All last week, I watched post after post on social media with the hashtag #metoo, recounting tales of sexual abuse and assault of women at the hands of men. I spent some time reflecting about my own experiences in that realm.
At first, I struggled to remember them. And I was like, “C’mon, Rach, there’s no way this stuff hasn’t happened to you.”
Slowly but surely, they came back to me.
That time when a man stepped in to protect me from another man that I didn’t need or ask to be protected from, because he thought I should to belong to him.
That time on a beach in Mexico a guy took sexual liberties with me that I didn’t consent to.
That time a co-worker was stalking me (on and off company premises) and the company wouldn’t take any action other than not overlap our shifts and escort me to my car, despite the evidence I presented them.
And there are many more, but you get the idea. So many, perhaps, is why it was hard to remember them – they’ve blended in with day to day life.
For me, this isn’t about the men
I know that a significant part of this movement involves asking men to take responsibility for the ways they’ve contributed to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault in our culture. I appreciate that, but for me, that’s not actually the part that hurts.
When I think back to each of those incidents, the parts that stand out the most is my lack of voice. The voice that was screaming on the inside to do something, say something…but couldn’t quite come out. Where was I?
I wasn’t not speaking up because I was fearful of physical harm ever. So, what was it? Why wouldn’t my voice come to the surface?
What I know now is that I was scared of doing it wrong. Scared of hurting feelings. Scared of being rejected. Scared of making someone uncomfortable.
And because I’d carried this fears around with me for most (if not all) of my life, I also just didn’t have the basic vocabulary.
That’s not ok with me.
Back the fuck up.
Having the tools to communicate helps us to act, even when we’re scared.
Because I hadn’t practiced these communications AT ALL in my life, not only was I scared of all the things I mentioned above, my brain was triggered in such a way that it wasn’t great timing to think up something new and brilliant to say.
Having things to say in your back pocket for when you get upset, stressed, scared, or otherwise triggered makes all the difference.
The same goes for dating and relationships.
I notice I feel upset when ____.
I feel _____ about this.
Can you say more about what you mean by _____?
When you do _______, I make it mean _____.
And, while what is happening when you’re stressed or scared in a dating and relationship context may not be the same in one of a sexual assault or harassment context, the stress on your body and brain is the same. Something is happening that is unwanted or doesn’t feel good. In order to shift it, you have to have the communication tools to do so.
Having the words is half of the puzzle. The other half is practicing (and mastering) using them.
Not only do I give my clients the words to use, I also give them opportunities to practice them in non-threatening situations. You know, the ones where saying the right thing might mean the difference between staying in a relationship and not?
Because, as you can see from the examples above, it’s not really about the words. It’s about what things come up for you using the words, and working through those things.
When you dump a pile of work on my desk at 4:30 pm and ask me to have it ready the next morning, I interpret that as you not respecting me or my life outside of work.
(Do I deserve to have a life outside of work if I want to be good at my job?)
With your parents:
I notice I feel irritated when you try to say that I should be dating someone already. I make it mean that you think I’m not good enough to have a relationship that I really care about.
(Should I even bother telling my parents how I feel when I know they just want me to be happy?)
On the phone with customer service:
I feel like you’re using a script and don’t actually care about solving my problem.
(Is it ok for me to express anger?)
With your kids:
I seems like you want my attention. Can you find a way to ask for it that might make me want to give it to you?
(Will my kids still love me if I don’t give in?)
What words do you want to practice?
Tell me in the comments below, what are the words you want to use more to give yourself a voice when you have a hard time finding them?
With some practice, your voice will be right there with you, exactly when you need it.