I did my Self-Help Heresy list without explanations on purpose to inspire discussion (and also because I didn’t have the time and energy). Some topics actually did start some exchange or people wanted to get explanations, so I wrote something for a few of the points:
- You can’t self-develop out of being different.This hit me when I realized that a lot of the „problems“ that I went to therapy etc. for was actually rooted in me being different (in several ways, also with maybe somewhat limited social abilities) and that the self-development that happened in these different settings didn’t „help“, because the „problems“ were mostly my social incompatibility, and self-development actually sometimes decreases social compatibility because you are not so willing anymore to play along social bs or pretend to be someone you are not.
- Empathy develops as a survival strategy.When children grow up in a situation where they have to fear domestic violence, they early on learn to empathize with people who might harm them to predict danger and protect themselves accordingly. This ability stays and is later experienced as general empathy.
- Shame is fear of exclusion.I actually kind of got from this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o (starting at 4:40). I don’t really agree with what she says in general (in my opinion the usual privileged/western individualization) and it immediately made sense to me.
We tend to look at shame as something where our own actions didn’t measure up to our own morals. But my experience was that when I „self-developed“ enough to be comfortable with my actions (forgive myself for them or whatever you want to call it), the shame didn’t go away, it somehow came in waves, and this was when I thought about what my feeling was, then it was the fear of others thinking bad about me, and when I thought about why I was afraid of that, it was about exclusion. And fear of exclusion absolutely makes sense, it is an existential fear. We are herd animals, so we are programmed to consider exclusion as a likely cause of death. And when you think about it, even now as humans, except in some highly individualized societies (and there also only the privileged people) that is still true, live is truly very dangerous if you are not part of a group. So if there are certain actions or aspects of us that might lead to exclusion out of our current support system, it makes sense to be really afraid for this things to come up.In turn this renders most practices that try to teach people to not feel shame for who they are moot, because it is not something internal, it is about how we relate to society and to our current support structure. So it’s about their values not our own. The only way that a practice could help is to give reasons that this fear is unfounded, either because the support system is not very relevant (for example, if we have citizenship of a country with a good welfare system or because there are other groups we can belong to that wouldn’t shun us for the respective aspects) or because the aspects of us we are concerned about would not lead to exclusion (for example because they are quite common in the group).
- Forgiving someone doesn’t make them less dangerous.Hoʻoponopono was first explained to me by western practitioners and it sounded a bit odd to me: you look at your own stuff, forgive someone, and somehow magically the situation changes. And similarly in other spiritual traditions, like Buddhist Metta meditation or the Christian practice of forgiveness, the focus is solely on the person who has been harmed and how they should forgive to get rid of the negative impact of their experience.
And it does make sense to let go of resentment to not let the past experience govern your future, but if you look at the resentment, it is not some silly idea that you just need to get rid of: someone has harmed you and you didn’t expect that harm from that person, you were thinking better of that person, you trusted them more. So the resentment is basically not wanting to accept the fact that this trust was not justified. And letting go means accepting that fact. And accepting the fact means adjusting your trust accordingly, i.e. being prepared for that person to do the same action again and making sure that they won’t be able to harm you anymore. Or maybe there is a way to make sure that trust can be reestablished, but that only works with cooperation of the person who harmed you.
All these topics are not really addressed in the practices of forgiveness that I have seen. But when I looked up Hoʻoponopono on Wikipedia, the Hawaiian practice is actually more one of community accountability and reconciliation, led by a facilitator, and not something the person who has been harmed does alone. And in that way, reestablishing trust preventing this harm in the future can actually work. I don’t know much about Metta mediation, maybe there is something along those lines as well, or maybe compassion for your perpetrators explicitly does not mean excusing their actions. I would love to hear more about this.
- Romantic relationships are systems of mutual support. (inspired by this)Many women in patriarchy still see sex as a means to „keep a man“ and thus the support for themselves and/or their children. This might be an internalization of patriarchal ideas or it might also be a correct assessment of the respective woman’s life situation. Unfortunately, in patriarchy often the best (and almost only) access to resources is through relationship with a man. And when women go that route, they might feel that they have to „settle for joyless sex“ to keep that access.
I don’t go that route, but I am also lucky to be in a social position where I can have almost all vital support I need without having a relationship. With children that would already be a different story. With a less supportive welfare system as well.
I am more than willing to discuss the other points of the list as well, or to deepen the discussion on the ones mentioned here. I really have this urge to touch on the gaps in these discussions.
As a summary, I guess, my main point is, that most issues these self-help strategies try to solve, have internal and external factors and that you shouldn’t ignore the external ones. The strategies focus on the internal factors, probably because they appear to be easier to change (maybe also because they are influenced by neoliberal thinking but I leave that to another analysis, anybody feel up to doing it?). But they seem to say, in different ways, some of it with some (usually unacknowledged) magical thinking, that you only need to change the internal factors, and your life situation and your emotional state will get okay/better. And I don’t think, that is true, and it creates unrealistic expectations and can lead to victim or self blaming when things do not work out as promised. That’s why I want to shine some light on the need to look at the external factors as well. Whether you want to change them by changing your life situation, political activism and/or magic is still another question, but first it is important to acknowledge that they exist.