Millions of women and men around the world are posting #metoo today on all sorts of social media platforms to speak out about their experience with sexual assault or harassment, specifically in the wake of the exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s abusive pattern of behavior over many years. The impetus of this social movement is to showcase the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment and recognize the bravery of speaking up and out about our experiences.
I feel extremely blessed to have never been raped and to have a partner in life who respects me fully for who I am, but, unfortunately, there are millions of women who have not been or are not so fortunate. Today, we may find ourselves shocked by the sheer number of those who post #metoo, and we may even find ourselves shaken by some who respond who are close to us. Unfortunately, for too many, the experience of sexual assault or harassment is shoved deep down and shrouded in shame.
When I was in college, I often went for runs on one of the main roads near our campus. The road was a busy, two lane thoroughfare from the north side of town to the south side, but it was also the road on which I lived for two years. While I ran, I was used to catcalls and whistles from men leaning our their windows. Local men seemingly found great joy in driving through campus harassing women, and while these comments were annoying, I never really felt threatened.
Then, one day, as I was finishing up my run, two teenage boys rode by me on their bikes. Somehow, in the midst of us passing one another, one of them managed to put his hands out and reach up my shorts. I stopped running immediately, shocked by the sudden intrusion. I turned around and looked at these boys and yelled at them, “Do you know that what you just did could get you in real trouble? I could go and tell the police right now?” They pedaled off as quickly as their scrawny little legs could carry them, laughing as though they just pulled off the greatest prank.
I never told the police.
In fact, I was kind of embarrassed by the encounter. Somehow, I wondered if I had done something wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have been running by myself? Maybe I shouldn’t wear shorts when I run? How could I have missed the fact that they were reaching out their hands? These are the ridiculous shame-filled messages we tell ourselves.
The reality is that this one-second encounter still sticks with me. I remember the feeling of the hands inside my shorts. My body responds with a similar anxiousness when I just think about the moment, yet, not to dismiss it, my experience is minute compared to many of the stories and experiences of women and men around the world.
So, what do we do?
We embrace the stories by telling the stories. As the researcher and author Brené Brown says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
Then, we offer ourselves a healthy dose of self-compassion.
Whether it is the shame of sexual assault or the shame of feeling like you’re not a good enough educator, mother, lawyer, businessperson, etc., opening yourself up by sharing your story allows you to recognize that you are not alone. This allows you to offer yourself compassion.
The outside world might push and pull. The outside might victim-blame or dismiss or push for perfection, but self-compassion will go a long way towards helping you heal, grow, and build resiliency.