Childhood Trauma: How to Delicately Talk to Your Parents

Trauma in childhood can have a lasting impact on a person's life. The experience can be so overwhelming that it can affect how the person thinks, feels, and behaves for the rest of their life.

Key takeaways:
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    Talking to your parents about your trauma can be difficult. You may be hesitant to tell them because you're not sure how they will react or if they will be able to help.
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    When considering whether to tell them, evaluate what you hope will happen, what you stand to lose, and what you might gain by having this conversation.
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    In telling your parents about your trauma, consider whether you’re ready, choose the right time and place, stick to your boundaries, and call in support.

If you experienced childhood trauma, you might want to share this information with your parents — this article includes some ideas on how to broach the conversation.

Should you talk to your parents about your trauma? Things to consider

Talking to your parents about your trauma can be a difficult decision. You may be hesitant to tell them because you're not sure how they will react or if they will be able to help. Your parents are not entitled to know about your past trauma - however, you may gain additional support or closeness from telling them.

Here are a few things to consider before making a decision.

How do you hope they will react?

What reaction are you hoping your parents will have when learning about your childhood trauma? And how likely is that reaction based on what you know about your parents? Consider your parents' emotional maturity and how they’ve previously reacted to challenging information.

What are you hoping to gain?

Think about why you want to talk to your parents. Are you looking for support and understanding? Are you hoping they can help you process the trauma and find healing? Do you want them to understand this part of your past? Are you asking them to distance themselves from your abuser? Consider what you’re hoping to gain and how likely you are to get that from your parents.

What do you stand to lose?

Safety should always be your number one priority. If you still live with your parents or rely on them for financial support, telling them about your childhood trauma might lead them to remove that support. Before taking action, weigh the risks and benefits of sharing your story. It’s okay for you to prioritize safety and security over transparency with your parents.

How to tell your parents about your trauma

Once you’ve decided to tell your parents about your childhood trauma, you may wonder how to have this conversation. If your parents don’t know that you experienced a traumatic event or events as a child, this news might come as a surprise to them. Consider these tips as you get ready to broach the topic with them.

Make sure you're really ready

The last thing you want is to have a rushed, emotional conversation with your parents. Make sure you're emotionally ready to have the conversation and that you've given yourself enough time to prepare. If you’re currently working with a therapist, making a game plan together may be helpful before you decide to talk to your parents.

Choose the right time and place

There’s never a perfect time to have a difficult conversation like this, but try to pick a time and place where you and your parents can be relaxed and uninterrupted. This is not a conversation that should happen in the heat of the moment. Choose a time when you’re unlikely to be interrupted or have distractions take over.

Call in support

A close friend, romantic partner, and even a therapist can all be great support systems to have with you when you tell your parents about your childhood trauma. They can provide emotional support or physical support during what may be a difficult conversation. A therapist may also be able to step in if the conversation goes awry.

Stay grounded in connection

Tell your parents that you want to share this with them because you care about your relationship. Tell them what you’re hoping to gain from the conversation. For example, you might share that you want them to understand you better and support you, not pity you or try to fix things for you.

Be prepared for uncomfortable emotions

Your parents may have strong emotions when receiving this news. Anger, sadness, frustration, and anxiety are all normal reactions to learning that their child experienced a traumatic event. Your parents are entitled to their emotions, but you are not responsible for caring for them. You are not responsible for your parents' emotions, and you should not feel guilty or obligated by their reaction.

Stick to your boundaries

Having strict boundaries on what you feel comfortable sharing with your parents is okay. Telling them that you experienced trauma as a child doesn’t mean you have to share every detail of that experience. If your parents ask you questions you’re uncomfortable answering, it’s okay to say that some aspects of this topic are off-limits.

Sample language to use when telling your parents about past trauma

“I think it's important for you to know about the things that have happened to me in my past. It's affected me in ways you might not expect, and I think it's important for you to understand why I'm the way I am.”

“I was sexually abused as a child. It was a traumatic experience that has stayed with me for my entire life. It's something that I've struggled with a lot, and it's something that I still deal with on a regular basis.’

“I want you to know this because I want you to understand me. I don't want you to see me as a victim because that's not who I am. I'm a strong person, and I've overcome a lot in my life. But this experience has impacted the way I move about the world.”

“The reason I'm telling you now is because I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and I think it's been affecting my life in a lot of ways. I'm really hoping that talking to you about it will help me to start to heal.”