By Dr. Caroline Leaf, Communication Pathologist and Cognitive Neuroscientist specializing in the mind-brain connection, memory and learning.
Why do some people commit sexual harassment or abuse? What drives a human being to forget their humanity?
There is no single answer. We need to look at sexual crimes from multiple angles, beginning with the most immediate and pressing question: what does it means to be human, a decent loving empathic being who is wired for loving relationships and who respects others? Sexual harassment dehumanizes both the victim and the perpetrator. From a scientific and spiritual angle, love is considered to be the default mode of humanity—this is also known as the optimism bias. Any action that contravenes this wired-for-love design is toxic and will result in anguish and pain, including physical damage in the brain and body. [Switch on Your Brain; The Perfect You]
Why would someone voluntarily damage their mental and physical health, and the health of another human being? As human beings, we have free will. We choose what we want to think about and focus on. When we choose, we switch on genes, and thoughts made of the resultant proteins grow in arbor-like structures in the brain—thoughts are real, physical things in our brains that affect the way we think, speak and act. Humans, with the power of choice, literally have the creative power to make matter out of the mind! We become what we focus on the most: good matter equals a healthy brain, while toxic matter equals a toxic, damaged brain.
As we repeatedly choose to think about something, or repeatedly focus on something, learning takes place. Whatever you think about the most will grow, and whatever grows will produce words and behaviors; we act from our thoughts, not independently of them. Sexual harassment or abuse is not a reactive, random genetically preprogrammed predisposition that cannot be controlled. It is a premeditated action based on individual choice. For a thought to manifest in action, it has to have 63 to 84 days of repeated attention. The more time spent focusing on the thought increases the strength of the thought, building it into a strong and influential memory. These kinds of memories can originate from environmental influences, and can begin in childhood. Essentially, many of the patterns for adulthood are laid down in our younger years; a child’s brain is incredibly malleable during the developmental stages.
Centuries of female oppression has contributed to a culture that tends to see the female as the lesser or weaker sex who needs to submit to her male counterpart. In many cases, the woman is objectified—her purpose is to serve male pleasure. Men, on the other hand, are told that they are highly sexual beings; phrases like “sowing his wild oats”, “he is just being a man” and “men only think with one organ” are commonplace. Indeed, these cultural myths are so ingrained in our collective consciousness that they are often accepted as gospel truth. Yet there have been many brave men and women, there are many brave men and women, who have had the courage to challenge these “truths”. Think of the suffragette movement, feminism, and today’s powerful #metoo and #timesup movements. Oppression of any nature is abhorrent; it goes against our wired for love design and will always be contested. Sir Roger Penrose shows mathematically that the values embedded in Einsteinian space-time are values of love; quantum physics, considered the most accurate of sciences, indicates that the core of reality is love. When we break these basic laws as human beings, we break a lot more than just our own brains and bodies. We cause chaos in the ordered universe.
A strong psychological theory of sexual harassment is one of power and control on the part of the perpetrator. The desire to have power and use power to control others, the desire to exert dominance, goes against our wired-for-love design. This desire can originate from pain, trauma or toxicity in the life of the aggressor, even as far back as in childhood. Partnered with a culturally embedded bias of inferiority, this desire of power exacerbates the problem of trauma or toxicity on the part of the perpetrator: if something is not seen as having much worth, it can be seen be used to further one’s own agenda.
Even though many women do fight back, it has often seemed like swimming against the tide—but the tide can and will change. From a scientific and spiritual point of view, love always wins. With awareness of wrong, comes the strength to make things right. I believe we are in that time now. In the last two months we have seen sexual abuse make headlines, the cover of magazines and destroy titans of industry. We have seen millions of men and women band together in solidarity and support with #metoo. As a mother, woman, wife, and follower of Jesus I am so happy to see justice happen, and I am so happy to see the support and love shown for each other. People from around the world are standing together to stop sexual harassment and abuse. We are living in such an amazing time, a time where women are no longer told to be quiet and stay in the kitchen and do what they are told. No amount of power or money will keep a sexual abuser safe anymore. God’s justice is being realized. The universe is being reordered and restored.
So how do we continue to fight sexual harassment and abuse? How can we heal sexual trauma?
Dr. Leaf is a Communication Pathologist and Cognitive Neuroscientist specializing in
the mind-brain connection, memory, and learning. She is the author of Switch On Your Brain and Think and Eat Yourself Smart, among many other books and journal articles. Since 1981, Dr. Leaf has researched the science of thought as it relates to thinking, learning, renewing the mind, gifting, and potential. She is an international and national conference speaker on topics relating to optimal brain performance such as stress, toxic thoughts, male/female brain differences, thinking and learning, controlling our thought lives, wisdom, and how to identify and use one’s natural gifts. She is frequently interviewed on TV stations around the globe, has published many books as well as scientific journal articles, and also has her own TV show, The Dr. Leaf Show.