Discussing Sexual Violence Deliberately: Seven Exercises for Better Self Reflection

I’m transparent that my first experience in therapy was not by choice. When you’re a minor in therapy, you’re incredibly mindful of breaches to your privacy, and I was astute at straddling that threshold.

It took me a long time to realize that therapy could look like more than one thing, and that it was ok to want independent information about resources I could try. It took me an equally long time to develop trust in my own judgment within the container of therapy, and the ability to assert my own goals and observations within that setting. Ironically consent is hard to negotiate in therapy, or at least it is for me.

Relatedly, it is hard to balance having an expertise in an area you need support with, and hard to be respected and affirmed as both your professional self and a client.

My experience is not abnormal, as both the cost prohibitive nature, as well as frequent wait lists, and related stigma and skepticism, lead people to never consider therapy, or to stay in harmful or ill matched therapeutic relationships.

One of the tools I’m most proud of having created is a resource called No Straight Path. In thinking about the role of self-knowledge in healthy relationships, and any kind of healing or change process, it was important to me to offer ways that individuals could practice skills and forms of self-care on their own.

That survivors and those directly connected to survivors would have more ways to foster communication, responsiveness, and choice in their responses to stressors and crises.

As sexual violence and child sexual abuse are spotlighted throughout April, survivors are frequently set up to have conversations that aren’t set up to account for how triggering that may feel, and how upsetting people’s responses and assumptions may be.

And yet, to meaningfully support survivors, we have to be open to honestly unpacking our reactions and assumptions. We have to have routines that allow us to receive and internalize feedback from our bodies and brains, as well as from those we may have impacted.

Anecdotally I have observed that often our practical experiences dictate our openness to additional information or conversation, a fear of awkwardness or conflict shutting us down.

The most effective conversations for sexual violence happen within a created container, one where there is preparation and debriefing, individually or collectively, and one where if done frequently enough, will drive our personal reflection organically over time.

May this set of activities spark your self-reflection and provide a practically supportive container. May our conversations grow to be deliberate in how they’re constructed, setting us up to account for inherent stress and personalization.

Below is a collection of seven of those included exercises; for the full list of exercises for group and self-reflection check out No Straight Path.

Activity 1: Mantras

Description: The words and stories that we tell ourselves are powerful, and they shape how we feel and what we believe. A mantra is a word, sound or phrase that is recited repetitively as a tool for meditation, concentration or sometimes as a self-soothing technique.

Directions:

1. Identify at least one mantra that has meaning to you — something that you want to cultivate in yourself, something that you want to feel more of, an image or truth that is comforting or relatable. At least once a day, spend some time reciting your mantra to yourself — out loud, in your head, with someone else, write it down. Allow yourself to sense the words coming out of your mouth and be affected by what you say to yourself.

Examples:

I let go, I let go, I let go, I let go

I am enough, I am enough, I am enough

I am safe, I am safe, I am safe

Change is good, change is good, change is good

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Activity 2: Mirror Affirmations

Description: Looking at yourself in the mirror can feel uncomfortable, upsetting, or awkward. Our first thought might be to notice what we don’t like about ourselves, what we want to change, what we’ve been told by other people. It requires self-discipline and practice to affirm images of our selves.

Directions:

1. Find a full-length mirror and a dry erase marker. When you’re by yourself, stand or sit in front of the mirror holding the marker. Write something you like or something that you are thankful for, about each part of your body, even if you don’t believe it or you feel silly as you write it. When you’re finished, read what you wrote out loud. Hear yourself speak kind words about yourself, and suspend your desire to criticize.

Activity 3: Communication Norms

Description: Similar to boundary setting, communicating with others in healthy and consistent ways can be a challenge. A communication norm is a precedent for how we want to speak to others and be spoken to. Establishing a rhythm or an intention for healthy conversation allows for better listening and trusted relationships.

Directions:

1) Take a few minutes to brainstorm some of your pet peeves or frustration triggers when communicating with others. Next, write the opposite behavior next to each pet peeve. Consider those inverse behaviors a template for the norms you want to establish. Those norms both indicate how you will respond when someone frustrates you, and how you will ask to be spoken to by others.

Ex) I will wait at least fifteen to thirty seconds after someone makes a point before I respond; I will practice repeating back to someone what I heard them say; I will keep my tone of voice consistent and choose my words consciously; I will walk away

Activity 4: Six Word Story

Description: When our thoughts are racing or cluttered, it can be helpful to have a word limit that isolates our main idea. One technique is to write a six-word story. The words can comprise a phrase or be separate words or concepts. The sentence can provide a definition, a response to a question or critique, or center reflection on an event or topic.

Directions:

1. Each person must summarize their feelings about a question posed or focused on a certain topic in six words. These six-word stories are then read or said aloud to the group. Use this practice to help prepare for an important conversation, to center your mind, or to organize your thoughts before writing or journaling.

Example words: ready, anger, identity, loss, leadership, broken, lost, recovery, fear, trauma, lesson, addiction

Activity 5: Percentage Check In

Description: Most of us multitask and space out regularly. Trying to be somewhere fully can be a big challenge. Checking in on where our attention is, knowing what our focus is split between, and where and what we want to be doing can instruct us on the self-care we need.

Directions:

1) Respond to the following prompt: What percentage of me is here, and where is the rest of me?

Example:

20% of me is at work

30% of me is asleep

20% of me is thinking about a fight I had

30% is outside running

Self-care: Take the time to go running

Activity 6: Falling into Recovery

Description: Coping can be a misunderstood and shameful topic to broach in public. We tend to place value on healthy or appropriate ways of coping, and demonize anything that isn’t “good for us”. Self-harm, substance use, risk taking behaviors, sex, perfectionism, over exercise, disordered eating — each of these is an attempt to manage pain and function. All behavior is a way of meeting a need, and no form of coping can be changed or substituted without first understanding what we need, and what a coping mechanism has and is providing.

Directions:

1) Make a list of your coping mechanisms, anything that you currently use or have used in the past. Describe what that tool offers you — how you feel before, during and after you use it. What themes do you observe? What needs have been unmet?

Activity 7: Myth or fact — What do I know to be true?

Description: We are often asked to have conversations and make arguments based on the assumption that truth is objective and singular. This exercise allows us to have more nuanced conversations about what is true for us, and leaves room for different things to carry meaning and truth to different people.

Directions:

1) In a journal, make a heading that says, “What I know to be true”. Complete the sentence with as many answers as you’d like without the pressure of cross checking. This could be anything from, “I hate orange juice”, to “there are four seasons” to “everything changes”. If you don’t want to write your answers down, you can also answer the prompt out loud or silently in your head.

Writer. Thinker. Facilitator. Advocate. Invested in accountability for power based violence, creative initiatives, and meaningful, nuanced dialoguing.