If the actual or perceived trauma of an event that has happened continues for some time, it may lead to or precipitate heightened anxiety with physical symptoms like giddiness, fast shallow breathing, pounding of heart, tremors of hands, restlessness, confusion and feeling as if one is having heart attack. It may last for a few minutes or about an hour and then passes off but leaving the person emotionally and physically drained. These panic attacks may happen in office space or even later on while thinking about it. These can start as soon as an event has occurred or even after weeks or months.
The sense of foreboding and fear may give rise to ‘Startle Response’ which consists of ‘jumping out of skin’ on a loud noise or when being lost in one’s thoughts. It may happen due to being preoccupied with the event. There may also be ‘Dissociative Reactions’ when the emotions run very high and due to the inability to deal with them, the mind literally shuts down. There may be a feeling of ‘Depersonalization’ (feeling unreal) where you may go through the normal functioning of life but are unable to feel the emotions because they are too traumatic. These may be for short periods and only in the traumatic situation or it may be prolonged, out of proportion or continuing beyond the trauma.
The trauma as has occurred or perceived may solely preoccupy you at all times, including at work. This may bring down the performance and the fear that the perpetrator or the organization may have ‘genuine’ reason to harm you. It may also lead to sleeplessness and social withdrawal. It may also lead to ideas of others talking about or acting against you. It may be dependent more on your previous personality or coping style. Sometimes, severe stress can uncover previous mental illness or precipitate it.
If you are in the same office or situation or may have moved on to another place, you still may not be able to cope with the trauma. You may resort to abuse of Alcohol, other substance or pain killers or antidepressants. It also depends on the previous patterns of abuse or the life style you lead but severe and prolonged stressful situation may worsen it.
The biggest downside for you, the ‘victim’ of MeToo are the relationships. The trauma of the event can change the way future relationships are formed. There may be inability to have intimate, specially sexual relationships, fear of being with a person in a closed space and lack of trust in relationships. This may be sometimes leading to fearfulness of coming close to another partner or the feeling of having become ‘dirty’ or guilt associated with it. There may be generalization as you start thinking that all men (mostly) may be of similar character. If the trauma has happened early on in life, it may be more difficult to resolve.
The different forms of trauma of a situation as perceived or experienced by you – may not happen to all or in the same severity or duration. The reaction is dependent on the personality, history of childhood trauma or abuse, cultural norms, severity or suddenness of the trauma, relationship with the perpetrator, duration of trauma, expression or lack of expression of trauma, reactions of others around, social support within or outside the organization, availability or lack of a formal structure like Internal Committee to address these issues etc. If your expression of MeToo is opposed, criticized or given ulterior motives, it may worsen the trauma.
It is also to be remembered that the perpetrator of such behavior may not be a person in power but someone at the same level or even junior who because of gender discrimination may be able to carry out such behavior and the victim may feel trapped due to the system or society which perpetrates such behaviors.
Arti (name changed) came from a broken family with parents being separated. She was living with her mother and just after graduation she felt it important for her to have a good, regular and well paid job. She was willing to work hard, give her best and prove herself being better than her brother whose example her mother would give continuously. She was able to find a job as a supervisor in a garment manufacturing unit and she felt her dream had come true.
She worked almost twelve hour days to prove her worth even overtime and the job got regularized. She was not comfortable about the quality assurance manager who would usually come by around late evening, start drinking alcohol in his room and then call her about work. He did not do or say anything objectionable during this period. However, he slowly started sharing about his family life which according to him was miserable and she saw a lot of parallels in his life and that of her own parents.
She slowly started getting involved in giving him personal advice and he would also help her about her work. One day, late evening he came close, hugged and kissed her. She was very uncomfortable as she felt she would be instrumental in breaking his marriage and anyway during childhood she had seen many fights between her parents followed by forced sex. However, she was not able to say anything but felt violated.
She could not sleep well at night and had many nightmares including dreams from her childhood memories. She started fearing evenings and their outcome and anticipated terrible things to happen. A few days later, while being under influence of Alcohol when other workers left, he tried to grab her and force himself upon her. She was not able to react but was able to get away from there soon. She was not able to share it with anyone in the factory or her mother or any friend.
She felt violated and ‘being dirty’. She started losing sleep and weight and would often sit up with cold sweat from sleep. He did not talk to her about this incident and acted normally. She was petrified when evenings would come and specially if the number of people in the factory reduced or she felt alone. The image of the incident continued to haunt her mind. She would feel same sense of fear when she was alone with another male also. She could not leave the job due to economic reasons but started making mistakes. She was asked by the owner to explain and it took a lot of courage to tell her story. The boss refused to believe as the manager was very senior and working there for long. She was also asked why did not report the incident immediately.
Arti had to leave the job after a short period although she found another job soon. However, the traumatic sequence keeps going on in her mind and had been affecting her work, relationships with people, specially males and had been given to continuous crying with feelings of guilt, shame, worthlessness and hopelessness for the future. She started seeing a therapist who was able to help her resolve some of the issues, start focusing on work and to realize that all men may not be the same.
It is seen that many of those who may have gone through a trauma of MeToo kind may not be able to come out of it completely. Sometimes, those who are not able to put it behind may have the impact in terms of guilt, shame, depression, anger and aggression towards a person, place, organization or society at large. However, many others are able to move on, find people/organizations/support that are able to heal the trauma or at least help to put it behind them.