When Saying No Has Consequences

The topic of consent has been popping up in my life quite recently. It’s been sparked off by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which is all over the media and even though I don’t follow mainstream media the story somehow infiltrated my life. This, in turn, ignited the #metoo social media campaign which has then sparked off a lot more conversation, around sexual abuse, consent and a certain kind of negative sexual behaviour which is so often dismissed that it’s unfortunately it’s become a normality in our culture.

Firstly – it’s about time we started talking about this because it’s been underground for far too long. In fact, it’s so underground that a lot of people can’t actually believe it’s a thing at all. It’s not their fault that they don’t believe it at first, in reality most of us go through life viewing our personal perception as the general experience of all. To someone who would never dream of sexually abusing someone else, they may therefore assume that none of his friends would either, thus deeming that the reality of this happening is relatively small. Unfortunately this perception isn’t reflective of the experience of a lot of people, and anyone who has experienced sexual abuse will know about the shame and guilt that comes with telling the story. They’ll also have probably experienced firsthand the judgement that comes when they tell people, the questions that automatically assume that the victim is at fault: “What were you wearing?” and “Were you drunk?” were two common questions that I was often asked when I first told people that a man had voilently attacked me to try and rape me. So is it a surprise that we don’t feel comfortable to offer our stories at the dinner table, let alone reporting it? Because of this, these stories aren’t shared as common knowledge, they’re kept inside and suffered in silence because most people don’t feel safe enough to even voice them with their closest friends and family. If you’re reading this and still think that it’s not an issue, then start listening to the conversations of those around you and in a non judgmental manner* start asking people for their stories, what comes back might just widen your perception.

As this story has unravelled, and in the conversations I’ve had especially, I’ve found myself explaining the concept of consent frequently and it’s seems to be something quite misunderstood. There’s some really great public campaigns creating awareness about how important consent is, one great one in the UK which explained it in a metaphor of offering someone a cup of tea and that you wouldn’t force someone to drink a cup of tea against their will if they’d already said ‘no’ – you can imagine the humour in this with a nation that is so polite with the treasured ritual of the famous ‘cuppa’. What it seems to miss out though, is the issue of consent when one person is in a position of power, which they could use against the person with less power if they don’t get what they want. Quite often in situations where sexual abuse takes places there is a power dynamic which is being abused, be it physically or like in the Harvey Weinstein case – the power of one person’s career prospects. To me, consent isn’t just about saying no. It’s about having the opportunity to say ‘no’ without consequences.

Consequences such as the other person reacting negatively like becoming dismissive, moody, even ending the relationship and all that has been built to create it so far.

Consequences like losing out on something external of the situation that a person has worked so hard to achieve, like a career, an opportunity or their reputation.

Consequences like personal safety, that if the person with less power doesn’t just give in and give the person with power what they want that things might just turn that little bit nasty.

I’m not saying that we need to have sit down discussions at length prior to having any sexual encounter because I know how these things arise and nobody what’s to spoil the mood. But what I am saying is that the vulnerable person in the sexual dynamic (the one that has the least power) has to feel safe enough to say no if they choose to and that it’s up to the person with the power to create that safe environment. The only way we can do that is by having this conversation about sex, safety and what consent actually means to us as individuals. And I don’t mean “What do you think about this Weinstein scandal” conversation starter in the office. I mean talking in depth, to those people close to us about the vulnerable details of our own experiences and what makes each of us feel comfortable and safe. Talking to those who we know would have had different sexual experiences from ourselves. If you’re a man, talk to a woman. If you’re straight, talk to someone who has had homosexual or bisexual relationships. If you’re monogamous, why not talk to someone who’s polyamorous? It’s only by widening our perception that we can learn more about the world and other’s experiences, and it’s only through sitting through the discomfort of others painful stories that we’ll start building up compassion within ourselves.

We need to start reflecting about our experiences too. Think about those times that you’ve had sex and it didn’t quite feel right – why was that? Did you not actually want it to happen? Or maybe you pushed yourself on someone and they gave in because of that? If you’re unsure can you open that conversation with that person and get some home truths aired? Don’t beat yourself up for something you weren’t aware of at the time though, because it’s not product to wallow in guilt. Just use this awareness to apologise and rectify the situation if you need to and change your behaviour going forward.

Without this kind of open awareness, reflection and compassion we’re not going to be able to create the respectful and safe world that we all deserve. So keep talking, keep challenging your own opinion and most of all listen, compassionately.

*A non-judgmental manner means to react neutrally to the answer that is given, regardless of how you feel. It means to allow space to listen, receive and for that moment sit in the awkward discomfort with the other person and feel what they are actually feeling. I write discomfort because that’s what it is at best, at worst it can be shameful, upsetting or deeply crushing. It is your obligation as the receiver to listen, without comment as someone expresses what is probably extremely difficult for them. And if you still don’t understand what that means then you obviously need to do some more reading.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

 

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Are You Respecting Your Boundaries?

