Ever since the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse allegations went public last year, I‘ve felt triggered emotionally. Conversations about the disrespectful ways women have been treated — whether by celebrities, politicians or the clergy — seem to be everywhere. I see coverage on social media and the news and hear about it in conversations with co-workers and friends. I know it’s important to talk about, but as a woman who has experienced sexual misconduct myself, it brings up a lot of difficult feelings. At times I even find myself so furious that I take it out on my husband. How can I handle my reactions better?
Woman, you have every right to feel angry.
So if you have not done so already, start with owning your feelings, whatever they may be — sad, mad or confused. Owning them means you know your emotions are a legitimate, appropriate and understandable response.
In this case they are in response to the chronic, systemic abuses of power and sex that women have long experienced and continue to face. Ignoring your emotions is not a tactic; these feelings are like the steam that will burst loudly from a kettle unless the heat is turned off.
Let them be heard, honored and channeled towards healing yourself — and then perhaps helping to heal others.
Tending to your strong feelings with tenderness and self-care is the foundation. Note that the emotions you’re experiencing are natural; what is not natural or helpful are the storylines that survivors create around their abuse, which typically include self-blame. In a culture with a history of shaming women for being in the wrong time, wrong place, wrong outfit while absolving men from responsibility because “boys will be boys,” women blaming themselves is rampant and unfortunate.
I don’t know the extent of your trauma or whether you’ve ever received support and therapy, but given the culture of silence most women have experienced, receiving attention for your experience versus brushing it off is essential. Speak with a professional trained in dealing with sexual issues and trauma, which impact the mind and body in ways that are unique compared to other emotional stressors in everyday life. A survivor’s group may also help you feel heard, understood and less alone.
It’s important to release the trauma from your mind (letting go of self-blame, flashbacks) and your body (calming the over-aroused nervous system) and to develop internal resources to use when you get triggered. These include having methods to self-soothe (breathing, mindful movement, speaking with people you trust, meditation, creative outlets) and methods to feel self-empowered (exercise, writing about your experience, banding with others).
This is where joining social justice organizations could be beneficial in galvanizing your energy and preventing you from feeling burnt out in your fight for healing on a larger scale. Join with others by offering your time (peaceful protesting, volunteering, peer counseling), donating money and, of course, exercising your right to vote as ways to remind yourself of your influence and that there is strength in numbers.
It’s also OK to take space from it all — turning off the radio, television and social media, plus having healthy distractions that can ground you. Allow yourself solace, which could include time with your pet, cooking, being in nature or channeling your emotions into writing, spoken word and tears.
The tension in the air is palpable. I’ve seen women express their anger at the men in their lives because they represent the privileged white male; this is understandable but not necessarily helpful. Right now there’s a tendency to polarize men and women against each other, forgetting the individual differences that exist within our labeled genders. To those men I suggest you refrain from reactivity and try to pause, listen and express compassion, even if you think it’s unfair to be the recipient of venting.
Conversely, now is also the time to look inward and take responsibility if warranted. Ask how you can best support the women in your life, whether it be remaining quiet and listening or actively joining them in their healing or with political or social outreach.