What To Do When You Can Say #MeToo: A Guide to Discussing Sexual Harassment/Assault (Part 2)

Addressing the mental effects of sexual harassment and assault. Read Part 1 Here.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU CAN SAY #METOO: coping with The mental health aftermarth (PART 2)

This guest post is authored by Christina Eller, MHC-LP, MS Ed, and PD with NYC Counseling.

The #MeToo uprising is perhaps the most impactful revolution and insurgency in our modern day; Women everywhere are resisting once dark cultural norms, stepping forward, and taking charge against the highest powers. The stories, accusations, calls to action, and brutally honest dialogues are all mechanisms to help society heal. At a personal level, those of us that have experienced sexual harassment and assault are also examining how these varied experiences are impacting us mentally and seeking ways to heal. Whether these traumas were recent or from years past, it’s imperative to gain tools to cope with the short and long term effects. How do we repair, restore and rebuild? Emotional and physical self-care are essential.

The Mental Harm of Sexual Harassment/Assault:

According to the President of the American Psychological Association, sexual harassment is a pervasive, chronic problem that can cause enduring psychological harm. We know that individual stories may differ; from a brush against the chest to acts of true aggression, the effects can be equally devastating one one’s emotional wellbeing. Sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, inappropriate behavior, unwanted sexual touching, fondling and worse rape, are emotional coercions, psychological terrors and manipulations used to intimidate a victim into oppression and non-consensual behavior/acts.

Research has shown that sexual harassment is primarily aimed at women, but men are also targets of such behavior. Perpetrators of sexual harassment are not only supervisors/superiors but are also coworkers, subordinates, customers and clients. Effects such as depression can last up to a decade and for women who experienced sexual abuse in the workplace, and can affect their performance in subsequent jobs. 
 
 Victims of sexual assault in the workplace can experience an assortment of short and long-term effects mentally. Physically victims have an increased risk of developing:

· Depression

· PTSD

· Substance Use Disorders

· Eating Disorders

· Anxiety

As a result of the incident, survivors can experience flashbacks, feelings of humiliation and shame, isolation, confusion, shock, and worse, guilt. Others describe decreased productivity, refusal or avoidant behavior towards work and/or work related events, panic attacks, irritability or anger, headaches, muscle tension or pain, stomach upset, chest pain, change in sex drive, social withdrawal, unpredictable bouts of hysterics, hives, weight gain or loss, hair loss, insomnia and fatigue. Feelings of worthlessness and thoughts of death and suicide are also unequivocally vicious consequences.

These overwhelming effects of sexual assault can grossly plague one’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Endless self-doubt and negative thoughts can flood one’s mind with questions ranging from:

· Did I suggest I wanted this to happen?

· Was I only hired based on my appearance?

· Do I really have the ability to perform my job without the predator in my corner?

· Do I have what it takes to make it in this business? Am I good enough?

· Is this a rite of passage?

· Are the consequences of recourse or retaliation greater than enduring the pain?

It’s not uncommon for a survivor to feel ashamed and disgraced especially if others were to find out. Furthermore, a previous history of being a victim coupled with negative reactions from family, friends, and co-workers may worsen the impact of sexual violence on mental health. Because sexual trauma can have such a serious impact on mental health, it’s important to recognize the signs and begin the process of repairing, restoring, and rebuilding:

Repair:

· Seek psychological help. Being in-tune with your emotional self is the basis to self-care. Your therapist can help you cope with your feelings, thoughts and behaviors that will guide you on the path to recovery. If you are hesitant, start small with an introductory session. Many insurances will cover mental health services at no charge to you.

· Write it down. Writing about traumatic experiences has been proven to serve as effective treatment for reducing difficult experiences, nurturing resistance, and improving other life functions.

· Heal together. Seek inspiration and comfort from those who experienced similar trauma. Join groups or blogs and read about their experiences that led to triumphs.

· Seek out leisure time at a special place. Perhaps its outdoors, at a cultural exhibit/venue, or simply a friend’s home where you sense peace and feel grounded.

Restore:

Restoration can be as easy as improving our lifestyle patters, such as our physical, eating, and social habits. These can be key to supporting you through and post a traumatic experience. It’s important to maintain a healthy and strong body as you may be healing from emotional and physical injury. To do this, consider the following:

· Find a physical route. Not only does physical activity build muscle, it promotes psychological health. Indulge in activities that made you feel more energized as regular movement can reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

· Improve your sleep patterns. Get ample rest. Create a healthy ritual or pattern that enables you to feel rested. This can include disconnecting all digital devices, herbal teas, etc.

· Improve your eating patterns. As the saying goes, you are what you eat. Consume foods that make you feel healthy and strong.

· See your tribe. Spend time with someone or a group of people that you feel safe and supported around.

