Zencare recently had the pleasure of speaking with Gretchen Blycker, LMHC, a licensed massage therapist, registered yoga teacher, and licensed mental health counselor specializing in treatment for sexual trauma and boundary violations.
ZC: It’s been an empowering year for sexual assault survivors to come forward. How have you seen this play out in your practice?
GB: In some ways, I’ve heard clients express a tremendous sense of relief, like this bubble of silence is being broken. There’s a feeling of solidarity and support as we find ways to collectively talk about sexuality and abuses of power, coercion, and manipulation. In addition to the obvious problems of the perpetration of sexual violence, we also need to address the further harm that happens when a person discloses a violation and they are further betrayed or traumatized by not being believed, being blamed, or being emotionally bullied. We need to make disclosure a safer process in our culture. As a therapist, I am sometimes one of a few people to whom people of any gender have disclosed a sexual trauma. What’s new and different now is the level of cultural participation and how we address problems regarding sexual boundary violations.
For many people, our cultural conversations have sparked a sense of hope for positive change and gratitude that this is finally happening now. However, our culture needs tremendous, significant, long-lasting change to understand people’s experiences and perspectives, to foster respect, and to honor boundaries. We still have a long way to go.
ZC: The constant media coverage can also be exhausting and triggering. What advice do you offer clients in this situation?
GB: Having these uncomfortable conversations is tremendously important. In therapy, we work to create a safe space to allow clients to open up and feel whatever is emerging. One-on-one or in working with couples, there’s a way to manage safety. Without an environment designed to promote well-being, however, some people might not feel supported or may even be triggered by the conversations around them.
In sessions, clients and I work on increasing self-awareness, to notice what’s happening in the present moment within them and attune to their sensations and emotions. I help guide individuals through this process with instructions to work at a safe and manageable pace. If you’re feeling triggered, pause. First, check in with yourself and gather the information you need to mindfully respond.
If you hear a conversation that makes you feel triggered, prioritize self-care and practice boundaries that are going to promote your own safety and well-being. Communication is important, and it can be beneficial to notice your motivation for communicating.
When considering if you want to engage in a communication, you may wish to consider:
1. How you wish others to respond
Do I want to share because I want to give voice and light to a truth that will feel empowering to convey regardless of how it is received by other people? Or, on the other hand, am I attached to a particular response that I feel I need to hear in order not to feel further inner distress? If you answer “yes” to the latter, perhaps follow your inner guidance to wait to share with a person who you feel fully supports you.
2. Where you are in the healing process
In practicing mindful boundaries for self-care, it is important to assess where you are in the process of healing. Ask yourself, is my relationship with these feelings acutely raw and sensitive in a way that I need supportive, compassionate, full receptive listening, understanding and validation? Is my healing process in a place where an unattuned person could cause more hurt that might need further repair? If you determine that your healing has provided you with a resiliency to address sensitive topics with those who may be unattuned, you might consider sharing if you feel moved to do so. If you determine it would be loving self-care to wait to share the information with a trusted person in your life, it might be of value to seek out that person.
3. Your personal comfort level
Consider your comfort level regarding sharing private and intimate information. Do I want to speak about a topic from a universal, cultural, or personal lens or perspective? There are ways to participate in conversations in order to communicate and connect that do not include sharing personal experiences.