One of the most common reactions I see women have to a harassing experience is just silent shock. Our bodies often freeze up, and sometimes we go into a panic as though we might die. The sad thing about this is that we have reactions like this to experiences that are not actually physically threatening as often as those that are. So, why is that?
What I have observed through hundreds of conversations with women who have experienced harassment is that self-censorship plays an important part in our freeze response. Thoughts like, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and “I’m making too big a deal of this,” keep us stuck, frozen, and stop us from actually addressing and ending harassment.
Our freeze responses don’t justify bad behavior, but often it does reward it. We are censoring and limiting ourselves, which gives free space to the harasser. In thinking “I can’t believe this is happening,” we are criticizing our own perception of reality. In thinking “I’m making too big a deal,” we are resisting and criticizing our own response.
Both the harasser and our brains are working against us.
So, how do we overcome that? I often make this comparison with clients: what if instead of touching you, making an inappropriate comment, or threatening your, the harasser was stealing your pens?
Would you still choose the thought, “I can’t believe this is happening” or “I’m making too big a deal of this”? Probably not. You would most likely just tell him to cut it out. If he kept doing it, you might send him a bill for your pens. If he kept doing it, you might lock
your pens in a safe or booby trap them.
You would do things that were likely to protect your pens. Partly, you would be able to do those things because you would not be blocked by thoughts like, “I’m making too big a deal of this.”
Keeping your body and your career safe is more important than keeping your pens safe. You are not making too big a deal of this.