Splitting off parts of myself for the allure of peace has been a way of coping with adverse events. This piece of writing I am setting myself the challenge of introducing a little-known aspect of myself. The aim to smooth re-integration and aid a hopeful release. All in 800 words or less. I am speaking of my shadow also unknown as my internalised sadist.
Why Now As you may have noted throughout this year (2022) these blogs are mini-pscyho exploratory stories where I hold an experience up and inspect carefully. The idea of the shadow and sadism follows two important conversations had with my supervisor and another with Joshua Isaac Smith. Who highlighted that whilst we hold sadism in our psyche we also suppress – fearing sadism’s strength to maraud through everyday functioning.
Corrupting With TV shows like House of Cards, The Wire, Game Of Thrones (GOT) and You, sadism reaches an honesty that is captivating, and yet also confusing. We find ourselves caught between wanting the best outcomes for those we develop an uncomfortable kinship. Perhaps with recognition of our own sociopath, psychopath, narcissist, sadist. Wanting these characters to thrive or overcome challenge, possibly relieves our trapped shadow selves. Witnessing them act out our suppressed desires offers us release. Safe, in that although acted by external bodies we recognise ‘the act’ as our unexpressed desire. Reich and Erikson offered psychoanalysis an understanding of human development. They wrote of the journey from childhood to adulthood. Exposing the infant to stages of human maturation that include masochism. The idea of sadism intrigued me enough to offer Joshua a metaphor. My Sadist locked in a submarine 20,000 leagues deep. Never to released.
Narcissist, Psychopath, Sociopath, Sadist I have written earlier of psychopathy and narcissism but not of sadism. The revelatory aspect I want to explore is the reason I had, locking my sadist and shadow away. Fear is a motivator. To act in ways that protect others and self. Healing not hurting people, another important factor that drives me. The sadist is willingly aware of the harm they cause. But also finds pleasure witnessing others suffer. We could argue that helping professionals, working with those who are in cycles of pain, may ‘enjoy’ relieving a suffering helpee. Could the wounded physician also be a healing sadist? My fear is if I were to bring to berth the submarine with it’s cargo of 1. What terror could I then be releasing? Better to have the sadist permanently held at an uncompromisable distance. Surely…
Association A vessel not only large enough but also capable of causing nuclear destruction I felt a fitting metaphor. The internal – mirroring the external. It is Bruce the Great White shark, losing his temporary control on his blood lust in ‘Finding Nemo’. Marty and Dory narrowly escaping being eaten. Bruce and his friends swimming away. The scene of the mines blowing up. The idea of why I have housed sadism out of harms way succinctly caught in the clip below. But in so doing, am I holding back an explosive yet necessary part of myself.
Volley Return Could there be a physical outcome to a once experienced trauma? A destabilising event at an earlier point in my life had me hold horror, anger and confusion. I learned to keep these emotions hidden. I didn’t have the words. Acting out with aggression brought unwanted attention including punishment and questions. Choosing instead to let imagination find balance, not justice. Seeking vengeance against ‘them’ was not viable. Perhaps here the passive aggressive 1000 tiny paper cuts method was given life. In admitting that I sought retribution satisfies the angry part still left in me. Psychology has offered understanding settling the disquiet of what happened.
Rigidity What is the cost to a person continually suppressing their internal shadow or sadist? Do we become rigid and inflexible in thought and physical presence. And also somehow short changed in how we engage with the world? Has the submarine not only caged a part of myself I have little trust with, but also magically ensnared my body too? MS is in the mix here as well. Possibly the cause for the inflexibility lies first with a psychological cage that has then become a physical extension.
Shade Clients are given chance to struggle with their shadow. Beneath the umbrella are the parts of the self that others and society have said are undesired, not valued, wrong, nasty, cruel, ugly. We may have decided, to disown and live on as though they aren’t important. They are. The challenge is to collect parts discarded and make use from them. Each disowned piece contains a lesson or memory that leads to growth and change.
Wobble My internalised untrusted self the sadist is an unrefined being. Potentially with the power and will to burn everything I value down to ash. What I have failed to recognise is the energy of the former submarine dweller. The positives of balancing sadism with acceptance. A combination of understanding, compassion and concentration might equal the might of sadism. The drive to achieve justice of past hurts mercifully, is a journey I am now willing to take. I fear less the power of the sadist in me. Appreciating more what this fire offers – an uncertain balance.
Resources Stutz, this Netflix film offers us a chance to look at the inner workings of Jonah Hill’s psychiatrist and the tools he has shared with Jonah to support his growth. One tool I picked up was on the waiting to be vindicated. Never going to happen. Ever! So what now? Well… In Finding Nemo The shark scenes with Bruce Marty and Dory draw parallels between Sadism, Masochism, Psychopathy, Narcissism and sociopathy as well as group support. Wilhelm Reich links to a Wikipedia page overlooking the discoveries and ideas of Reich. Code Switch looks at past American presidents whose policies, words and beliefs affected race locally and globally. Tthe podcast intrigued me to observe what absolute power offers sadism. Jemele Hill shares her multiple stories with the Questlove crew who chop up what using your voice and being politically and socially active can change at a community and country wide level. Stutz a film by Jonah Hill Finding Nemo The Name’s Bruce Character Analysis by Wilhelm Reich Wikipedia Code Switch Podcast: Is Trump Really That Racist? Quest Love Supreme Podcast: Jemele Hill Pt 1 and 2
Backlinks Adapt Faster – a link to both the blog On Shame and to Joshua Isaac Smith’s website You a blog about the phenomena of the internalised narrative, making You-Us Psychopathy a blog about understanding psychopathy Narcissism a reflective piece of writing looking to understand narcissism Tauma a blog written to pinpoint why the sadist was entombed
Many of the blogs this year happened as a result of personal experience or a question I wanted to pose. This is another where I am attempting to arrive at an answer whilst travelling – whilst writing. Recognising that the journey is as important as the destination can be a useful point to hold.
