The Disclosure spectrum
The ‘disclosure spectrum’
Disclosure of childhood abuse is a major step for any survivor. Understanding the different levels of disclosure however is maybe the first and most important step. Disclosure needn’t be irregular discussions at downtimes with faceless telephone counsellors but neither must it be full public disclosure with the media clawing over every inch of your life. There are many stops on the ‘disclosure spectrum’ and one of them will be perfect for you to start at as will one to stop at.
Here is my quick guide to hopefully help you on your way
1 – None disclosure
The extreme end of the disclosure spectrum is non-disclosure. This is where the overwhelming majority of abuse victims will be for a considerable time. Without doubt it is a vulnerable place to remain.
2 – Personal disclosure via written work
Personally, I started to write my autobiography around 2013. My father had passed away so it became an option for me to write and publish a book. I was taken aback with the personal therapy this process brought to me over the next three years. Committing memories to paper, however painful, firstly meant that even if they eventually faded from my memory they were forever there. It was the words I was able to write surrounding my feelings and future events in my life that made a huge difference to my outlook. I realised that my abuse had in many ways moulded my life and who I was as a person. I was able to understand myself much more and in doing so realised that other people would do too.
Committing your thoughts to paper is a credible form of professional therapy but is something you can do yourself too totally privately. It is a viable first step on the ‘disclosure spectrum’.
3 – Telephone counselling
Telephone counselling is again a discrete form of disclosure. It may suit survivors who feel the need to dip in and out of needing assistance with their recovery. Again it may suit an individual perfectly but it may be difficult to achieve a consistency in terms of who you are talking to
4 – Disclose to your partner or loved one only
This is considered by many to be a ‘giant leap of faith’ and we will not deny this but do not underestimate how far it will take you. Disclosure to a partner or loved one may be the first step and may be done without any pre or post therapy as in my own personal case. Many people may find that with a strong supportive relationship such disclosure is enough
5 – Disclosure to family only
An obvious next step but not as straightforward as you may think. You may find yourself wanting to increase your family network of support and to reduce the burden you have placed on your partner but may also need to exclude certain very close members of your family from such disclosure. You may not want your parents to be included as you fear they will feel responsible for your abuse or you may have children for whom the knowledge will be too unsettling and disturbing. All of that said it is very possible to control who you include and who you don’t and the secret you are divulging is non-negotiable in terms of trust. I managed such a selective disclosure, even including friends, for many years.
6 – One to one discrete counselling
Depending on your situation it may be possible to attend private therapy sessions for a period of time or even on an going basis without any friends or family knowing. Connecting with your therapist and quickly finding the right type of therapy for your needs is key as committing to such therapy and it not working can be counter-productive
7 – Attend discrete group therapy
One to one counselling may lead to group therapy or you may find a route to less formal survivor group meetings via social media or the internet. Both have their value although group therapy is maybe a safer option as a therapist will be on hand to mediate. Our experience is that sharing your thoughts with fellow survivors is a huge part of recovery.
8 – Disclose to a personal network
Whether or not you enter private or group therapy you have the opportunity to grow and control your personal support network. Without any great planning I managed to increase my network of support to such a stage that I was very rarely without the company of somebody I could talk to. Again, I found the trust to be absolute and the ‘secret’ never found it’s way back to the people I felt the need to protect.
9 – Initiate a police complaint
An important thing to consider, particularly if your abuser already has allegations or indeed convictions against him or her is that there is a strong possibility that at some point the police working on those cases will establish a link to you and come calling. It is very much part of their investigation that they will examine any and all links. This contact may be made via a phone call or e mail but is just as likely to come as a knock on the door. It is certainly worth heading this off and controlling this interaction by approaching the police first or indeed in any event, without any other allegations, you may decide to initiate a police complaint.
If you do initiate contact with the police (or they with you) be assured that you do still have a level of control. However also be aware that you are not in control of timescale and you are certainly not in control of outcome. You have to be prepared for the fact that even if you follow all the way through to official complaint the Crown Prosecution Service may not feel it in the public interest to prosecute. This does not mean they do not believe you, rather that they feel there is not enough evidence to secure a prosecution, that putting you through the trauma of court may be harmful to you or that other cases against the same abuser are stronger.
If at any point you start to feel uncomfortable then you have the right to withdraw your complaint. Some people find that by making a statement to the police they feel much better immediately and that they do not feel the need to go any further. Do not be pressurised to proceed if you do not want to.
Another key thing here is that if the police approach you and you deny any abuse this does not mean you can not make a complaint in the future. I was approached by the police in 1998 and effectively denied that I had been abused. In 2016 however I was ready to tell the truth and that was not a problem. The police understand the previous dilemma.
10 – Police complaint and waive anonymity
This is an important step for consideration. Clearly a decision to waive your anonymity is prompted by a desire to be out in the open. Ian deals with in a separate article.
11 – Police complaint, waive anonymity and make public statements
This stage really only applies if you are in the public eye. It is a major step worthy of much consideration which again Ian deals with here
So there it is. My quick guide to the ‘disclosure spectrum.’ For me if you can get to stage 4 (with or without stages 1 to 3) you will be well on the way to the disclosure that is perfect for you.