After being sexually harassed, you may find yourself feeling grief and a sense of loss. This might feel strange and you might not even recognize what you’re feeling at first, because we often associate grief only with death and dying. But we can feel grief any time we experience a significant loss.
Here are some of the things you may feel that you’ve lost:
- Trust in the person who harassed you.
- Trust in your workplace or colleagues.
- What you thought you knew about others.
- What you thought you knew about yourself.
- Faith or confidence in the justice system.
- Safety or a feeling of being carefree.
- The time you’ve spent trying to process what you’ve experienced.
- Time spent struggling with depression, anxiety, or burnout.
- Dreams, future plans, or ideas of “what could have been.”
- Comfort in your own body.
- Your job or job stability.
- Financial stability.
- Trust in your own judgment.
This list isn’t complete. There may be other things that you have lost and are mourning.
It can be hard to know exactly what’s causing your feelings of grief. But you don’t need to pinpoint the exact reasons. It may be helpful just to be aware that you’ve experienced losses, and you may find that the shape of your grief changes and evolves as you come to terms with what’s happened to you.
It’s common for people to mistrust their grief. You may find yourself worrying that you are underreacting or overreacting. If you’re feeling this way, please know that it’s common. Grief is not a constant state. You likely will feel it more intensely at some points in your day and less intensely at others. When grief is at its most intense, you might feel like it’s a wave crashing over you or that you are falling into a dark pit of despair. At other times, your grief may feel manageable, slightly further away or smaller.
You may even feel a numbness, where it’s hard to feel anything. This is often a way your body can help you cope at a time when things might otherwise be overwhelming. When this occurs, it’s possible that your grief can come back up to the surface at a later time. There is no clear timeline for when, how, or how long you will feel grief.
Feelings of grief and loss can often bring up previous losses. Especially if those past experiences are still unresolved. If your grief feels “out of proportion” to the current situation, you may want to reflect on other times you have felt similarly. Your reaction may be partially due to what’s happening right now, but may also be partly due to what’s happened in your past. Understanding this can help to better make sense of and validate our reactions.
You may feel an urge to distract yourself or pretend it’s not happening. You might find yourself thinking, “If I don’t think about it or don’t talk about it, then it’s not happening.” The reality, though, is that ignoring or suppressing your grief tends to make it stay around longer.
You may notice an increase in other behaviours, including distracting yourself with food, substance use, gambling, shopping or other activities that temporarily divert or hide how you’re feeling. This is very common and understandable. But you may want to keep an eye on it, to ensure that attempts to distract yourself don’t start to cause other difficulties in your life.
The truth is, as tempting as it may be to ignore or block your feelings of grief, those attempts don’t help you heal or recover. In fact, trying to suppress the grieving process can ultimately cause more harm.
What could help
It can be important to give yourself space and time to feel your emotions. While you’re doing that, try to be kind to yourself and try to refrain from judging yourself for how you feel.
Try to avoid minimizing what you’re feeling. Depending on your experiences, you may find yourself wanting to dismiss what you’ve been through or the grief you feel. Remember that, although no one has died, there has been a substantial loss (or losses) and that can justify an emotional reaction of grief.
Talk to someone supportive about what you’re experiencing. Try to pick someone who is able to listen without trying to change how you feel or rush you to feel better. It can help to tell the person directly how they can best help you. Often saying things like, “I don’t need you to solve this for me, I just need you to listen,” can be helpful.
Rest. The act of grieving is exhausting. Mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. On the outside it may look like you’re not doing that much, but internally you are doing a lot of emotional heavy lifting. Grieving requires you to come to terms with how the world looks after you’ve experienced that loss. This is a big task that can take a lot of energy and time. Take care of yourself and ask for help when you need it. Although learning that there are multiple forms of rest may sound overwhelming at first, remember that not all of these forms of rest require time; some instead are a change in your perspective.
Know that there’s a difference between rest and distraction. Although distraction has a place in all of our lives, it does not provide the same benefits as rest. Pay attention to how much time you zone out and lose track of time. As well, notice how you feel after the activity. If you’re spending a lot of time binge-watching TV, checking social media, or playing video games, pay attention to how you’re feeling before and after. Sometimes it can feel good, or even necessary, to distract ourselves while we’re doing it, and then once it’s over we are back to feeling upset and overwhelmed. If your experience is like that, it might be worth considering other activities that might make you feel better.
While we’re grieving, it’s important to let go of previous standards. Try to be patient with yourself. It’s possible that before all of this happened, you were able to work longer or handle more things at once. You can prioritize what needs to happen and let yourself off the hook for the other things.
Maybe a paid leave is possible—talk to your workplace or your union about whether you might be able to get time to concentrate on your healing process.
It can help to write or create. Find a way to express yourself through journalling, art, dance, singing, or other expressions. You don’t need to be artistic or creative to do this, because you don’t need to create anything good! What’s important is the act of expressing yourself, not the final result.
Check in with yourself about the emotions that may be underneath the grief. Pay attention to what is coming up for you.
- Why we blame ourselves and what can help
- Fear, worry, and anxiety: Why we feel them and what can help
- Depression and sadness: Why we feel them and what can help
- Anger: Why we feel it and what can help
Try to avoid “should” statements. Often these statements are expectations we or others have for us about how we should be feeling. Grief is very unique and very personal. Even when two people experience the same loss, their reactions can still be different because they are unique. Rather than judge yourself for how you are feeling, try to notice what emotions are coming up and what this tells you about what you need.
Consider reading other people’s stories. Hearing other people who have had similar experiences can be a helpful way to put into words some of what you’ve gone through.
Please remember that all people have a natural ability to adapt to loss. As difficult or painful as it may be, you are resilient and you can make it through this. Ask yourself what you need. Sometimes it’s to take things slowly, sometimes it’s to push yourself to get something done. Trust yourself.