Dealing with Trauma in the Wake of #MeToo
Tracey Tanenbaum is a Marriage and Family Therapist and Staff Therapist at Council for Relationships. She also serves as the Clinical Specialist of the Community Partnerships Initiative.
In early October, numerous women came forward and accused Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. Allegations ranged from inappropriate behavior to outright sexual assault. Since then, the floodgates have opened. On what feels like a daily basis, powerful men from nearly all sectors—the media, government, the arts and industry—are being called out for predatory behavior. The claims stretch all the way to our commander-in-chief.
Comedian Louis CK; Alabama politician and judge, Roy Moore; United States senator, Al Franken; Academy award winning actor, Kevin Spacey; New Republic publisher, Hamilton Fish; National Public Radio’s head of news, Michael Oreskes; celebrity chef, John Besh; NBC Today’s Show co-host, Matt Lauer; PBS and CBS’s interviewer Charlie Rose, former Public Radio host, John Hockenberry; United States President, Donald Trump.
I could fill this page with names.
Buoyed by the “#MeToo” movement, men and women who once kept quiet are now speaking up. Institutions that once protected their most influential members are now taking swift and decisive actions against them.
Sexual harassment and assault is not new, but the recent glut of news casts a sharper lens on the excesses of male power.
For victims, all the headlines can have a dual quality. People often internalize sexual assault. They wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” It can have a shaming and isolating effect. The humiliation encourages victims to shoulder the secret and withdraw from authentic experience and intimate connection.
The fact that people are speaking out—speaking out and being believed—has had a vicariously empowering effect on some people, including some of my clients.
However, one size does not fit all. The onslaught of stories can also heighten anxiety for individuals, making it difficult to find respite from the pain, as well as a general sense of safety. It can force people to face abuse before they feel amply equipped. It can intensify intrusive memories of the trauma, also known as flashbacks.
To those folks—men and women—I offer some techniques with the intent to jolt the sense of reliving trauma out of the experience and back into the present moment. (Adapted from The PTSD Workbook (Second Edition), by Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula).
Tips to Jolt Flashbacks:
- Repeatedly blink your eyes hard.
- Name objects in your environment out loud.
- Clap your hands.
- Stamp your feet on the floor.
- Splash your face with cold water.
- In your imagination, spray the memory with a bottle of cleanser until it goes away.
- Move vigorously around the room.
This is an important moment in our culture. Survivors of sexual aggression have an opportunity to tell their stories at a time when the public is more willing to listen. Still, we can’t force them to come out, and risk re-traumatizing those who have already suffered so much.
Tracey Tanenbaum, M.Ed, MFT is a Staff Therapist at Council for Relationships who specializes in women’s issues and has experience treating sexual assault survivors. Request an appointment with Tracey today.