Grief and Loss in the Year of a Pandemic
The past year has ushered in loss and as a society, we are collectively grieving. As a culture, we have a script for honoring big losses such as the death of a loved one. We have rituals in place that allow for the mourning process to be carried forward. This helps us honor our grief and work through it. What the pandemic has really highlighted for me, however, is the question of what do we do with small losses? How do we grieve the ambiguous loss? I think of the unattended high school graduation, the canceled concert, the postponed wedding, the break-up, and the social isolation.
I want to give space and air to these unobserved disappointments that so often get neglected. We are really good at “getting over it” and avoiding our pain. The default for many, is to dismiss and discount their experiences of small loss. It may bring up feelings of guilt or embarrassment because we can always point to someone who has it “much worse off than me.” When we compare our pain to others, we neglect a vital aspect of our personhood.
We are collectively enduring disenfranchised grief. This phenomenon was first coined by Kenneth J. Doka, a professor and hospice consultant. Doka puts language to the experience of losses that are not recognized by others (Doka, 1989). Some losses occur, and we have no social ritual of mourning for it as a culture. It goes unacknowledged and as result, our feelings go unheard and invalidated. Much of the missed experiences, relationships, roles, and opportunities of this past year can be categorized as disenfranchised grief. How are we processing these losses?
Unprocessed grief is devastating to our well-being. It’s no surprise that symptoms of anxiety and depression have increased considerably in the United States during the pandemic (Czeisler, et al, 2020).
When you experience a loss, it deserves to be grieved. The mourning process allows for you to honor its importance in your life and to work through the emotional impact. I often tell people in my work that “you can either feel it now, or feel it later, you choose.” Either way, the feelings associated with loss will surface sooner or later.
It is worth the time to reflect on this past year and identify what losses you have experienced. Suspend all judgement, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Try and acknowledge it. I hope that you can find some tenderness for yourself and honor the small losses. Here are some steps to take that I have found helpful in working through loss. (Adapted from Therese Rando’s 6 R’s of Mourning.)
Acknowledge Your Loss
Take the time to reflect on what has been most difficult for you during this pandemic. Don’t compare your experience to others. This is a practice that is personal and just for you. Notice what you have missed, what has felt disappointing, what have you been fearful, sad, or angry about? By naming the loss, you will be externalizing the experience and giving it a home outside of your body.
Share It with Someone
After identifying your unique experiences of loss, find someone who will be a compassionate listener. It might even be helpful to find people who have experienced a similar loss. Our grief deserves a witness. When we can bravely talk about it with others, we will feel less alone.
Create a Ritual
A lot of disenfranchised grief is not given the traditional recognition in our culture such as memorials, obituaries, periods of mourning, etc. Find a way to memorialize your losses. It was something important to you and deserves to be honored and remembered. Get creative and find some sort of action to accompany your grief. Some examples might be to light a candle, plant a tree, hold a special ceremony, bury an object, spend time journaling, drawing or painting.
Adjust to the New Life
Once you have processed your grief and loss, you now have the task of returning to life. How can you invest back into your life? What are the activities that bring you joy? As you adjust to the new normal, be intentional about finding purpose and meaning. Loss is a natural part of the human experience. With each loss you endure, an opportunity arises for new life and new experiences. As the poet, Mary Oliver once asked, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Grief Counseling in Seattle
Are you struggling with unprocessed grief and loss? Are you looking for support to help heal from past or current loss? You are not alone, and help is available. We are a team of therapists located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. We work with individuals and couples in the Seattle area on navigating through grief and loss. You can schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to see if we are a good fit.
Coronavirus Survival Guide
The coronavirus pandemic has been all over the news, dominating my conversations with clients, friends, and family, as well as constantly swirling in my mind. At such an unprecedented time in our global history, anxiety and stress are running high for very good reasons. There is so much uncertainty about how this invisible force can hurt each of us, our loved ones, the economy, and the world. We are in the middle of a medical, psychological, financial, and political crisis.
In times of crisis, it is critical that we prioritize our self care while we care for and serve others. We need to consider how to best survive the crisis in the present moment as well as preventing the development of mental health concerns afterwards. As I mentioned in a previous post about trauma, symptoms of PTSD can develop when we face challenges that are beyond our capacity to cope, are unable to feel and express our emotions, feel invalidated and unseen by others, and cannot return to a place of safety and security in our bodies and in our community.
