The topic of sexual assault, coercion, harassment, and abuse is sadly a common one in my day to day work as a women’s trauma therapist. Many women that come to my office are not always sharing their stories per se, rather they are dealing with the aftermath of the traumatic experience. The aftermath is usually a complex and tangled web of symptoms ranging from anxiety and depression to dissociation, fear, numbness, difficulty in relationships, feelings of unworthiness and shame, and so much more. I will add that the women that come to my office are some of the most courageous and kick-ass women among us!
This week my discussion in sessions has included the ways in which my clients are processing the #MeToo movement. While some are amazed and relieved to see so many voices sharing in solidarity and bringing light to the darkness of an issue that is historically viewed as shameful and silenced, others are feeling a heightened sense of anxiety, pressure to add to this public conversation that is happening everywhere they turn online, and also feeling a pull to stay hidden, fearful of the exposure, and a desire to keep their experience and recovery journey private.
If you are currently working on trauma recovery or have done healing work in the past, here is what I want you to know when it comes to #MeToo:
1. You have choices.
You can choose to share and participate in #MeToo, but you can also choose to hold back and be quiet. Pressure to participate if participation is not aligned with where you are in your recovery is counterproductive, like a coercive act repeating itself.
2. Being quiet is not a sign of weakness.
I am grateful for those that are speaking up and bringing more awareness to this issue through #MeToo, but speaking up or remaining quiet is not a black or white thing. This can feel very confusing when being quiet or “silenced” might have been a part of your trauma. If you are working in recovery, being quiet now might also be an indicator of taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself is an integral part of healing. Being quiet now to take care of yourself is not the same as being quiet when trauma was happening.
3. It is hard to juggle priorities, wants, and needs.
You might notice a fear of exposure or other uncomfortable feelings facing off against the call to speak up and contribute to the #MeToo conversation that is happening in our society right now. Your path is unique to you. If you are in a place to that tolerate discomfort and contribute to the public conversation in a way that feels meaningful for you, go for it! We need lots of warriors to bring attention and voices to the table in order for important conversations and change to happen. However, if the thought of doing so makes you uncomfortable to the point of jeopardizing the healing work you are doing or have done, then taking care of YOU is the top priority. You are no good to any cause or movement if you are collapsed or re-traumatized. You might be fighting your own battles with the past, and sometimes one fight at a time is enough.
4. Unplug when needed and as often as needed.
Regardless of your level of participation in #MeToo, you can and should unplug from it as often as you need to do so. This not only reduces your exposure to triggers but gives you time to recharge and replenish.
5. Notice connection.
When the pressure to participate is removed, perhaps you can feel the energy and love being spread by the people that are speaking out and trying to create change. Knowing “me, too” can bring relief, whether shared with others or in your own quiet space.
6. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel.
With that relief might also come anger, bitterness, sadness, or grief. That’s ok. Hold space for those feelings because A LOT of people are having them right now. Give permission to feel what you are feeling and to express it in ways that feel healthy, safe, and true for you.
If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.”
— Brene Brown