[This is part three in a series of blogs which were written to help me make sense of the whirlwind of emotions I’m feeling with this #metoo movement. If you’re going to read one, please read them all because this is a complicated and nuanced life we’re living and it deserves more than 1000 words. Will update posts to link to each other as they go live! Part one can be found here and part two can be found here. Part four is here.]
I think so much of the chaotic backlash we’re seeing around the #metoo movement is because we are obsessed with syncing up the external events and internal experiences.
We each have a bent, a tendency to trust one over the other. Over the past weeks I have heard words fly around me that are weapons in a battle to elevate either internal experiences or external events as the ’truth’:
“It doesn’t matter what she felt, it matters what he did.”
“Who cares what he meant to do, this is what happened!”
We hear a woman share her experience and we want to know “what really happened”, never realizing what that question itself communicates; how much it belittles the person who just shared what happened to them.
I think – benefit of the doubt – what we really mean by that question is “what were the external events?”, but the phrasing of the question reveals and perpetuates the problem. Our internal experiences are as essential a part of ‘what really happened’ as the external events. One is not more ‘real’ than the other. The answer to “what really happened?” was and is always both the external events AND the internal experience.
If I could ask one thing of the people yelling at each other right now it would be to validate and value both of these elements and respond to them distinctly. One is going to be valuable for how we respond to the victim, and the other for how we respond to the accused and if we let them cannibalize each other, it’s going to be hard to move towards the world I hope we all want.
The external events will inform the legal consequences of what occurred which may need to be considered in isolation from experience. I don’t say this primarily to protect the accused and certainly not to belittle or disregard the internal experience. I say this because I too have been in situations that were technically assault, and yet, I felt – because of am million different reasons – only mild discomfort. I, like many women I know, have assumed things were normal that are not normal to God, and because the things happening to us were normalized, our internal experiences might not have necessarily been horrific or violating. However, that doesn’t mean what happened wasn’t horrific and violating. We cannot dismiss the external events simply because we didn’t have a traumatic internal experience. Let me be absolutely clear: those who force women to do something against their will need to be prosecuted in a court of law, whether the event felt violating or not.
The internal experiences of what occurred must be validated and grieved which may need to be considered in isolation from external events. Our internal experiences will always differ in some ways from the external events because our internal experiences are a combination of the external events and the meanings and the narratives we use to interpret them.
I have been in situations where no one laid a hand on me and still, I have felt incredible violated. And that experience deserves the space to be grieved without anyone around me belittling that experience with questions about ‘what really happened.’
It’s hard for us to make space for one another to grieve experiences for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s hard for the grieving person. Women have been taught that unless we can ‘prove’ our experiences are valid by pointing to external events then we are being dramatic or overreacting. So, in order for us to feel safe enough to raise our hands and say – we had an tragic experience – we first feel the pressure to find events to validate our experiences. And often this leads to a demanding for the external events to be described in a way that matches the internal experience.
But we don’t have to do that. Because our internal experiences are as much of ‘what really happened’ to us as the events on paper. To some degree, your brain doesn’t give a shit about the external events. What wounds you is what those events felt like and what they communicated to you.
And validating is about looking our internal experiences and saying – it makes sense that I feel this way.
The reality is – all of our experiences ‘make sense’, whether that’s because of the present incident we’re reacting to, OR because of how that present incident interacts with our previous experiences/narratives. Validating means we understand that what we feel in a moment makes sense because of the million external events we’ve had in the past that have taught us to interpret a word or action or tone a certain way.
At the end of the day we don’t need the external events to line up with the internal experience, because we understand that the internal experience is REAL and valid all by itself. So when something feels violating you don’t have to worry about whether you’re overreacting, nor do you have to automatically redefine the external events to validate your experience, instead you have the freedom to say that something is happening that makes you feel violated. And feeling violated – ladies and gentleman – is enough of a reason to stop the world and weep. Enduring a moment that feels traumatizing is enough of a reason to grieve regardless of what the external events were.
But making space for one another to grieve experiences is also hard for the others involved.
I think so much of the confusion that’s happening for men right now, might be because women are grieving out loud. A huge part of the grieving process is sharing the story that you experienced. This is one of the key things I teach in my grief class – that you must tell the story – not of the cold hard events on paper – but of what it felt like; what those events meant to you. And that is not for the purpose of conforming the external events to your experience, but this expression is a step in understanding why you’re wounded and giving your brain room wrestle and reappraise situations.
As I open my browser every day and i think this is what is happening.
People are grieving by sharing their experiences. And – as much as I hate the internet some days – what a beautiful and precious gift the internet has given where we can do that corporately as a body of humans. But instead of grieving with one another we are obsessively worrying about what someone’s grief is saying about the other person in the room, or about us. We hear it as an accusation, even when it’s not. Sometimes we find ourselves defending men without realizing they were never accused. And sometimes we find ourselves accusing men to defend our own grief.
If we give one another the space to evaluate and deal with these elements differently I think we’ll find a way to link arms in the grief with those who are learning along with us, and still find the justice we seek for those who need to be called to account.
After all, isn’t this what God does with us? He finds a way to grieve with us and validate our experiences AND he deals with the external circumstances with an uncompromising justice. He has compassion on us without skepticism – because He knows our frame; He understands the millions of insecurities and cuts on our souls that make this specific thing so painful. And He gives us that compassion without compromising His justice, because make no mistake – He demands payment in full for every wrong ever done – even the ones we’ve been a party to.
Let’s make space, now – all of us – for the grief of a nation.