Reactions

Posted April 3rd, 2014 by Duken

Denial/Trivializing

In the beginning, victims often trivialize the behavior (“He is just trying to be funny.”) and they deny how it makes them feel (“Why should I be bothered? I will just ignore him.”). Sooner or later the victim will usually have to face the truth, which is that they do not find the behavior funny but are bothered by it, and that they do not manage to ignore the guy.

Emotional Numbness

After a shocking experience (realizing one’s powerlessness) one sometimes feels emotionally numb. Events that usually would trigger strong emotions are suddenly looked at from a purely rational perspective.

Guilt

Often the victim is advised by friends not to blame herself for what has happened. Equally often the victim is unable to put this well-meant advice into practice.

It is important to understand that the victim faces a very difficult dilemma: if she is not to blame for what has happened, how can she ensure that it will never happen again? By blaming herself she can avoid facing her own powerlessness.  As a result, victims are often not very picky when it comes to finding a long list of reasons why they are to blame. Friends can help her to determine that some items on the list are not entirely convincing: “If I didn’t take the early train to work I never would have met that guy and it would never have happened.” Other items on the list may be more open to debate: “That guy always made me uncomfortable. I should not have agreed to meet him late at night at his office for a meeting.” It is important that the victim evaluates carefully any potential contribution to the events. She can then decide to adjust her behavior in the future, allowing her to feel in control that this experience will not repeat. However, she does not need to feel guilty about her behavior in the past once she realizes that she acted like this only because she was not fully aware of how negative the consequences could be. (She may have expected moments of discomfort, but not THIS). Once she sees that her action was based on ignorance, she will probably find it easy to forgive herself.

Fear/Distrust

The victim is usually afraid that the harassment will continue, or, if she is far away from the harasser, that another person will start harassing her.  It is difficult for her to trust anyone.

Negotiating

Victims often look at their problem in a very rational way. Negotiations of the type: “If I do not complain, can I continue my career?” can help her to find a solution and to regain control over the situation. Even if they don’t seem to lead anywhere, they help by clarifying priorities.

Rage/Anger/Frustration

The experience of powerlessness often triggers rage, anger and frustration.

Sadness

When the anger and rage ease off, victims often feel deep sadness.

Forgiveness/Generosity

Sometimes victims come to a point where they forgive the harasser.  This is often the case if the victim realizes that her problems are mostly related to her experiencing powerlessness, and not to the specific harassment she experienced (a car accident may have triggered a similar response). Finding the generosity within to forgive the harasser and to let go of the hurt can be an empowering choice.

Assertiveness/Selfdefense

After working through the experience, victims often decide to change their strategies for interactions with harassers.  Rather than ignoring the behavior, they assert themselves and confront the harasser.

Proactivity

While the experience of powerlessness is still valid, victims often realize that they are not powerless about everything.  They can affect the world around them, at least in small ways. For example, the victim might decide to speak out about her experience, to increase awareness and to be available as a support person for others who go through a similar crisis.

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