How do we talk about experiences of abuse?

Abuse is a cognitive, emotional, and somatic process. As such, talking about abuse is a cognitive, emotional, and somatic process.

Sometimes it spills out in an urgent way. Sometimes it’s slow and takes time.

There can be vivid memories, flashbacks, nightmares, and physical sensations. These are the mind and body re-telling the story in a way that is out of the survivor’s control, and feels as though the past is happening in the present. Talking can therefore be re-triggering.

Some people can’t remember what happened, or can only recall certain parts of the abuse. The neurophysiology of trauma means that our brains can’t process information as they normally would at times of high stress, as the brain and body are focused on surviving the abusive experience. Therefore, it is normal to not be able to remember and verbalise some or all of what happened.


There can be many words or none at all.

People make use of words that make sense to them. This can be influenced by factors such as societal myths, culture, law, ethnicity, faith, and religion.

Our personal stories need a beginning, middle, and end. Abuse disrupts the process of completing a personal story especially if the survivor feels powerless and out of control.

Abuse disrupts our sense of self, relationships, how we understand the wider world, and what our place within it is. It’s hard to tell your personal story if you have lost the things that normally contextualise it.

Some people can’t tell talk about abuse because to do so would risk their personal safety or the safety of others. They may be worried about what others will think including the potential to experience blame, shame, and guilt. The fear of not being believed is very real, along with having to re-negotiate or even lose family and friends in speaking out.


However much or little people talk about their experiences of abuse is not a reflection of whether it happened. The best response you can give when someone opens up to you is to listen and believe what they are saying. This can help someone continue to open up and receive the support they need, if and when they are ready to do so.

Leave your comment