Stop shaming women for sharing their trauma

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nrkbeta | Wikimedia Commons

Angelica Tejada

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez openly spoke about the trauma of the deadly insurrection at the Capitol during an Instagram Live stream back on Feb. 1.

She described hiding in Rep. Katie Porter’s office and thinking that she was going to die.

She also shared that she was a survivor of sexual assault, which she said not a lot of people know about her.

“When we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Following the stream, many spoke out in support of Ocasio-Cortez, while others called her a manipulative liar, including author Candance Owens who in a tweet wrote, “she seems disturbed.”

The backlash Ocasio-Cortez received after sharing this traumatic experience is unjustifiable and speaks to a larger issue: victim-blaming culture.

“The reason I’m getting emotional in this moment is because these folks who tell us to move on, that it’s not a big deal, that we should forget what’s happened, or even telling us to apologize — these are the same tactics of abusers,” Ocasio-Cortez said, referring to Republican leaders like Sen. Ted Cruz who have called to move on from the Capitol attack.

Women are often dismissed when sharing their experiences and their trauma is belittled as just another “women’s issue.”

It sets the notion that these experiences are just part of what being a woman is and that the trauma doesn’t matter at all.

This can affect a woman’s mental health and self-perception by making them believe that what happened to them isn’t a big deal. But it is.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Research indicates that women are twice as likely to develop PTSD, experience a longer duration of posttraumatic symptoms and display more sensitivity to stimuli that remind them of the trauma.”

Victim-blaming frames women as the problem and the ones responsible for their traumas when that is far from the truth.

This kind of sexist sentiment toward women has been normalized by many, and the post-trauma healing process cannot begin without them feeling completely understood.

“The validation of what happened is the number one step in terms of healing trauma,” Dr. Karol Darsa, who is a licensed psychologist and founder of the integrative trauma treatment center Reconnect, told Refinery29. “It’s really crucial, for healing to occur, that there’s a validation of the feeling, there’s a validation of what happened, and an acknowledgement of how difficult that was for the person.”

When women are not validated for how they feel post trauma, the negative reactions they get from others create even more trauma. It unveils an endless cycle of never holding the perpetrator responsible.

Everyone should begin to work on creating safe environments where women feel free to be open about their experiences without facing unjust repercussions.

Of course, women shouldn’t feel pressured or obligated to share their experiences, but it is important that they don’t feel alienated by others.

“The more we talk about it, the more we have a chance to minimize the shame associated with talking about trauma,” Valentina Stoycheva, who is a clinical psychologist, told InStyle.

Opening up to someone about trauma — or in Ocasio-Cortez’s, case millions of people — takes a lot of bravery. When and how a woman chooses to share their story should always be respected and taken seriously.

It’s time for the victim-blaming culture to disappear and for those who cause harm to women to be held accountable.