Navigating Trauma and Boundaries with Respect
In every walk of life, it’s important to recognise and celebrate the uniqueness of people. People have different preferences, likes, and dislikes. They react to situations in their own ways, and it’s no different when it comes to PTSD or C-PTSD. Each person’s experience with trauma and how they manage their condition and symptoms is unique and valid.
For example, some people talk about themselves ‘battling PTSD’ or ‘suffering from C-PTSD’ whereas others talk about being a ‘PTSD survivor’ or a ‘C-PTSD warrior’. Similarly, some people like to say describe it as ‘I have PTSD’ (meaning you are a person who has a condition) but others use a more definitive convention ‘I am a PTSD warrior’ (in a way saying, the PTSD is part of you). And we applaud and support all of these – it’s about what’s right for you.
Some people may be very guarded about their diagnosis. Others are even more likely to be guarded about their trauma too – but conversely, some people, find openly discussing their trauma is an empowering experience. They find strength and control in sharing their stories, even with strangers. They proudly wear their ‘warrior’ status, embracing the journey they have gone through.
As such, it can be challenging to determine the “right” way to discuss PTSD or C-PTSD. Even if you have personal experience with it, or know the person well, each person’s boundaries and comfort levels vary.
At PTSD UK, we believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of the severity, type, or frequency of trauma. We never ask anyone to disclose their trauma because our focus is on supporting everyone affected by PTSD and C-PTSD, irrespective of the cause. Recently, Jacqui, our Founder and CEO, had a conversation with a volunteer from another mental health charity, which led to her being asked directly about what caused her PTSD. This abrupt and intrusive question prompted her to reflect on how others might respond to similar inquiries from a stranger, totally out of the blue. While we wouldn’t dictate whether people should ask questions (as questions can lead to more understanding and awareness), we want to offer some guidance on approaching discussions about trauma.
Set your boundaries
First and foremost, it’s crucial to set your own boundaries. If you’re not comfortable discussing your trauma in general conversations, stick to that decision. Whether it’s with friends, family members, or colleagues, remember that what you choose to share is entirely up to you.
Jacqui also understands the value of maintaining her boundaries “Despite the work I do to raise awareness of PTSD and C-PTSD, I won’t ever go into the ‘gory’ details of my trauma. There is no need. In the right context, I’m happy to acknowledge my PTSD came as a result of a serious sexual assault (as it may help someone else who has been through a similar trauma) but there’s no need to go into details beyond that. That’s my boundary and I stick to it steadfastly.”
But at times, that can be easier said than done. Perhaps you feel you need to explain to them what you went through so they’ll understand why your symptoms are now so extreme, or why you can’t just ‘get over it’. We urge you to only ever reveal the details you want to. Here’s some ideas of how to stick to your boundaries:
- Redirect the conversation If someone asks about your trauma, skilfully steer the conversation toward a different subject. You can say something like, “I understand your curiosity, but I’d rather talk about something more positive or uplifting. Have you seen any good movies lately?“
- Offer a general response Instead of sharing specific details about your trauma, provide a general response that acknowledges the question without divulging personal information. For instance, you could say, “I’ve been through some difficult experiences, but I prefer not to go into the specifics. Thanks for understanding.” or “I appreciate your concern, but I’d prefer not to discuss my trauma. Let’s focus on other topics instead.” Having prepared responses in mind can help prevent unintended disclosures or emotional reactions.
- Use humour to deflect Employing humor can diffuse uncomfortable situations and shift the focus away from your trauma. Responding with a light-hearted comment such as, “Oh, you don’t want to hear my stories. They’re more dramatic than a soap opera. Let’s keep it light, shall we?” can help maintain a positive atmosphere.
- Seek support from professionals If you consistently face inappropriate questions or struggle with setting and maintaining boundaries, consider reaching out to a therapist or counsellor who specialises in trauma. They can provide guidance, coping strategies, and help you navigate challenging situations effectively.
- Write it down If you decide you want to reveal some details, writing a letter can be a helpful approach. It allows you to carefully construct your words and explain what happened in a controlled environment. This way, you can ensure that you share only what you’re comfortable with.
Remember, it’s entirely within your rights to protect your boundaries and prioritise your well-being when discussing your trauma. Trust your instincts and choose what feels comfortable and safe for you.
If you like to shout loud and proud
For many people, sharing their trauma openly brings them a profound sense of empowerment and control over their experiences. Engaging in conversations about their trauma allows them to contextualise their symptoms and diminish their hold on their lives. By openly discussing their symptoms, they reduce the fear of those symptoms unexpectedly appearing, or worrying that others will ‘work out’ their mental health struggles. Instead, they find solace and strength in embracing their journey and taking ownership of their healing process.
For those who feel empowered by openly sharing their experiences, we celebrate you! However, it’s important to be sensitive to others who may have experienced trauma as well. While you embrace your empowerment, it’s crucial to ensure that your openness doesn’t inadvertently trigger or harm others.
Whilst you’re an ‘open book’, the experiences you’re revealing, or dropping into conversations, may infact be triggers for other who’ve been through trauma too. Being considerate of others means being conscious of who you’re talking to and the potential impact of your stories. It’s not about making assumptions regarding someone’s experiences. You never know what might be a sensitive subject for someone else. Approach the topic gradually and observe the response to gauge if it’s appropriate to share more. This isn’t about containing your empowerment– it’s about ensuring you’re able to be the warrior you are without being detrimental to anyone else.
Simply put, whether you choose to keep your trauma private or share it openly, you deserve understanding and respect. By respecting your own and others boundaries and being mindful of others, we can foster an empathetic and empowering environment for everyone.
Find out more about creating a safe space to encourage others to talk here, and how to talk to other people about your PTSD here.
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Treatments for PTSD
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.