The power of a movement is not just in the event itself, but in the new norm it helps create. In the #MeToo Movement, it’s time to establish and implement that new norm with the intent of educating and empowering women and men in all of their relationships.
While any rationally minded individual is aware that it has NEVER been OK to sexually harass, assault or abuse someone else, this movement has been successful at increasing awareness of the depths of the issue, to empower individuals to release their silent burdens, and to come together to proclaim “No More.”
How #MeToo Came About (Already know the history? Skip over this section.)
The concept of “Me Too” was actually born more than a decade ago, in 2006, when Tarana Burke began to use the phrase in her MySpace account. Her goal? To promote “Empowerment through empathy.” In an interview with The Washington Post, she described an encounter with a 13-year-old girl who disclosed that she had been sexually assaulted. Not knowing how to handle the disclosure, Ms. Burke sent this young woman to work with someone else and never saw her again. When reflecting upon this conversation later, Ms. Burke wished she had shared “Me Too” as a way to empathize.
Sickened by the accusations against Harvey Weinstein (including those made by her former coworker on “Charmed,” Rose McGowan), on October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet, encouraging: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” By the end of the following day, more than 200,000 people had done just that. Within the first 24-hour period, almost 12 million posts appeared on Facebook either using or reacting to #MeToo. And that was just the beginning. The earnest momentum has continued even until today and shows no signs of slowing down.
Like any emotionally charged movement, #MeToo has met with its fair share of resistance and controversy. Whether it was Catherine Deneuve and the other 99 French women who denounced the movement, or Asia Argento, who, after being a front-runner in the campaign, was herself accused of sexually assaulting a minor and then forced Rose McGowan to apologize for her public comments about the topic, these stories distract from the real issue: Sexual assault is prevalent in our society, and it is NEVER acceptable.
You see, the purpose of this document is not to dance in the drama of controversy, but, rather, to consciously progress the conversation from “#MeToo” to “#MeTooNowWhat.” It is vitally important that we capitalize on the increased awareness and empowerment that has risen as a result of the movement to make powerful and sustained changes, both in terms of actions taken as well as in mindset. Gender biases and gender disparity need to stop.
As a clinical psychologist and concierge coach who has worked with clients for more than two decades, I have seen and treated scores of traumatized individuals. Based on my clinical experience and training, I offer six strategies for moving forward with the #MeTooNowWhat movement.
Before I share these strategies, let me help clarify a few points that I hear brought up again and again. Let’s start with: “Why aren’t you focused on changing the system?”
Here’s the deal: I am a psychologist and concierge coach, not a policymaker (or creator). My mission is to bring out the best in my clients, so they put their best selves forward to make this world an even better place. In this article, I express my hope that we make progress in transforming ourselves, which then translates into transforming our society.
“So, by telling women how to change, are you saying: ‘it is all their fault’?” Some may think that’s what I’m saying. Of course, it is not a woman’s fault if a man sexually harasses, assaults or abuses her. It is the perpetrator’s atrocity. But, at the same time, using the energy of the movement, this is an auspicious time to not only look at how we can promote healing for what has taken place in the past, but also to look into how we can prevent such egregious violations from occurring in the future.
Others might be thinking, “I thought #TimesUp was about how we can move forward.” Yes, the Times Up Movement is geared toward next steps, and that focus is concentrated on the workplace. As stated on their website, “Powered by women, TIME’S UP addresses the systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace that have kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential.” Time’s Up provides much-needed information and resources to address equity and safety in a work environment. It differs from the current article, in that this article is: (1) broader-based, pertaining not just to the workplace but to every other part of life; and (2) does not address external policies.
What’s more, a PBS mini-series called Me Too, Now What aired in 2017. The five episodes explored the complexities of the problem including pay inequality, sexual misconduct and gender discrimination. The current article, entitled Me Too Now What seeks to offer specific psychological strategies to help individuals and society as a whole learn, grow and flourish despite previous suffering or trauma.
