Hesitancy, mixed feelings, and vulnerability

I had been considering my own response to #metoo since it poured into social media last week. Did I want to post, and if so – how? I processed my clients’ reactions to #metoo over the week. These conversations reinforced my feelings that saying #metoo was complex, and I felt unsure about what made sense for me.

I had been hesitant because I have so many different feelings about #metoo. I feel vulnerable about making either a personal or professional response because I feel sensitive about both. I am not sure if I want to say #metoo because I am not sure what that means for me. And it’s hard to share in a culture that values certainty and boldness when I don’t feel either of those things.

Then I saw a post by a friend who was hurt by the shaming she saw in all the responses to #metoo and it moved me to push beyond my shell of silent comfort and find a way to participate in this discussion in a way that felt right for me.

Reflections on #metoo

I feel deeply moved about the ways women are sharing and outraged that the expectation is that they should or that they have to in order for things to change. There is a place for speaking and shouting, and there is a way we need to make space for silence, for quiet, for different voices.

I am saddened by the reality that #metoo includes every woman. The cultural norm that makes it okay to violate boundaries both large and small is deeply ingrained and is a vast problem. And each incidence in which any woman or person who has less status has been disrespected or violated is one too many.

And yet, I feel mixed that such a wide range of experiences are included in #metoo. When we speak of sexual harassment and sexual assault as the norm, there is a danger that we may “normalize it”. I worry that this may make it harder for those that have experienced more extreme violence to be seen and heard, taken seriously, and not be ostracized.

I think that #metoo has created wonderful awareness and opportunities, but that it has also been very difficult for many people. Opening Pandora’s box can be vitally important, but also overwhelming. Once we open that lid, do we have what we need to respond to what’s in there in ways that are safe and useful?

Recognizing that sexual harassment and assault are traumas

Sexual harassment and assault are traumas, and a major problem with trauma of any kind is that it happens too fast. Even if the literal event is slow or prolonged, we respond to it as an overwhelming and fearful threat. Our instinctive survival response kicks in and we go on autopilot. Healing from trauma includes being able to respond to experiences on our own terms, including our own timeframe.

Social media can be too fast. When issues are emotionally charged, it can be like a chemical explosion. It is a hard environment in which to titrate, pause, consider, and reflect. It’s a setting where the issues can be swept away in the current without leaving space for mindfulness, curiosity, or dialogue that can deepen slowly and over time.

For many trauma survivors, including some of my clients, the #metoo flurry triggered the same instinctive sense of threat, fear, and pressure that their experiences of harassment and assault had. It was very disorienting and created a heightened sense of loss of control. They had difficulty finding the ability to respond in ways that felt safe and clear and meaningful.

The importance of safety, pacing, and connection

To feel empowered and be able to make choices that are right for us, we need to be able to feel safe. We need to be able to pay attention to our own feelings and trust that our body responses are a source of wisdom. This often involves slowing down, finding our bearings and locating support.

There is no right way to participate or not participate in #metoo. What is right for one person may be very wrong for another. We need many responses and different types of discussion, awareness, and action and we need to find ways to dismantle shame.

The article, You Too, framed #metoo with a compassionate stance, introducing the hastag #youtoo. Compassion is a huge antidote to shame. For me, mindful and compassionate responses to all the dreaded realities and news of our world are the only way I am finding it possible to tolerate them or have the ability to consider inserting myself into the mix of public exploration.

Moving too fast also means we may miss important parts of the story and we leave people out, perpetuating some of the very problems that spurred this spike of attention to harassment and assault. Me too went viral this week, but it has a quieter voice given to it by a woman of color a decade ago. Tarana Burke’s mission is to empower through empathy, and create a movement not a moment. http://metoo.support/

Moving toward #mindfulmetoo

If we are to have hope for real change, staying engaged with each other is vital. Mindfulness and compassion are powerful tools to help us remain open to one another in our struggles. The current #metoo outpouring is a pebble dropped in a pond. Profound change comes with the ripples of the many stones we all toss, no matter the size or shape.

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