#MeToo: Here's how you deal with the trauma and demons of sexual harassment

This World Mental Health Day, we look at the trauma faced by young women who deal with sexual harassment and an expert tells you how to deal with it
So many big names in the media and entertainment industry were exposed in the #MeToo movement
So many big names in the media and entertainment industry were exposed in the #MeToo movement

Do you remember the last argument you had at home? It may have been something along the lines of “don’t stay out too late” or “I don’t trust that person you go around with”. We’re all reading the headlines, watching the news and following the hashtags, not on one, but all social media sites. But are we really taking it all in?

October 10 is celebrated as the World Mental Health day and the theme for this year is decidedly - youth and mental health. Students and young adults have been in the forefront of voicing their opinions and speaking out against the system — be it lacking finances or sexual harassment and are finally slowly being heard. Recently, the #MeToo movement has gained a lot of traction in India. With recognisable and powerful names being taken on social media, a lot of people are finally being called out for their heinous acts. There are threads and sub-threads on twitter describing incidents and stories of hurt and damage that are finally seeing the light. There are also instances of women supporting other women and lawyers volunteering to work pro bono on cases of sexual harassment and also men agreeing that it was time that they listened for once. Of course, there are also people doing the complete opposite and shaming victims and giving excuses for these acts.

While all of this is brewing in a cauldron, you or someone you know may be the silent survivor, choosing to observe, and not say anything. Reading and watching all this happen in front of you, may bring back memories or triggers for the incident that you were in. You might have thought you were okay or that it was in the past or it shouldn’t be impacted you. To you, I want to say - it’s okay, it’s not wrong to feel or experience the nightmares or the anxiety or if you want to avoid certain spaces or places. But please don’t shame yourself for it. While seeking help from a mental health professional may not be financially feasible or even fathomable for some people, it is definitely the best way to help you to deal with it. It is important to understand that sometimes, reading these posts, watching the news or overhearing a story may bring back bad memories.

Now what can we do about it?

Ideally, maybe reach out to a counselor or a psychologist who would help you make sense of what is happening. If not, maybe, reach out to someone you trust and talk to them. It’s important to have a safe space and everyone’s safe space can be different. Some people find comfort in their friend or their pet or maybe singing with their guitar or drawing or even reading. Some may even have a physical safe space like a part of their house or even a park to help them calm down. So first things first - identify your safe space.

Second, it’s okay if you don’t want to speak out. Once everything is down on paper, it becomes more real and that becomes scary. But that doesn’t mean that your narrative is less important. There are different social structures surrounding everyone’s lives and stories. Just know and believe that stories similar to yours are finally being heard and ripples are being felt, slowly but surely.

Third, there will be a gnawing feeling or even outright anger that ignites in everyone, after listening to these stories. What do we do then? It’s hard to contain anger that has been building for days or years or even decades. You talk about it. Initiate conversations and point out and talk about the inherent sexism that really isn’t helping anybody. Those jokes or forwards stereotyping minority groups or casual remarks overheard by coworkers or even close friends - break those comments and ask questions. And believe me, I know the labels and the comments that will follow.

As a mental health professional, gender roles in families and even gender identity is something that I deal with on a regular basis. It’s painful to see social structures functioning smoothly and power dynamics being easily accepted, because it is convenient for some members of the family. If you can and have the resources to do so, I urge you to do everything in your power to change that. You may never know what may change or get people thinking.

(The author is a  counselling psychologist in Nishta Integrated Neurodevelopment Centre, Chennai)

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