To help cope with the elevated stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic and to prevent the development of trauma symptoms in the future, I want to offer several coping strategies in this survival guide for mental health.
Validate Your Emotions
My family in China lives two hours outside of the city of Wuhan, the first epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. Witnessing them live through the outbreak and quarantine, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions from this side of the world. I felt fear, helplessness, anger, sadness, anxiety, grief, and loneliness. Now that the coronavirus has spread in the U.S., many of my clients, friends, and family here are experiencing a similar roller coaster of emotions. These feelings are universal and they tell us something important about the context that we live in right now and what we might need to cope and survive.
To manage these overwhelming emotions, we can take some time to identify them, validate and sooth them, and express them to supportive and trusted friends and family members. For instance, if you are feeling more anxious since the coronavirus outbreak, take a quiet moment to ask yourself, "What is this anxiety about?" Is your anxiety about the health and safety of your friends and family? Is it about feeling helpless that you could protect them? Is it about your financial stability and future? If it about the pain of witnessing devastation and suffering around the world? Is it about the grief and loss related to the illness and/or death of a loved one? Is it about feeling overwhelmed with working on the front lines? Is it about your emotions not aligning with the emotions of others around you? When we become clear about what the emotion is trying to tell us, we can better validate and soothe them.
During a crisis, not having our emotions validated and soothed by ourselves and others is one of the risk factors for developing PTSD. One study found that health care providers on the front lines of the SARS outbreak were more likely to develop burnout and PTSD symptoms 1 to 2 years afterwards if they did not receive enough emotional support. Some of us may have learned to cope with emotions by telling ourselves that our emotions are "too much" or that we are being "oversensitive." We may have learned to ignore, deny, or logic our way out of our feelings. Although these strategies work well in the short term, our emotions can become stuck in our bodies and manifest in other ways such as tension, pain, gastrointestinal upset, illness, anxiety, and depression.
Instead of ignoring or compartmentalizing emotions, I encourage you to practice validating and accepting your own feelings, no matter what they are or how "illogical" they seem. For example, if you are feeling anxious about the health and safety of your friends and family, take a moment to practice being compassionate with yourself. Perhaps saying to yourself, as you would say to a child or a good friend, "Wow, I am feeling really scared right now for my loved ones' safety. I feel helpless that I can protect them. This fear tells me how much they really matter to me. This fear comes from a place of love and concern." Allow the emotions to come and go like waves. Notice how the emotion feels in your body. Tune into what your body needs and find ways to release the emotional energy in constructive ways (e.g., crying, shaking, running, being still, giving yourself a massage, petting an animal, hugging a loved one).
When you are ready, share your emotions with a trusted and supportive person. Ask them to listen and provide validation and reassurance. Remember that each person may have unique ways of coping and making sense of the pandemic; not everyone is able to be present, empathize with, and validate your emotions. Find the individuals who are able to give you what you need. Seek help from a mental health professional if you are having a hard time finding emotional support.
When we can honor and soothe our emotions, we can then act from a place of groundedness and wisdom.
Validate Others' Emotions
Listening to and validating others' emotions are powerful acts of kindness and generosity during a crisis. Other people's emotions may not align with our feelings but it is important to validate that these emotions are real and true for them. This is especially important for children and teens in your life who are struggling to make sense of the pandemic and the anxiety that they are seeing in the adults around them.
Take some time to check in with your loved ones and neighbors. Really listen to their experiences, stories, and emotions without judgement. Let them know that their emotions are important to you, their emotions make sense, and they are not alone in feeling these emotions. Let them know that you are here for them. Emotional support can be an antidote to our collective fear. This act of love can be a protective factor that will help us be resilient in the face of so much uncertainty. Even without solving their problems, your presence and support will make a world of difference in someone's life right now.
If your loved ones and neighbors are struggling with symptoms of mental health concerns due to the pandemic, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma, gently refer them to a mental health professional for extra support.
