The past weeks, I’ve been hearing from many clients, students and friends about the impact of the #metoo stories that for a while took over our newsfeeds.
Now the news has largely moved on. But we may not have moved on. Many of us are still processing, slightly thrown off our center, responding. Whether you were affected by the #metoo stories or not, this raises a larger question:
How do stories still live with us? How do we give them space to change us?
I want to offer some guidelines for how we can continue to process these #metoo stories and how we can deal with any other difficult stories in the future.
After a while, reading so many #metoo stories, I felt thrown off my own center, as if other people’s stories had entered my own body, and I was living in more stories than I had the capacity to handle.
I needed to step back and become more mindful of my media consumption.
Here are four tools that I find useful for listening/reading hard stories:
1) Ground: stay connected to your own body and breath as you read.
2) Don’t push away emotional reactions. Feel them. Feel them fully. The short form and fast pace of so much media often seems to preclude emotional response, but that we need to respond emotionally to process.
3) Take breaks. Step away and let the material settle before you read more. This is like shavasana in yoga practice. It’s in this period of deep relaxation that our body and mind are able to process, digest and incorporate the information we have taken in.
4) Reach out to others. We connect through stories, but sometimes we need to connect to more than just the page. Talk to friends, to family members. Be physically present with one another. Give each other a physical hug.
Our media makes it seem “easy” to share our story. But I know from personal experience it’s not.
The first times I told people—my husband and my much trusted therapist—I had been sexually abused, I had a panic attack.
I didn’t write about my own abuse story publicly for many years. I needed to take time to process the information through the safety of the private page first.
When I started to think about publishing and sharing my story, I worried about the different reactions I would get: I worried people would judge me differently. I worried I would be less respected, more victimized, more at risk.
AND at the same time, I also thought that I should just stop making such a big deal of it and just jump right in and share the story.
I needed to take my time and work with all of my contradictory responses. Now I know that all of my feelings around sharing or not sharing were normal. Our feelings around writing and sharing difficult experiences are complicated, contradictory, intense and take time to process.
If we know that about the process, it makes the process much easier; we don’t need the process to be other than it is.
Here are five tools that are helpful when we come to write our stories:
1) Expect the process of writing and sharing to be messy, complex and emotional. Don’t be surprised or blame yourself for the messiness of it.
2) Stay connected to your body and breath as you write,
3) Take breaks and be patient. Allow the process to unfold on its own timetable.
4) Keep the writing process and the publishing/sharing process distinct. You get to decide what and how much you want to share with others—and how and when.
5) Check in with friends and people you trust to support throughout and don’t be afraid to ask for emotional support.
Our stories are precious. They are also very complex. We need to honor them with space, respect and patience. Only then can the transformation power of story telling really come into being.
OPENING FOR CHANGE
We are used to being passive consumers of much of our media. We get up in the morning with a cup of coffee and read the paper. We scroll through our facebook feed when we wait in line. There is little expectation that we become responsible participants in our media consumption.
But each new story affects us, and each new story, ideally, has some impact not only on how we see the world, but also how we act in the world.
What if we consciously work to assume some responsibility for what we read? What if, for each thing we read, we ask ourselves a series of questions.
I suggest we ask these three questions in response to what we read:
1) How did what I read/hear affect me?
2) How did what I read/hear change some part of my vision of the world or of myself
3) How will I act differently as a result? What is even one very small way that I might do something different? It might simply be to remember, next time I talk to someone, that her/his story very likely was complex and challenging. Or it may be the decision to take a particular action as a result of my reading/listening.
In my own case, listening to the #metoo stories has had a number of effects: I reacted with pain and also with some hope on reading the stories. I sat down and written out a new #metoo story that I hadn’t ever really formulated before. I made a point of having some good conversations with my thirteen year old daughter and seventeen year old son that I probably wouldn’t have had this week or in exactly the same way had it not been for the stories I read.
Writing this piece makes me wonder if there is more I can do, from having more conversations with individuals to resisting the reactionary policies of DeVos to advocating again for an equal rights amendment.
We are the stories that we tell—individually and socially. The more we can embrace their real power, the more we have the capacity to make real change.
As always, I love to hear from you. And please share this with anyone who might find it helpful.