Jamie Lynn, Britney Spears and when sharing your trauma affects other people

·5 min read

Within the Spears family, Britney isn't the only one with trauma.

Less than three months after the pop singer was freed from her highly publicized conservatorship, her younger sister Jamie Lynn released a memoir, "Things I Should Have Said." The tell-all book details her childhood experiences – including what it was like to navigate a teen pregnancy in the spotlight as well as the pressures of growing up as the little sister to one of the biggest pop stars of the '90s.

Some experts say it's admirable when celebrities open up about their trauma, as their vulnerability about their experiences can inspire fans to speak about their own issues. But Jamie Lynn's memoir received immediate backlash, not only from fans but also from Britney, who has previously called her sister out for allegedly profiting off of her fame during the conservatorship. (Jamie Lynn has denied the allegations).

It takes courage to come out about your trauma, but experts say it can be difficult to know the best time to do so — especially when your story involves other survivors. This dilemma is heightened for someone in the public eye like Jamie Lynn Spears.

"Even though Jamie Lynn has her own story, which may be valid, when it's perceived as diluting Britney's story and her successes in achieving long-deserved autonomy, it may anger people," says Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of “Joy from Fear."

Jamie Lynn Spears isn't perfect, but she has trauma too.

After several recent tell-all docuseries and news articles, most fans are well-aware of Britney's trauma.

Her sister's story is a bit different: Growing up, the "Zoey 101" star says she dealt with a father whom she resented for his drinking and unpredictable behavior, and a mother from whom she felt disconnected. She also details an instance in which she was physically hit by her mother, the pressures she faced as a teen mom at the height of her career, as well as an accident that almost killed her daughter, Maddie, in 2017.

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"Absolutely, what Jamie Lynn went through is traumatic, and it can impact us into adulthood when we experience this trauma as we're developing our identities at a young age," says Cecile Tucker, a registered clinical counselor. "Childhood trauma is very broad and looks different for everyone, but overall the impacts include anxiety, feelings of shame, depression and PTSD."

Even though her experience is different from Britney's, both sisters experienced ramifications from their unstable upbringing.

However, "the specifics of what happened to each of them are likely different, and they don't have the exact same experiences or responses to these events," says Jonathan Raskin, a professor of psychology and chair of psychology department at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

In an ideal world, we should be able to sympathize with Jamie Lynn's experience, while also honoring and standing with Britney, says Manly. "But unfortunately, we live in a very black-and-white world, and many people struggle with that dichotomy."

'It's a matter of timing'

It's not uncommon for victims of childhood trauma to open up about their experience years, even decades, later.

"This is their normal. They've never known anything other than this reality, so victims of childhood trauma often don't realize it's traumatic until much later in life, when they see others' experiences and realize theirs wasn't normal," Tucker explains.

But regardless, the timing of Jamie Lynn's book's release isn't sitting right with many fans, who fought to end Britney's 13-year-long conservatorship with the #FreeBritney movement. Last week, Britney's legal team even criticized the "ill-time book" in a cease and desist letter. (In response, Jamie Lynn said the book is "not about her.")

Supporters of the FreeBritney movement in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 12, 2021.
Supporters of the FreeBritney movement in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 12, 2021.

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"Much of the backlash is likely due to the fact that people absolutely could see themselves in Britney and her journey and were so happy for her and what she was able to achieve," Manly says. "So when her sister’s memoir comes out, it feels to some people that Jamie Lynn is attempting to steal the spotlight and co-opt her sister's trauma to make money."

Tucker adds that sharing something as complex as family trauma usually involves numerous victims and is likely to re-traumatize them.

"When someone decides to share that trauma publicly… those who are affected are forced to re-live the experience and question what happened, even if they don't want to."

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So if now is a bad time for Jamie Lynn to share her story, is there ever going to be a more appropriate time?

Experts say no one — including celebrities — should feel silenced about their trauma. Opening up about your experience can be "deeply cathartic" and offers numerous mental health benefits.

But just because sharing your trauma is healing for you, doesn't mean it's healing for your relationships, and it can negatively impact those around you.

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When sharing your trauma publicly, experts say it's important to avoid blaming, and instead stick with sharing your own feelings and experiences.

"Express your upset and disappointment, but don't name call. It's OK to want to get something off your chest for your own sake, but if you're looking to repair relationships, a tell-all book probably isn't the way to go," Raskin says.

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Contributing: Hannah Yasharoff

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Britney Spears, Jamie Lynn and when it's time to share your own trauma