In order to reach understanding one must feel understood

by Aimee Georgeson

Our beliefs and assumptions about how the world is made up and the nature of things have a complex history; hundreds, thousands of years of history on each continent, in every country, town and village. Personal, social, cultural history. Our family history is not created separately from this, however special or unpleasant we think it is. Our childhood experiences influence our physical, psychological and social development and in the absence of resilience we have no buffer between us and the risk or hostility that comes our way. On a micro level, families echo the values and practices implicit in patriarchal society whether that’s paving over a green space, buying fast food in plastic wrappers, being intolerant of women’s and girls’ voices, smacking children, sexual violence, or assaulting and controlling women. It demonstrates male dominance and the squashing of anything non-compliant and non-conforming. On a macro level, examples of the destructive nature of patriarchy includes oil pipelines through indigenous lands, water so polluted it does not sustain life, deforestation, burning fossil fuels, pornography, sexual assault, and murder of women and girls. So many practices that are damaging to humans, non-humans, and the natural environment and although mainstream media would have us believe it, there is no such thing as an isolated event whether we are talking about an oil spill, the murder or abuse of a woman or child, poverty or domestic violence. It is all part of the same destructive system.

Our earliest experience of relationships and of being in a group is our family, forming a sort of lens through which we see the world. Being steeped in patriarchal values of violence, misogyny, and ownership as a child can leave you with a sense that there is something intrinsically wrong with you. This can be confusing and frightening, we know from research that persistent stress and distress leads to depression and trauma and this is especially true for children experiencing neglect or in an abusive situation, whether observed or otherwise.  These aspects are not spoken about or named, and even if they are, we internalise feelings of wrongness and carry deeply held, unconscious, beliefs about ourselves into adulthood. To be clear the sense of wrongness ‘out there’ gets inside and to cope we separate what we know from what we feel (cognitive dissonance) and we are riddled with shame, guilt, and anxiety. These feelings are too much to bear alone so we find a way of coping and not showing our true selves to others because the fear of rejection or shame is too painful to contemplate. Of course, there are things that buffer little humans from adversity; having our needs met by an adult who loves us, the absence of abuse, friends, pets, food, education, someone to talk to, someone to listen, and time in nature to name a few.

As an adult, it can help to access information and think about the systems we grew up in, and often are still part of, and practise self-care. However, therapy, without analysis or any understanding of structural oppression, without strong social bonds is unlikely to help and whatever we use to self-medicate; food, drugs, sex, or consumption will not, in isolation, resolve the internalised sense of wrongness. The memory is in the feeling, not just the events. You can logic out physical memories, but memory in emotional memory is trickier and it can take time to process. If we do not take time to heal, to think about our experiences, we can become stuck in some unhealthy patterns in our relationships to others, to things, but most importantly to ourselves.

It is vital that we understand the impact of patriarchy on our lives and see it as something to resist. How do we envisage change and question the implicit nature of patriarchy when our emotional resilience is low, or we are overwhelmed by rage, anxiety, and despair? Questioning the nature of civilisations values and your ability to think things through is what led you here.  With analysis that reaches the roots of the problem and a support network we can start to understand the impact of colonialisation on our bodies, our minds, our sisters and brothers and all non-humans and their babies. We can resist together but in order to do this, and then help others, we need to develop and sustain our own emotional resilience.

Our physical and mental health is entwined, and we do not cope as well with life or resisting if we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired or ill. I would recommend practising basics every day; I call it 5-a-day and it needs to include getting enough sleep, eating food that is good for you, spending time with others that we love (sometimes that might mean me and my dogs), doing something physical outside like planting a tree, putting your face to the sun and soak it in, walk bare foot around a field especially in the rain, and also practise creating or noticing little joys. Noticing little joys can change the neuro pathways in your brain, it can also create new pathways that, with time and practice, increase the happy hormones you need to manage. Then when you feel able to, you can practise small acts of resistance: boycotting, consciousness raising, starting a conversation, organising, or teaching food growing in urban spaces.

There are specific things you can do to manage panic, anxiety, and low mood, but the most important thing to hold on to is that it is possible to increase your emotional resilience, it is possible to become emotionally well. Practising strategies that create emotional resilience are small acts of resistance and self-care. I understand the impact of this destructive culture and I hope one day you feel understood and move into your strength.

Suggested reading:

Birth Without Violence by Frederick Leboyer

Belonging: remembering ourselves home by Toku Pa Turner

Loving to Survive by Dee Graham

Heartbreak by Andrea Dworkin

A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jenson

Films that heightened my awareness of intergenerational, global trauma:

Rabbit Proof Fence

Little Big Man

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Once Were Warriors

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

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