We’ve all seen this happen on social media: someone shares a story about overcoming something awful like loss, illness, an accident, or mental health issues. The “likes” start pouring in with a deluge of comments lauding the poster’s bravery, strength, resilience, and honesty. That outpouring of positivity and support can make it very attractive to start drafting your experience into a post, too. But before you angst over every word, hesitate near the “share” button, then launch it all out there, here are five things to consider first.
1. What is your intention in sharing your story?
It’s important to pause for a minute and think about why you’d want to go public with your experience. Maybe you’re hoping to shed light on a topic that you feel isn’t discussed openly enough, or you’d like to connect with others who have similar experiences and create a community of support. Both of those are well-intentioned reasons worth pursuing. But there are a few things to keep in mind.
If you’ve come through a really trying time, be aware that your experience is unique to you, and what worked for you may not work for others. Make sure what you’re saying is factual or couched by “this helped me, but it may not be the right thing for everyone.” Share good data or references that relate to your experience. Recommend health care provider contacts that you found helpful in your area. Advocate for the kinds of healthy habits that may have been scientifically shown to prevent/identify/treat what you’ve just lived through – think breast cancer screenings, quitting smoking, getting therapy. This kind of survivor advocacy is incredibly valuable, and there’s healing power in truly helping others.
But if the reason you’re ready to pen an online memoir is mostly because you’re craving the influx of hearts and thumbs up, it may be best to hold off. That search for validation and support may be a sign that you’ve got some things to keep working through.
2. Is your experience shared by someone close to you?
The bad things that happen to us also happen to those closest to us. Moms go through the grief of infant loss, but so do their partners. The death of a loved one is shared with the rest of the family. Your darkest days might have been the most terrifying thing your best friend has ever seen – and all of those essential people in your life might not be OK with you publicly sharing a story that belongs to them, too.
The last thing you want for the people you care about is for that social media post to serve as a painful reminder, expose a part of private life they’d rather keep under wraps, or frame a story in a way that’s totally different from how they see things. Have an honest talk with anyone else who was closely affected by what happened and make sure they’re OK with your desire to share.
3. Would you be comfortable if everyone in your life read your story?
Because they might. Even if your privacy settings limit who you allow to read your story first-hand, the possibility of a re-telling – and not in your own words – is very real. The hope is always that people will be accepting and supportive of your experience, but they may not be (and given the stigmas that still exist, it’s especially true for mental health issues, unfortunately). Before you post, consider how it might impact your life if your boss, co-workers, kids’ friends’ parents, or others misinterpret what you’ve shared.
4. Is it healthy for you to immerse yourself in this experience?
If you’re constantly absorbed in a social environment that’s defined by people sharing struggles, will it impact the healing of yours? This is a really important point to consider.
If you haven’t fully dealt with your experience, it may not be a great idea to share it yet. When people share stories on social media, others often respond by sharing what happened to them, too – including details that might unearth painful aspects of your own journey. Others post often enough to generate a following of people who have similar experiences, which can create a supportive community – or an online identity that’s hard to shake later if you no longer want to be defined by your crisis.
Every time you hop on social media to share or just to read, practice mindfulness in the moment. Check in with yourself before you post and revisit your intentions. If you’re about to talk about something traumatic, it’s good to include a trigger warning to be mindful of other people’s feelings. As you’re scrolling, periodically ask yourself whether it’s a good idea to be reading that right now. Are you able to read it with an objective perspective? Is that person’s feed full of perfection at all accurate? Is it going to make your mood or outlook worse to absorb all of that? Be mindful of feelings that are coming up for you.
5. Are there other ways to share your experience?
Posting on social media is just one way to get your story out of your head and into words, but there are other options that may be more helpful with fewer risks.
- Closed Facebook groups designed for people with similar experiences offer a more privacy.
- In-person support groups do the same, but with fewer people and right in your community.
- Talking with a therapist, either online or in person, is the safest option. These trained professionals are open-minded people who will hold space for your sharing without judgement. Talking with a counselor is a good idea especially if your experience is recent, still happening, or impacting your life in any way.
- Journaling is an opportunity to process and articulate your experience for your eyes only and can be a helpful tool to bring to counseling when you’re ready.