The Secrets We Keep
Tovah Means, MS, LMFT
Next time you are in a large crowd – perhaps in a restaurant, on the bus, or walking around the city – I want you to look around and divide the crowd by a third. Take in whom you see. That third is about how many men and women in that crowd have been sexually abused before college age. People who have experienced trauma surround us and traumatic experiences are more common then we like to admit. Yet, we so rarely hear about it, talk about it, or know who in our lives have been affected by it.
There are many forms of trauma, from the more obvious like sexual and physical abuse, a horrific incident, a death, a shooting, to the more subtle, like being raised by an alcoholic parent, being left alone at home as a kid too much, being abandoned by a caretaker, or being in an emotionally abusive relationship.
As a therapist I so often hear, “Nothing that bad happened to me”, “What happened as a kid shouldn’t still be affecting me”, and “Other people had it way worse than me”. All around us in this culture we hear an attitude of dismissal and minimization of the traumas we have experienced. We are told to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and get over it. We are ashamed of the things that have happened to us, and learn to keep secrets when telling someone is not an option or when telling ends in disaster. These traumatic experiences impact us more deeply than we like to know or accept. They impact us to our core – making relationships more difficult, making us less trusting, keeping us stuck.
Whatever your secret traumas are, they can only be healed by acknowledging their existences, and being heard and validated in a safe place. This can be one of the most terrifying things to do, and finding the right support at the right time with the right person is an important first step in breaking the silence.
Trauma informed therapy helps you navigate these steps and over time puts into context what you’ve been through. It can help you answer some questions – What really happened? How bad really was it? Was it my fault? How did this happen? These are questions we hear commonly from survivors. Answers start to come when we allow another to hear the story, and lessen the shame from keeping our experiences a secret.