Damage and Dreams :: balancing the narrative

My biggest question . . .

. . .when entering doctoral study in depth psychology was:

how do I offer healing without alienating people who, like me, resist being labelled as damaged?

You see, at first when I considered the possibility that trauma was at root of my pain and dysfunction I was relieved. It meant I wasn’t fundamentally flawed, just damaged. This gave me hope that repair/healing was possible. However, as I matured and became seasoned as a therapy client as well as began getting my start as a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, I started seeing nuances in the narrative of “damaged people” that was troubling to me.

I came across an article by Eve Tuck titled,

Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities.

In the article she makes a case for abandoning damage centered narratives within, and about, Native American & First Nation communities. Her argument is complicated and in the end I don’t completely agree with her analysis. However, it was comforting to be to hear someone saying although viewing oneself as damaged can be liberatory, it can also be a trap – especially in a world that doesn’t really offer many truly helpful healing paradigms. Tuck argues that there is a way in which these narratives even create damaging in themselves.

The more oppressed we see ourselves as, the more oppressed we actually are.

For example, I certainly suffered at times growing up with my mother, but it wasn’t until I went to therapy and then to College that I was told that my mother was “toxic” and “neglectful”. It took a very short time for the shame to set it. It took many many years for me to resist this narrative properly and honor my mother for what she was/is. No less. No more.

bell hooks wrote a wonderful article,

Seeing and Making Culture: Representing the Poor

In it, she enumerates a list of virtues that often go along with poverty, things like appreciating what you have. She challenges the common conception that poverty creates moral depravity, laziness etc. She argued that this myth is produced and reproduced by the media, but that as a child growing up poor, she understood from within her family and community that a person’s “value was connected to integrity,” not financial position.

The thing is for years during trainings for the work I do I would sit in silence as everyone in the room talked and theorized about “them”, them – the oppressed, the marginalized, the “at-risk”, the traumatized, the addicted, the chronically stressed, the broken, the damaged, the poor etc. I would sit quietly in a sort of frozen shame-state and take what felt useful and leave the rest.

So, I am very careful in my work . . .

To avoid falling into the trap of assuming that “traumatic” experiences are connected to a person’s value. To assume that anyone is damaged or that anyone is “well-adjusted”. I also am careful to listen for the body’s wisdom that counters damage-centered narratives. In fact I do not end a session without this. It has become essential.

In recent years a counter movement has been mounting.

People involved in paradigms like philosophical counseling, life coaching, archetypal psychology and positive psychology have been speaking out about the problems of pathologizing people. This movement is growing stronger and is beginning to offer real and useful solutions. However, what happens when there really is a trauma at root and it is ignored?

Well… you get choices and entire movements that look like social action that are actually born of unexamined / un-navigated traumatic wounds.

I am not a political person in part because of this phenomenon. I am really only interested in offering healing and engaging in community inquiry to support people and groups to both heal trauma that is being held in their bodies and psyches as well as to locate and be supported by individual and community strengths and values.

”The wound is the place where the light enters you” – Rumi

As the Buddha said, life is suffering. Thinking we can eradicate suffering in our own lives or in the lives of others is not only naive, its disrespectful. Myth Mending is about working with the suffering of our wounds such that we can connect with and carry the light that emerges within them. If we resist the existence of wounds either by political activism that seeks to overcome suffering completely or the personal denial of consumptive culture, we block their light. Rather, let’s listen, unfold and find a balance between damage and desire… damage and dreams.

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