Harassment, Personal Change, The Ability To Self Soothe

Last week I read this piece by UnWinona about being harassed and bothered on daily activities. Then I read that Jen McCreight had decided to stop blogging (though not forever and she’ll still be working behind the scenes on a book and on an Atheist project) due to the constant barrage of emails, tweets and comments filled with hateful language.

Then I read this piece by Amanda Marcotte on harassment which lead to some wonderful examples in the comments of not getting it on purpose, which then led to this followup piece by Amanda really laying out what this level of harassment means and why some people do it.

And then I read this piece by AV Flox. Frightening.

Boundary crossing. Wanting what you want so much that you are more than willing to ignore the clear signs saying “please don’t enter here.” Anger when the reaction to the boundary crossing isn’t positive. Resentment that the people you are trying to talk to have things they are already doing. A sense that some people don’t want to understand or take in or allow for the possibility that it’s their methods and actions that are actually offputting.

I keep reading that there are people out there who “just don’t know how to read body language and social cues.” I can actually believe that. I have the opposite problem. I’m really overly sensitive to vibes, tone of voice, movements and empathy responses (not to mention the first time I read a book on body language –I think it was actually called “Body Language”–in the 70’s I became obsessed with learning as many different styles of “reading” people as I could) so I can accept that there are people under sensitive to all of that, but here’s the thing!

If you KNOW you can’t read them well, then learn how to do it better! There are classes on how to flirt, there are books on body language and non verbal cues, there are dating coaches who help you learn how to read people and all in ethical ways.

( There are studies pointing out that some people read social cues better than they admit, but choose to ignore the cues for whatever reason. If you aren’t one of those people, and if you really can’t figure out body language, avail yourself of any of the resources listed above. Google “dating coach” or “body language” and get to work. )

I’d say it confounds me that this still happens and that when folks like Amanda post articles they get so much pushback. It doesn’t confound me, but it makes me tired. I get it. People want what they want, culture is hard to change and shift, it’s so easy to justify our actions and desires and make the problems someone else’s fault.

I think Amanda hit on something really important with her final paragraph in her first piece, “I just don’t see why so many men can’t open their eyes and see what five minutes of rational analysis can teach you: That women are discrete individuals, not support staff for men. And that means that you are not entitled to their affection, smiles, flirting, sexual favors, uteruses, or their submission. You aren’t even entitled to their attention. They aren’t your moms. You are adults now. It’s time to start self-soothing.”

I’d go even farther and say that this applies to so many other areas of life from job loss to race issues to families and LGBT issues, from issues of gender and equity to classism and economics not to mention all the ongoing political wars, though I completely understand her position here in the issues of harassment. There appears to be a great deal of pain out there in the world (duh) and sometimes, some people don’t move (or are not taught to move) into the space of a kind of self aware self compassion where the ability to take ownership of problems and issues, to ask for help when warranted, to self soothe when there isn’t a way to get comfort elsewhere, or engage in empathy and thinking of others first when faced with limits or boundaries.

I firmly believe empathy, compassion, and group collaboration are more needed now than ever, given the economic pressures and political divides and also because so much of our interactions are moving from a face to face, breath/skin/smell/tone/sound/sight perspective into the Cloud where things are mutable, harder to read, shifting in identity, anonymous, drive by kind of interaction. It’s new, filled with beauty and power but also a lot of traps, and we barely have those self soothing skills in person, let alone online.

Compassion of course doesn’t mean letting anyone walk on you (and I’d say the women noted in the articles above are practicing a fierce compassion to their harassers by being honest and a self compassion by speaking out). It can mean speaking truth to power fiercely. And empathy doesn’t mean becoming overwhelmed with people’s issues. It means being willing to step outside yourself, to allow the feelings and thoughts to be of others, not the self. Collaboration doesn’t mean some total group mind, but in our world of individualism and “me me me” finding strength in others is valuable.

And taking that compassion to the self, allowing for the possibility to allow for the pain and rely on the self when faced with issues (which can mean many things from reaching out for help if you aren’t used to it, to knowing you can love yourself and heal, to seeking support and education to fix the issues) is vital.

One of the best books on self soothing I’ve ever read is “Self-Compassion” by Kristin Neff (she’s here at the University I work at and I’ve been able to see her speak-she’s awesome). I keep a copy on my bedside table, along with other books on compassion and empathy, and I’d encourage anyone curious about her work to visit her website.

Finally, and to wrap things up, actually look for the yes in people, and respect the no, no matter if it’s non verbal or not. Most of us do. I believe that. But those that don’t…well, I sure wish they’d think about it all a little.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Harassment, Personal Change, The Ability To Self Soothe

  1. humbition

    Maybe it’s just me, but self-soothe and self-compassion have very different feeling tones. Self-soothe for me has overtones of “go away, stop bothering me.” Telling someone to self-soothe seems like a belittling thing to say, related to the idea that men don’t really need emotional care. Whereas self-compassion, on the other hand, is something that I learned to do long ago, that in a significant sense saved my life. I am a major believer in self-compassion.

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