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How to Recognize a Safe Ally for Disclosing Trauma

Over the past year, many have become aware of just how common trauma really is. That includes sexual trauma, other forms of violence, and abuse (physical, verbal, and emotional.) This is a nation in pain, a culture in crisis.

But there’s also enormous capacity for healing. Because awareness has increased, there are more safe spaces than possibly ever before. While people can heal without talking to others, healing is more likely when you share.

Here are some thoughts on who to talk to, and under what photoUnfortunately, not all people who’ve been through trauma in the past have emerged into safe situations. In fact, going through trauma can make you less likely to know how to spot and seek safety. If you haven’t experienced it, how do you know what it looks like?

Then there are people who’ve been raised in relatively love and security but been the victims of an assault or violation. Those people might know who to talk to–the same ones who’ve been by their side for their entire lives.

Or they might feel too much shame and self-blame to do so. They might fear that people would see them differently than before, or that the relationship would change.

This is a legitimate fear. Maybe some changes would result. But don’t assume they’d all be for the worse, or that what’s temporarily worse can’t become better. People can learn how to be allies.

One way to determine who you should be talking to is looking at how they’re responding to the current political climate. That doesn’t mean they have to immediately believe accusers, but if they’re immediately assuming that the accused are the victims, then you’d want to look elsewhere for a supportive ear.

What you need is someone who has the ability to be open-minded in general, and who has been loving and supportive to you specifically in numerous other situations in your life. When you approach people about matters unrelated to the abuse (for example, work stress or problems in your other relationships), what kind of reactions do you typically get?

And perhaps more significantly, what do you feel after the conversations? If you tend to feel loved and valued, if you experience relief and a sense that you have someone in your corner, if you know deep down that this is a person who wants you to feel your best, then this is a potential ally.

This doesn’t mean you need someone who always agrees with you. Being challenged is vital at times. But that’s not being challenged on your truthfulness. Someone who simply doesn’t seem to believe your reality (especially your emotional reality) is an unsafe choice for disclosure.

You need it to also be someone who is invested in your relationship, someone who’s been there for you over a period of time, someone with a track record. That means that when you ask yourself the question “Are they there for me when I need them?”, the answer is an immediate and unequivocal yes.

This person doesn’t need to love you, but they need to care for you. You should have observed that they have the capacity to care for others, too. Like how do they treat other people in their lives? How do they talk about them?

As I write this, I notice that it’s not simply a primer on who’s anĀ  ally; it’s also a guide to who you should allow in your life. Who deserves to be there. I’m hoping that when you look around, you see multiple people of their quality, multiple relationships of this caliber. If not, that could be slowing your healing.

To recover from what you’ve been through, you need to first make sure you’re not being retraumatized–that you’re not surrounded by the same elements of abuse. This is the time to take stock and create a healthy future.

You can do it. You just can’t do it alone.

How to Recognize a Safe Ally for Disclosing Trauma

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2018). How to Recognize a Safe Ally for Disclosing Trauma. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Oct 2018
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