What Happens When People Share Their Abortion Stories

In April 2011, I began working with Rachel’s Vineyard post-abortion ministry. The ministry holds weekend retreats for men and women who have chosen or participated in abortion. Over the years I have witnessed many amazing transformations in the lives of retreatants. Not only that, I learned so much about faith, forgiveness and the pain that abortion can cause in a person’s life.

Retreat weekends have a unique way of helping men and women experience forgiveness and loving acceptance from others who have also chosen to abort their children. Weekends provide a safe, non-judgmental, and non-politicized environment for post-abortion people to tell their stories, examine how abortion has affected their lives, and be heard.

But what makes weekends so effective in bringing healing and peace to a person’s life? Perhaps the secret lies in the importance of storytelling.

An old adage suggests that what we can’t put into words, we can’t put to rest. In other words, without the ability to verbalize something negative that has happened to us, without the ability to process it and make sense of it, it will continue to reside in the emotional part of our brain, unprocessed and continuing to wreak havoc on our emotional functioning. . It continues to be felt by the emotional center of the brain, and memories, recalls, or flashbacks of the event can trigger acute emotional reactions. These acute responses often persist until the person has made sense of the emotional or even traumatic event.

So many barriers to opening

I can’t count how many times, on a retreat weekend, I’ve heard “I’ve never shared my abortion story with anyone”, or “No one has ever told me. asked to tell my story”, or worse, “No one ever cared or even bothered to ask me about my abortion. their abortion experience The emotional or physical pain they feel after an abortion is often overlooked or misdiagnosed.

As Theresa Burke points out in her book “Forbidden Grief”, this is due to two factors. First, the emotional or physical pain felt immediately after an abortion is often overlooked or referred to as a “normal aftermath.” When people express this pain, it often translates to, “Oh, that’s okay, you’ll be fine.” Men and women experiencing this response are certainly more likely to bury any negative emotions they may feel over time after the abortion.

On the other hand, when emotional pain or longer-term regret surfaces, they are often met with confusion or disdain. If the person finds the courage to tell someone or ask for help, ask them questions such as “Why are you still thinking about this? or “You still haven’t given up?” are often the answer. The man or woman rarely has the opportunity to discuss the experience, and even more rarely the opportunity to express the surrounding grief or other emotions.

Both of these responses reinforce the idea that abortion stories are better left untold. Men and women who have had an abortion often feel like they carry some kind of pathology due to post-abortion grief and regret. Thoughts such as “Maybe there is something wrong with me if I am still in pain” can permeate a person’s thoughts. Further still, the political rhetoric that abortion is a personal decision can also silence those men and women who suffer alone.

The power to unlock our deepest secrets

On that last note, our modern liberal culture has a particularly harsh way of silencing those who oppose popular thought or opinion. The idea that abortion can, in some cases, lead to intense emotional pain, regret, shame and grief runs counter to the liberal narrative that abortion is a harmless and commonplace medical procedure. As such, post-abortion suffering gets no attention from the liberal-oriented mainstream media. When was the last time you saw a movie or TV show about a woman mourning her aborted child or regretting her decision? Thus, men and women who suffer after an abortion often feel isolated and think they have no one to turn to.

So when the women and men of the retreat finally get the chance to tell their stories, it’s often a hugely cathartic event. Having had the privilege of hearing so many stories, I am amazed at how years, sometimes decades, of pain can erupt in 15 or 20 minutes. Often men and women are surprised by the details they can suddenly remember. Other times, they’re amazed at how much of a relief it is to allow the emotions to come out.

Almost always, when telling their story, they are surprised to find a personal belief underlying all the pain and emotion. These core beliefs can take many forms, depending on the person’s underlying thoughts and feelings about the abortion experience and their baby. Here are some examples of core beliefs: “I miss my baby”, “I am really angry at so and so”, or “I felt so alone”. The most common core belief is “I wish someone had helped me make a different decision.” This particular belief speaks of the pain caused by isolation during or after the abortion experience. Overall, unlocking these beliefs is an extremely powerful moment in the healing process.

I need to understand why I did this

When men and women tell their stories on weekends, we invite them to put the story of abortion in the context of their lives. How old were they? How was their family? Did they have support? Whose advice did they take? These are all important considerations, and inviting men and women to reflect on these questions can be extremely helpful.

From a practical point of view, this makes perfect sense. Our choices, good and bad, are not made in a vacuum. If I think back to all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, I begin to notice the various influences at play. Maybe I listened to people I shouldn’t have listened to and ignored people I should have. had to listen. Maybe I had no support, I was flying through life with nowhere to go when the going got tough. This is not meant to minimize my mistakes, but rather to help me understand how I made the choices I made.

The same can be said of those who have chosen abortion. Helping them understand the various influences at play during their pregnancy and abortion can help them make sense of their choices. Again, the goal is not to minimize the chosen action, but rather to help them understand the choice and begin the healing process.

The first stage of self-integration

Storytelling can also be very powerful because it gives voice to those parts of our lives that we were previously unable to express. Any psychologist or mental health professional will tell us that we are emotionally healthier when we have integrated all parts of ourselves into the whole. We all have parts of ourselves that we like, parts that we don’t like, past events that we wish we could erase, etc. When we deny, shame, or ignore parts of ourselves, we forbid those parts from integrating with the rest of us. As a result, we remain emotionally unhealthy until we accept these parts of ourselves and allow them to be part of the whole.

Storytelling is essential to integrating all parts of ourselves. For post-abortion men and women who attend the retreats, it allows them to verbalize parts of themselves that they have often ignored or are otherwise embarrassed or ashamed to acknowledge. The experience of abortion has often been pushed into the remotest recesses of their minds and ignored or even repressed for long periods of time. It’s the one they don’t care or are afraid to recognize. The opportunity to tell their story can, in many cases, help them accept this part of themselves and move towards integration.

This explains the transformations I have seen during these retreats. It is the laborious first step of self-integration that occurs when individuals confront and make sense of the deepest parts of themselves that they were previously unable to confront or understand. I have seen people show up Friday afternoon bored, angry, harboring resentments, and walk away Sunday afternoon with newfound peace. I have seen depression turn into joy, grief turn into gratitude, and regret turn into acceptance. Many different parts of the retreat contribute to these transformations, but the narrative aspect is central.

The ability to tell one’s story is an indispensable part of emotional health. This is vital, and when we deprive others of the ability to tell their story, whatever it may be, we deprive them of the ability to share a part of themselves with us.

Conversely, when we allow people to tell their story, we facilitate healing and increase emotional health. When we allow men and women after abortion to tell their stories, not only can we see the pain and turmoil caused by abortion, but we also help them move to a place of healing, forgiveness and recovery.

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