Conversations in Therapy about Body Terrorism, Rape Culture, and Sexism

(CONTENT WARNING: RAPE CULTURE, EMOTIONAL/VERBAL ABUSE, SEXISM, BODY TERRORISM)

This week, video and audio footage was released from a hot mic recording of one of our US presidential candidates. In this recording, he talks about dominating women, taking what he wants, dismissing women as sexual objects who (that?) exist solely to do his bidding. Later, the footage reveals this candidate and his conversation partner exiting the bus and demanding a woman hug each of them. It's not the first time this person has said something poisonous about marginalized people. Throughout the course of his presidential campaign, my patients have been talking about their terror of what his power represents in their inner, and outer, worlds.

Without going into specific, confidential detail, I can share that the majority of people I work with of all genders report feeling afraid and unsafe that this candidate has so much power. A good number of my patients have experienced, or are still in, relationships that function on emotional and verbal abuse cycles, gaslighting, and submitting their bodies to the whims and desires of other people, like, being told to "smile," or "give me a hug," or any number of things that may seem innocent to the asker but are actually sexual and physical dominance assertions. (If any of this is happening to you, please get help– tell your doctor, tell your friends, and find a therapist, or a shelter if you need to leave immediately.)

An abuser might say, "These things he says are just words. They aren't as bad as actions." That's simply not true when it comes to emotional abuse. You don't know someone's history (and sometimes, that person might have blocked out traumatic memories, and might not even know their own stories yet). Many people who grew up with emotionally or physically traumatic childhoods, with parents who were abusers or could not protect them from abuse, are extremely sensitive to potentially traumatizing and unsafe situations. Even "just words" that resemble old traumas can shut people's cognitive functions down, as though the old trauma were happening in the here-and-now. People go into a fight-flight-freeze-appease state. If you know someone with this kind of history, it is so incredibly important to choose your words carefully, kindly, and with compassion. This presidential candidate is not taking care of, or responsibility for, the impact of his own words. You can imagine what someone who has experienced abuse might be feeling from him: Retraumatized, terrorized, and afraid.

If you're feeling this way, there are things you can do to help re-ground and connect back to your safety and self. A blog I linked to earlier, http://www.vanissar.com/blog/emotional-first-aid-for-the-holidays-or-anytime/, offers some excellent suggestions for grounding, containing, supporting, and holding yourself in safety when you're feeling triggered. (I especially like "HEY," which stands for "Holding, Escape, and Yes," and supports a conscious awareness of your survival strategies and helps you give yourself high-fives for being so resilient.)

 Self-care wheel. What on here are you already practicing and what new practices can you try?

Self-care wheel. What on here are you already practicing and what new practices can you try?

It is urgent now to take care of yourself when it comes to media and safety. Try and stay away from, or cultivate, Facebook or social media to be people you know and trust. You don't have to have conversations with your family members or friends who trigger you. Enhance and increase your contact with people in your life who are safe, supportive, and caring. Practice what you love. It may not change the abuser's behavior, but it can help you develop more connected relationships with people who can treat you well, and help you become stronger in your body and self in support of your own power and agency.