As cross-cultural workers, we are used to sharing about our lives with people that we met for five minutes, one day, years before. It’s part of the job description—send regular updates about your family and work. People we don’t know end up knowing a lot about us. Basically, part of our job description is public relations. We don’t necessarily call it that, but we do a lot of PR, especially when we experience trauma.
Some people in our lives will need to know about our trauma immediately—family, teammates, organization administrators. But outside of the immediate phone calls and emails, in most cases you can take time in thinking through how and what to share with all the other people you communicate with regularly. This might only be a day or two, but don’t rush to send out an update as soon as a trauma occurs. You’re in shock, so take the time needed to think through what you want and don’t want to share.
When a trauma occurs, we don’t necessarily want everyone to know all about our lives. We desire their prayers, yet we might not want to share every detail with them. But we might feel like we need to share every detail with them. After all, people who receive our regular updates, who pray for us, and who possibly give financially, have the right to know, right?
Yes and No.
They are invested in what we do, and they genuinely care about us. The power of hundreds (or thousands) of people praying for us is immense and much needed. Certain members of our “team” will need to know more information. But we can still control how much we share and when we share it. If the trauma results in you needing to return to your country, consider sharing the basics before you head home, and then share more in person if possible. You can even ask someone to share on your behalf.
Some people are nosy, simply because they want to know more information. If you haven’t had a close relationship with them or if they don’t need to know all the details, don’t feel badly for only sharing the basics or only using vague terms. After my home invasion, I used the term assaulted in an initial email but refrained from saying I was raped. I knew there were some teens who received my updates, and I wanted to make sure that what I said was appropriate for all my readers.
However, when I returned home, I decided to share more details with certain people in order for them to understand the trauma I was walking through. But not everyone was privy to this information. A few years later, during a question and answer time in front of a group, someone asked what happened to me in South Africa. This was a person I had never interacted with before, and thankfully the person leading (who did know what happened) stepped in and told the person that wasn’t their business. (And I am so thankful for that!) But even if someone isn’t around to stand up for you, it’s okay to answer a question by saying that you aren’t comfortable sharing specific details.
There are plenty of factors that impact all of the decisions about what to share and whom to share it with, and when to share it—type of trauma, media attention, need to leave the country, personal security, etc. Hopefully, you will be surrounded by teammates and others who will walk through some of those decisions with you. Listen to their advice and accept their help, but ultimately most of the time you have the final say in the whom, what, how, and when of communication.
I requested that my organization not share my situation publicly, even within with the organization. They honored my request and only told those who absolutely needed to know to help with logistics or to provide advice to my teammates. When I walked into the home office about six months later, some people were surprised to see me because they thought I was still in South Africa. This gave me the freedom to tell those in the office with whom I was closer if I wanted to.
Remember: You decide what you share and whom you share it with. Don’t feel guilty for asking others not to share and for keeping your trauma quiet. It’s okay to ask others to respect your privacy, even though you live a “public” life. Yes, it will feel like you’re thrust into a PR role at times, but as you slowly begin to process your trauma, you will be able to make decisions about what communication will look like for you.
Trauma Training 101: The Basics covers:
•What is trauma?
•What is traumatic stress?
•How & Why does traumatic stress become “disordered”?
•What are the stages of healing?
•What to do about the stages of healing?
You can get it here. (The price will increase on March 1, 2021.)