Draining the pus is the start of healing — known for 3,500 years.
While #metoo is flooding the Western world, especially famous women bravely sharing that they too were sexually harassed, there is total radio silence from the corner of perpetrators. There is much harassment but there are no harassers? I’ll try to be an inspirational worthy first — so, the too in the #bymetoo hashtag is not actual yet.
Before I bring up all kinds of horrors connected to sexuality, allow me to stress that sex itself is innocent and holy. It is a beautiful way for people to connect deeply and end their existential loneliness forever. Of course this means that sexuality should not be defiled, and not wasted on things like experimentation or casual contacts. But it should also not be seen as something lowly or dirty, something to avoid at all costs, as if worthiness lies in full abstinence — it does not.
What I did wrong:
- I slept with a grownup (A) and in the middle of the night I started up something sexual.
- We even agreed beforehand, only to seek closeness, not sex. Also without this agreement I would have violated A, beginning sex without permission, but on top of that, I broke my word.
- I stopped within four seconds, realizing it was wrong, but I did not say sorry, not then and not the next morning. I shamefully ignored it as if it didn’t happen, would go away by itself. I withheld those enormously healing words “I’m sorry.”
I’m not a monster:
- Hardly anyone is. A had previously told me having a hard time being sexual, so suddenly I though “I could help.” Luckily, A did not react at all, making me realize that this was unhelpful and wrong, and I stopped cold in my tracks.
- It was kind of reassuring that A told me later (see below) that it was confusing that this had come from someone like me — A also saw this as unfitting for me — still liked me.
The above two paragraphs are no justification, and when I met A again and tried to rebuild what I had destroyed, I never “explained myself,” since I wanted the focus to be on A, not on me.
What I did right:
- I took therapy on what I had done. A lot of therapy. I was sure we would meet again and I wanted to be ready to try undo as much as possible of hurt I caused.
- I realized that I was prone to the thought that this was not so bad, it lasted four seconds max, but that on the other end, for A it wasn’t over when it was over.
- I waited until we met in person again, didn’t try something by phone or letter, because I wanted to listen and support rather than talk myself. Support is best in person.
- We did meet again and I immediately told A: I would like to talk, if that’s OK with you.
- A happily agreed, and I said: I want to say that I’m deeply sorry about what I did.
- I did not describe how I remembered it as I wanted to make space for how A remembered it.
- Then I said: I took therapy on this to never do this again to anyone and I do not need to talk about it now. Rather, may I invite you to tell me how it was for you?
- So A talked. I tried to listen without being consumed by guilt, and instead focusing on what A was telling me. I reminded myself that while being loving (listening) I could do no new harm.
- After A’s recounting, I asked for more details. A talked about feelings, especially confusion. I was in no hurry.
- After that, I asked for anger. A’s a very loving person, so that was not easy to express, also because A liked me. I said: I will remember that you like me while you show your anger. That made it safe to share.
- I realized that in several ways I had been more powerful than A and that my behavior had made A powerless. So I focused on empowering my friend, not being a control freak who must be in charge always. I tried not to steer or stifle anything (besides myself).
- Afterwards, A profusely thanked me but I made clear that I had done no favor but rather an obligation, and I thanked A for the shown courage and honesty.
- I realized that probably I had not undone everything.
- I did help repair something; its’ hard to tell if it was enough.
- I have slept with people since and never repeated my damaging mistake. In any setting, I have never done anything sexual again without full prior consent.
- I have continued to receive therapy on when I was violated when I was young and worked so hard on it that it became easy to counsel others on their sexual history — which I did.
- Now, 30+ years on, I admit this mistake publicly in the hope of being an inspiration and a force for goodness.
It is daring to come forward as a victim of sexual harassment, since much of the blame and shame — unrightfully so — has been heaped on victims. As much as many perpetrators deny guilt, many victims feel guilty (instead?). It is even more courageous to come clean when you caused this form of violation. I feel that in the writing, we may show (not too much!) that we were not monsters — without justifying our mistake, as I tried to model above. We should not do so immediately when we talk directly with the people we hurt; maybe — much — later.
We must make sure that when we go public, we do not reveal our victim(s), not even through hints that are understandable for people who know us best. It’s their prerogative to come forward or not, and to decide to whom they disclose what happened and to whom not.
We should focus on comfort and healing for our victim(s) and the world. When they are ready, they will forgive us; but we should not ask for it. Our “sorry” is only to help them heal.
Neither do we need to prove our goodness by trying to get in trouble with the law for it. Healing is needed more than punishment. So, many #bymetoo bearers may need to write anonymously. Yet, when we know of a predator roaming around, we have no choice but go to the police, since not doing so is enabling them and permitting more hurt to happen and preventing healing from what was done already. Their profuse apologies may be fake and dangerous to take for real.
The majority of our effort should be towards people we wronged, personally saying that we are sorry, paying for their therapy, saying we will never do this again and taking therapy ourselves to make the promise be serious and hold. That is more important than just broadcasting our #bymetoo the world over.
Note: Our goal should NOT be:
- To parade as brave,
- To parade as innocent,
- To parade as likable,
- To parade as the “real” victim,
- To parade as a (guilt-ridden) monster.
Rather, when owning such mistakes, the focus should not be on us, perpetrators. Our goal must be to give, not to receive, to help heal the world. Doing so is our responsibility, not a generous kindness.
Tomorrow part 2, a large collection of afterthoughts.
The following day part 3, more confessions of #bymetoo