gmhTODAY 19 gmhToday April May 2018 - Page 69

the RELATIONSHIP dance WITH VICKI MINERVA What Makes Sexual Harrassment or Abuse a Problem? We’ve been hearing more and more about sexual harassment in the workplace with allegations coming from various high-profile sources. In addition, the response to the “Me Too” movement has been overwhelming and caused some men anxiety as they wonder if a wellintentioned hug might be misconstrued. So, what is it about this topic that has created such a tidal wave? First off, while the majority of victims are typically women, men have also been affected. This is primarily due to the differences in power, whether it is in size and strength or positions of power and control. Men are sometimes unaware of just how intimidating their physical presence can be. There have also been cultural mindsets that have inferred that women shouldn’t be too aggressive, powerful. Women should be nice. The dynamics and dangers associated with sexual harassment are on the same spectrum as those associated with childhood sexual abuse because of the differential in power. In fact, one of the greatest predictors of trauma and abuse in adulthood is the presence of abuse in childhood. There is damage done to the sense of self as you’re growing up, which establishes the boundaries and expectations that you SHOULD be treated with respect and dignity. That self image can change, so it doesn’t mean that you’re condemned to a life of abuse, but it often requires a commitment to change what you grew up believing about yourself. The net result of sexual abuse and harassment is the belief that you don’t matter, that your worth is based on your appearance and ability to please others. You don’t know you have the right to be treated with respect, or that your physical and emotional safety is even possible. Whether outright trauma, or the more subtle but still powerful feeling of shame, the effects can last a lifetime. When I asked friends for input, one described a process of “grooming” that she had seen. A person in power can begin with seemingly innocuous behaviors that may be both flattering and slightly crossing a line. It can range from a popular boy snapping your bra, to a boss being slightly flirtatious or extra attentive. It’s confusing because on one hand the attention can feel good, on the other, also embarrassing or creepy. It can become part of a process, testing how far they can proceed before you react or sound an alarm. (Think about the reference to making it to “bases” but on a much more subtle level to start.) By the time you’re really clear this isn’t okay, it can feel like a really tangled web you’ve gotten into because you’re confused and second-guess if you are somehow responsible. The women I asked for input about what contributes to the “creepy” factor had similar things to say. There’s often a physical reaction. Descriptions like “makes your skin crawl” and “the hair stands up on the back of your neck” are indicators that you feel like you’re in the presence of a predator. Pay attention to that feeling!!! One woman described the ‘too’ factor: the hug is too tight the hands are too low, they stand too close and stare too long. There is a disregard for personal space that is just not okay. There are some people who don’t read social cues well and may misinterpret politeness as an invitation to go to the next step. Still not okay. Others are strategic and aim to create confusion to push the line. Really not okay. Alcohol is also a major contributing factor in many instances. I’ve had conversations with good men who have expressed concern about their actions being misinterpreted. Honestly, if you have good intentions, most women can tell the difference. While I’m sure there are women who have falsely accused men in the process, the pressure to keep silent and the fear of not being believed have allowed the offenses to continue far too long and caused the deluge of reports seen recently. If you’re concerned about your actions being misunderstood, ask yourself how you would behave towards someone you aren’t attracted to, someone you respect. If you can exchange the interaction you’re concerned about with someone like your grandma or a close friend, you’re probably fine. In a dating setting, clear communication is always the best policy. To quote my daughter, “It seems like there’s a worry that asking ‘is this okay?’ might ruin the mood. The potential alternative, of not asking, and your date feeling violated will definitely ruin the mood. Asking shows respect and care. So does hearing and accepting a no.” All of this focus has brought a new awareness to an issue that has existed forever. I’m glad we can talk about it. Let’s use it for good. Vicki Minerva has lived and worked in the South County area as a Marriage and Family Therapist for over 35 years. Her education includes a M.Div. degree from Fuller Seminary and a M.A. in Marriage, Family Counseling from Santa Clara University. vickiminerva.com My goal is to provide you with some information and help you access tools that will help you live your life and manage your relationships in healthier ways. This information is not a substitute for personal counseling and should not be taken out of context. There are many reputable therapists in the South County area should you need additional help. GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN APRIL/MAY 2018 gmhtoday.com 69 the RELATIONSHIP dance WITH VICKI MINERVA What Makes Sexual Harrassment or Abuse a Problem? W e’ve been hearing more and more about sexual harass- ment in the workplace with allegations coming from various high-profile sources. In addition, the response to the “Me Too” movement has been overwhelming and caused some men anxiety as they wonder if a well- intentioned hug might be misconstrued. So, what is it about this topic that has created such a tidal wave? First off, while the majority of victims are typically women, men have also been affected. This is primarily due to the differences in power, whether it is in size and strength or positions of power and control. Men are sometimes unaware of just how intimidating their physical presence can be. There have also been cultural mindsets that have inferred that women shouldn’t be too aggressive, powerful. Women should be nice. The dynamics and dangers associated with sexual harassment are on the same spectrum as those associated with childhood sexual abuse because of the differential in power. In fact, one of the greatest predictors of trauma and abuse in adulthood is the presence of abuse in childhood. There is damage done to the sense of self as you’re growing up, which establishes the boundaries and expectations that you SHOULD be treated with respect and dignity. That self image can change, so it doesn’t mean that you’re condemned to a life of abuse, but it often requires a commitment to change what you grew up believing about yourself. The net result of sexual abuse and harassment is the belief that you don’t matter, that your worth is based on your appearance and ability to please oth- ers. You don’t know you have the right to be treated with respect, or that your physical and emotional safety is even possible. Whether outright trauma, or the more subtle but still powerful feeling of shame, the effects can last a lifetime. When I asked friends for input, one described a process of “grooming” that she had seen. A person in power can begin with seemingly innocuous behaviors that may be both flattering and slightly crossing a line. 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