense of safety into the recollection rather than the memory projecting a sense of mistrust onto this individual. There are three types of trust that are important to consider.

  1. Personal Trust: Are you comfortable in this person’s presence? Do you value their opinion? Can you share struggles and insecurities with them without feeling shame? These are the kind of factors that minimize the emotional magnifier of personal discomfort – you want the presence of this person to reduce your discomfort.
  2. Emotional Trust: Do you have reason to believe this is someone who can handle the weight of hearing about your trauma? Do you feel like you would have to “tame” what you shared to protect this person from your story? These are the kind of factors that minimize the emotional magnifier of guilt – you do not want to feel like you are burdening this person beyond their emotional capacity.

    “Combat veterans will not form a trusting relationship until they are convinced that the therapist can stand to hear the details of the war story. Rape survivors, hostages, political prisoners, battered women, and Holocaust survivors feel a similar mistrust of the therapist’s ability to listen (p. 138).” Judith Hermann in Trauma and Recovery

  3. Experiential Trust: Do you think this person would know how to respond if you started “getting lost in your upset” as you talked about your trauma? Do you think this person understands the experience of trauma well enough to help you process what you’re sharing? These are the kind of factors that minimize the emotional magnifier of uncertainty – you want this person to help reorient you if the process of remembering becomes overwhelming.

Who are the people in your life that best meet these criteria? If you cannot identify someone who meets these criteria, then consider meeting with a professional counselor who has experience in the area of trauma.

In what level of detail do these acknowledgements need to occur?

There is not a “right answer” to this question. There is not a “percentage of the full story” that is optimally beneficial to disclose; as if there was a thermometer or measuring tape by which to determine optimal disclosure.

A better way to frame this question would be, “Am I moving towards not having what I disclose about my experience of trauma and post-traumatic stress determined by fear and shame?” If the answer to this question is “yes,” then you’re moving in a healthy direction. In this sense, you should be thinking about a trajectory; not a point on a scale.

The nature of a given relationship will determine how much is good to disclose.

  • In a counseling-focused relationship, you would disclose more because you are working to assimilate all of the events of your life into a cohesive whole and not have certain parts (i.e., the traumas) that dominate or recast the other parts.
  • In a relationship with someone as close as a spouse or best friend, disclosure would still be high as their care for you prevents you from believing this is something that you must keep hidden.
  • In casual relationships, disclosure would be relatively low unless sharing parts of your traumatic history allowed you to care for this person in an important way or was needed to explain an uncommon reaction to something.
  • In functional relationships (i.e., business or recreation), disclosure would likely not be warranted. This freedom reminds you that trauma is something you’ve experienced; not who you are.

Again, don’t feel like you have to do all of this now. We are describing a destination, not prescribing present reality. If at this point in your journey you take a wise step in the direction of what’s being described, then you are doing everything that is recommended at this point.

Here are other recommendations regarding how much to disclose when you are first talking to someone new about your experience of trauma or its influences in your life.

  • Decide before hand how much you want to share and only share that much. This helps ensure that the moment of disclosure does not begin to feel “out of control” and, thereby, serve as a trigger event.
  • Have a “thirty second version” of your story that you can share if a situation demands. These statements should acknowledge the reality without shame and without inviting further questions. Having these statements prepared prevents you from having to be creative in a moment when you already feel exposed.

Example after a Public Upset: “I’ve experienced some pretty difficult things that make it more difficult to gauge how to react to some challenges. I’m growing stronger and learning, but I’m sorry that I did not handle that as well as I would have liked.”

Example for an Awkward Direct Question: “Yes, I’ve been through some things that are harder than most people face. When its beneficial for myself or others, I’m open to talking about it, but I don’t believe now is one of those times.”

  • Realize you can always share more, but you can’t share less. In a healthy relationship, it is always appropriate to say, “There is more to what I shared with you about…” This means that you should feel free to end a disclosure when you want and resume it later if you decide that is wise, needed, or beneficial.

When is it beneficial to begin this process; how do I know if I’m ready?

Not until you can embrace this step as something you believe will be beneficial for your recovery. You really do get to be in charge of your own recovery process. The trauma you experienced created enough disruption that you decided to start this study. You may have felt like you had little choice in that.

But it is good for you to study future steps and wait until you become convinced of their benefits before you take action on that step. This is not being “controlling” or fearful. It is exercise your voice and choice in the process of recovery. In trauma recovery, healthy is only healthy when you’re ready.

Here are several indicators that you’re ready to begin an initial disclosure with a highly trusted individual.

  • It is clear to you who would be the best person with whom to have this conversation.
  • You are taking this step because you believe it’s best for you and not because you’re being told you should.
  • You’ve taken the available steps to establish a sense of safety in your life.
  • You have decided how much you want to share at this initial disclosure.

When these criteria are met, beginning an initial disclosure is wise; that doesn’t mean it will be pleasant. You may be relieved to have it over with or it may feel quite disruptive. But there is no pressure to share more until you have regained a sense of stability and safety after this initial disclosure.

What benefits can I expect from this step?

Secrets foster shame. Silence echoes pain. Lies unspoken cannot be refuted. Isolation keeps pain fresh.

Until we allow someone else into our world to speak truth on God’s behalf, our trauma tends to have the last word on our lives. Disclosure is the crack in the door that allows light into darkness.

You may not experience all of these benefits at first. The initial experience of disclosure may be disorienting and frightening. But you can rest in the knowledge that this is the process you’ve set in motion and that, if you patiently continue this journey (taking breaks as needed), then shame can be removed, silence filled with care, lies refuted, and isolation replaced with a community.

Read Joel 2:18-27. What you have learned in this chapter may feel like a news report on all that “the locusts have eaten” (v. 25). Acknowledging the specific history and realness of your suffering can be a painful step. That should not be glossed over or understated. It is real. But take this passage as a promise from God to you. You can be made whole. Your emotions can be restored to health. You can learn what makes for healthy relationships and identify friendships that merit trust. You can be fully known and fully loved. Those things may seem far in light of what you’ve acknowledged in this chapter and your experience of remembering, but they are possible. Allow that to give you the hope necessary to continue on this journey.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on PTSD” post which address other facets of this subject.