In response to Donald Trump’s brags about sexually assaulting women, thousands have followed the lead of author Kelly Oxford in sharing the stories of their own experiences as victims of assault. The hashtag (#notokay) got responses at a rate of 50 tweets per minute from others who shared their own assault stories.
Many, who had never previously spoken out, found and raised their voices. Their stories are evidence of the prevalence of the “rape culture” that historically blames and silences victims of sexual assault. Psychotherapists like me wonder about the impact that this collective sharing of trauma stories has. In what ways does it help? Are there ways in which it may be harmful?
While the brave outpouring of trauma experience has empowered many, it also activates the nervous system of those who associate what they hear with what they have lived through. When traumatic memories get reactivated, the human nervous system often fails to distinguish between past and current danger. We can feel we are not simply remembering a traumatic event, we re-experience it as if it were happening again. We become prisoners of the pain from our past.This is when getting help becomes essential.