It can be confronting when someone opens up about experiencing violence or abuse.
Disclosures are when someone choses to share personal information that isn't widely known and is often related to some form of trauma.
For most, disclosure conversations don't take place frequently which means we're often unsure what to say or do to make sure we are supporting the person while also protecting ourselves.
It's important to understand that disclosures can sometimes lack clarity or not follow a linear storyline. Sometimes this can lead people to think a story is false, but the lack of clarity is often caused by fear and anxiety in the moment. It is also caused by the trauma itself, which makes it difficult for the brain to store information the way it usually does.
It is also important that you take care of yourself after being disclosed to. Just because you weren't the one who experienced the trauma, doesn't mean it won't affect you.
Here's some tips on how to respond when a person discloses to you:
- Respond with empathy and give time for the person to share their story
- Acknowledge the person’s courage in coming forward and the distress they may be experiencing
- Ask the person if they are safe in their current environment
- Be clear and transparent about your role as a supporter and that professional support is available
- Seek professional support to debrief and identify self-care strategies for yourself
- Shut the person down or not acknowledge that you have heard their story
- Tell the person that you understand what they are going through or have a similar story about yourself or another person in an effort to 'make them feel more comfortable'
- Ask intrusive questions or seek further details beyond what they are willing to disclose or is needed to establish safety and follow-up
- Force the person to reengage with the topic
- Seek advice from family members, colleagues or friends instead of seeking professional support