How to Take Care of Your Mental Health After Disclosing Your Abortion
Sharing something personal is hard enough when you feel safe, much less under the threat of legal ramifications and people weighing in on choices you've made for yourself and your family. With the Supreme Court's June 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, you might feel a sense of responsibility to talk about your abortion.
Telling your story can empower others and alleviate their sense of isolation. At the same time, speaking about your abortion requires a willingness to be vulnerable. Stories take on a different form when you say them in the presence of loved ones or post them online.
The nebulous parts are momentarily fixed, and you're left with the uncertainty of how to feel afterward. Regardless of your reasons for disclosing your abortion, it's important to take care of your mental health.
What you might experience after sharing your story
"[Your story] comes with a history that requires you to go back to a place where you had to make an important life decision," explained Kiana Shelton, a licensed clinical social worker with Mindpath Health in Austin, Texas. "When sharing, it's likely that many of the feelings you felt at the time of the abortion will come up again."
In addition, you might be concerned about how people are going to react. Will they be supportive, disappointed or shocked that you had an abortion?
"The reactions of other people can have a large impact on how someone feels after a disclosure,” said Brandy Smith, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist with Thriveworks in Birmingham, Alabama.
Her advice was to make sure you feel "grounded" in what you want to share, meaning you've considered how others might respond and prepared for the potential impact on yourself.
"Whether people react positively or negatively, you can still feel solid in the decision you've made, along with your decision to disclose it," Smith said. "Some people may never disclose their abortion and yet take comfort in knowing that someone else has had an experience similar to theirs."
Coping with negative reactions from other people
Some people who don't agree with your choice or haven't had an abortion themselves may appreciate your courage for sharing your story, Smith said. Others may have a hard time hiding their feelings, to the point of making judgmental remarks or writing degrading comments in response to your disclosure.
"Leaning into vulnerability is courageous yet often scary," Smith said. "[Acknowledging that] people may have a range of thoughts, feelings and reactions will help buffer the impact."
Leaning in can mean drawing internal validation from your willingness to be vulnerable. In contrast, seeking external validation can make it more difficult to protect your sense of self from people's negative reactions and opinions. Remember to keep perspective in mind.
"An initial negative reaction does not mean that will be the long-term reaction, at least not from everyone," Smith said.
"Being vulnerable can be a superpower, but knowing why you want to share can help you stay anchored in your self-worth, even when the reaction of others is negative," Shelton added.
Attending to your mental health
Grounding yourself before and during the disclosure can make a difference in how you feel afterward. Smith advised that people can ground themselves by taking deep breaths or finding comfort in an object.
You can remind yourself of your reasons for sharing your story. This kind of soothing self-talk can counteract negative thoughts and help you regulate your emotions. Smith suggested planning an activity that nourishes your mind and body, such as cooking your favorite meal or going for a walk with a friend.
Make sure to reach out to people for support, whether it's a friend or a support group. In addition, you might benefit from drawing on professional support, such as talking to a therapist or calling 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, Smith added. For instance, a trained professional can help you recognize the difference between self-esteem and self-worth.
"Self-esteem is something that is going to fluctuate in response to others' opinions," Shelton explained. "Self-worth, however, is the core of who we are and our worthiness as human beings, whether we've had a good day or a challenging one."
Sharing your story publicly
If you've shared your story with loved ones and are considering speaking about your abortion publicly, Smith advises you to consider the costs and benefits of disclosure.
A potential risk of talking about your abortion is not knowing how it will affect your personal and professional relationships.
"We often sit in community with others without knowing where they stand politically," Shelton said.
On the other hand, sharing your story may increase the chances of creating deeper and more impactful relationships.
"Expanding your community of support and having your experience normalized by people with similar journeys is yet another positive outcome," Shelton said.
Lastly, divulging something you've been carrying around in isolation can feel like a weight being lifted off your shoulders. It can be a relief to know you're not alone. As more people break the stigma surrounding abortion, "it's important we don't break our spirit while doing so," Shelton said.