Question from a reader:
How do you navigate helping others when that help involves painful honesty about your mother? I’ve got some speaking and writing projects and am concerned with how to address pieces of my life knowing that it will help others but might also blow up some family relationships.
I’ve had this cartoon saved on my computer for years. And then there’s Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Funny, but not particularly helpful.
I can’t tell you the “how” but I can share with you what I’ve learned since I started telling my stories 10+ years ago:
Like and respect your reasons for telling your story. This is an excellent gut-check. The only person who has to like and respect your reasons is…you. If there’s any aspect of it that has you NOT liking or respecting yourself, pay attention to that.
Stand on your story (rather than having your story stand on you). This means you’ve transformed your story from being a source of suffering into a source of wisdom. You don’t have to be quiet about what you experienced (in order to protect others) and nor are you doing anything wrong by talking about it, especially if you can take responsibility – as an adult – for the way you feel about it. This isn’t a resigned “they were doing the best they could” statement. It’s not about minimizing your experiences. It’s about your resilience.
Know what’s your story, and what’s NOT your story. Earlier this year I had a piece published in O magazine and there was a section (which has since been deleted) in which I shared details about someone that weren’t pertinent to the narrative…those details weren’t mine to tell.
You can’t prevent anger or hurt feelings and you’re strong enough and confident enough to let her feel what she feels and to handle yourself with compassion and without defensiveness.
There’s a big difference between having once been victimized and living as a victim. And that difference will inform how you tell your story. How you relate to a previous experience is the difference between living in a “less than” position and living with sovereignty. When you accept (which doesn’t mean “like” or “approve of”) your past and everything that happened to you, and everything you made it mean, without shame or fear, you help others do the same.
On a related note, I found this article helpful, relatable, and pertinent to the subject: Trauma Is Not Your Fault, But Healing Is Your Responsibility.
Much, much love,
Reveal patterns. Heal shame. Transform legacies.