Disclosure is a complex process. 

Yes, process. 

We often think of disclosure in terms of information or even settings. Those in mental healthcare discuss disclosure practices in terms of sharing personal information with “patients.” Even the word “patient” influences the idea of client-appropriate disclosure. 

Information should inform. But what if it informs in ways we cannot truly consider beforehand or erase after the fact?

Disclosure is a process we use to connect. We share. We hope the other might have a moment of understanding. We wait to see if they will, in turn, share back. That beautiful anticipatory dance back and forth- back and forth – creates a boundless relationship. One that we know is reciprocated. One where we feel equal value and measure. 

Trauma disclosures, on the other hand, are a risky endeavor. They are fraught with fear, which is really just some element of uncertainty. An unpredictability, an unforeseeable that we cannot control.

What if they think I’m broken? 

What if they refuse to talk to me again?

What if they say something hurtful?

What if I can’t take it back?

What if I’m not enough?

What if I’M NOT enough?

The questions just compound on one another. Until we decide they weigh too much or that we cannot bear to leave them unanswered a moment longer. 

Then there’s the complication of “the line.” 

You know the line. That tiny speckled boundary that tells us we’ve shared too much. Maybe it’s more of a dash than a filled line. Greyed out to add that level of unforeseeability.

On one side is empathy, connection, and Hopefully… acceptance. 

On the darker side, apathy, disconnection, and rejection.

So, we build this mental formula to determine what our trauma disclosure can add up to. 

   Trauma Receipt 1

+ Trauma Receipt 2


And we come to one of two solutions. 

Trauma Privilege OR Trauma Penalty 

Trauma Privilege is the “just right amount” of trauma. It’s the trauma Goldilocks would be okay with. 

It’s the trauma disclosures we use to explain why we’ve been shrouded in silence for weeks after losing three family members in a day, but when they weren’t okay if it had “just” been one sister. (Yes, this really happened.)

It’s when we tell people that a dear friend and colleague has just lost their battle to suicide, and they pause to offer a condolence and disregard the email you forgot to respond to. But don’t have enough grace to not ask for details that don’t belong to them. 

Or it’s the letter we write to a professional entity where we justify the fact that life has been coming at us from every imaginable angle and we simply couldn’t. Whatever the couldn’t should’ve, would’ve been. 

Trauma privilege is the blanket of understanding that doesn’t question and lets us be treated like a damn human being. 

Then there’s the ineffable Trauma Penalty. That dastardly bastard. 

These are the disclosures when we are vulnerable, far too trusting, or oh so messy.

We share too much for too long, losing sense of what’s acceptable. What’s allowed. What society can stomach. We are too much ourselves and not enough others.

Too see-through and not the right amount of reflective.

Trauma Penalty is when we’ve added up our adverse experiences for all the world (or just the one person) to see, and they decide that math, our math is too much….

This math, it’s too much…

Natural disaster survivor <1 (age)

Parental abandonment survivor <1

Child abuse survivor <10

Gun violence survivor <10

Child suicide loss survivor 10

Sexual assault survivor <20

Domestic abuse survivor <25

Overdose loss survivor <25

(And that isn’t everything)


This math, which is just me, is too much…

Have I lost you now? Do you see more than you like? Am I too experienced for the Lived Experience work? Was it better in theory? Was I better greyed out?

Trauma Penalty is the moment of silence where we know in our stomachs that the other didn’t care to see, know, or understand. The moment when “advocates” of mental health flee, swearing they know what it’s like. Telling us they’re a supporter, an “ally”. 

This penalty throws us off kilter and is unwilling to apologize for how it leaves us reeling. It tells us it is our fault. Our choice. 

This delicate dance of disclosure isn’t one that those of us with lived experience learned in school or on the job. 

It’s one we learned from being turned away, talked about, and torn apart. 

This disclosure lesson is shredded into our souls and keeps us wary and watching.

It’s one we don’t often talk about but always consider. 

I haven’t always shared myself the way I should. The way I needed. Or the way my life so desperately craved. 

But I’m here. 

And I’m here for me.

I hope that maybe this moment of honesty can help someone else know that there are others out there who have felt that fear. 

You can share you with those who get you. Those who don’t, probably haven’t stared in the mirror of themselves as much as you have. They may not understand the pull. 

You deserve disclosure to be understood and, more than that, to be discussed openly. 

Lived Experience is Work. 

Lived Experience Work is Truth Telling. 

Take care of yourself how YOU need. In caring AND in sharing.


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