Give Yourself Time to Adjust
In a time of crisis, we can forget that we need time to adjust to transitions. We may experience pressure from society, our family, or ourselves to quickly adjust to a new context and move forward without skipping a beat. As I witnessed my family members go through the shock and adjustment to the outbreak and quarantine in the Hubei province, their experience reminded me of the cultural adaptation process of people who live temporarily in foreign environments (e.g., international students, foreign aid workers, anthropologists). People who experience a sudden change in their context may go through five stages of cultural adaptation: euphoria, disillusionment, hostility/hopelessness, adaptation, and integration. As we adjust to the new stay-at-home orders by working from home, homeschooling our children, limiting our social contacts, and changing our lives in dramatic ways, we may be experiencing similar stages of euphoria ("Working from home in my pajamas is great!"), disillusionment ("I miss my old routines." "Staying home all the time is not as wonderful as I had thought."), hostility/hopelessness ("When will this be over?" "Being around my family all the time is driving me nuts."), adaptation ("I am finding some normality now by embracing the new experience."), and integration ("I have found new and creative ways to get my needs met." "I am experiencing joy and pleasure again even in this uncertain and chaotic context."). You may have experienced these stages when you changed jobs, moved across the country, started a romantic relationship, became a parent, or experienced any other major life transitions.
I encourage you to give yourself plenty of time to adjust to the challenges of this new context. These challenges can include having less boundaries between work and home life, finding new ways for social connection and entertainment, adjusting to being a teacher and a parent, coping with sudden unemployment and financial stress, caring for a loved one who is ill, or working overtime on the front lines. Be patient, kind, and gentle with yourself. Anticipate that you might go through all of those stages of adaptation and more. As the coronavirus is changing our world on a daily basis, we might have to adapt and adapt again.
Online Counseling During COVID-19
Are you struggling with increased anxiety and stress due to COVID-19? Are you looking for extra support during this difficult time? We are licensed counselors who are ready to provide you with expert help and support. We help individuals and couples in the Seattle area with a wide range of mental health concerns. We offer online therapy during the pandemic. You can schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation or contact us for more information.
Childhood Emotional Neglect as Trauma
When we think of trauma, we often think of extreme experiences of life or death. War, combat, sexual assault, physical abuse are the examples that come easily to mind. This definition of trauma is reflected in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the book that mental health providers refer to when identifying and diagnosing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The first criteria for the diagnosis of PTSD is direct or indirect exposure to "death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence."
In this post, I want to expand the definition of trauma to include experiences of childhood emotional neglect, which are often invisible, difficult to identify and describe, and overlooked. Many of us may have grown up with these experiences and yet never know anything was wrong in our childhood or that these experiences continue to negatively impact our lives now. We may never call these experiences "traumatic" and therefore never work toward healing.
Child Emotional Neglect
Childhood emotional neglect as trauma is not yet a widely acknowledged topic in the world of psychology or in pop culture. In fact, when I did a search on the existing research articles and books on this topic, there are only a handful that have ever been written on emotional neglect separate from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. As mentioned in a previous blog post, Dr. Jonice Webb has published some of the most helpful blog posts and books on this topic. Her work is so important because it is rare. I believe it is important to label childhood emotional neglect as trauma because I see how it has impacted myself and my clients in similar ways to other experiences of trauma. Like other experiences of trauma, emotional neglect is hard for a child to make sense of and it is beyond their capacity to cope with it.
How Does Childhood Emotional Neglect Occur?
When parents or caregivers were not present with their child and able tune into their world, the child may experience emotions of loneliness, anger, sadness, fear, and guilt, which can become frozen in their bodies. When a child did not feel safe or loved in their family, even if their physical needs were provided for, they may experience symptoms similar to those of PTSD: have difficulties remembering details about their childhood, have negative views of themselves and the world, blame themselves for their difficulties, feel distant and detached from others, feel persistent negative emotions (i.e. depression), and have difficulties experiencing positive emotions. These difficulties can follow them into adulthood.
Consider Reading More:
How Is Childhood Emotional Neglect Different?
Unlike other experiences of acute trauma, childhood emotional neglect is much more chronic and subtle. Emotional neglect is the family culture and the very air that the child breathes. It is difficult to identify what you missed if you never knew that a different life was possible. I believe that at a deep level of a child's mind, childhood emotional neglect feels just as life-threatening as other forms of trauma such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
Does This Sound Like You?
As a child, when you looked into your parent's eyes and did not see recognition, acceptance, or love, it may have felt as if your survival was at stake. You may have done what ever you could to win your parent's attention, affection, and love back. Sometimes that meant being the "golden child" and sometimes that meant being the "black sheep." And when all else failed, you may have shut down your need for love and affection altogether. You may have told yourself that you need to be fiercely independent and that dependency is weakness. This may lead to struggles in adulthood that I outlined in a previous blog post about childhood emotional neglect.