A note about pronouns and gender: For the sake of ease and because this is how the movement started, here, I use male terminology to describe the perpetrator and “female” wording to represent the victim. Certainly, men have been subjected to sexual assault by women and by other men, and women have been victims of other women. However, let us not get caught up in gender terms, but and, instead, focus on how we can promote healing and move forward.
This document is for our society as a whole: Not just those who were subjected to the actions of another, but to the perpetrators themselves. And even if you have not personally been subjected to sexually inappropriate advances or attacks, please know this is for you, too. These recommendations are for all individuals in our society to apply to their lives as we all move forward.
More Than “Ra-Ra”
We all have had an experience that inspired us: hearing a speech, seeing a video, learning the story of someone who overcame challenges, and thought, “YES – this is life-changing,” only to go back to habitual ways as time goes on. That is NOT what we want to do now with the #MeToo movement. This is just the beginning of a new, empowering stage of life. This includes both men and women empowerment.
The #MeToo Movement helped proclaim the breadth and depth of this issue. And NOW we must make sustained transformations ‒ in ourselves, our children and our society. Let’s stop the focus on revictimization of these individuals or the discourse on testosterone (as opposed to the perpetrator) being at fault. We have an incredible and unique opportunity to use this movement to advance, mobilize, and transform ourselves and our society.
Below are the six strategies each of us can apply to do just that, regardless of our own personal background or experiences.
- Forgive Others and Forgive Yourself
Oh, I realize I may get pushback here from the impacted individuals. “So, are you saying we should just forgive the perpetrator, as if what he did was not a big deal?”
I am saying we need to forgive the perpetrator because: (1) what he did was a big deal; and (2) your lack of forgiveness primarily hurts you, not him.
Here’s the deal: To forgive someone, you have to recognize that what he did to you was painful (emotionally and/or physically). Otherwise, there is nothing to forgive.
So, by recommending that you forgive, I am not minimizing the impact that someone else’s actions had on you.
Instead, forgiveness is a gift, so you can release the anger, resentment, pain and stress that you have been carrying around with you. Forgiveness entails no longer thinking the past should be different and, instead, accepting what took place and taking steps to move forward. As Maya Angelou said: “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”
When working with my coaching clients, I often compare forgiveness to mourning. When going through the mourning process after a loved one dies, you can experience a litany of feelings, including guilt, anger and depression. While scientific research does not support the notion that everyone who is grieving goes through specific stages (as was popularized by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross), a consensus exists in the clinical field that the goal of the grieving process is that each individual moves toward a place of acceptance.
Acceptance does not mean you are happy that the event took place, that you deserved it, or that you will allow it to ever occur again. Instead, when I talk about acceptance, I mean an acknowledgment that what happened in the past is in the past and that the event cannot be changed (since we cannot travel into the past). You are not resigning yourself to the event or resisting it, but, instead, simply recognizing that it took place.
During the mourning process, when an individual gets to a place of acceptance, she is able to release the “if only” thinking (as in, “if only I had X, THEN my loved one would still be here”; or, “if only Y had happened, THEN everything would be OK”). When in a place of acceptance, you do not deny or try to change the past. You acknowledge that it happened and that it cannot be changed. And once you are able to accept the circumstances, you can take steps to move on.
When it comes to forgiveness, much of what hinders us from moving forward is a desire that things were different in the past, such as when we wish that a specific interaction(s) had not occurred; or that you or someone else had acted differently, said something or not said something. The thinking may be: “If only X had not happened, then I would be OK.”
The problem with this thinking is that our mind hears it almost as if it’s a math equation:
“If only X had not happened” = “I am OK.”
And, if you remember math class, you know that an equal sign means that what you have on each side of an equation can easily be exchanged.
For example: 2+2 = 4 is the same as 4 = 2+2.
