You Have the Right to Remain Silent: How to Protect Your Story

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

This post is based on an Instagram Live interview with Riverbend Clinician and Reproductive Mental Health Specialist Nikki Walther and Jessie Steffes, LPC. Join me for Riverbend Therapy Chats each Monday on Instagram Live (@riverbendtherapy) as I discuss mental health topics and answer your questions with my colleagues.

When I was going through a divorce many years ago, friends, family, and acquaintances would often say, “I heard about your divorce. How are you doing?” Sometimes, when they’d ask I felt a little lighter, thankful that someone who truly cared about me was saying, “Let me walk with you, let me help carry what you’re carrying.”

Other times, after I answered the question and the conversation was over, I’d feel increasingly uneasy. I thought they were genuinely interested and cared, I’d think, but really they just wanted to satisfy their curiosity. These interactions left me feeling exposed and vulnerable in an unhealthy way.

Our culture teaches us that when people ask, we have to share. I’m here to tell you otherwise: You have a right to share only what you want. You have the right to share different things with different people. You have the right to protect your story.

On this week’s River Bend Therapy Chat on Instagram Live, I talked with River Bend clinician Nikki Walther, LPCC, about what it means to protect your story and why it matters. Although we discussed this concept within the context of people experiencing infertility, it can be applied to any situation.

When we say “protect your story,” we’re not saying don’t share your feelings and experiences with others; confiding in people you trust is healthy and can feel good. But you have a right to set boundaries around what you share, when and how you do it, and who gets to know. Boundaries aren’t about pushing people away; when you establish them, you’re making space for everyone in the relationship to feel safe, be vulnerable, and grow together.

Protecting your story matters because your story is part of how you define yourself and your story is sacred. When you share it, you open yourself up for scrutiny or uninvited advice. In the middle of an already difficult experience, when you’re standing in your river of heartache, feeling judged by someone or being told what to do can just compound your pain.

How you protect your story—that is, what boundaries you set—will likely look different with different people. It is also valid if the way in which you protect your story changes from day to day, or moment to moment. Protecting your story could look like:

→ Not telling anyone about what you’re experiencing

→ Telling only your family and closest friends

→ Letting people know that you’ll update them when you’re ready

→ Asking your friends and family not to share information with each other

→ Designating someone else to communicate with your circle on your behalf

→ Asking people to listen without offering advice

→ Choosing not to answer questions in the moment when asked