PTSD Symptoms are Similar
These struggles also align with some of the symptoms of PTSD:
Counseling in the Ballard Neighborhood of Seattle, WA
Are you ready to work with a therapist to address your experiences of childhood emotional neglect and heal from this past trauma? Here at Thrive for the People, we specialize in treating the lingering effects of childhood emotional neglect through trauma therapy. Our expert therapists can help you unpack your childhood experiences and understand how they continue to impact you today. You can schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation or contact us to get started.
Childhood Emotional Neglect, An Introduction
Unlike the experiences of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, childhood emotional neglect (CEN) is harder to identify and acknowledge because it is about what didn't happen to you rather than what did happen to you. If you were abused, you were also emotionally neglected. If you were not abused, you could still have been emotionally neglected. Emotional neglect occurs when parents and caregivers were consistently not present, available, understanding, or supportive when you needed them.
This can occur in small and large ways throughout your childhood. For example, a parent may be physically present but mentally and emotionally absent because they are stressed and overwhelmed. Or a parent may be unable to attend to and manage their own emotions and therefore unable to acknowledge and help you understand your emotions. As a result, children who were emotionally neglected may, as adults, struggle with understanding their own emotions and emotions of others, connecting with other people on a deep and intimate level, feeling chronically lonely and empty, difficulties with self-discipline and/or over work, difficulties caring for self and/and others, and struggling with depression and anxiety as well as low self-esteem and self-worth. In general, there is a sense that life is lived in grey scale rather than full-colored, that other people seems to get something more from life and relationships that you do not, and you question whether there is something innately wrong with you.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. It wasn't your fault. It may not have been your parents' fault either. And yet at the same time, you hold the power to change.
The two books that are particularly helpful on this topic are by Dr. Jonice Webb: Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents and Your Children.
Trauma Counseling in the Ballard Neighborhood of Seattle, WA
If this blog post resonates with you, you are not alone. You can begin to heal from childhood trauma and neglect in a supportive and controlled environment. We offer trauma counseling services at our Ballard counseling clinic. Each of our counselors takes a holistic approach to your mental health using techniques from various evidence-based counseling approaches to help you create lasting change and thrive with challenges. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to learn more and start your journey toward healing today.
Do you constantly feel like something is missing in your life? Do you feel a deep sense of emptiness, loneliness, sadness, or discontent even though your life looks wonderful from the outside? Do you long for something from the past or wish for something more in the future? This sense of incompleteness can be so painful and yet invisible or mystifying to other people who do not struggle with it. I have often struggled with this sense of emptiness in my life. This nagging feeling of something-is-missing is really confusing because I have all the trimmings of a privileged life. I used to think that this emptiness can be filled by accomplishments, friends, family, money, hobbies, career, or pets. But the more "stuff" I accumulated to fill this hole, the more empty and incomplete I felt. I came to realize that the hole cannot be paved over by anything from the outside.
Finding Wholeness Within You: A Meditation
I have learned that this empty feeling can be better explained by my experiences of childhood emotional neglect (CEN). You can read more about CEN in my blog posts here and here. Check out this helpful definition from Dr. Jonice Webb's website. I want to offer in today's post a simple meditation to help you find the wholeness that is already and always within you. It may be helpful to have a friend or partner read this meditation to you or record yourself reading this meditation and then play it back to yourself.
Now find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes. Begin by bringing your awareness to your breath. Notice yourself breathing in and breathing out. Notice the quality of your breath - whether your breath is deep or shallow, fast or slow. Bring your breath to a comforting rhythm. Take a few moments to bring yourself to your body and to the present moment with your breath.
Now use your imagination, your mind's eye, and imagine an acorn in your hand. Notice the size, the shape, the weight, the texture of the acorn. Reflect on how this small seed contains the life force of a mighty oak tree. Reflect on how tough and resilient this small acorn must be in order to survive the fall to the ground, the elements of sun, rain, wind, or snow, and the animals and bugs that will try to consume it before it can become rooted. Once it has found its place in the forest, the outer shell will crack open for a young shoot to emerge. Just like an acorn has everything it needs to grow into a full tree, you have everything within you to become your full self. Inside of yourself is a whole and complete you that has always been there. It is the wise and resilient part of you that may have become hidden or obscured by the darkness of life, waiting for the right moment to crack open and emerge. See if you can look into yourself now and find that seed, that life force. Allow yourself to touch it, to feel it, to hold on to it and be grounded by it. Allow yourself to give it the care, nurture, and patience that it needs to unfold into your mighty self.
