The media is replete with allegations and stories of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination against women, as well as some men. The statistics reflect 1 out of 4 women and 1 out of 10 men have experienced some kind of sexual abuse.
As more people come forward with their story, others feel safe in revealing theirs creating the “Me Too” consequence. In fact, “Me Too” has permeated blogs and social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
While sexual harassment and abuse is tragic, the present phenomenon encourages a new sense of accountability of those who would use their power to control or abuse another human being.
At first glance, the “Me Too” effect feels positive and empowering for the victims. It is being celebrated by some as a way to allow victims finally to make a statement about what happened to them. As an appropriate consequence, the perpetrators are now being held accountable.
Hopefully, this public outcry will mitigate sexual harassment and abuse in our country.
But look deeper. When I put on my trauma lens regarding “Me Too,” I think of two issues.
First, I think of the many individuals who have held secret issues of grief and loss for days, weeks, months, years and sometimes decades. Staying mute about these episodes has certainly had an impact. As they relive the incidences over and over again, it impacted their thoughts, fears, relationships, self-worth, anger, and perspective on life. They have silently been suffering while attempting to repress the impact of such life-devastating events.
In a culture that often criticizes, blames or shames the victim, it can be very difficult to expose this kind of abuse. I deeply regret the repressed reality these individuals have been living for so many years.
It is important to identify the issues that have plagued their everyday existence and find ways to heal them through professional counseling and compassionate support of friends and family.
However, there is another consequence of this public outcry of “Me Too.”
Because of the personal and powerful nature of the abuse, exposure to it can be severely harmful.
Public conversations about one’s abuse can cause triggering and regression. It can create flashbacks, nightmares, night terrors, rage, appetite-loss, sleeplessness, hypervigilance, headaches, and many other difficult symptoms. It can be life-debilitating to bring these memories to the surface for trauma-impacted individuals.
As a result, some trauma therapists have suggested that if you are not in a community of care where it is safe, you should choose not to make these issues public.
It may sound heroic or therapeutic to finally let it out, but in fact, it may be retriggering and leave an abused person in huge emotional and relational deficits. So, for some people, it may be better not to go public but go to a trauma-informed caregiver who can sensitively and safely guide the person toward resolution and healing.
Some memories can be so visceral they provoke disconcerting if not frightening physical symptoms. Keeping a trauma-impacted individual feeling safe is extremely important to their ability to navigate these trauma memories with good coping skills and eventual resolve.
How do we help those impacted by this trauma and “Me Too?”
If any of us realize someone we know or care about feels like they need to talk about what happened to them, it is important that we not ask details, or in any way recreate painful memories and the reliving of the abuse.
Rather, we should listen with compassion, create an environment of non-judgment and safety around them. Further, help them find a competent professional so they can get the help they need.
I do hope that we can empower and support anyone who is trauma-impacted including the “Me Too” culture so prominent these days.
However, we need to do so with a sensitive lens. The approach should provide a path that deemphasizes the past and brings hope to their future. In that safe space we can create true healing and recovery from events that have devastated their lives.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO