Supporting Loved Ones in the Wake of Assault Revelations
Content warning: Discussions of trauma, sexual violence and natural disasters.
If you’ve had access to the Internet the past few weeks (okay, since November 2016, but we’re speaking more acutely here), you might feel like the world is crashing down around you. Tragedies, natural disasters and most recently, a revelation that has shaken the entertainment industry to its core. #MeToo trended on Twitter Sunday night, which has brought a deluge of users sharing their experiences with sexual violence, from harassment to assault.
In case you didn’t know, #MeToo is not something that was born on Twitter on Sunday night, as Huffington Post pointed out in their article, “The ‘Me Too’ Campaign Was Created By A Black Woman 10 Years Ago.” Tarana Burke, founder of Just BE Inc., brought the phrase into public consciousness back in 2007. It has long been utilized in survivor support circles because it’s a powerful way to let someone know they’re not alone. From the Just BE Inc. site: “One of the main goals of The Me Too Movement™ is to give young women, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities, a sense of empowerment from the understanding that they are not alone in their circumstances.”
As a survivor of multiple rapes and innumerable instances of sexual harassment, this week has been especially challenging for me. Seeing the hashtag all over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram has simultaneously felt empowering and deeply disturbing. I’ve been in an almost constant state of sympathetic nervous system activation and unable to sleep well, eat regularly, or function to my full capacity. I hope against hope that my colleagues and clients understand and have a little extra patience for me right now. I know I am not alone in that, either. Partially as a reminder to myself, and partially as a resource for all of you who know someone impacted by sexual violence (hint: everyone knows at least one person and often more than one, even if they’re not actively aware of it), I thought it might be useful to offer some helpful hints on how to support those folks in your life, either now or in the future, who are experiencing emotional flooding due to trauma triggers.
I spoke with Harker Roslin, a trained crisis counselor and one of my role models for support and empathy, and she shared the following:
“These are some things I wish people would begin saying to us, to replace the scripts of survivorship and alliance:
- What are you experiencing right now?
- What would you like to put down and stop carrying?
- What would nourish the parts of you that are in pain?
- What feels unmanageable to you, or if you are close to me, what feels unspeakable right now?
- Where in your body is that feeling? Can you point to it?
- Finally, sometimes I just wish someone would send me a message and say, ‘I’m having Thai delivered to your house. It’s a shitty week to be a human with trauma—here, I got you the freedom from performing yet more labor.’”
Other useful, actionable things you can do when you’re not sure how to support someone who is feeling emotionally flooded or triggered:
- Obtain permission before diving into advice, fixing or making assumptions about someone else’s experience. “Are you looking for empathy or strategy?” “Would it be useful if I…” “What I think I hear you saying is…is that accurate?”
- Remember that someone’s reaction may seem disproportionate to the immediate situation right now, but often more is going on under the surface than you realize. For instance, if you’re making dinner and you ask someone to cut the carrots and they burst into tears. It’s not about the carrots.
- Remind survivors that all their reactions are normal and welcome. If they want to participate in #MeToo, that’s great. If they feel more comfortable not sharing their experiences, that’s also great. Disclosure is a highly personal choice and not one that anyone makes lightly.
- Share this automated self care tool. It takes the user through a series of gentle suggestions for taking care of their minds and bodies, like having a snack, drinking a glass of water, taking a shower, and utilizing grounding techniques. It’s actually titled, “You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self Care Guide,” so you know when to deploy it.
- If they are cannabis-friendly, suggest cannabis products that are high in CBD (1:1 or above), as CBD is excellent for stress and anxiety management.
- Share this GIF. It’s a breathing prompt that shows people how to breathe in a way that activates their parasympathetic nervous system and deactivates their sympathetic nervous system.
Be gentle with yourselves and each other. Things are really challenging right now.