Now come back to the awareness of your breath. We will leave the image of the acorn for now. You can come back to this imagery whenever you need to. Notice yourself breathing in and breathing out. Notice if anything has changed for you since the beginning of this activity. Now gently flutter your eyes open and bring yourself back to this room.
I hope this meditation will help you on your journey to find the wholeness within.
Mindfulness Counseling in Seattle, WA
If you are ready to begin the journey of healing, our team at Thrive for the People can provide you with a safe and supportive outlet for change. They will work with you to increase mindfulness, to identify the "emptiness" you are feeling in your life, and work towards a deeper sense of self. We are located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle and offer online counseling. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation today to see if out therapists might be a good fit for your needs.
Self-Sabotage of Relationships - Awareness and Understanding
I recently read this amazing piece in The New Yorker by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz. The article was "The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma." In this article, Díaz described how his early experiences of sexual abuse followed him throughout his life. He explained how they contributed to the destruction of many meaningful romantic relationships. He reflected on and owned up to his self-sabotaging behaviors as well as recognized that he was afraid of facing his trauma. Not only was he afraid that he had become broken and unlovable, but afraid to hope for something better. I felt both empathetic for his pain and validated by his naming of these experiences.
"Super ironic that I write and talk about intimacy all day long; it’s something I’ve always dreamed of and never had much luck achieving. After all, it’s hard to have love when you absolutely refuse to show yourself, when you’re locked behind a mask."
- Junot Díaz
Understanding Self-Sabotaging Behaviors as Trauma
The root of self-sabotaging relationships is often fear and insecurities resulting from past traumas. These traumas can include difficult family dynamics where you experienced abuse, abandonment, enmeshment, over-involvement, or neglect. The topic of self-sabotage is so broad and complex that I am going to divide it up into several blog posts. In this blog post, I will focus on how to identify when you or your partner are self-sabotaging the relationship.
One way to identify self-sabotaging behaviors is that they are misaligned with your values, characters, and beliefs. For example, after fights with my partner, I often wondered, "Where did all that anger come from?" I am not generally an angry person nor do I want to be one. These behaviors can leave you filled with regrets because of the shame and guilt for acting in ways that do not reflect the best of you. Remember that this self-sabotaging pattern is not the whole of who you are.
You might be using self-sabotaging behaviors to help avoid more pain and protect you from future disappointments. This gripping, suffocating, and intangible fear of failure, pain, abandonment, inadequacy makes so much sense when we see it through the lens of trauma. Self-sabotaging relationships can be an effective coping strategy. If you never get too close in a relationship, you will never get hurt. Yet, the outcome of self-sabotaging behaviors is often more painful when you use these behaviors to keep yourself away from the very person that you want to be close to.
Examples of Self-Sabotaging Behaviors in Relationships
I want to point out that self-sabotaging behaviors can vary on a spectrum. They may be behaviors ranging from we-all-do-this-sometime to abusive. If your behaviors are abusive, it's time to seek help from a mental health professional.
Am I Self-Sabotaging Relationships?
Sometimes the reasons behind the behaviors are deep in our subconscious. So deep, we may not be aware that we are self-sabotaging relationships. Thus, one of the first steps in addressing self-sabotaging behaviors is identifying them.
First, ask yourself, "Is my reaction to my partner out of proportion to the current situation?" In the book "Getting the Love You Want," Dr. Harville Hendrix talked about the differences between our "old brain" and "new brain." Our "old brain" consists of the limbic system and the brain stem. It regulates our basic bodily functions and the fight/flight/freeze mechanisms. The old brain is always on the alert for safety and danger. The important note about the old brain is that it works without an awareness of time. This is why when past wounds become triggered, it feels like the wound is happening right now. In contrast, the "new brain" (the cerebral cortex) can:
Assess Your Behaviors in Proportion to the Situation
If your reaction to your partner is out of proportion to the situation, that's a good sign that some of your past wounds may be triggered. Thus, you may be acting out of your old brain without realizing it. For example, you might be very jealous of your partner spending time with friends and family. These reactions are to past trauma rather than the present moment. These reactions come from deeper fears. If unacknowledged and unaddressed, they can lead to further self-sabotaging relationships.
