How to keep emotionally safe when sharing personal stories

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How to keep yourself emotionally safe when sharing personal stories – something I cover in my book and that I’ll be talking about in more detail at the launch. I’ve sometimes been caught off guard by how I’ve been affected by sharing something personal in public, during training or a performance, either to tell a story, share an example, or to be funny. I might have thought I was fine with it at the time, only to go home and feel confused and ‘messy’, for reasons I can’t put my finger on. Through working with young people who’ve been in care, I found that many of them want to help others in difficult situations, and so they are invited to talk about their experiences at public events. The story of Lauren in my book is an example of how this can be triggering, i.e to cause emotional flashbacks. With the advice of young people, I devised the ‘YESS’ plan (You, your Environment, your Story, and your Strategy) a tool to help you or those you work with prepare, and come up with a strategy if something being talked about touches a nerve. It can also be used as a group activity at the beginning of workshops, in the place of ‘ground rules’, to mutually agree a supportive space.

You: This is about your current resilience levels. How are you feeling in this moment and in your life generally? Is this a particularly stressful time for you? Are you tired? Feeling under the weather? These are all things that can make you less resilient.

Environment: This is about your surroundings and other people. Do you feel comfortable in this space? Can you trust people here to be supportive? Are your surroundings familiar and are there any friendly faces?

Story: This is about the content of the narratives / themes being explored or discussed, and are they reminiscent of anything that’s happened in your life? If they reflect something traumatic or unprocessed, they could invoke strong emotions, flashbacks, or you could zone out and become numb – signs you are going into fight / flight / freeze mode.

Strategy: If you are caught off guard or if you start to experience symptoms of emotional triggering or numbness, what will you do to keep safe? Can you leave the room and take a short walk if necessary, or call a friend or loved one to touch base?

For a session plan to use this activity in a group, check out my book ‘Cartooning Teen Stories’ with Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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