Me Too. Then What?

The Me Too movement is huge. And what it’s clearly illuminating is that millions, perhaps even billions, of men and women carry the scars of sexual abuse.

I personally have been lucky. I’ve been groped many times. I’ve been followed down streets. Once, someone attacked me but I escaped. But thankfully, I’ve never been sexually abused or raped.

Still, even these relatively minor traumas were both scary and scarring. At a young age, I came to understand that I was not safe, that I was prey, not to lions and tigers, but to males of my own kind. At any moment, my space might be invaded and the most intimate parts of me might be violated. To this day, I can’t imagine walking down a lonely street and not feeling anxious, on high alert. Nor can I imagine not feeling an immediate jolt of apprehension, should I then see a man walking towards me.

If I feel this way, despite having led a privileged and sheltered existence, how must women feel whose memories include inconceivable horror? I pose the question, not in order to paint a bleak picture, but to highlight how great our need for healing really is. Millions, if not billions of women are carrying some version of the same wound.

Of course, men need healing, too. But I since I personally work primarily with women, it is their needs that I want to address today. I envision a world where every woman can, if she so choses, attend a skillfully facilitated women’s circle. Here, she feels heard, seen, and accepted, and here, she feels safe enough to speak her truth honestly and authentically. In these circle, healing touch is structured into the process, as are dancing, poetry, music, and celebration.

Well. What I’m describing here is Circlework, a method I’ve been teaching to women from around the world for over thirty years. Our intention, in this practice, is to gather in circles in order to co-create healing sanctuaries. Today, Circlework is being used not only here in the United States, but also in India, Kenya, Norway, Israel, and many other nations.

Over the course of facilitating hundreds of circles, I’ve learned two things. First, that the scars of our past can be healed. And second, that we don’t need to depend on mental health professionals to facilitate this type of healing.

I don’t want to imply that circle leadership is an easy art. It certainly isn’t. There’s a lot that can go wrong. A good Circlework leader needs to possess a high level of innate emotional intelligence, and beyond that, they need personal integrity and a strong commitment to healing. But these are qualities I’ve encountered in millions of women who never studied counseling. Of course, circle facilitators also need a specific set of tools, skills, and practices. Yet most counselors, ministers and therapists never acquire these skills because they aren’t included in their curriculums.

I believe it’s important that we open to new forms of psychological healing. As long as traditional counseling is the only healing option available to victims of sexual violence, the vast majority will never receive any support at all, and the effects may haunt them their entire life.

In this context, it’s worth considering another group of traumatized individuals, namely veterans. In recent years, circles for veterans have been cropping up everywhere. People realize that veterans need to tell their stories and process their experiences. It’s easy to see that offering circle gatherings for veterans is a good idea that makes sense. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that hiring a circle facilitator is far cheaper than hiring a bunch of therapists.

But for women who long to shed the toxic residue of sexual violence, circle gatherings are still far and few between. This, despite the fact that sexual abuse can be just as traumatic as war. The difference, I suspect, has to do with the level of shame that so many victims of sexual violence feel. Thankfully, the Me Too movement is now helping women drop their shame and speak out.

Clearly, this crucial. After all, we can’t receive healing if we can’t acknowledge our wounds. But it’s is just the first step. Where does a woman go after she has acknowledged her abuse, both to herself and others? How are we going to offer her the help she needs to reclaim her lost sense of wholeness?

Circle gatherings can do this very effectively. They’re a lot of fun, and they allow us to create healing environments for large numbers of people. I, for one, look forward to the day when every woman has access to a safe and supportive circle where she can receive healing, encouragement, and community. Because when women thrive, everyone benefits.

©Jalaja Bonheim, 2018