Practicing Self-Care in the Wake of the #MeToo Movement

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By: Rex Leonowicz for Shine

Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual harassment and sexual violence, which may be triggering to survivors.

This week, the #MeToo social media movement created a widespread, public conversation about sexual harassment and sexual violence of a magnitude we haven’t seen before.

It began as a response to the dozens of women coming forward and accusing film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment. On Sunday, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Social media quickly flooded with people using #MeToo, a hashtag that Tarana Burke, a social worker and activist, first created nearly a decade ago.

Women, femmes, trans, and nonbinary people of so many different backgrounds and experiences have been coming out in bold, courageous ways to share their stories and raise awareness around the cultural, social, and political problems of harassment, sexual violence, and power misuse that cut deep in our communities.

The sheer power of the outpouring of truth and support in response to #MeToo is undeniable — but it also has brought up a lot of difficult feelings and responses for those intimately affected by sexual violence. In this way, it’s so important to remember to take care of ourselves and prioritize healing so we don’t become overwhelmed and incapacitated.

The sheer power of #MeToo is undeniable — but it also has brought up a lot of difficult feelings for those intimately affected by sexual violence.

I’ve heard from a lot of people in the wake of #MeToo — and also have seen a lot of in-fighting and defensiveness — about representation and validity of story, which has created unintentional, but very real, pain and harm for many survivors.

It’s extra important to acknowledge that everyone’s experience is valid and real, and that we can be expansive in our holding of everyone’s truths without resorting to defensiveness or shutting others down.

It’s especially important to acknowledge nuance and specificity — how race, ethnicity, class, gender identity, sexuality, etc. inform how we experience sexual harassment and sexual violence. All of these influence risk factors; who is more vulnerable and how and why. Further, toxic masculinity, patriarchy, and power infect expansively, and so there isn’t just one face to a perpetrator.

However, we have to acknowledge that women, femmes, and transfeminine people are disproportionately at risk of experiencing harassment and sexual violence — and perpetrators are disproportionately cis men.

Another thing to remember is that sexual violence and trauma occur on a vast spectrum, and it’s necessary to acknowledge differences in emotional and physiological impact in order to effectively hold the depth of our experiences.

As a good friend and activist/artist Tanya Albrigtsen-Frable suggested to me: We cannot conflate the experience of dealing with street harassment to the experience of sexual assault to the experience of short or long-term sexual abuse. Impacts do vary. There’s a way to hold space for it all while also acknowledging the differentials and not uplifting or devaluing some experiences over others.

Everyone’s story deserves to be told and everyone has the right and should have the space to tell it. Within this, though, no one should feel obligated to speak up if they can’t, if they aren’t ready, if they don’t want to, or if it’s too hard. Your greatest obligation is to yourself and your healing process.

Your greatest obligation is to yourself and your healing process.

Speaking of the healing process: As empowering as it can be to share your story or see others sharing theirs, it is also likely to bring up a lot. It’s difficult in spaces of trauma to know what we need to take care. Many of us may not have the ability to focus on our own care or have the space, given our responsibilities, or the landscapes of work, school, family, etc. that we navigate.

Here are some ideas on how to prioritize your healing:

1. Give Yourself Space

Maybe you feel like you need to be present to hold other people’s truths and realities with sexual violence, maybe you’re just really used to scrolling Twitter when you’re bored or have a free minute.

Whatever the reason, if you’re feeling too inundated by #MeToo, and it’s becoming overwhelming for you, take space. Create limits of time spent on the internet. Delete social media apps from your phone to reduce the temptation to key in. Check out apps and programs that help enforce time limits with social media websites and apps. Do whatever works to help you check out for a bit.

2. Ground Yourself in Your Body

When processing or re-experiencing trauma, it’s easy to forget about your body, that you are in the here and now. Take time to ground yourself in the present.

A few ways to do this: Breathe, scan your body, and remind yourself of each body part. Move your fingers, toes, your limbs. Shake it out if you have to. Touch objects around you. Keep a stone or some other object with you in your pocket to hold in moments of panic or dissociation. Feel its weight in your hand, the texture, temperature difference between your hand and it. Go for a walk, make a point to notice your surroundings.

You can find other breathing exercises here and grounding exercises here — tactics you can have in your toolbox for when things get difficult.

3. Get Lost in Something You Enjoy

Try to take the focus off of stress, memories, or difficult emotions by engaging in an activity you enjoy. Be mindful about your capacity and what feels good for you and your body.

Exercise is definitely a big help when trying to get back into your body — and it can boost serotonin levels. But even if a full-body workout generally helps boost your mood, check in with your energy level and what feels doable. You could also sit back with a favorite TV show and some popcorn. Hang out with your pet. Listen to some music. Do a crossword puzzle.

4. Find a Creative Outlet

If you feel present and able enough, creating something or expressing yourself is often a really helpful way to work through moments of anxiety and trauma. You don’t have to be a self-titled artist or writer to make something. Everyone is creative and generative. You could put on some tunes and move to the music. You can write about anything — how you’re feeling or about something else completely. You can draw, paint, collage, make music. Do whatever fits with your skills and interests.

5. Ask for Support

A lot of us dealing with trauma, depression, anxiety, or any other complex emotional response to triggers can tend to isolate or feel burdensome to others in these states. You’re not. If you need support, reach out to someone you trust. A friend, a family member, even your therapist or a counselor. Whether you need to talk in-depth about what’s going on or just need someone to be there for you, don’t feel you need to go through it alone. Crisis Text Line is a free, 24/7 confidential text message support service — and you can connect with one of their trained counselors by texting HOME to 741741.

If you need support, reach out to someone you trust.

Some or all of these things might work and they might not. You might not have the energy, ability, or interest to do any of these things in a moment of emotional distress. Whatever you feel interested in or capable of, it’s always important to remind yourself of your worth, your love, and your strength. Sometimes you just need to hug yourself, show yourself some comfort, be kind in your thoughts. Wherever you are in your healing process is a great place to be, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can get free, 24/7 confidential support from a trained staff member at the National Sexual Assault Hotline by calling 800–656-HOPE (4673). More resources are also available online via the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. You can also text Crisis Text Line at 741–741 — it’s open 24/7, it’s confidential, and it’s free.