Individual Healing, Community Harm
I’ve had a few thoughts bouncing around in my head lately that have bumped into each other juuuuust right. I’m sure by now we’ve all read Is Therapy-Speak Making Us Selfish? & at least a couple people who have made their way to my blog have seen my video on healing & over-correction. So where have these bumped into each other? I think that the current therapeutic models have us over-correcting from unhealthy connection, to unhealthy disconnection. And I really think we could instead find ways to healthily connect.
Don’t get me wrong–I think that skills like boundary setting & self advocacy are super important. And I think that when we learn those skills in a vacuum*, we can overshoot & end up only self-prioritizing. I learn the now-infamous therapy speak, I tell people about my comfort & what makes me feel “safe” (a post for another day, that).
I learn phrases like…
I don’t owe you anything.
I am not responsible for your feelings.
I am not okay with that.
I do not have the capacity for that.
I need to protect my peace.
I do not claim that.
I-me-my, I-me-my, I-me-my.
Are there contexts in which some of the above phrases can be helpful? Absolutely. Are they always the most beneficial way to respond to everything ever? Well, only if I only care about my capacity and my peace and, well, me. If I want to be in relation to others, I do owe them my time, my care, my honesty, my vulnerability. If I want to let my friends rest, I will have to overextend some days. If I don’t want to end up alone, I will have to claim the harm I have done to others.
I think settings like individual therapy can still be helpful for parts of our healing journeys, and I think it’s important for us not to stop there. In therapy and books and self-help videos, I learn about myself as a whole self and an individual. But it crosses a line into learning about myself as a wholly independent thing. And I am simply not. I exist in relation to other people, and they exist in relation to me**.
We exchange love and care and ideas. I could not possibly claim my thoughts and words as if they came to me independently of knowing and loving others (and well, going to therapy, reading books, and watching videos also by others). I am a whole person, and a large part of that whole is a network of relations to other humans.
And this is why I think the therapy-speak thing is a big over-correction. Many of us were raised with poor internal boundaries, an inability to say no, and perhaps not the most genuine ways ever to keep people in our lives. So now, we’re learning to build walls, say no liberally, and keep people out of our lives.
This is not to say that our raising or our over-corrections are our own faults (ooh the punitive justice lens, another post for another day). This is not to say that whoever raised you in particular did a bad job of it, or that your therapist sucks. This is to say that on the population level, there were a lot of bad ideas about how to relate to others circulating when we were younger, and that there are a lot of bad ideas about how to fix it circulating now.
The actions we take when we only learn to look out for #1 can genuinely be unsafe and toxic. At worst, we’ve all been taught a bunch of new language to validate orchestrating our environments & controlling other people. Instead of doing so outwardly, we imply that any attempt to not conform to our ideals and preferences (which is to say, to not be controlled) makes them untrustworthy, pushy, toxic, unsafe. We set up everyone around us to be the bad guys for needing what we don’t need.
I genuinely believe that the last thing most of us would want to do is control the people around us. I think most of us would get really uncomfortable with the idea of purposefully manipulating others or making our relationships less genuine. Yet, that can very easily be the accidental outcome of the models we’re being presented with.
When we frame everything our loved ones do as issues of personal safety and peace, when we find language that lets us position our POV as the most valid, level-headed one in the room, we make a lot of space to harm others in the name of safety.
So what do we do about it? We brainstorm some better ideas. In community.
We need to listen to those who have already been talking about community for ages, like Black communities & indigenous communities.
When we do pursue individual healing, we need to ask questions like “how do I do this and still maintain connection?” or “how do I make myself a priority but not the only priority?”
We need to converse more openly about our needs & abilities with the people we love.
We need to build big enough, secure enough networks with each other that no one person takes on too much for or offloads too much on one other person.
We need to learn to make offers that we won’t resent later, and we need to examine our resentment when it does inevitably pop up.
We need to get familiar with the societal ideas that make us think we have to interact one way or another.
We need to speak up against advice that presents cutting off and silencing as the only modes of exiting a conflict.
We need to learn how to be in conflict in the first place without short-circuiting.
We need to get okay with some discomfort, some overextending, some less-than-preferable choices without labeling those things as inherently unsafe or toxic.
We can do hard things. We can overcome the hardships of our past, and create really lovely loving relationships in the present. We just can’t do it alone.
*thank you, autocorrect, because I definitely type “vaccuum” every time
**I am by far not the first person to arrive at this idea; read up on ubuntu if you haven’t.