Respecting boundaries is a subject that has been rotating around various conversations lately and it’s caused me to think about what my boundaries are and how I go about communicating them.

When I think about the heartbreak and the attack, I think about the boundaries that I stated and communicated, and those that I didn’t. Ultimately we’re all in control of our own boundaries and by stating them we set the benchmark for how we allow others to treat us. In one of these instances I didn’t communicate my boundaries and when I allowed them to be overstepped I got frustrated and angry because I felt so vulnerable. In the other instance, I fiercely communicated my boundaries which weren’t respected and this literally ended up in a violent fight to protect them. When experiencing PTSD there seems to be a fear within me that I can’t control my boundaries and that they will get overstepped again. I especially feel this when there is the possibility that I might be in a vulnerable situation, particularly at moments when I have the potential to be intimate. What’s interesting is that because of the fear of boundaries being overstepped I feel a huge compulsion rise within me to protect myself and sometimes in a very fierce manner. This very action stops me from getting into situations where I can exercise my vulnerability and practice establishing new boundaries, leaving me in a catch 22 PTSD spiral. The reality here is that I control my boundaries and I have protected them before so there’s no reason to worry that they could be overstepped because the choice to allow that to happen always lies within my control.

I’ve received this lesson on boundaries on both ends in the last year and I even remember a friend shouting at me during an argument about it…

“But no one can say no to you Shereen” she screamed, when I asked why she let me stay at her house which was actually an inconvenience to her, rather than just saying no. This overstepping of boundaries led to a build up of resentment in the friendship which later destroyed it all together. What I’ve realised since is that we live in a society where difficult things aren’t talked about and people don’t like to say their truth, instead, we’re somehow encouraged to pretend like everything is ok even when we actually feel taken advantage of. This lack of communication leads to people being in situations that they don’t want to be in, situations where they’re not being authentic to themselves. Well, I’m going to be blunt here – if you’re not going to state and communicate your own boundaries then how can you expect others to know what they are? The human race hasn’t evolved to be telepathic yet so if you’re not using the communication tools you’ve been given then you can’t expect people to know what you want.

The other side of this is that women especially are encouraged not to speak out, as though to do so is some kind of shameful activity. I’ve faced this all my life when I’ve been told that I’m bossy when in reality I’m assertive and make things happen. Or that I’m too direct when I speak up against immoral actions of others, this isn’t being too direct, it’s having integrity. Another is when I call out sleazy guys who are making me or other women feel uncomfortable by their undesired advances. That one is usually delivered as overreacting when in reality I’m communicating boundaries.

Whilst I’m getting used to stating my boundaries, I know that my strength in character can push others boundaries and the statement that was shouted at me by my friend last year gave me an insight into the friends I’d surrounded myself with – some who allowed me to overstep their boundaries and then held resentment in our friendship against me and some who have the courage to stand up to me and point when I’m overstepping the mark. After the traumas, an intense light got shone on these friendships and it made me think what kind of people I want in my life. The thing is that when such emotionally intense things happen it can be difficult to see the wood from the trees and it’s more important than ever to have friends with the inner strength to say “Hold on a minute friend, you’re out of line there”, and without these friends I might have been even more reactive to the traumatic situations I’ve been through. These people are my signposts in life who steer me away from destructive situations when I’m clouded by my emotions, the ones who teach the lessons even if they’re hard to hear and ultimately keep me on the path of continuous self-improvement – isn’t that what true friendship is about? Thank you to all my ‘signposts’, you know who are you and I love you completely for being your strong authentic selves.

The shocking thing is that by acting this way I know we’re in the minority and worse of all that makes us look like trouble makers, but I’m done with feeling guilty for speaking my authentic truth and my horoscope this month even backs me up.

“You would be wise to pause and consider the possibility that people are intimidated by you. There continues to be an alignment of slow-moving, deep, and evocative planets in your sign. One response people might have to you is that things get real fast when you’re in the room. This is not your problem; don’t take it on. It’s been a long time since people in Western civilization have been this frightened of their shadow.” Eric Francis Coppolino.

Touche Eric! Not my problem at all so I’m dropping the shame around this and I’m stepping into who I really am – assertive, integral and with the courage to stand by my morals and I implore others to this too especially when it comes to setting boundaries.

So I leave you with this. What are you boundaries and are you communicating them? If not, why not? What would happen if you did? I’ve found that for me this has led to deeper more understanding relationships, even if there were a few sticky parts along the way.

In the end, it’s always worth it.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x