We all know how it feels when someone gossips about us. We’ve all been on the receiving end of sensitive information about someone else that’s none of our business. We’ve all said something out of turn about another person. The sting of betrayal is hurtful and annoying, but for many, it’s not a huge deal. It’s just another bump in the road of life. For those who are at risk, traumatized, or in recovery from abuse, seeing their story spin out of control in the hands on another can be a life or death issue.
Survivors of emotional and psychological abuse who have been gaslit by their abusers know the anxious, gut-wrenching, migraine-inducing experience of trying to cling to fading bits of truth when their abusers insist that red is blue and down is up. If they have survived leaving an abuser, they know the trail of destruction that goes along with it. They’ve been subjected to smear campaigns designed to make them look like the unstable, abusive one. They know what it’s like to confront friends and family during that smear campaign, to set the record straight, only to find out that their abuser has succeeded in turning others against them. Survivors of abuse know what it feels like to let go of people they once loved in order to reclaim their own sanity. They know what it’s like to feel isolated and alone, with no one left to trust. Those who have survived an abuser know that reclaiming their truth is paramount, and often, it’s the only thing that’s left.
That is why a survivor’s narrative, told from their own perspective, is the key to their health and wellbeing. Standing in the truth of who they are comes with a great price. So, when others gossip about them, or insert unwelcome opinions, it’s not just annoying. Losing control of their own narrative triggers a stress response so great that it could lead to major depression and suicide.
When a survivor’s story is co-opted by someone else and spun into another person’s opinion of what happened, it mirrors all the same wounding messages and actions of their abuser. This is why it’s extremely important to allow people to tell their own story, in their own words. At risk people already feel like outsiders. Many feel insufficient or defective. To filter their narrative through your lens means you are stripping them of their identity and their dignity.
If you know sensitive information about someone, don’t spill it to others. Give that person every opportunity to claim their own narrative in a way that makes them feel empowered. It’s never your job to tell someone else’s story. If you want to be in the life of a survivor, offer them the gift of their own voice. And then, listen.