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by Morella Devost, EdM, MA
Since October, we’ve been both witnesses and participants in a historic set of events. Investigative journalism blew the lid off the open secret that the media world is rife with harassment. #metoo became an avalanche of voices speaking of the enormity of the issue of abuse everywhere. Moguls were toppled.
All of this has initiated two important trends: awareness and accountability.
From an awareness perspective, an enormous spotlight has been shone on the issue. The testimony of hundreds of gymnasts in particular made irrevocably clear that the problem lies not just on the perpetrator, but on the environments that made it possible for them to be systematically abused. The problem is cultural and systemic.
We are also seeing accountability and justice like we’ve never seen before. A great number of people lost their jobs, either because they were perpetrators of harassment and assault, or because they did little to stem the problem. And, of course, Larry Nassar was sentenced to live the rest of his life in prison.
Collective awareness is important. Holding people accountable is necessary. However, truth and justice do not equate to healing; not for the victims and not for our society, which somehow seems to produce a plethora of abusive men.
Changing our culture will take more than sending perpetrators to jail. As a society we must ask ourselves: How is it that we collectively raise so many boys to become jackasses (at best) and sexual predators (at worst)?
This is a question I believe every parent and every community should ask: How do we raise our boys better?
But I’d like to focus on the women, girls, men, and gender-queer people who have already been the victims of sexual assault. I am one of them.
I think only someone who has experienced being violated sexually can truly understand the depth of pain, anger, and even shame we feel as a result of what happened. Our culture doesn’t help matters, especially when victim-blaming has been the norm.
The impact of sexual abuse can be deep and far-reaching. As some of the gymnasts shared in both their testimonies and interviews, the trauma often impairs our ability to trust and to fully feel safe within our relationships.
I applaud every single one of the women and girls who took the stand to speak their truth. I am sure many of them found the experience to be transformative, and to be an important step in their healing.
Using the power of our voice helps us lift ourselves up from our shattered-ness and reclaim our power to make ourselves whole again. I know that speaking about my sexual assault experience was a huge step; and yet, speaking about it alone was not enough to fully heal. I’m sure that’s also the case for many other victims.
For the gymnasts, and for any person reading this who may have experienced sexual assault, I want to share the steps that helped me heal. They are the same steps through which I now guide my clients on the journey to heal from trauma like this.
1. Writing about what happened.
I like to do a writing exercise where we capture what happened in just a few sentences. When it comes to systematic and multi-layered abuse (as many gymnasts experienced, because not only were they abused by Nassar, they were also abused by the system), it may take a few pages of writing about the different sets of events.
Writing allows us to capture nuances that we might miss if we simply talk about events. I also find that we’re less likely to be overwhelmed by the feelings if we write.
2. Acknowledging all of the feelings that resulted from what happened.
I often use an inventory of feeling words, so as to be precise on each feeling, and avoid words that sound like feelings but are not true emotion; i.e. “feeling violated.”
Acknowledging our feelings with precision allows them to begin moving through us rather than fester.
3. Identifying the core needs and values that were violated.
Once the feelings are identified, we then look at what were the needs, values, and rights that were violated. Here, too, I use an inventory of needs and values to help us pinpoint why exactly it is we feel the way we feel.
This allows us to move beyond overwhelming feelings into a deeper understanding of the essence of the violation. It gives us concrete language to articulate what we’re protecting and fighting for. When we do this, we start to feel clear and powerful.
4. Reconnecting with our power to overcome our wounded-ness.
Reclaiming our power to heal ourselves is the turning point where we start to feel capable of letting go of the pain.
I complete this step by creating powerful declarations from the writing exercises above. We claim and declare our power to heal and to protect our rights, our values and our needs.
5. Moving through the long-held feelings of pain, shame, anger, and beyond.
Once we’re feeling strong, we can actually face the feelings and move through them.
I use dynamic tools such as NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) among others. These tools help us move through the feelings so they progressively lose their charge and grip on us.
We begin to get to the place where we can witness the events of the past and talk about them without feeling any of the pain. We’re no longer victimized by our story, and the thought of the person who abused us no longer has any charge.
6. Taking the necessary steps to create closure for ourselves.
This can take the form of writing a letter (which you may or may not send), burning your story or something else that represents it, or even facing the person who did this to you.
I often have my clients read their letters aloud to me. Saying what needs to be said can bring closure, but again, speaking without the healing work (as might have been the case for some of the gymnasts) is often not enough.
7. Finalizing our healing through a forgiveness meditation.
When we get to this point we are able to see that forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving our perpetrator. Instead we fully grasp that forgiveness is actually about freeing ourselves from feeling pain as a result of what they did.
I repeat, forgiveness is about liberating ourselves. They don’t deserve our forgiveness, WE do!
To no longer be consumed by pain, resentment, or shame, and instead embody a renewed sense of wholeness and peace is what every victim of abuse needs and deserves. Some of you out there may already be at this place of peace, but for those of you who are not, I hope this message reaches you.
I see you. I feel you. I am you, and I know that healing from sexual abuse is possible. We can do this.
Through our collective healing and through helping our boys become upstanding men, we will create a new culture where girls no longer need to say #metoo.
Morella Devost facilitates profound transformation for people who want to thrive in every aspect of life. After receiving two Masters Degrees in Counseling from Columbia University, she also became a Clinical Hypnotherapist, NLP facilitator, and Holistic Health Coach. Morella is a Venezuelan-Vermonter who works with people all over the world, from her beautiful office in Burlington, Vermont.