CHICAGO — Women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed might realize a need for self-care this week, as personal stories of abuse emerge online.
Allegations of abusive actions by Harvey Weinstein have built throughout the past week, after The New York Times reported multiple sexual harassment settlements involving the movie mogul.
Reading such stories can be a trigger for women who have experienced abuse, said Joyce Marter, licensed psychotherapist and founder of Urban Balance, which has multiple therapy sites in the Chicago area.
“That can be re-traumatizing for somebody who is a survivor,” she said. “Seeing the social media feed can be triggering, and it can bring about previous symptoms of their trauma.” These can include difficulty concentrating or making decisions and anxiety.
This week the #MeToo hashtag adds to the conversation, as women share personal experiences of abuse to raise awareness of the sheer scope of how often and how many have been affected.
“It can be normalizing and validating for people to know they’re not alone,” Marter said.
But at the same time, she said, “it can be very overwhelming to see the magnitude of the issue.”
Not everyone will benefit emotionally from sharing a personal experience.
“In order for them to take the best care of themselves, it may be best not to post, and that’s OK,” she said, adding, “We need to respect the boundaries of these women whose boundaries have been violated.”
Marter recommends the following tips for women who have suffered harassment or assault.
Breathe. Taking deep breaths can be centering and remind a person to zero in on the here and now. “Sometimes when our traumas get triggered, our thinking goes back to the past,” she said. Focusing on inhaling slowly and deepening the breath can bring the mind back to the present.
Seek support. As a therapist, Marter supports finding help through therapy. “It doesn’t mean you’re crazy or in crisis. It’s really like a personal trainer for your mind,” she said. If you’re not comfortable with or can’t afford an appointment, consider an online support group or calling a hotline.
Take a break. Amid all of the news stories, it can seem that the flow of dark information is unyielding. It’s OK to step away. “Give yourself permission to take a break from the news,” Marter said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t care or that you’re not a feminist or that you don’t think the issues (are) important. … You’re practicing self-care and self-compassion and setting healthy limits and boundaries.”