The cat is out of the bag... long live emotional and psychological safety for women (and men) who have been sexually harassed, bullied and abused.
The entertainment industry and political system are just the beginning of what will be a universal standing up for psychological safety and against harassment, bullying and abuse in all industries and hopefully eventually in all relationships.
Why will #metoo continue to pick up speed and grow?
All people who have been sexually harassed, bullied and abused have been living with complex PTSD for decades - if not centuries. External and internal reasons have prevented people from standing up until now.
The most obvious reasons for not standing up for oneself against harassment, bullying and abuse are that the perpetrator would escalate and kill your career or at a primal level, kill you, if you did that. When you live with that and don’t protect yourself you become overly cautious, tentative, never lower your guard, rarely let anyone get close emotionally and rarely know joy or peace.
This will become obvious when you look at people and notice that their smiles don’t match their eyes. Instead what you will see is a tentative, inauthentic, polite smile and scanning, checking for safety look in their eyes.
There is a more potent reason for why victims of harassment, bullying and abuse haven’t stood up and instead tried to deeply suppress and submerge any and all their feelings about it. I have called it RTA (and am trying to replace PTSD with RTA even though I wrote PTSD for Dummies) which stands for Re-Traumatization Avoidance. What this means is that people who have been deeply traumatized will tell you that they don’t know how they survived it in the first place and feel deeply vulnerable, fragile and brittle as well as a conviction that they wouldn’t be able to survive it if it happened again. Now of course, they do survive it, because in complex PTSD it happens repeatedly and despite thinking they won’t make it through the repetition of the abuse, people do.
All of the symptoms of PTSD can be explained by RTA. The numbing, the social withdrawal, the turning to drugs and alcohol, the hypervigilance, the elevated startle response are all ways to psychologically avoid and protect against being re-traumatized from within and again feeling you can’t survive it.
What has happened with the #metoo movement is that as more people who have been harassed, bullied and abused stand up and are joined by fellow victims, more people’s fear of retaliation and/or not being able to survive the internal re-traumatizaton are discovering: a. their worst fears aren’t realized (although we are already seeing a burgeoning backlash developing); b. the immense relief of expressing and sharing their stories is like draining a massive bulging abscess that that has robbed all victims of joy, vitality and peace.
Before the #metoo movement started and before it was safe to express one’s deepest feelings I met with woman I coach and told her, “I know what you’re most deeply afraid of and it’s not being harassed, bullied or even abused because you have defenses against those. Might I tell you what that is?”
She looked at me deeply puzzled and intrigued and tentatively responded, “Uh.. s-u-r-e...” (I should add that most people have told me that they have never picked up a hurtful, judgmental or controlling attitude or behavior coming from me which allows me to ask such a question*).
I looked deeply into her eyes and said, “What you are most afraid of is feeling completely and unconditionally emotionally and psychologically safe and that it is something you don’t have to do anything to receive and you can’t lose.”
She paused, still accepting my deep look into her eyes, and then she started sobbing uncontrollably. In a few moments, she replied, “I don’t know what you just did, but you just hit a nerve that goes as deeply as I can feel. No that’s not exactly true. You just touched a nerve that goes deeper than I can feel.”
I think that was because her lack of emotional and psychological safety extended to when she was a helpless, defenseless, completely vulnerable infant and the safety she failed to receive from her parents combined with danger of sensing the impatience, anger and/or self-absorption of her parents towards her.
* I am not a saint. It’s just that having personally known the pain of being harassed, bullied and abused in my life, I have made a lifelong commitment to never cause anyone else to ever feel that way.