It is normal to feel hurt, confusion, fear, dis- empowerment, loss of trust , anxiety, isolation, and anger after experiencing workplace sexual harassment. Dealing with the trauma of sexual harassment is something that should not be put off or ignored.
Moving on after being sexually harassed at work can seem like a daunting task. You may feel stuck or hopeless about your situation. But with a little work and some outside counselling, you can learn how to make sense of your experience, heal from it, and move on.
The key is to not allow what happened to you define who you are as a person. Recognise that workplace bullies have a choice. You did not deserve to be harassed. Place the responsibility for the harassment on the shoulders of the bully and move on. Leave the hurtful words and the actions in the past.
Remember, what happened to you was not fair, but it does not have to define who you are. Let go of any urge to engage in victim thinking. Yes, you were victimised, but you are more than what happened to you. Take the time to rediscover who you truly are ,not who the bully claimed you were. You also should avoid blaming yourself for being harassed. It was not your fault. It was the bully's choice. And most importantly take care of yourself. By paying attention to what you need to feel healthy, you will be well on your way to healing from workplace harassment.
What's more, you can take what happened to you in the workplace and learn from it. Use it to strengthen you as you move forward with your life and your career.
Here are some steps every victim must take in order to heal from sexual harassment. (*Excerpts taken from “Verywell Mind” – www.verywellmind.com
Tips on Healing From Sexual Harassment
Moving on after being sexually harassed at work can seem like a daunting task. You may feel stuck or hopeless about your situation. But with a little work and some outside counselling, you should be able to make sense of your experience, heal from it, and move on. Here are some steps every victim must take in order to heal from sexual harassment.
• Accept what happened. What this means is to validate your experience. Do not minimise what happened or make excuses for the perpetrator. It is also important to allow yourself to experience your emotions. Do not bottle up the hurt and anger you are feeling. Find healthy ways to express these feelings. Some options include prayer, meditation, yoga, and other stress-reducing activities.
• Talk to someone about the harassment. It always helps to talk with a safe person. Try to find someone who will respect your feelings and your perspective. Don't share your thoughts and feelings with someone who is going to tell you that you are over- reacting or being emotional. If you do not have anyone to talk with about your experience, consider joining a support group or starting one of your own.
• Journal about your experience. Describe how sexual harassment affected you. Explore the different emotions you are feeling. Sometimes it is helpful to include in your journal a letter to the person who harassed you. Say all the things you wish you would have said, but didn't. It can be very healing to get all of that out of your system. Journaling also may help you make sense of what happened to you and it is a safe place to say whatever is on your mind without trying to filter anything out.
• Stop blaming yourself. What happened to you was not your fault. You did not cause it and you could not control the other person. Remind yourself too that you have nothing to be ashamed of and you should not feel guilty. Blaming yourself will slow your healing. The only guilty person is the perpetrator. He made a choice to sexually harass you. The only choice you have in the matter is how you are going to deal with what happened to you. Remember, you have complete control over your response and where you go from here. Focus on that fact and let it empower you.
• Bring closure to your experience. An important part of the healing process is putting the past behind you and detaching from the trauma you experienced. Sometimes this means changing jobs or careers. It also could mean discovering who you really are. Too many times, a person's identity is tied to her work. Instead, rediscover what makes you you. Start a new hobby and develop new interests. And most importantly, do not dwell on what happened to you. Find a healthy way to put the past behind you and try to remain positive about things in your life.
• Use the experience to help others. Sometimes, you can bring meaning to what happened to you by integrating your experience into your life in some way. For instance, you could write a blog about what you have experienced and offer suggestions to readers. Or, you could lead a support group, build a website for harassment victims, or speak to others. Another option is to volunteer with non-profit groups that address sexual harassment. The key is taking a negative experience and turning it into something positive. Doing so helps build your resiliency.
• Find a counsellor. If you find it difficult to move on after your experience, you may benefit from seeing a counsellor who specialises in dealing with workplace sexual harassment. Counsellors that specialise in sexual assault abuse may also be helpful. Additionally, if you have been harassed at work or school, advocates advise not using your school or employer's mental health staff. Sometimes the lines of confidentiality get blurred and the counsellor will share your information about you to others in the organisation. In extreme cases, they may even try to protect the organisation from liability. It is always best to find a counsellor outside of where the sexual harassment occurred. Not only is it an added protection for your privacy, but you may find it easier to open up to someone that is not associated with the organisation where the harassment occurred.
Tips for Friends of Sexual Harassment Victims
If you have a friend or family member who is dealing with the aftermath of sexual harassment, you may want to help, but just don't know where to start. Simply being there to listen and be supportive is often all that is required.
You do not need to fix things for your friend, nor do you need to offer sage advice. Your most important role is to be patient with what she is going through and support her where you can. She needs to know that she is safe with you and that you believe her. You also could remind her that the harassment was not her fault. Here is a list of additional tips for when you are interacting with your friend:
Remember not to judge her. Try to understand her feelings and offer support. Be there for her when you can and encourage her to talk to others as well.
Encourage her to stay connected. The worst thing your friend can do is become isolated or spend a lot of time alone. While it is common for any victim of harassment to withdraw from others, this is not helpful to her healing. Nudge her to stay connected to you and other people.
Respect her boundaries, and give her space if she needs it. Remember, her boundaries were violated when she was sexually harassed so she will likely fight pretty hard to develop new ones. Allow her the freedom to do that. Do not smother her with attention or help.
Allow her to heal at her own pace. Do not rush her or try to fix things for her. Everyone heals at different rates. Try to be patient if she is taking longer to get over her experience than you think she should.
Support her decisions even if you do not agree with them. It is very important that your friend makes her own decisions. She needs the space and the control to take back her life on her terms. While it is fine to make suggestions, do not try to control her or tell her what to do.
A Word From Verywell
Dealing with the trauma of sexual harassment is something that should not be put off or ignored. It is important that you explore your underlying feelings and find healthy ways of dealing with these emotions. Too many times people try to numb their feelings with other things like busy work or food.
Some will even resort to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain and forget for a period of time. But these are not healthy ways of coping. If you find that you cannot develop good coping skills on your own, be sure to ask your doctor for recommendations for a reputable counsellor. Remember, it is not a sign of weakness to get counselling. In fact, it is a sign of wisdom and courage.