Self-Help Heresy: Explanations

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: (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.

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5 Antworten zu Self-Help Heresy: Explanations

  1. sasha_supertramp schreibt:

    Hey Tina,
    I figured I’d also write you a proper comment on this one, since I relate to some of it.

    You can’t self-develop out of being different.
    => i agree; actually sometimes you can try to „therapise“ yourself out of the fact that you see or notice more than others in specific ways (or you are simply built to notice different types of things), and you are simply not understood by your environment. and in that case trying to „fit in“ (i.e. by being „the same“) where you simply don’t because of your differences in perception is pure violence towards yourself.
    i have actually found self-help that says what you say, though, and found it helpful.

    Empathy develops as a survival strategy.
    => i think it’s well known (and even science-based) that sensitivity in the sense of being an HSP is an innate trait? in my case, i was „talking to plants“ at least since I was 4 and i don’t think it had anything to do with violence from anyone.
    on the other hand, being built to be sensitive is certainly a survival strategy as (also again reserach-based) of course it can help you in your natural environment when you notice certain things (dangers, new foods, weather changes, whatever) before others do.

    Shame is fear of exclusion.
    => i don’t think it makes sense to try „not to feel shame“. from my experience, there are two types of it (or perhaps more). one is really conditioned socially; the other really has to do with your deeper internal values. in my experience, the two actually feel very different … for the former feels kind of just like an unpleasant surface electro shock, while the latter is more like a deeper movement within the body (maybe in the chest) … it’s more slow, deep, somehow honest, and it tends to kind of naturally although gradually to push me to mend things (when i really feel ashamed e.g. for having treated someone unjustly). hm maybe there is another name for this feeling.
    but i also agree that the social shame is of value — it can save you from getting yourself into a lot of trouble or even danger. i think it has value as a signal from the body that you are potentially crossing a social line. so it makes sense to keep it and feel it — on the other hand it also makes sense to develop the capacity to feel it without getting overwhelmed with it, so that i can decide (in each case individually) whether i want to do what it says, or i want to cross the danger threshold that it’s warning me of.
    i think it’s similar to fear, i don’t think it makes sense to just not feel fear — it can have life-saving information. but the point is to feel it in a way that doesn’t automatically dictate you what to do. imho.

    Forgiving someone doesn’t make them less dangerous.
    => i had huge issues with this, too, when i first read that type of idea. over time, in my case, i’ve come to understand that the problem is that asking you to „forgive“ while your own pain is still unacknowledged and unvalidated is the problem. If you are in a position where you are still fighting for yourself and others to see that the pain you went through is relevant and important and requires acknowledgement and support, to THEN be asked to forgive is simply wrong, in my opinion. because if you do it from that place, that’s just another act of invalidating your pain and trying to bury it, make invisible and unimportant.

    and i think many people who are in minorities or otherwise somehow „invisible“ to mainstream society are in exactly that position — we’re still at the point where our pain is regarded as „unreal“, irrelevant or a figment of the imagination or some self-chosen trouble or whatever, it’s not seen or understood or reflected anywhere.
    although that can be the case for anyone, but if you are in a marginalised group i’d guess you have extra chances of experiencing that.

    that’s the aspect i haven’t seen discussed in „forgiveness“ based self-help much. had to kind of figure that out on my own.

    that in cases like these, actually before you can even THINK of forgiving anyone (tfeh!) you need to spend a lot more time validating, taking care, getting support for your pain — just focussing purely on yourself and giving yourself what is due. practice restorative justice (although that’s not really in a fair way, but you have no way out mostly) by giving yourself what you deserve. you have to think about your own strength and stability, not about forgiving anyone — maybe best to not give shit about whoever hurt you for a while.

    or to completely validate your anger and rage, and feel it (without acting it out in destructive ways), too. and give it space and just acknowledge it’s real and has a right to be there. although not keeping it up artificially either (e.g. to avoid underlying more vulnerable feelings of hurt etc.). this is super important and can’t be skipped.

    i think the „forgiveness“ thing is targeted at people who are already out of that stage … or never got so badly into it in the first place; didn’t have to deal with that amount of invalidation. because in my experience, once some strength is regained, it’s in a way natural to not fixate on the original hurt so much, and at a point you may decide that you don’t feel like occupying your mind with it at all anymore, and i guess you could call that a form of „forgiveness“. i’d say you don’t really need a spiritual practice at that point tho to do it, it just appears rational and self-preserving at a point.

    and „forgiveness“ is not like you pretend things never happened or trust someone in a naive way. my understanding is that it just means not investing your own emotional energy anymore in actively maintaining resentments, judgments, etc. — while you instead / simultaneously take practical steps to protect yourself, avoid the source of danger, etc. but again your focus is on helping yourself (by reorganising and saving your own energy to have more of it), not on helping whoever hurt you (nor harming).

    at least that’s my experience with these „forgiveness“ practices — they can really get it wrong when targeted at the wrong person at the wrong time, and usually they come without that disclaimer.

    i wonder if that speaks to what you mean, or is that obvious anyways?

    Romantic relationships are systems of mutual support. (inspired by this)
    => not sure i get you here, are you saying that that’s an idealisation under patriarchy, or that they shouldn’t be?

    • tina201301 schreibt:

      Hi Sasha,

      thanks a lot for the extensive reply. I try to comment on some of the points you made, and maybe also add to the original post for clarifications or additions. This will probably come in batches.

      You can’t self-develop out of being different.
      => I agree with what you wrote. It is important to acknowledge the difference and accept it and just work with it in whatever way is possible. Trying to fit in, at least in an internalizing way is usually harmful, at least when the difference gets big. I have also found out that you need to be kind of quiet about the way you perceive yourself to be different, to avoid triggering „you special snowflake!“ reactions. This has happened a lot with HSP recently to the effect that the word is basically „burnt“, at least in German. So usually when I try to explain social difficulties to people, I just mention specific aspects of how I function (sensory overload, difficulty understanding social expectations, difficulties recognizing faces etc.). And yes,self-help books etc. that explain experiences that way can actually be helpful, because they relief a lot of the stress trying to fit in. But they can also backfire, as has happened with HSP.

      Empathy develops as a survival strategy.
      => my guess is, that it’s both. I purposefully wrote the statements a bit exaggerated to trigger discussion, and yes, there are genetic factors for high sensitivity/different signal processing. Recently I read that they discovered the mechanism that creates synesthesia. But I think (and also read somewhere, but it’s hard to find again), that children living in dangerous households (where domestic violence happens) develop special survival strategies to protect themselves, which later show up as empathy. And in a way, some of my empathetic skills feel that way, even though there wasn’t any real domestic violence happening, but it has been important for me to gauge the mood of my parents to prevent what I perceive as danger and to know when to ask for something.

      Ok, that’s batch one.

  2. sasha_supertramp schreibt:

    it’s not really that closely related, but re „developing out of being different“ … haven’t read that, but by an author i respect

  3. Pingback: How to misunderstand radical acceptance, and what being at home with sensations and emotions may mean. – Sensitivity is strength

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