Watching or hearing the news is very difficult for me. So much so, that I go through long periods of time where I dissociate completely from what’s going on in the world. In those times, I tell myself that it’s okay to not listen and to turn away; that I’m doing it because I have my own shit to deal with and can’t bear the burden of worrying about anyone outside my intimate circle. I say to myself that in meeting my own needs and working on being a better, healthier person, I’m contributing to society in a positive way and that I shouldn’t feel guilty about that.
And at the same time, I long for connection beyond my own four walls. Beyond the scope of my emotional landscape, and beyond the needs and wants of my own circle of family and friends. I want to care about more than just me.
So I go through waves, of pulling back, then diving in, then pulling back, then dipping my toes again. I enact this cycle between willful ignorance and determined understanding. I dance a dance of pushing myself to face my triggers and then I try to manage when they inevitably trigger me.
I think the world is in crisis. And I’m not the only one who believes this. Most recently, 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg has received widespread attention for her no bullshit conversations about climate change and the crises humanity faces. US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come into the limelight, proposing the radical New Green Deal and using her position in American politics to call out the bigoted scum that currently make up much of the Oval Office and the elite class in the US in general. And what about Michael Moore? Naomi Klein? David Suzuki? Bill McKibben? Al Gore? Tarana Burke? Indigenous pipeline warriors? Black Lives Matter? #metoo? #timesup? So many people are speaking up for humanity!
Today I came across this scathing article by Holly Truhlar, “Mainstream Psychology Can Go Fuck Itself”, which essentially calls out the upper class/white/cis community for its blatant disregard of the issues humanity at large is facing, its misappropriation of “self-care” practices like yoga, and its willful ignorance surrounding both the climate crisis and our collective crisis of understanding and lack of community.
My inclination after reading this, was to go curl up and hide. I didn’t want to hear what she had to say. I don’t want to hear about any of the devastating and difficult shit that’s going on in the world right now. But I also feel deep shame that I can’t handle this stuff. I feel a profound sense of responsibility to do more than just look after myself and my kids. I have an intense longing to connect with people beyond my community and feel like I’m contributing in a meaningful way.
I am acutely aware that I have privilege and that means I’m afforded daily luxuries and the ability to practice “self-care” and to “work on myself.” But the truth is that I don’t know how to balance dealing with my own, legitimate trauma, and the role I see myself as having with helping to alleviate the world’s collective trauma.
I was convinced for so long that my life didn’t have meaning. I felt worthless, ignored, used, and small. I learned to believe that my needs were inconsequential and that I didn’t have the capacity to do anything of consequence. This is the frame of mind I lived in at the hands of my abusers for well over a decade. I always have been and always will be a Highly Sensitive Person; I know that I feel and experience things more deeply than others. I know I was and would have been this kind of person even without being a victim of abuse. I know being an HSP is likely a key reason why I was such an easy target for narcissists and emotional abusers. And I know that it makes me a person uniquely positioned to recognize the struggles of others, which gives me the choice to take action, or not.
I’ve been struggling with this sense of knowing I “should” do more and not feeling capable of doing it for a very long time now. My efforts to alleviate this struggle from my life have manifested in me trying things like what I now call “white woman spirituality”—using crystals, attending or hosting Red Tents, visiting mediums, using “daily affirmations,” reading Tarot cards, and so on. It’s also resulted in half-assed efforts at “going green” and being more “eco-conscious.” At shyly suggesting to others that they use “natural” remedies and spending more money on “green” alternatives to things without really taking the time to investigate their claims of being “eco-friendly.” I looked into co-housing and joined food basket programs, but never actually stuck it out. I’ve now moved myself out to a semi-rural location and am planting gardens and hoping to raise chickens and honeybees, or maybe some goats or a few ducks.
What the hell am I doing???
None of these things, past or present, has had a large-scale impact on the world. And it now feels increasingly hollow to say that the best I can do is look after myself and my kids; to model for my own two children the kinds of morals and behaviours that I think are right…
I feel like I can no longer separate things like caring for the environment and championing action that addresses emotional abuse. They’re really one in the same! To care about each other means caring about the world. Authentic wellbeing can only come from sincere connection to who you are and how you fit into a community. Disorders like narcissism can only be healed by changing the ways in which we engage with each other and with the world. If I’m going to take responsibility for helping others deal with emotional trauma, then part of that has to include going beyond instructing us to work on ourselves as individuals; we have to understand how are traumas are the product of the world’s collective state of crisis.
I know I sound dramatic, but I believe it’s fully warranted!
I can’t be “well” in a world that is broken and neither can anyone else. If we all continue to only focus on ourselves, then we can’t ever really be healthy. As Holly Truhlar points out in her article, if our psychologists and mental health professionals (not to mention politicians, media, educators, and all “personal wellness” professionals) are not talking about and addressing the oppressive systems of the world, the climate crisis, and social collapse, then they are ignoring a key source of trauma and fear that we are all living with!
In the words of the amazingly wise Greta Thunberg:
“Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money… It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few…You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes…”
There’s no sugar-coating that, but in general, our response is obstinate ignorance because we have the luxury of doing so.
I’m one step away from being a member of the ultimate privileged class. By virtue of being a woman, I face hardships that a white, cisgendered, upper-middle class man would never face. But my trauma scratches the surface of what other, less privileged people experience. My trauma, although it’s legitimate (as is the trauma that white, cisgendered, upper-middle class men may experience), can only be healed if I take responsibility for it and refuse to turn my back to those who face bigger hardships than I do.
I don’t know yet how to avoid being a hypocrite. If I’m honest, which I always am, maintaining my current quality of life (and the quality of life my children have) remains the driving force in my life. I’m not prepared to, for example, cede my property to its rightful indigenous land owners. I’m not ready to stop buying my groceries at a chain store most of the time. It’s not feasible to walk away from fossil fuels. I can’t give up on mainstream life without making massive sacrifices that will affect not only me, but my children as well!
So I have to think. And I need to keep asking questions and keep saying “yes” to opportunities to learn more and do better. Most of all, I can’t turn away from the discomfort of watching the news, and neither can you. Those of us who struggle with our mental health or who are victims of abuse, must use our traumas to empathize with others and call for action for the betterment of society; fixing the world would be the ultimate therapy. But can we do it?