Assess the Outcome of Your Behaviors
Then, ask yourself, "Is my behavior bringing my closer to my partner or pushing them away in the long term?" When we become triggered or reactive in our relationship, we can feel, act, and think ways that push our partner further away. When we become triggered, it is easier to express emotions like anger and frustration. It becomes much harder to express vulnerable and tender emotions such as fear, sadness, and loneliness.
For example, my partner came home later than expected one evening from having dinner with a friend who was visiting town. I was seething with anger and gave him the silent treatment. Instead of expressing vulnerable fears of abandonment or sadness, I went straight to the protective emotion of anger. The anger only pushed him further away, which was the opposite of what I wanted. Sometimes self-sabotaging behaviors can bring our partner closer in the short term. Yet, it is still harmful to the relationship in the long term. Similarly, avoiding conflict may create harmony in the relationship in the short term. However, unresolved issues might resurface later and create more damage to the relationship.
Assess Your Values
Finally, ask yourself, "Does my behavior align with my values?" Often, our self-sabotaging behaviors become misaligned with our values, characters, and beliefs. For example, after fights with my partner, I often wondered, "Where did all that anger come from?" I am not generally an angry person nor do I want to be one. These behaviors can leave us with regret because of the shame and guilt for acting in ways that aren't ourselves. The shame and guilt may be a good sign that you might be self-sabotaging relationships. Yet, try not to get stuck in the muck of shame and guilt. Remember that this self-sabotaging part of you is only that, a part of you. It is not the whole of who you are.
We all have our reasons for why we engage in self-sabotaging relationships. It may be helpful in the healing process to understand your "why." To do so, you can read some great books on family dynamics and trauma. You can check our Recommended Reading page for some suggestions, talk to your partner, friends, and family to get feedback on your behaviors, and eek help from a therapist to uncover past wounds that may be driving the behaviors.
Begin Trauma Treatment in Our Ballard Office or Via Online Therapy
You do not have to go through the pain of self-sabotaging relationships. You can overcome past trauma with the help of a caring therapist at our Ballard therapy practice. If what you've read here resonates and you live in the Seattle area, we encourage you to contact us today. We can schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation and begin exploring how psychotherapy can help you on your journey toward healing.
Breaking the Silence with #MeToo
The recent tidal wave of women speaking up about their sexual harassment and sexual assault experiences is the culminations of years, decades, centuries of pent up fury and silence. The #MeToo movement is growing stronger and louder every day, led by courageous individuals in the public sphere and in my personal circles on social media. I have been wanting to write a blog post about this topic for awhile; it has taken me some time to digest the growing accounts of sexual violence and make sense of my own reactions.
As I am writing this post I am still not sure I can clearly articulate my emotions related to all of this. As a woman of color and a survivor of countless sexual harassment experiences, my first reaction is of fierce pride for the individuals who have risked so much to speak up. My second reaction is of disgust at the perpetrators who have abused their power for so long with the assumption that their behaviors will be protected and rewarded. My third reaction is of anger at our society for creating and maintaining a system that benefits perpetrators and perpetuates sexual violence. In this blog post, I want to address the question that I often hear asked about survivors of sexual violence: if this really happened, why didn't they speak up before?
Why Now Are We Hearing So Many #MeToo Stories?
There are many reasons why we may not have heard about this volume of sexual violence incidents until now. First, these stories are not new, we have chosen as individuals and as a society to ignore them. For example, see the documentary The Hunting Ground for information on the staggering number of sexual assaults on college campuses and the length to which the institutions go to protect perpetrators. Second, when survivors have spoken up, we have been invalidated, disbelieved, shamed, silenced, and threatened by our perpetrators, friends, family, partners, employers, schools, government, and society. Third, survivors face real danger of losing our education, jobs, reputation, relationships, and yes, even our lives, for breaking the silence. Fourth, the question itself casts doubts on the motives and credibility of the survivors, which in turn, contributes to the silencing of survivors.
The Time article on Person of the Year: The Silence Breakers, profiled the amazing individuals who shared their stories of sexual violence. The article does a great job of describing the terror that many face when they experience sexual violence and the impossible decisions they often have to make (my job vs. my dignity, my livelihood vs. my safety, my duty vs. my personhood). It also highlights so many nuances and unanswered questions we are grappling with as a society in