So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

06 March, 2008

A Social Disease

So I spent my therapy appointment talking about "Baby Madonna" and related.

She doesn't think I need to forgive myself. She thinks I need to ... externalise the victim-blaming, the disgust at self, the sense of failure, into a framework in which what I have is a piece of shared experience of a cultural failing -- not just the assault itself, but the framework by which the people who have had such experiences are further beaten down and abused by the response and expectations, by the thump of falling off the madonna pedestal and the crush of having it land on us afterwards.

That this internalised self-hatred is a taught thing, a cultural thing, a social disease. And I don't need to forgive myself for suffering its symptoms; I need to recognise that it's an illness. And then move to treating that illness.

I ... am scared of collective experience. Not just because the I'm Every Woman feminists make me sick, not just because of the horrible essentialising I've seen of that sort of thing, but because the meaning of it gets out of my hands. It feels like opening it up for someone else to tell me what having been assaulted meant to me, did to me, broke in me, because it's a more generalised thing than just me.

And I wouldn't talk about it, not for years, because I was afraid of being just another faceless victim whose experience was a statistic, who was taken and ruined and discarded into the "broken" heap. In the hope of avoiding the social disease that I seem to have caught anyway.

So I find myself asking: What does it mean, to be a part of collective experience? To be suffering the symptoms of a cultural cancer? It can't mean the universalising bullshit, or that I can be used as someone else's political blow-up doll, the victim, boo-hoo, let's all have a good cry about our collective victimisation, not if it means anything beyond reiterating suffering

It has to mean something about sorting out the boundaries between self and other-than-self, distinguishing shame from what others want me to be ashamed of, if it means anything worth trying. Finding a way of sorting out what pain is my own thing, and what pain is because this ... construct ... has hooks under my flesh.

At that level I can't consistently tell the difference between me and my mother, let alone me and this huge crazy scary planet.

3 comments:

Darker said...

I ... am scared of collective experience. .... It feels like opening it up for someone else to tell me what having been assaulted meant to me, did to me, broke in me, because it's a more generalised thing than just me.

And I wouldn't talk about it, not for years, because I was afraid of being just another faceless victim whose experience was a statistic...


Perhaps it's...Scheherazade? The larger story lends context to the individual one, but does not dictate its course, meaning, or ending; the individual story sheds light on the larger one, but is only one out of many doing so?

To someone only paying attention to the overall tapestry, the people in the individual stories are, yes, abstract, faceless. But that understanding is shallow; only those who look at specific cases and see people rather than faceless protagonists really get any deep understanding of the framing story; without those individual experiences, the collective one wouldn't exist at all.

(Some also make the mistake of thinking that the tapestry-in-whole mirrors one individual's story perfectly, and/or that all the inner stories are reflections of an identical thing, tell the exact same story. These views also oversimplify.)

Not sure if the metaphor is helpful, but I figured I'd throw it out there.

She doesn't think I need to forgive myself.

Hmm. Admittedly, I'm not a therapist, but from what I've seen, people often harbor a need [:desire-need] to forgive themselves over things that they don't need [:moral-need] to forgive themselves for.

That being said, I could imagine externalizing the internal blame as both appropriate and helpful - I mean, the transgression of being fourteen and not fully grown up / savvy is one that everyone commits at that time in their life; the further consequences in your case result from the actions of others.

Daisy Bond said...

So I find myself asking: What does it mean, to be a part of collective experience? To be suffering the symptoms of a cultural cancer? It can't mean the universalising bullshit, or that I can be used as someone else's political blow-up doll, the victim, boo-hoo, let's all have a good cry about our collective victimisation, not if it means anything beyond reiterating suffering

Not sure if this will be at all useful, but: I'm sure you're familiar with the framework of oppression as existing on more then one level -- institutional, interpersonal, internal. We all have internalized a lot of messages, of course, so that the hardest work to do often isn't the protesting or lobbying, but the work of dismantling the systems' headquarters inside one's own head.

I know I'm not saying much here, really, but I just thought I'd draw that (obvious) line, figuring you already know what it feels like to be internally suffering the symptoms of other cultural cancers. So maybe however you think about about those will be applicable here.

For example, I had a dose of shame and self-hate around being queer, like most (queer) people.. In processing that, it was helpful to say, "This isn't me talking -- this is heterosexism talking. This is the voice of heterosexism. It has set up camp inside my head," and by recognizing it as such, slowly kill it, thought by thought. But it was still my head we were inside there -- the disease grows in other minds in other ways. So that's one way one can recognize it's a social problem without making the experience universal.

Good luck to you.

Daisy said...

What you have written is similar to my feelings about addiction experiences and narratives... I went through them at an alarming rate at one point, struck by the astounding similarities, which I found comforting. The differences then became comforting also. It's hard to explain, but at one point I needed the collective identity, then outgrew it.

But it's still "there"--if you know what I mean.