Sexual Harassment and Grief, The Three Unseen Losses
It’s everywhere, it’s in the air. We don’t know quite what it is. Sadness? Disappointment? Pain? GMA has been talking about it. The Today show is talking about it with the firing of Matt Lauer. The therapists in my audiences are all talking about it. People have asked me, do the stages apply to this type of loss? As a grief expert who was privileged to write a book with Elisabeth Kübler Ross about her stages of grief. I believe they do apply. Rose McGowan with one tweet brought us out of the first stage – denial. The public is now dealing with the realty of what’s going on and that the victims have been in the stages of grief for decades and are now seeing the light. This reality is everywhere. What is this loss everyone is talking about? Is it grief? Yes!
In the world of perpetrators and victims, we feel anger, sadness, but grief? In the Grief world, it’s called ambiguous grief. Ambiguous grief is any grief that’s harder to see. The loss is not as tangible as when someone dies, and yet it’s as real as any other grief we would feel. In fact, the mood at NBC today was described to be, “…like there had been a death in the family.”
People are talking about it and they may not realize that the sadness and anger they are feeling are markers of grief.
The three grief’s in sexual-harassment are:
1. The grief of the victims. When inappropriate sexual behavior first happens, there is the loss of safety and innocence. There is deep fear of standing up to those who hold the key to our career and success. Violation replaces The golden rule. And in grief, secrecy becomes shame. Now, victims are finding courage in the new unfolding dialogue to speak up. Unfortunately, they themselves often have their credibility examined. That turning of the tables on them is another loss in itself. In the past, if they did speak up, the powers be, would rarely listen. The loss will color the rest of their life. They already knew this; we are beginning to understand the depths of their trauma.
2. Friends and family of the perpetrator. Co-host and Anchor Savannah Gutherie said today, “This is a sad morning here, I am heartbroken, heartbroken for Matt, my dear friend who has been my partner, heartbroken for the brave colleague, the brave woman who came forward to tell her story.” Colleagues of Matt Lauer, just like Charlie Rose’s co-workers and others are now dealing with this unique kind of grief. How does someone we like, someone we respect, someone we care for, turn out to be a sexual harasser? How is this possible? Maturity, unfortunately, is the reality that two conflicting things can be true. Matt Lauer can be loved and a trusted colleague but can also be sexually in-appropriate with those he has power over. We grapple with this all the time, but we will never find a satisfying “why” answer in this duality. Family members struggle with incongruous roles and they try to make sense of their loved one’s behavior.
3. The public’s loss. The final grief is an overall pervading sense of grief about the world we live in today. We are thrust into this new, harsher reality, where people can be perpetrators and harassment is possible everywhere, especially in the workplace. This is the New Grief in the workplace. Our hope for this post traumatic-growth era will be a better work place of the future. We mourn the pain of those who were victimized. We grieve the loss of the trust we placed in those we worked with. This grief will be replaced with hope that the workplace can be a safer, fairer and more equitable environment. We must remember that breakdowns often lead to breakthroughs