Bearing witness is sharing the parts of ourselves that we have hidden from the rest of the world. I survived by hiding myself, my pain, and my abuse.
As I walk this path, I realize how important it is to continue sharing my story. To bring people behind my curtain, my façade of “everything is fine in my world,” takes immense effort. Allowing people to see the horrors of abuse, assault, and alcoholism live. I am inviting people into my world of darkness.
I have heard from close friends how hard it is to read my story, to know what I endured growing up. I get that. I do. I do. It is hard to listen, but you know what? I lived it. That is a million times worse than hearing or reading it. And I relive it or remember more of it each time I sit down to write.
There is an immense vulnerability in sharing your story and listening to another’s story. It is tough to share one’s story. But, we (survivors and thrivers) owe it to ourselves to share our stories. And I think I owe it to other survivors and thrivers to listen to their stories. Knowing that I see their bravery gives them the strength to keep sharing.
There Are Stories Everywhere
When I start to get tired of moving beyond the darkness that sits with me in the form of shame, fear, anger, and regret, something always reminds me of the importance of bearing witness.
One of those recent reminders about the importance of bearing witness occurred while listening to the December 16, 2020 episode of the Unlocking Us podcast. Brené Brown was talking with Dax Shephard and Tim Ferriss on many topics. I haven’t listened to the entire podcast yet because I began to think about bearing witness halfway through.
When Tim Ferriss shared his story of sexual abuse on his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, I thought, “Whaaa???” and looked at my phone. It’s a podcast, I don’t know why I looked at my phone, but I did. And as I did, I thought, how many more people have had these abusive, traumatic experiences in their childhood, and no one knows?
Sadly, I know the answer – too many. Way too many. Because, in part, we are scared to tell our stories. Not sharing our stories has been reinforced over the years, first by my abusers and then by my family. Then, by my friends, and mixed in throughout the overarching societal expectations of silence, especially for women.
Everything and everyone in our world tells victims to stay quiet.
While some stories are sweeter than others, all long for the benefit and necessity of a witness, for a witness assures us that our stories are heard, contained, and transcend time; for it can be said that one is never truly forgotten when one is shared and carried in the hearts of others.
Bearing Witness Expels Loneliness
One of the most critical ways that bearing witness helps is it shows us we are not alone. Unfortunately, many people have similar stories of abuse, trauma, and mind-brain illnesses. But we don’t talk about our experiences enough so that others can see us and know they are not alone.
I know I didn’t talk about my experiences until recently; I hid behind many things. One was alcohol, which I have removed from my life, and in doing so, I see and hear others’ stories of addiction more than I did before.
I couldn’t hear those stories before because I wasn’t ready to listen to them. Now that I am ready and open, I hear those stories. I can witness others working through their addiction, trauma, depression, etc. I am in a place where I can cheer them on, whether they know I am or not.
Stop Abusers, Not Truth Tellers
Abusers will use all tools to keep their victims within that control. Isolation and loneliness are some of the most potent tools abusers use to control their victims. By lessening the feelings of isolation, we decrease the power the abuser has over victims.
Instead, society quiets and denies the victims. That puts the power and control squarely back to the abusers. It’s disgusting that a victim has to prove abuse. But how can a victim do that when people deny their truth? When people tell them to be quiet?
How about we flip the script? When a victim comes forward with her story, we stop and listen. We ask how we can best help them. We ostracize the abuser, shun the abuser, call them a liar, and force them to prove that they didn’t do it. I sat a bit straighter as I wrote that, and I thought, “Yes, this is where we need to do.” Give the victims, survivors, and thrivers that power and take it away from the abuser.
Do you know why that hasn’t happened yet? Why, instead of victim-blaming, do we put the blame where it should be on the abuser? Because abusers are in positions of power, and they control the narrative. There is a reason that men are trying to outlaw abortion, challenging the legal precedent of Roe v. Wade. They are losing control, but they are still in power, so their fear turns into legislation. So they can control women’s bodies yet again because they feel that they have that right.
Kristi Pikiewicz Ph.D. (December 3, 2013). The Power and Strength of Bearing Witness. Psychologytoday.com. Retrieved December 21, 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/meaningful-you/201312/the-power-and-strength-bearing-witness#:~:text=Bearing%20witness%20is%20a%20term,to%20others%20of%20traumatic%20experiences