With so many allegations of sexual violence on social media and in the news, it can feel overwhelming and triggering for victims and survivors. What kinds of self-care methods will help us when the conversation is filled with rape culture?
In general, it’s vital that we prioritize ourselves and our mental, physical, and emotional health. But when we need some extra love, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to just breathe. Below are tips from experts about what you can do to care for yourself when you are having a difficult time.
- Have an emergency self-care plan.
Having a strategy in place for when you have an anxiety attack or a sudden post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) episode can help you take the steps you need to re-center. Whether that’s meditation, breathing, going for a walk, or talking to friend, having a plan in place can help you find peace. It might even be helpful to let a close friend or family member know what your emergency self-care plan is, so they can help support you.
“The truth is, you can’t avoid all of it, so it can be helpful to try to think now about strategies that can help you if you get caught up or caught off guard by these stories,” says Lena Solow, an expert at Teen Vogue. “What makes you feel grounded? Maybe you need to remember to take deep breaths and take stock of your current surroundings —- think about what you can see, hear and feel right now. Remind yourself that you are safe. Drink some water. Maybe you have some friends who you know get it who you can text.”
- Physical self-care.
Your body is your temple and your home in this world. When you take care of your body, it can help reduce feelings of anxiety or depression. RAINN suggests that you start by asking yourself questions like: How are you sleeping? What types of foods are you eating? What kind of exercise do you enjoy? Do you perform routines that help you start off your day or wind down at the end of your day?
Whatever your tricks may be, spend some time figuring out what works best with your body and keep that in mind. Knowing what works for you will help you build a tool box of self-care methods that will make you better equipped to take on the world.
- Find a creative outlet.
For me, healing often comes in the form of artistic expression. Solow says “You might want to write something of your own. It doesn’t have to be anything perfect or beautiful or for publication — just a rant in a blank document or email can get the feelings out.”
This method really helps me — I open the notes section of my phone and let out whatever I might be feeling on the page. A trigger can come from seeing a person who looks like your abuser or even the same car they drove. In those moments, try to find a safe space to sit down and release your emotions through writing or drawing.
- Find community and support.
If it was a very recent experience, you might heal best in a group tailored toward victims with more recent experiences. Or, if you are a domestic violence survivor, finding a group with other domestic violence survivors.
If you have a loved one who has been assaulted and you want to support them when rape culture comes to the forefront of our media, experts suggest reaching out in person or verbally on the phone. You can say something as simple as “Hey, I stand with you. I’m here to listen if you need to talk.” It’s important to be cautious of what is a personal declaration of support versus a public declaration (in other words, do not do this over social media). You want to keep the survivor, their privacy, and their self-care in mind first.
- Know and communicate your sexual boundaries.
Navigating sex after trauma can be difficult, but knowing your boundaries and having a partner who respects those boundaries are key aspects to feeling great about your pleasure. Solow provides insight into how to have these conversations: “First of all, you get to decide how much of your story to share. If you know certain sexual activities are triggering, you can totally say something like, ‘I don’t want to be on my back during sex’ without offering further explanation — you deserve to have that boundary respected! You can say, ‘Before we sleep together, I need to tell you some things about my past trauma so that I feel safe.’
“You deserve to have that request respected,” Solow continues. “Any partner who shames you for having boundaries doesn’t deserve to be with your body. Period. And this is a good time to remind yourself and your partner that there isn’t one particular activity that ‘counts’ as sex — you can explore lots to figure out what makes you feel safest.”
Experts also suggest role play with a safe person before you have a conversation coming out as a survivor. It might mean starting off by telling the person something like, “I want to tell you something that happened to me and I need you to just listen and give me the space to walk away if I need to.”
- It’s OK to walk away from a situation or conversation that feels triggering.
For me, this is probably the most difficult self-care lesson to learn. I want to engage, educate, and empower people to understand how we can eradicate rape culture. But sometimes, people aren’t open to learning and it can cause you more harm than good to engage in these situations.
Solow has some great advice for how to handle these tricky, and often triggering, conversations: “The thing is, you have capacity for different responses in different situations. It’s not your job to educate someone and it’s not your job to stay calm or even stay in the conversation — do what you need to do to take care of yourself in the situation.”
You can call on someone else who you know is less activated by those words to do the leg work. Call them and say, ‘Hey, did you hear what that person said? Can you tell them why that’s not okay?’ If you are a fan of follow up emails or messages, you can go that route after a heated discussion or even just after hearing an oppressive comment that you didn’t get to respond to at the time. There’s always opportunities later for you or someone else to message that person and say, ‘Hey, here’s how what you said affected me, here’s why it’s not cool, here’s an article you should read about this.”
At the end of day, remember that you come first. Figuring out what works best for you is a huge step in your healing process. Remember that you aren’t alone and we all need help sometimes, especially when rape culture becomes a public and national conversation.
- RAINN: https://www.rainn.org
- teenVOGUE: https://www.teenvogue.com