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Gillian Sisley

How to Publish Your Vulnerable Truth Online, Despite the Gut-Wrenching Fear

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Gillian Sisley
Gillian Sisley
 18 days ago

That feeling never goes away, from my experience. But the healing we are given in return makes the fear worth it.

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I routinely get asked how I come to the decision to publish my stories about sexual assault online, and continue writing about my trauma, with hateful and abusive comments a very real threat.

Many writers are afraid of writing about their sexual assault story, and being retraumatized by abusive comments from misogynistic readers.

This is such a powerful question to ask — and I've been asked it a few times already.

So, let’s talk about coping with these realities, and my journey to getting to a place of security where these comments are no longer a source of trauma for me.

The hateful and abusive comments only make up 5–10%.

This is something I’ve known to be true in my year of writing and publishing 2–3 essays online every single day.

But when those 5–10% of comments do come in, they’re quite hurtful.

I can tell you, very honestly, that in the first few months of publishing my stories, I was very really vulnerable about my sexual assault and my PTSD. The first dozen comments I received that were misogynistic, sexist and hateful, well… those hit me pretty hard.

I would rage about them to my husband in my kitchen, and feel infuriated and hurt for several days. The injustice of them would run through my veins like poison.

After a few weeks of this unhealthy process, my husband lovingly told me that I had every right to feel frustrated and angry, but I needed to find a better way to heal and process these comments. That energy would stay within our house, and it wasn’t healthy for us as a couple.

He suggested taking that powerful energy and redirecting it in a way that could be more helpful and powerful to the cause.

That was when I started to write satirical clap-back articles.

I would never name the commenter directly, and I would never include the full comment they left, but I would take little bits and pieces of it and write an article.

I’d use humour, satire and sarcasm to dissect this article and emphasize the ways in which it was problematic. I can’t tell you how much this new approach to processing those comments has helped me, and how much healthier it’s been for me as I continue to write vulnerable personal essays online.

The hate will come, so growing a thicker skin is key.

We all have to go through this process, and come through the other side, as writers publishing sensitive and at times controversial pieces online.

I grew a thicker skin with each abusive comment I received — and after some time I was also able to look at these comments in a different light.

I realized that I don’t write for these hateful people, I write for myself and my own healing journey. I write my personal essays because they help me heal, and they also help other survivors heal, too.

There’s never going to be something you write that everyone agrees with or likes.

There will be people who try to deny your experience, even though it has nothing to do with them, and there is no harm in you claiming your experience and writing your own truth.

But at the end of the day, you’re not writing for them. You’re writing for yourself.

You’re writing for fellow survivors. And you’re writing for overall healing in this epidemic situation we have of sexual assaults in the world.

The first few comments will sting — that’s a given.

But there’s a lot to say for being prepared for when they come, and it’s important to keep in mind that 90% of the comments you receive will be positive.

They will be from others thanking you for sharing your story, and for helping them heal in their own journies.

It’s not your job to help other people heal — the person you need to be thinking about is yourself and making sure you’re safe and protected.

But that 90% of the comments that are powerful and personal and positive, those far outweigh the negative comments every single time.

It will be necessary to grow a thicker skin. But that said, you don’t have to be a passive recipient of any hate. Every time I encounter a comment that is truly abusive or an attack, rather than a constructive or healthy debate between views, I block that person.

And if it’s especially hateful or abusive, I will report that comment to whichever platform I’m operating on before blocking them.

Just about every social media platform has a zero-tolerance policy for abuse and attacks, and I have seen many who were reported who had their accounts completely closed down.

Only share when the time is right for you.

This is the most important take-away — you need to first consider your mental health and preparedness to process your trauma head-on before you publish work this vulnerable and triggering.

I can promise you from my own personal experience, and the experiences of the many other writers I know, that writing about writing your story is exceptionally healing.

I’ve been to therapy, I spent five years trying to wrangle my trauma on my own and find a way to live with it, and nothing has come even close to being as effective and powerful and life-changing as writing about my trauma and sharing my healing journey with other fellow survivors.

The trolls will come out of the woodwork when we press publish — I swear they can smell this kind of content from a mile away.

Don’t feel bad for protecting yourself, and refusing to put up with entirely unwarranted abuse and hate. You don’t want readers like that seeing your work, to begin with.

Block them, and continue with your healing. That healing may include writing a commentary piece about the comment you received, and addressing your feelings about the problematic nature of what they’ve written. This is what I do, and it’s very helpful.

I have seen an immense amount of healing in the online community of fellow survivors from just about every writer and reader when it comes to our survival stories.

But the first and number one priority should always be making sure that you’re ready, and that you feel safe.

You’ll know when that day comes.

I can’t guarantee that it won’t be scary to press that ‘Publish’ button, but I can guarantee that there is an extensive community of supportive writers and readers who will stand by you, leave incredible notes on your work, and will protect you from anyone who tries to hurt you.

Online users like that far outweigh the hateful ones.