The Importance of Bearing Witness
I realize more and more the importance of bearing witness. I was thinking about how much it has helped me work through my history of abuse and look forward. When I get tired of moving beyond the darkness that sits with me in shame, fear, anger, and regret, something always reminds me of the importance of bearing witness.
Those reminders come from different places, usually when I least expect them. But, it is also those reminders of why I should keep pushing forward that bearing witness isn’t only about my story. It is about the story of others. It isn’t easy to do, but if other people bravely tell their stories, I must be brave and listen.
“Bearing witness is a term that, used in psychology, refers to sharing our experiences with others, most notably in the communication to others of traumatic experiences. Bearing witness is a valuable way to process an experience, obtain empathy and support, lighten our emotional load via sharing it with the witness, and obtain catharsis. Most people bear witness daily, not only in reaction to traumatic events. We bear witness to one another through our writing, art, and verbally simply sharing with others.” 1
Bearing Witness is Community
One of the most critical ways that bearing witness helps is it shows us we are not alone. Unfortunately, many people worldwide have similar stories of abuse, trauma, and mind-brain illnesses. But we don’t talk about our experiences enough so that others can see us and know they are not alone.
I know I didn’t talk about my experiences until recently; I hid behind so many things. One was alcohol, which I have removed from my life, and in doing so, I see and hear others’ stories of addiction more than I did before.
I couldn’t hear those stories before because I wasn’t ready to listen. Now that I am ready and open, I hear those stories. I can bear witness to others who are working through their addiction. And I am in a place where I can cheer them on, whether they know I am or not.
Remove Abusers Power
Another important reason for us to stop feeling alone is that abusers use that isolation to control us. Abuse is all about power and control over another person; the abuser will use all tools to keep their victims within that control. Isolation is one of the most powerful tools to keep victims in the dark. By lessening the feelings of isolation, we reduce the power the abuser has.
Bearing Witness to Survival & Thrivival
Witnessing others’ stories helps us realize that we can survive. So I watch, listen to, and read about others’ stories to see how they survived their abuse. I survived mine, but that was through what I think was my sheer force of will. I didn’t want my abusers to win, which would mean that I would have lost. I didn’t know it then, but that was my way of surviving.
To me, survival is when you are in the midst of the darkness of abuse, and you can see that light at the end of the tunnel. That light looked small and far away initially, but the more I fought against the abuse, the closer I got, the more that light grew.
But I didn’t walk out of the dark into the light when I was close enough. I didn’t know how. I was so used to fighting my way through the darkness – I was so used to surviving that I didn’t know who I was when I wasn’t fighting. And so I stood there, in the shadows, standing on the edge of the light.
- Kristi Pikiewicz Ph.D. (December 3, 2013). The Power and Strength of Bearing Witness. Psychologytoday.com. Retrieved December 21, 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/meaningful-you/201312/the-power-and-strength-bearing-witness#:~:text=Bearing%20witness%20is%20a%20term,to%20others%20of%20traumatic%20experiences.
Bearing witness is not a requirement for healing. That top honor may be therapy. Therapy can also help you to see that there is a light within the darkness. And you can find it and reach it too.
I recommend Online-Therapy.* Encouraging therapy is their first step in healing.
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