Being an entertainment industry counselor and coach lo these 40 years, I’ve heard many a wretched tale of sexual harassment. I can relate; unfortunately I have a few disgusting tales of my own. Now, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein tsunami, so many of my female clients are flooded by memories of degrading incidents and
feelings of shame.
For example: there’s this successful writer, who in her early 20’s went to a pitch meeting with a powerful producer. He proceeded to aggressively push her for sex. When we talked about it, she kept going back to the fact that when it happened, she got frightened, couldn’t think and just shut down. Her only thought was if she gave him oral sex, it would be over. She did and fled, never to contact him again. But she never could let go of her feelings of shame.
I’ll tell you what I told her. Of course she’d feel shame. It’s part of the emotional dynamic of how we react to fear. When we’re scared, it feels like a life and death situation. The threat could be to our bodies, minds, relationships, finances, careers, someone we love, hope and dreams, or anything else. It doesn’t matter. We feel our survival is at stake.
Why don’t victims fight back?
People often ask victims of sexual harassment: “Why didn’t you fight? Why didn’t you just walk away?” Often, it’s fear of the consequences and knowing they’ll get zero support. But those aren’t the only reasons. People don’t understand that there are more reactions to fear than just fight and flight. A big one is “deer in the headlights.” People freeze. The producer said it: She couldn’t think. She shut down.
Another reaction is appeasement. All emotions, like everything else in the physical universe, have a vibration. The higher the vibration, the more positive, proactive, and brave we are. The lower, the more negative, unassertive and cowardly we become. Fear is a low vibration, but right under it is terror and under that is appeasement. If someone scares us, we can instantly descend into appeasement, which is doing what they want so they won’t hurt us.
Then we feel shame–an even lower emotion. Why? We beat ourselves up because we know we’ve harmed ourselves by
betraying our own integrity. We let someone violate the spiritual and ethical boundaries that define who we are to ourselves and to others. Even women who did fight or flee, but didn’t speak up, feel the shame that results from appeasement.
Women who speak out are brave, not only because they’ve gone against a powerful aggressor and exposed themselves to judgment, but because it takes courage to tell people about humiliating events and relive those degrading emotions.
Are you complicit?
Which brings us to you, personally. Man or woman, are you complicit? Have you sexually harassed anyone? Have you seen or heard about abuse, shrugged your shoulders or remained silent? Have you blamed the victim? Were you afraid to act? More importantly, how can you step up now? Realistically, we need a collective solution and workplace policies that are enforced, but that starts with each one of us.
For the record, anger has a higher vibration than fear and can motivate action, as we’re now witnessing. Much higher is the passion for justice and doing the right thing that creates a safe, enlightened culture. Let us rise, together.
photo by Christian Newman