So, in our deep-seated beliefs, we may believe the reversal of the above statement is true:
“I am OK” = “If only X had not happened.” Or, to rephrase, “the only way I can be OK is if X had not happened.” So, in order to be OK, the past could not have occurred. And given that time travel (at this point) is not possible, this mindset sets you up for never feeling OK again.
Let me be clear here: Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. The latter term refers to getting back together with someone in whatever type of relationship you once had. If someone violated your safety, you do not need to ever communicate with that person again. You can, however, let go of the consuming resentment, while at the same time choosing to never interact with that person again. These are two completely different concepts.
Who do you want to forgive? Consider not only the perpetrator, but also all of those involved in the incident – directly or indirectly. These could include HR personnel and superiors or your colleagues and confidantes. One scenario that I see over and over again in my practice is when a person who was traumatized confides in someone else (a parent, partner, colleague, friend) and that person reacts in an adverse manner. Perhaps the person minimized what happened or the pain it caused. And that hurts. Maybe the person gave counsel, such as “let it go; I am sure it was a one-time deal,” which resulted in your feeling even more violated. For your own self-healing, you need to forgive these folks too.
And, do not forget yourself. Self-doubt, guilt and shame often envelop those who have been violated. They “should” all over themselves, as in, “I should have said” this, or “I should not have done” that. Stop blaming yourself for what happened or beating yourself up for the actions (or inactions) you did (or didn’t) take. Forgive yourself. Acknowledge that you did the best you could at the time given the resources (mental, emotional, relational, physical…) you had in that moment. Forgive yourself, so you can use the experience to learn, grow and flourish moving forward.
Want more information about forgiveness? Watch my interview with Savanah Guthrie on “The TODAY Show”.
- Stop People-Pleasing
Growing up as females, we are (overtly or covertly) taught that making others happy is key, not just to our own happiness, but also to our sense of worth. And, certainly, when it comes to happiness, research supports the belief that helping others boosts our own sense of joy and purpose.
At the same time, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing. And when the focus on others’ desires supersedes your own sense of well-being, you have a problem. That is where people-pleasing comes in.
People-pleasers tend to:
- Struggle with being assertive or expressing their opinions.
- Suppress their own distressed emotions (such as anger, discontent, sadness).
- Take steps (often at the expense of their own comfort) to prevent others from experiencing distress.
- Get upset when someone criticizes them or gives them feedback.
- Are fixated on receiving approval from others.
- Endure psychological or physical discomfort so someone else will not have to.
- Believe they are responsible for how others feel or react.
- Avoid conflicts with others.
Do any of these sound familiar?
The problem is not in thinking of others, but rather on basing your worth on the reaction of others, which means giving others the power to determine how you feel about yourself. Ultimately, no one deserves that power except you.
Repeat after me: You are just as important as anyone else. You, like every other human being, deserve respect. You deserve to feel safe. You deserve to be your own glorious self, not some shell of your true self or who you think others want you to be.
Am I suggesting that you disregard the opinions of others? Absolutely not. I am saying that your worth is based on much more than if people like you or feel good because of your actions. So, yes, be respectful and thoughtful toward others. But, at the same time, always offer yourself the same consideration.
- Be Assertive
When you are no longer trying to please everyone, you can become assertive, which is vital in achieving your rights and desires. That does not mean, however, that you should be a bully or tyrant.
Many of my clients struggle with being assertive. They don’t want to upset others or cause any tension. Certainly, this ties into people-pleasing (see above section). And yet, even getting past people-pleasing does not mean you automatically become assertive. After all, you do want to be a nice person, and you want to treat others nicely.
So, how can you be assertive without feeling like a jerk?
Since some confusion exists about the differences between being assertive and being aggressive, let’s look at how they differ.
When exploring assertiveness, you need to prioritize two variables: respecting yourself and respecting others.
People often have a fear of being assertive, but what they really want to avoid is being aggressive. When you are aggressive, you stand up for your needs but do so in a way that is disrespectful to someone else. This is what leads to yelling, hostility, forcefulness and condescending comments. Of course, as women, we are taught to be nice, so we often avoid an aggressive approach.
