Why Sexual Misconduct Reports Are So Upsetting
By Karen Brownd, CSAT, Director of the Center for Relationship and Sexual Recovery and Associate Clinical Director at The Ranch
During the recent spate of sexual misconduct revelations and accusations about men in power, the public has had to come to terms with a difficult truth: Men we look up to have disappointed us by leading double lives.
It is natural to feel shocked, disheartened, outraged and betrayed, and to be negatively affected by bad news.
When you look up to someone you think is one kind of person, and their alleged actions depict a totally different kind of person, it’s confusing and upsetting. And when one person after another that you’d admired is being accused of bad behavior, it can become overwhelming.
When someone considered important to this culture is accused of sexual misconduct, it can have a ripple effect. The larger the story gets, the larger this ripple grows. In the center of the ripple are the people who come forth to share about the misconduct and the person who is accused. But it quickly spreads through many others who may be impacted by the behavior of one person. These individuals include:
- Immediate and close family members, such as spouses and children of the accused and the accuser
- Extended family and family friends
- Work colleagues
- People who are part of their daily lives, such as dry cleaners or waiters
- Anyone who has followed that person on TV, in movies, on radio or in print
People who have experienced sexual trauma or harassment in their lives will be especially reminded of their own trauma every time someone in the public eye is accused of sexual misconduct. If they have not addressed their own trauma, they may be triggered and re-traumatized. But this can also add to a sense of collective trauma.
Some people may also feel like they’ve been fooled because they believed the sparkling public image of these influential men. Even if you have only seen them on television or in a movie, you may feel personally hurt and upset about their alleged actions. And you may also empathize greatly, even ache for, the victims.
How to Cope
Your level of distress or anger may be proportionate with your own experience with sexual misconduct and how close you are to the people or circumstances involved. But the emotions that arise should never be ignored or taken lightly. You have a right to be upset, whether these news reports are triggering your own experiences or you are just feeling disappointed by men in power who’ve hurt others.
Here are some ways to protect yourself from “information overwhelm” and focus on your own healing:
1. Turn off the TV.
It’s important to be aware, but following news on the topic of sexual misconduct incessantly can hurt you. The constant barrage of bad news can prompt symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exposure to the pain of others can lead some sensitive people to carry other people’s experiences and problems around as their own.
2. Get help.
If you are already dealing with sexual trauma or have been a victim of sexual offending, or if you have experienced sexual misconduct, seek professional support. It is important to share your story with someone and to help manage potential triggers.
3. Educate yourself.
Understanding the difference between sex addiction, sexual offending and sexual misconduct can help you understand your own experiences and sort out whether you have been exposed to inappropriate sexual behavior. In the past, many people were not aware of their right to complain about sexual misconduct and may not have known how to identify it.
4. Recognize grief.
When someone once respected and looked up to by society falls, it is not uncommon to feel a sense of loss and grief. Maybe you based your career on the work of one of these people or named your child after them. Perhaps you just admired them from afar, but were touched by them in some way. And then the news comes that they are not who they seem. It can be devastating. It is important to grieve the loss of the image of the person you thought you knew, and, also, the loss of innocence and safety.
Choose a better life. Choose recovery.