Sometimes it’s as short as “me too.” Other times it is a much longer story. Sometimes it is as public as a share on social media, and sometimes it’s as private and confidential as in a therapist’s office. Sharing our stories can have a powerful effect.
Telling someone for the first time about a negative or hurtful experience can help us name and acknowledge what happened. Putting it into words allows us to begin to put the responsibility where it belongs, to confirm in our spirits that it wasn’t okay.
Telling our stories can have a powerful effect in reducing the shame as what was previously secret or hidden is brought into the light. And having the one listening believe us and confirm that it wasn’t our fault goes a long way in the healing process.
Sometimes the person we first tell turns out to not be a safe person, as we discover when our stories are dismissed, ignored, or turned back in blame on us. It takes even more courage to reach out again until we find a safe person to tell.
Often one person speaking up is a catalyst for others to break the silence and come forward as well.
Recently Alyssa Milano tweeted a suggestion from a friend: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The response has been a powerful chorus of “me too” flooding social media.
The safety in numbers and the recognition of the numbers who might not yet be safe gives us the courage to do what is often too hard to do alone. The recent number of resignations of public figures speaks to the power of first one person sharing their story and others adding their voices as the chorus of “me too” grows.
Tarana Burke started the rallying cry 10 years ago, encouraging those who experienced sexual abuse to say “me too.” As she told CNN, “On one side, it’s a bold declarative statement that ‘I’m not ashamed’ and ‘I’m not alone.’ On the other side, it’s a statement from survivor to survivor that says ‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you or I get it.’”
Hearing someone else’s story can also have a powerful effect. When we hear someone else sharing their experience, it can lead to a kinship of fellow feeling as their story resonates with our experiences. In fact, sometimes seeing or hearing another share allows us to acknowledge, perhaps for the first time, that something similar happened to us too.
Some of us might be prompted to ask, “Does what I experienced count?” We might feel that if maybe it isn’t as severe or explicit as what happened to others. If you are asking that question, it probably counts—you too.
Others might be wondering, “Am I the wrong gender to be saying ‘me too’?” Several men have shared their stories of being sexually harassed by older, powerful men. Anthony Rapp explained on twitter, “I came forward with my story, standing on the shoulders of the many courageous women and men who have been speaking out to shine a light and hopefully make a difference, as they have done for me.”
Sometimes sharing our stories can mobilize us to action, help us claim a new position, and invite others to join us. Susan Kent of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, in her “Me Too” story, acknowledges that she has let sexual harassment go in the past. She claims, “I’m not letting it going any more” and encourages other women to do the same and to “show up for each other.”
Some are not yet in a place of safety to share their stories, but can only whisper a quiet “me too” into a tear-dampened pillow. For them, hearing another’s story might give them the courage to quietly begin a new chapter in their own story as they begin to search out resources and supports to help them get to safety.
Sometimes hearing someone else’s story can leave the listener grateful for their own experience of relative safety, or honour the healing they have experienced in relation to their own past experiences.
The courage of every one who has a story to tell and tells it—no matter how privately or publicly—that courage changes lives. Not just the lives of the ones telling their story, but often the lives of some of the story-hearers as well.
Susan Winter Fledderus is a Clinical Therapist with Shalem Mental Health Network