Ask The Therapist: “After facing harassment and seeing people justify it, my mind has turned quite negative…how do I accept this as a part of my life?”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

‘Harassment is such a huge issue in Pakistan’s streets. I come from a small city, so everyone is fully covered and it makes no sense to victim blame (the way people typically do), but I have to still survive it and go through it. How should I keep my mental peace and feel safe and happy when I go out? After facing harassment and seeing people justify it, my mind has turned quite negative. It’s almost like I keep gas-lighting myself every time I go out. I am going to therapy, but how do I survive this mentally? How do I accept this as a part of my life? I breakdown quite a lot about this and it deeply saddens me. I need help.’

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

I am so sorry you had to go through that. That’s truly awful! Harassment is such a widespread issue in this country, and unfortunately you, like many others have had the dreaded misfortune of experiencing it first-hand and as a result, feel unsafe and vigilant when you go out. While there’s a lot to say on this matter, I will be addressing this within the capacity of a therapist, and how you can keep yourself safe, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally.

It’s Not Your Fault!

In our country, women have been taught to dress modestly so that they don’t draw attention to themselves. Yet hardly anyone holds the men accountable for their actions in the case of harassment, even though they absolutely should be. In a lot of cases, including yours, the type of clothes you wear has made no difference to the outcome – harassment still occurs. So, as you said: victim blaming makes absolutely no sense! The concept of gaslighting yourself really reflects on how ingrained the concept of victim-blaming has become. If the system and the social structure of our current society works against you and your safety, how can that be your fault? Some people in society would disagree with me saying that things have always been this way, and that’s just how things are. Somehow the burden of responsibility falls on women, and very little has been done to change that. The fact is, no matter what I say, people will still continue to act the way they do. As a collective community, we can always work toward changing that, and that will take time. As of now, the most we can do is take steps to keep ourselves as safe as possible. 

Safety In Numbers: One of the biggest suggestions I can make is to try and have someone with you if you’re going to places which are known to have incidents like this, especially if you’re using public transport. Having a male companion can also help (the patriarchy rears its ugly head).

Breathing/Grounding Techniques: If you are feeling a little overwhelmed, and if you feel like you’re feeling a little unhinged, it might help to go into some grounding techniques or exercises. Deep breathing can help. Or if your thoughts are getting to the point of being intrusive, maybe breaking that thought pattern could help. I usually count backwards from 100 in intervals of 7. (100… 93… 86).     

Know Your Areas: Depending on where you are, try to keep track of which areas are considered to be safer, and where you can walk around without feeling unsafe.

Emergency Contact: If at any point you are feeling unsafe, it might help to call up a friend or a family member who might be able to help keep you grounded, or just stay on the line with you till you’re feeling safe enough again.

Create A Support Group: One of the things that can help is creating a support group or a network of women who might have the same concerns as you do. This can create a sense of community and belonging as well as emotional safety. You can do this with your friends, or even expand a larger yet intimate group.

Women Safety App: The province of Punjab has an app known as the PSCA (Punjab Safe City Authority) Safety App, which was designed to respond to women who are in situations of abuse or harassment (at this time, the app only works for those residing in Punjab).

Anon, the truth is that it can be really difficult to accept this as something that has to be a part of your life. In the end, you don’t have to be okay with it, or agree with it. You can accept it as something that is unfair, something that is deeply upsetting to you – and it truly is! It is okay to break down, it is okay to be angry, whatever you need to feel. Just remember one simple thing: none of this is on you. You’re perfectly okay, and you deserve to feel safe. I wish you all the best on your journey towards healing, Anon. Best of luck and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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