As a result, passivity may be your initial choice. When we are passive, we are being respectful to the other person (“I don’t want to upset him”), but we are certainly not respecting ourselves. Staying quiet and being timid in your comments are examples of passive behavior. It is not that you agree with the conduct displayed by the other person. It is fear that the other person’s reactions, either immediately (such as the expression of negative emotions) or more long-term (such as being fired), carry (often subconsciously) greater weight.
Being passive-aggressive, by the way, is the worst of both variables. Examples of passive-aggressive behaviors include intentionally being late, procrastinating on an important task or making comments behind someone’s back. When acting in a passive-aggressive manner, you are not respecting yourself by clearly communicating your wants and needs. At the same time, you are not being considerate of the other person. Passive-aggressive behavior can cause anger, resentment and fear, none of which (let’s face it) you need. This distress can also, cyclically, lead to more passive-aggression.
So, as long as you are safe, start with being assertive. When you are assertive, you can clearly communicate your perspective and needs in ways that are respectful to the other person.
Simply put, you tell the person that what he or she is doing is not OK. Examples include:
- “Stop what you are saying/doing right now. It is making me feel uncomfortable.”
- “This is inappropriate. Stop now.”
- “We need to stop this conversation/interaction now.”
- “I am leaving this office and speaking with HR.”
- “You may never speak to me like that/do that again.”
Want more information on assertiveness? Watch this.
Of course, when your safety (emotional and/or physical) is in jeopardy, then the other person is clearly not respecting you. In this type of circumstance, protecting yourself, regardless of the level of respect, is imperative.
Be Aggressive. B-E Aggressive.
If you clearly communicate your needs in a respectful way and the other person does not comply, or if the other person is emotionally or physically harming you with unwanted advances, screw being assertive ‒ and be aggressive. You are worth it!
- Cultivate Unconditional Self-Worth
People-pleasing and struggling with being assertive occur when you have an underlying restrictive view of yourself. Feeling responsible for how others feel, not wanting to upset someone else and putting others’ needs before yours are all fueled by a lack of confidence or, more concisely, by a type of conditional self-worth.
Conditional self-worth represents a sense of worth based on certain conditions; IF something happens, then you can feel OK about yourself. Examples include:
“I believe in myself, IF…
- … people around me are happy.”
- … I look a certain way.”
- … I have a certain job title.”
- … he likes me.”
- … I get that promotion.”
- … people like/comment on my social media post.”
- … I am (perceived as) perfect.”
Usually, people assign more than one condition that must be satisfied before they can feel good about themselves, and those conditions can change. As a result, people with conditional self-worth are constantly scanning their environment to determine how they should judge themselves at that moment. It can get exhausting.
What’s more, when your self-worth is based on external conditions, then, even if a specific condition is met (say, you do get that promotion), you must create new conditions to meet before you can feel worthy. As a result, you are never consistently in a place of feeling good about yourself with a strong sense of self-worth. It creates a debilitating, never-ending cycle.
Not only can this cause stress, but how you view yourself and your worth impacts every single interaction you have. When someone has conditional self-worth, she tends to personalize other people’s actions. A facial expression, flippant comment or bad mood are often interpreted as a direct reaction to that individual and, more deeply, to how worthy she feels. Conditional self-worth forms a lens in which the ultimate person being judged is the beholder of that lens.
Ironically, the same underlying mechanism that fuels any hesitation in being assertive also feeds the bullying and exploitation of the offender. You see, bullies, narcissists, manipulators and predators also have conditional self-worth. The differences are in the conditions they perceive that will lead to their feeling good about themselves. Examples include:
“I will feel good about myself, IF…
- … people around me agree with me.”
- … others look up to me.”
- … I have a certain reputation.”
- … people envy me.”
- … I can control others.”
- … I feel superior to others.”
