A Therapist’s Guide to Speaking Your Truth in #MeToo
Content warning: abuse and sexual assault
“What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories… For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.” — Oprah Winfrey, Golden Globes 2018
Oprah captures the magnificent courage it takes to speak your truth. She is one of many amazing women who have publicly shared their stories of abuse. Right now, the #MeToo movement is a powerful moment in history, where the voices of such women have risen in chorus of stories about sexual assault.
As a therapist, a large part of my job is helping people own their stories of pain and resilience.
Speaking your truth is hard- it may feel cathartic, but often times the experience is more complicated than that. If you have a #MeToo story or identify as a survivor, this guide is for you. This is a therapist’s advice about speaking your truth. I will talk about how to know if you’re ready to tell your story, how to find adequate support and resources, what to consider about how to tell your story, and what to do after to take care of yourself.
Before You Speak
Something that therapists always say: the first step in doing anything is to check in with yourself. What feelings are you feeling? Is your desire to speak out driven by anger, disgust, fear, shame, sadness, joy, peace?
All of your feelings are valid.
Some feelings can lead to beautiful and healing moments of testimony, but some feelings can lead you to taking action before you are ready. If you start by knowing what your feelings are, you may be better prepared for the ones that come up once you start speaking out. Once you start sharing, you may feel overwhelmed, triggered, or scared, so it is important to have your resources ready to use as you prepare yourself for what happens next.
Speaking Your Truth
One thing is for certain: you are the only person who has a right to tell your story. You can tell it whenever you want to whomever you want. If you are feeling pressured or coerced into speaking your truth, it may not be the right time or the right person. Some survivor clients have reported to me that they feel pressured to tell their story, to join the #MeToo chorus, but they do not want the details of their trauma out there in the open. Some survivor clients have said that they want the #MeToo movement to keep going, but they do not want to be associated with it because they do not want to claim the identity of a survivor, because they do not want to be associated with their trauma in any way. To each of them I say, you are right. You have the power to do with your story what you want. Do not ever let anyone tell you or make you feel like you must speak your truth.
If you are reading this and thinking, “That’s not me. I am ready for this! I feel empowered to speak!” then please read on. For some survivors, #MeToo feels like an opportunity to bring their experiences out into the open, perhaps to help empower other people to speak out, too. Whatever your reason for wanting to speak your truth (and there are many great ones), you also get to decide how to do it, when, and to whom.
There are infinite ways to tell your story! This is one of the beautiful things about testimony. Of course, I am partial to therapy. As a therapist, I am honored to build safe and trusting relationships with people who feel comfortable sharing their stories with me. I keep these people close to my heart and cherish the ability to witness them and help them heal in private. Together, we process whatever comes up for them, managing the feelings and discomforts that may arise from revisiting past pain.
For some, the privacy of a therapist’s office is not enough. You can share your story with anyone, in any form: as art (writing, poetry, music, paint, dance, video, sculpture, etc.), in writing (public or private), or in conversation. Whatever the medium, it is important to make sure that you are sharing with people you trust. If you want to make a more public statement anonymously or as yourself, remember that the internet is full of people who will support you, as well as people who will not. This is an extra layer to prepare for as you get ready to speak your truth, and to continue the healing process afterwards.
After You Have Spoken
Once you have started the process of speaking your truth, some amazing things can happen. You can feel liberated, witnessed, and healed. But, you can also feel icky, immersed, overwhelmed, angry, sad, or afraid. Sometimes, you may think you will feel one way, and afterwards you will feel something different or surprising. No matter what you feel, your feelings are valid.
You deserve to take care of yourself.
What should you do? Whatever works. I have worked with many survivor clients throughout their healing process and have seen how helpful our sessions are to their recovery. . A therapist like me is specially equipped with knowledge and skills to help you through whatever you may be feeling, especially if it has ever gotten overwhelming for you before.
Self-care is more than a buzzword.
Some people say that self-care means a day off of work, a bubble bath, or eating a tub of ice cream alone. For others, self-care is a productive work day with gentle self-talk, a workout, or a healthy dinner at their favorite restaurant with friends. Whatever self-care means to you, make sure to prioritize yours. However, it should not sabotage the trajectory of your everyday life. For example, if you can’t get out of bed for a few days, that may be a sign of a bigger issue that a therapist may be able to help with.
Outside of self-care and therapy, research shows that community involvement is healing for people who have experienced trauma. As I always say, trauma thrives in isolation. Community is the opposite of isolation. It may be helpful to find and join a group related to being a survivor, or to join other groups that are totally unrelated, like a pottery class. If you are speaking your truth as part of a movement like #MeToo, you may feel more connected if you go to gatherings and connect with others who have shared their story. In addition, Philadelphia has a number of opportunities for activism and advocacy that may help you feel like you are making a difference in this community without feeling like it is about your story directly. Here’s a short list of organizations to get you started:
Whether this is the first time you have thought about it, or you have been thinking about sharing your story for years, it is important to know that you are in control. You can decide if you are ready, how you want to do it, and what to do afterwards. Know that your story is yours. And even if no one else does, I believe you.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
24-hour Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline 1-866-723-3014