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#MeToo: Psychologists Naina Shahri and Ahla Matra on how to deal with triggers and prioritize self-care

The team behind mental health collective Alternative Story say reliving past experiences can lead to retraumatization in survivors

Psychologist Naina Shahri.
Psychologist Naina Shahri.

Reliving past experiences of harassment can lead to retraumatization in survivors or trigger similar memories in others. Psychologists Naina Shahri and Ahla Matra of Bengaluru-based mental health collective Alternative Story spoke to Lounge about how to deal with trauma, lend support and prioritize self-care during the movement.

The recent events can be triggering for those who have faced abuse in the past.

Whether one is a survivor, a friend of a survivor/accused, or an uninvolved observer, this is a difficult and triggering time to be on social media. The first step in processing any trauma is to acknowledge and identify it as trauma. For many of the individuals coming out right now, this is exactly what is happening. They are finally recognizing their lived experiences as trauma. The lengthy, and often challenging process, of surviving and overcoming trauma starts from a place of believing that one was not at fault, and with holding accountable those responsible for the experiences one had to face. Therapy is extremely helpful in such cases.

Also Read | #MeToo: Lawyer Amba Salelkar on how organisations can make workplaces safer for women

What should women sharing their stories be mindful of ?

Women sharing their stories right now need to remember that even an incident that happened years ago can lead to severe retraumatization and affect their mental well-being significantly. They do not owe it to anyone to share a story they are not prepared to tell the world. People on social media need to be sensitive about this and not push people to name their abusers or share their stories. Already, we’ve seen some users being gaslighted and being forced to retreat from social media to preserve their own mental health.

What’s the best way to support survivors telling their stories?

Anyone facing a difficult time needs three kinds of people by their side. Doers: Doing small tasks for the survivor, like ensuring they eat and get enough rest, taking care of their errands, or simply managing their phone. Listeners, who listen without prying for information or offering solutions. And those who provide respites: Taking the survivor’s mind off the barrage of tweets, mentions, media requests, and taking them out for a simple cup of coffee. One can also encourage survivors to access counselling (or in some cases funding therapy sessions)

Women who report sexual crimes are often questioned on credibility due to gaps in memory. How does trauma affect the mind?

When the mind is unable to bear trauma it can get overwhelmed and shut down, leading to lapses in memory. On other occasions, we learn to repress incidents because remembering can be too traumatizing. Survivors may find themselves triggered by situations they did not realize were triggers. In some cases, trauma can have lasting impacts in the form of acute stress disorder (usually within a month of the incident), post-traumatic stress disorder, which can occur months after the incident and last for years, and generalized anxiety disorder.

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