Being Silenced By Societal Norms: What Effect Are Taboos Having On Our Ability To Talk About Childhood Trauma

By Sarahjane Paynter

I would like to say that although I am discussing the subject of childhood trauma, I don’t talk about any specific details. I understand some content can be triggering for people who have or are suffering trauma.

If you feel affected in any way or are in need of help please know that you are not alone. Know that if you can, or need too, you should seek help.

Within the journey of recovering from my childhood trauma, there have been a lot of hurdles along the way.  I find jumping these barriers helps me locate missing pieces of my puzzle, which then put me back together again.


The giant leap I’m contemplating at the moment is letting my family know what happened to me.  I slowly ease myself into this terrifying concept by visualizing the scenario. Over and over again, I picture them sitting in front of me, the shock, the tears. I make their reaction different every time so I can be prepared for every outcome.

One of the most fearful scenes is after finding the strength to get to that point, then being faced with them not believing me. The idea of dealing with having to justify my own truth is frankly overwhelming. Why wouldn’t they believe me? What is it about my own thought process or society that makes me come to that conclusion?

In 2015/16 The Office of National Statistics of the UK reported that women were four times more likely to be the survivors of sexual abuse in childhood than men, 11% compared to 3%. Almost half (47%) of all adults who received childhood abuse, experienced two or more different types of abuse. Also shockingly nearly three quarters of women (74%) didn’t report their sexual abuse at the time of occurrence, but the percentage of people reporting their abuse rose as they grew older.

When I read about these statistics, all I see are people like myself. I didn’t report my abuse at the time. I was the victim of several types of abuse. Only now at thirty three am I slowly coming to the realisation that if I don’t speak about what happened to me, not only am I protecting my abusers, but also continuing the damage I have received.

There are many complex reasons why abuse isn’t reported at the time. Lack of understanding, shock, shame and also pressure from abusers can be some of the main issues.

It takes time to process what has occured. You need to gain some distance from what has happened to you to recover. Also growing older, you become more independent and less likely to seek approval from your peers.

This pattern has become prevalent as I talk about my own trauma. I ask myself questions like: Will I be seen as an attention seeker? Will I lose friends? Will people understand why I’m doing this? Will people be angry at me? Why can’t I let it go? Why can’t I forget? Why can’t I move on with my life? These thoughts seem so irrational but they must stem from somewhere.

To rationalise their existence I’ve tried to understand where these thoughts come from. I know partly they come from my own insecurities. I also can’t ignore that a significant element is drawn from taboos ingrained within social norms. Many argue we are a long way from the archetypal stereotypes that have plagued gender roles for a long time, but are we? Or have those norms just been updated to be relevant in social context?

Examples are apparent in behaviours such as online social shaming, which has now easily developed into an epidemic. People dream about going viral, but at what cost? Your every decision starts to be questioned, judged, and criticised by a wall of faceless internet users. Are you a bad mother if you don’t breastfeed? Did you ask for it by wearing that dress?  Are you a weak man if you show emotion?

These reinforced ideas become significant players in the upkeep of continuing toxic expectations. The pressure and influence we allow strangers to have in our lives fuels unrealistic ideas of ourselves. Conforming to these norms stifles the development of an evolving society and creates further segregation between communities.

With that knowledge I will continue to create art and write about my personal experiences. It's important to do so, it will make a difference, it will help someone. I want young people going through these experiences to know they can find acceptance and help from the society they exist in.

Pushing the boundaries of social taboos diminishes their power. Facing the reality that I may not be believed when I talk about my abuse, but doing it anyway, also diminishes the power they have had over me.

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