- … I can get her to do what I want (against her will).”
For more information about narcissistic behavior, read an article I wrote on this topic.
Conditional self-worth stands in sharp contrast to unconditional self-worth, a concept I introduced in my book, Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love. When you cultivate unconditional self-worth, you believe in yourself because of who you are, not as a result of how others react to you. Unconditional self-worth is based on applying your values and core strengths; it is about feeling good about yourself because of your intrinsic worth.
When you possess unconditional self-worth, you don’t personalize other people’s reactions because you know their responses may be a direct reflection of how they view you, but that their reactions also could result from any one of countless reasons: a bad night’s sleep, an argument with someone earlier that day, indigestion, the person’s own conditional self-worth or any number of external causes.
What’s more, when unconditional self-worth prevails, you don’t base your worth on how others view you. As a result, even if someone actually does have a negative opinion of you, it does not alter how you view your sense of worth. You feel comfortable in your own skin and accept that not everyone will like you. At the same time, you embrace the fact that even though you are already good just as you are, you can always get better. So, you may consider, “do I agree with this person?” or “can I use this person’s feedback to become even better?” If so, then someone with unconditional self-worth will take steps consistent with his/her true self to make improvements. If the feedback is viewed as inauthentic, then you can move on without suffering a hit to your ego.
When you have an inner conviction of unconditional self-worth, rather than comparing yourself to others, you are comfortable in your own skin. You believe in and respect yourself. As such, although you are empathetic toward others, you don’t feel the need to people-please. You can be assertive when the situation calls for it. Cultivating your unconditional self-worth is key to your current and future True Success. More about that to follow.
- Prioritize Support
Support is our next strategy. When I talk about support, I mean support of yourself and others. Let’s start with the latter.
Heart-wrenchingly, one reaction I see repeatedly is a kind of victimization of the victim. This occurs when someone is told, in confidence, about a sexual assault or an inappropriate action, and that person responds in a such a way that makes the person who is confiding feel as if she is at fault. Examples include minimizing what happened, acting as if the transgression never occurred or demeaning the victim.
To be fair, revictimization of this kind is often not a conscious act. It is usually a reaction caused by surprise (“How could that happen?”), disbelief (“he seems like such a nice guy”) or guilt (“How did I not know about this?”). Many times, when people don’t know what to say or how to react, they choose not to do or say anything at all.
Yet, even if the response was spoken without malicious intent, such reactions can be traumatic to the victim.
So, here’s the deal: If someone confides in you that she was sexually assaulted, support her. Even if you are shocked or skeptical, this is not about you. It is about the person reaching out. Support her, empathize with her and comfort her. If you don’t know what to say, simply tell her: “I don’t know what to say; I am so sorry that happened.” If you don’t know what to do, share, “I don’t know what to do; how can I best support you?” Be a source of relief, not additional trauma, to the individual reaching out to you.
Now, if this is something that happened to you, let us also talk about supporting yourself. Stress, as a result of a trauma, hiding a trauma, dealing with others’ reactions… all of these can be toxic to you. It is vital that you take care of yourself – both physically and psychologically.
This is not the time to “grin and bear it.” You do not need to do this alone, and you do not need to keep pushing yourself to the limits. Take time for yourself. Do something nice for yourself. Talk to someone whose support and opinions you value.
Consider how stress can impact your life. Dealing with a traumatic event is, certainly stressful. And that stress can cause all kinds of additional problems, including greater anxiety and depression, insomnia, health issues, strained relationships and viewing things in a more negative light. In fact, a stressed mind tends to see things with a more gloomy and pessimistic perspective, which can lead to more stress and result in a viscous stress-negativity cycle. So, take steps to reduce your stress in healthy and helpful ways.
Taking time for yourself, establishing conditions that facilitate healing, talking to a professional or trusted confidante ‒ none of these actions make you weak. Instead, they allow you to become stronger despite all that you have gone through. Support yourself so you can heal and move forward.
