by Camilla Williams, Ph.D.
In the wake of recent sexual assault revelations, a social media campaign has arisen (currently attributed to Alyssa Milano, although previous iterations have been going around for at least a decade). The idea behind the campaign is that if every person who has been sexually harassed or assaulted uses the status “Me Too” on social media, then people will begin to understand the pervasiveness of the problem. The initial call was for women to post this status, and others began to post about their experiences as well.
In the days since, men are also being called upon to use the status “I Did” to acknowledge times that they participated in some form of harassment by their actions or silence. Conversations are focusing on individual stories, whether or not the type of harassment or assault experienced is “enough” and who should be responsible for changing our current culture.
These conversations are uncomfortable for some people and overwhelming for others. Some individuals are describing specific incident(s) of sexual violence to personalize their status. Some people are learning, some people are ignoring, and still others are mocking the movement and the people who are sharing their personal stories.
For Survivors of Violence
If you have experienced sexual harassment or violence in your life, these posts may leave you feeling more vulnerable than you expected. You might be deciding whether or not what happens to you “counts” in light of other experiences you are reading. You may feel compelled to share your experience and/or worry that it will make you less safe. Each story you read may leave you feeling increasingly sad, angry, or hopeless.
Alternatively, you may find these posts to be reassuring, especially if you felt that you were the only person to experience these situations. You may feel connected and energized to do something so that it doesn’t happen to anyone else. And of course, you are likely feeling a mixture of these emotions and others, perhaps all at the same time.
No matter what reactions you are having, it is important to recognize that seeing and reading these posts, deciding whether or not to share your experiences, managing any comments responding to your posts (positive or negative), and engaging in conversation about sexual violence, power, and culture require energy. You may not be able to focus on other things, you may be sleeping less well, and/or your body may send you other signals that something is not right (like aches and pains, irritability, changes in appetite, or unexpected mood shifts).
More than ever, it is important to be gentle with yourself as you experience and interact with these posts and these topics. Here are a few reminders and tips to manage your online life:
1. You don’t owe anyone. You don’t owe them your story; you don’t owe them courtesy; you don’t owe them a piece of yourself. You may choose to share your identification with this campaign, in any way ranging from liking or sharing someone else’s status to simply using the words “Me Too” to sharing a specific example, but you don’t have to do any of these things.
2. If you make the choice to share something and then you find the reaction to be more than you were expecting or have energy for, you have the right to disengage. Don’t respond to that comment, just scroll by the next story rather than reading through every one. In fact, you may want to take a social media break. Maybe a few hours, or a day, or a week. You may even find that you want to block a certain person’s posts or stop following/being friends with them. You have a right to do that, too.
3. How would you treat a close friend who was going through the pain and exhaustion you’re feeling right now? Be as good a friend to yourself as you are to others in your life.
4. If you are someone who heals best in solitude, say no to invitations so you can restore yourself to peace. If, on the other hand, you feel better when surrounded by others, invite a cared-for person or two to spend time with you.
5. Consider whether having a confidential place to discuss your experiences with a mental health professional would be helpful. Especially if your feelings are persistent and distressing, we may be able to help. If you are in the Poway, CA area, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an appointment today.