Sharing Painful Stories

Visibility Issue

Do you have a story to share?

I’ve held back from publicly sharing a good portion of my story for many years. My reticence being driven by a fear of hurting other people, being judged, causing unnecessary discomfort, and/or potentially destroying relationships.

It’s made me feel like a person walking through the world with one hand tied behind my back or with a muzzle on my face.

I’ve created loads of content, I’ve shared lots of opinions, but I’ve been hiding bits of myself.

For a good amount of time that’s because I was wounded. I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t worked through the pain to find the wisdom that lies beneath.

Then, when I felt sufficiently healed, and I felt called to share more of myself with the world, I still didn’t speak up because of visibility blocks.

‘What would people think of me? What would people say? How would those closest to me respond?’

The part of me that wanted to hide out developed a lot of stories and strategies at that point. I told myself I didn’t need to share my story, I hid behind a more academic perspective on some topics, I focused on other work that didn’t involve me telling my story (or which involved me sharing it only with small groups behind closed doors).

And then I started doing visibility block clearing work. Lots of it. I actively dug up every fear and story I had around people hearing my story. I cleared all the terror and limitation I could find.

I also saw other women speaking up about things I wish I’d spoken up about. Sharing stories – deeply personal and intimate stories – and I knew that my fear had made me selfish. Focused only on my own pain and not on how, in the sharing of it, I might bring comfort or courage to others.

This isn’t to say that every person must tell their story publicly. But IF YOU FEEL THE PULL toward sharing and you’re not doing it, then consider this an invitation to do something about it.

Recommended Action

Looking to share your own story? Here are a few tips to support you:

  1. Heal first. If your story has any sort of pain or trauma associated with it, heal the wounds first. That way, when you do speak, you do so from a place of wholeness. If you expose a raw wound, invariably you’ll create problems for yourself as you attempt to fill a hole that other people will never be able to fill for you.
  2. If you choose not to heal first, you’ll find that any feedback or criticism you receive is made a hundred times worse than it would otherwise be. When you’re healed and people criticise you, it’s like water off a duck’s back. When you’re cut and bleeding, criticism feels like someone sticking their finger into an infected wound. It’s horribly painful and creates an even greater trail of destruction in your life.
  3. Then it’s time to do the visibility block clearing work. (If you’re unsure where to start, start here.) It’s one thing to heal from your own painful experiences, it’s another thing to then make them public. If you feel called to do that, it’s helpful to clear your fears around being seen and judged, being read and misunderstood, being heard and dismissed or diminished.
  4. Know your intention for sharing your story. For me, it’s critically linked to my deeper why (that being to liberate women and increase our impact in the world). I don’t care whether people know more about me. In fact, I’d prefer they didn’t. But what’s become patently clear in recent years is that stories matter and that we can’t make generational change without them. So, each time I share more of my personal story, that’s the motivation behind it.
  5. Drop the need to please. While you’re trying to please anyone else in your storytelling, it’ll come through in a muted, ineffectual form. When you’re trying to protect anyone else in your storytelling, it won’t quite ring true to the audience. If you take some time to break down your good girl conditioning, you’ll find that your story is happily absent of pandering. It’s uncompromising without being rigid and it resonates deeply because it shares a deep truth.
  6. Understand that when people read or hear your story, they are filtering it through the lens of their own experience. That means there’ll never be a clean and clear response to your story where people understand 100% of what you’re trying to convey. (This is particularly challenging to people who, like me, have a specific visibility fear; the fear of being misunderstood.) Instead, people will pick up snippets here, or inferences there, or connect with a part of your story that for you, isn’t that important.
    And that’s what it is to share your work with the world. Once you release it into the collective, it’s no longer yours to control. It’s a gift you give with an open palm and people will do with it what they will. (I’m tempted to add #deathoftheauthor here but I feel it will really undermine a much deeper and quite nuanced philosophical investigation by Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. So let me simply say this; at some point, your authorship becomes the least interesting thing about a piece of work and it’s helpful to know that going in.)

 

No one is required to share their story with the world and it’s certainly not a pre-requisite for building an effective business or movement. It is however something that many people feel pulled toward or called to do. If that’s you, there’ll be a little piece of dissatisfaction knawing away at you until you do it.

Additional Resources

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