- Embrace Value-Based Success
True Success is a concept I explore in my book, From Entitlement to Intention: Raising Purpose-Drive Children, and it is not just about having more money or receiving a prestigious job title. It involves having an overall feeling of positivity and being at peace with where you are now.
True Success does not mean that your pathway to progress will be perfectly smooth. Along this road, you will encounter bumps, barriers and even bruises. But the past is the past. How you choose to move forward, as we discussed earlier, is up to you. This is when forgiveness and moving on continue to be important to help you achieve True Success.
Another consideration, especially for those who have contemplated or committed any type of harassment or violence: The means do NOT justify the end.
To coerce someone into a sexual act is not a sign of manhood. Using your power to demean someone else does not make you a good leader. Both acts are pathetic strategies to get what you want at the expense of someone else’s desires and, often, that person’s sense of self-worth. (Remember: These types of actions are a result of conditional self-worth.)
As the person in power, the question to ask yourself is: “Would I want someone in a position of power to do this to me?” And consider, “Would I be OK if people witnessed how I interact with this individual?” If the answer to either question is no, then don’t do it. It is that simple.
Success is much more than having an impressive job or being in a position of power. Achieving True Success means incorporating positive feelings and being truly comfortable with what you created and how – not worrying about being found out for some unethical or illegal behavior.
So, what exactly is True Success? After working with clients for more than two decades, I created the True SuccessTM Formula:
True SuccessTM = Passion x Purpose x People
Here, passion refers to positive energy, when you focus on what is going well and how you can make things better. This entails a growth mindset, or the belief that your intellectual abilities and skills will continue to improve with effort.
When passion is your motivation, focus on what you want to experience and what you want to create. Optimism, problem-solving and resilience are strong. You feel more positive and empowered to make things even better. This is in contrast to being motivated by distress, which are emotions you don’t want, including a sense of anxiety, worry, anger, guilt, shame, feeling overwhelmed or any other type of pain.
Sure, we all experience distress. It is part of being human. At the same time, True Success means using these feelings of distress as feedback to shift from focusing on what you don’t want to what you do want.
When you live from a place of passion, you can process difficult and even traumatic events in your life. You do not deny they happened or the pain they caused. And, once you have processed those feelings, you can then consciously choose how you want to feel and what you want to experience as a result of the experience. And, as a result, you can take steps to experience those entities.
In the True SuccessTM Formula, purpose represents having meaning in your life. Purpose entails how you spend your resources, especially your time and energy. Meaningful experiences (work and non-work), contributing to others and growing ‒ all fall in this category, as does your view of yourself.
Self-perspective is also a component of purpose. In the True SuccessTM Formula, it includes unconditional self-worth, which we discussed above.
One question to ask yourself regarding your purpose: When you’re trying to move forward after a traumatic experience, how do you want to define yourself? Do you want to be a victim who is “damaged” forever – or a survivor who, despite having had horrific experiences, chooses to flourish?
Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped at the age of 14, held captive and raped repeatedly over a nine-month period, shared the following insight: “Feeling sorry for yourself; that’s only allowing them [the perpetrator] more control, more power, and to steal more of your life from you. Don’t you dare give them another second of your life.”
Of course, achieving this type of insight is a process, just as mourning is a process. I am not saying: “just move on.” I am saying you deserve to use whatever happened to you to make your life and the lives of others even better.
The people factor in the True SuccessTM Formula highlights the importance of relationships in our lives. We are, after all, social beings. Whether it’s family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, strangers with whom we interact or your community, we consistently connect with others. And how we communicate is key. When you optimize your relationships with others, you grow your own True Success.
We have crossed into a new era, an age in which everyone can feel empowered to stand up for their own personal safety. Let us use this momentum to keep progressing further. Now is the time to move forward to make positive changes as individuals and as a society.
What did I miss? What resonates with you? Leave a comment below to continue the conversation.
“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become” — Carl Jung