As a therapist, I have wanted to write this piece for a while now, but I didn’t want to seem like I was “mansplaining”. Even now, I wonder, but I promise I won’t excuse anyone, so see if this helps…
When I see clients who are beginning to deal with trauma, I describe the healing process like this: A traumatic event happens, and it’s like someone put it in a bottle. If it happens in a healthy place, you simply pour it out to deal with it. But if not, it’s like someone put a cap on the bottle. The cap is something like shame, or fear, or blame, or people pretending it didn’t happen. In any case, what was once a possibly benign thing isn’t anymore. Inside the bottle, it rots, festers, and/or ferments. The longer it does, the more pressure builds up. When the cap is lifted, the whole thing shoots out of the bottle with an explosion. There really is no way to control the explosion. It has to happen. After that, you can clean up the mess, and see what’s in the bottle, which is probably a lot smaller than it felt when it exploded — still gross, but now ready to be dealt with, and poured out.
This is what happens for the individual when trauma happens. It’s also what happens in society. For centuries now, abuse, assault and harassment have happened to women (and some men), and it felt horrible. For whatever reasons — the need to eat while having no means of support but the abuser, the fear of losing children to the system, being told that they “wanted it”, are to blame for it because they are women, or whatever oppressive systems there are, the cap was put on the bottle.
It’s a big bottle, and it’s fermented a long time, so when the cap is removed, there is going to be a big “boom”, and it will feel un-nerving and violent and larger than anyone could have imagined, and it will go everywhere. That’s where we are as a society right now. This will go on for awhile until the pus is done. Then we, as a society will clean up the mess, see what’s left in the bottle, have less fear about the stuff still there, and deal with what’s left.
During the explosive period, there really is nothing to do but let it happen. It’s natural and has to happen. It’s futile to try to put the cap back on it. It’s simply too much pressure to fight with. Moreover, we shouldn’t even try if we want to heal. When that part is over, the rest is a whole lot more manageable, and maybe there’s very little left in the bottle to be poured out. We’ll see, and then w’ll deal with it, in the end, we’ll deal with it and move on to a new and better, much more stable, place. I know this because the original trauma has already been survived. It’s already inert now, and a lot easier to deal with.
Ok. If we’re in the explosive phase, it’s going to be scary, it’s going to be stressful, some things that we didn’t mean to get broken will be broken. Good people (men who have matured), innocent bystanders (see Savannah Guthrie and Gayle King) will be effected when they didn’t even do anything wrong. There will be some mishaps. It’s impossible to avoid, and we’ll have to grieve their losses. Then, we’ll take stock and deal with it calmly and without uproar, and process it all, making sure it doesn’t happen again.
So, that’s what to expect.
Here’s what will be left:
1) Among the millions of Truths being told, there will be a few lies. People who are psychopathic or people who are trying to avoid some other penalty or truth, will use this as a time to mis-use the situation. This does not make the Truths any less real, but they will make it hard to separate out what’s what. We’re going to need a way to deal with this.
2) There will be degrees of illness in the men, (and women) because everybody has been affected by this poison. We will see that there is a difference between a comment which wears down resistance, a grope which is irritating,, and the God-awful horror of the serial rapist. This is a big deal and will take a lot of discernment on our part. None of them are right or justifiable, and both are painful no doubt, but “akin to rape” is not the same as “actual rape”, in the same way that a paper cut is not losing a limb. Different size of tragedies should create different responses and different treatments. The trick is to keep what’s saving while getting rid of the pus. This may be easier said than done, but it is worth doing. The determinant here is the amount of damage done to the victim not the supposed “worth” of the perpetrator to society. If we had relied on “worth of the perpetrator” to serve as the factor to be taken into account, Matt Lauer would still have his job, and many women would still be suffering.
3) There will be levels of apologies. There will be the person who apologizes because their publicist said to, the person who is starting to understand it was wrong, and there will be the person who really means it. Amazingly, there will also be the person who refuses to apologize, because… well, they’re evil. Apologies are necessary for healing society and relationships, but they are not the end of the process. If nothing changes, nothing changes.
4) Changes in understanding and behavior both need to be made. Many, or more most, people will grow from it.Many will not.
5) Now comes the hard part: figuring out what needs to happen from there. I’m hoping something like Truth Commissions, which believe that mercy leads to truth and justice, would be a part of it, but that’s not my call. Shame and anger aren’t going to help us heal, as much as they seem like they should.
There aren’t a lot of solutions here, but it’s not my place to offer solutions to this crisis. That’s for victims to determine. It’s only my job to say what I know about the process. I hope this helps.
Resisting Hate With Peace,