Rebuild:

Self-confidence comes from within. We cannot negotiate this by materialistic means such as increasing our salaries, sending our children to a fancy school, climbing social rankings, etc. Self-confidence is intrinsic and there is no bargaining with external elements. Here is what you can do to rebuild your inner self:

· Meditate and relax. Making meditation or relaxation activities a part of your regular regimen can establish more positive habits and routines. Start small. Add one new component at a time. Set reminders and do it continuously until it feels organic.

· Knockdown the self-bully. Win the most incredible you back. Don’t deprive yourself of your best emotional well-being. Be a knockout! Kick negative sentiments such as shame, disbelief, guilt, and worthlessness out of the spotlight. Techniques such as acknowledging and logging your self-critical speech, then disproving it with evidence and several opposing positive thoughts boosts self-esteem and confidence.

· Treat yourself like a newborn baby. Envision you are holding and communicating with a precious new baby. Would you smile? Say sweet things such as you are beautiful, incredible, strong, and a gift? What else would you say to comfort this priceless life? Now see yourself as that newborn. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself with respect, nourishment and acknowledge that you are capable of anything. This is your revamped self-filling prophecy, baby.

· Challenge Yourself. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Resilient people have the emotional forte to get through life’s hitches without falling to pieces. Dare yourself to raise your hand before your co-workers. Take a stab at martial arts. Be “that person” at karaoke. Explore a lesser known culture. Sit in the front row at SoulCycle. Finger-paint, train for a race, volunteer, or independently eat dinner at a cool venue on your hitlist. Do something that just might make you squirm, roll your eyes or raise your palm. Then pat yourself on the back post-task. You made it. You are exceptional. You are resilient.

· Recharge by disconnecting. Treat yourself to a social media fast. Replace existing tech rituals like checking IG, FB, Twitter or email with healthier ones such as walking outside, sleeping, socializing IRL, or by stretching. Not all social media is toxic — sometimes it is outright educational. Nevertheless, be mindful of how much time you spend online. Be selective as to how you nourish yourself. Limit devouring enormous amounts of toxicity in one seating by dedicating a specific interval during the day to scroll and swipe. Curbing your social media intake for only a few days can refresh happiness, reduce anxiety and depression — “Like” yourself and self-sooth habitually.

· Capture your excellence, escape perfection. What is the ultimate self-defeating behavior? Perfectionism. And it comes at a high cost. It lowers our chances of taking risks, diminishes ingenuity and can promote stagnation. It is paralyzing. As humans, we were built to acclimate, adjust and adapt. Avoid black and white thinking. Perfectionism is constricting, rigid and can send us in a downward spiral resulting in inelasticity, procrastination, self-criticism, increased stress, anxiety and depression. It’s a never-ending self-evaluation (think report-cards) which promotes self-absorption and intensifies obsessive-compulsive behaviors. What is the antidote? Strive for quality and excellence. Enjoy what you are doing. Take pride in what you learn and develop self-assurance. Praise yourself for partaking in the process and the effort you exerted, not the talent or the manufactured product. Reality-check yourself with the following questions to combat your inner critic: Is this a factual thought or interpretation? What is the worst thing that could ensue? How likely is that to occur?

· Pursue Self-Love. Write down 3 things daily that you can appreciate about yourself. Use post-its, a note app, or just a traditional notebook. The purpose is to celebrate your value, your talents, to believe you are a treasure, and to reframe from comparing yourself to others.

· Please yourself. Discontinue patterns of pleasing the masses. This doesn’t mean you should relinquish helping others entirely; however it’s anticlimactic if you can’t attend to your own needs. Put community service and other outside commitments in perspective. There is an art to self-indulgence. Maintain a weekly checklist to compare and contrast input vs. output. Make sure you are always on top.

· Reclaim your throne (and your invisible crown). Traditionally, a crown represents leadership, divinity, legitimacy, honor and glory. Here’s a secret, (aghast), nobles are not the only ones who can bear them. Visualize wearing your crown and exude instantaneous confidence. This is a royal hail to your achievements and should be a daily exercise in your repertoire. Whether it’s adorned with jewels or a simplistic bohemian wreath, picture wearing your headgear, walking stately like it’s your coronation day all day/every day. Your non-verbal language is just as vital as spoken language; therefore, allow your body to accept this new found assurance. Practice walking and smiling simultaneously. Remember to stand tall, shoulders wide, chest open and take long strides with arms at your side. Maintaining a poised posture and beaming from cheek to cheek reinforces information about your emotions and attitudes. Replace any self-destructive thoughts that might begin to flood you by way of using positive imagery. Think beaches, sun, or anyplace that makes you jovial. Take pride in your stance, it will strengthen your positive beliefs about yourself and demonstrate to others that you possess self-respect. Now that’s what I call a prodigy, legacy and one extraordinary woman!

Healing from sexual abuse in the workplace can feel isolating, intimidating, discouraging and a hindrance to one’s career, however repairing, restoring and rebuilding a survivor’s life is the only option. To read Part 1 of this series, click here.