Change Squared I attended a lecture at McMaster’s university recently, delivered by the researcher/writer/political scientist Dr. Debra Thompson. The lecture invited me to begin asking myself about progressive change. I also attended a number of lectures about psychedelic use in psychotherapy. Esther Perel interviewing in brief Julia Samuel about growing through discomfort and finally attending presentations on alternative practice in psychotherapy with BAATN. The commonality between these experiences engage change at a number of levels. In all of the conversations there was an understanding of processes ending. I would suggest that at each discussion there was also a sense of newness. Ideas being born or starting again in fresh clothes. Offering different ideas on the inherent separation from the past.
Change – Fragile Beauty
Support I am inside an experience of significant change currently. Inviting me to travel. Pain wholly present. There is also recognition of release. Parts of my reality have been impacted by loss and as a result forever changed. Other parts of life have stayed the same. Julia mentioned in her conversation with Esther – that emotions move slower than other human intelligences. Appreciating change is an iterative experience. We don’t get it in one gulp. We arrive with the knowing in stages. This idea resonates for me. The world has had to make necessary adjustments as a result of CoViD19? The process for the adaptation happened in stages. We lurched from lockdown to release and back. The experience protracted and confusing. For many a sense of autonomy, identity and control were frustrated. The process of grief and bereavement may well have been a way to manage the pandemic. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, Celebration, Peace, Rest the last three being my extension of the process of loss.
Illusion When we step beyond the illusion of control, something else is allowed to be realised. Wrapped inside the illusion of control is boredom. Creativity and discovery are seen as unnecessary. Play too put outside an encounter that has the potential of radically challenging and changing all that we thought we knew. When we can hold 3 truths of certainty, discovery and uncertainty as equal partners a trinity is formed leading to growth. I have described psychotherapy before as an art. Mainly because the unknown remains a constant partner amongst the process of healing. For the artist who is about to create an inquiry leads to capturing a feeling that was first something unknown. It is the cat in Shrödingers thought experiment. In psychotherapy the art is in what takes place between client and person collaborating in the healing encounter.
Change – Renewal of Ideas
*Syncopatico Recently I shared in a ‘Clean Space’ that 2 trinities are formed when counselling. There is the client sharing their thoughts. Hearing their thoughts and then interpreting their ideas. This initial trinity I would stand by as being a primary catalyst that encourages the change the client seeks. The secondary catalyst is how the space between client and psychotherapist supports what is shared, how it is heard and then what is then used. A synchronicity is offered on a continual loop.
Less is I have attempted to show below with the resources a direction of travel. When we accept change and move with transformation, we grow. When we do what is necessary to acknowledge change’s existence our acclimatisation causes less pain. This is not to say that change happens easily or without pain. Denial however, causes more. Serial and NY Times new podcast series below offers a visceral reminder of the time we are living in. We Were Three presents fact that is undeniable. Perhaps we can hold uncertainty, hope and humour in another tri partisan awareness, as old certain ideas crumble?
Change – Simple and Complex
Resources An introduction to Debra Thompson discussing her experiences of race in Canada. Sharing her insights on writing the book ‘The Long Road Home’ with Dr. Ethel Tungohan Esther Perel sessions are a collection of short psychotherapy conversations with thought leaders in various fields. I have found Esther’s thought extrapolations wonderfully capture ideas. Julia Samuels in conversation with Will Ryecroft about her book ‘This Too Shall Pass’ expand on the ideas shared with Esther. By attending a number of presentations by leaders in the field of psychedelic psychotherapy, I was reminded of the Netflix show ‘How to Change Your Mind’. The idea of change being a fundamental human experience that can be enhanced by natural substances. Another thought – ancient cultures and traditions holding centuries old knowledge offer keys for expansive human development. Therapy Outside by BAATN offered a range of presenters discussing their approaches to psychotherapy. All addressing change within the art of counselling. We Were Three is the latest instalment from the Serial podcast series discussing a difficult truth about CoViD19 and the denial response to accessing care. Dr. Debra Thompson on Academic Aunties Esther Perel Sessions Julia Samuel Coping with Change interview for Waterstones with Will Ryecroft Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy Summit Therapy Outside: Approaches Beyond The Norm BAATN conference Serial We Were Three
Backlinks Re-imagining Loss Pt 2 8 stages of grieving. Cat Theory Illusion for links the idea of known, unknown and both ideas being true. Braver A link to a way to have old defunct, maladaptive ideas crumble.
‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ Viktor Frankl
A few years ago an interesting idea blossomed. The thought, to interrupt the want and wish to complete an idea or action. A few experiences helped to solidify these concepts. I will detail below. Explaining thoughts like these, are useful to those interested in psychological models. Also those interested in relieving unhelpful ruminative thoughts.
IOM The Case of Ms. Snow. For a few years I worked as a forensic mental health practitioner for Together for mental wellbeing. My role at the charity changed a number of times. I began working with one probation service in Greenwich (Jan 2015). In May/June 2015 I supported 6 probation services. The Probation service NPS/CRC (National Probation Service/Community Rehabilitation Company) were adapting to a new model of resource management. As a result the NPS contract with Together changed. ‘Doing more – with less’ was the theme of the new contract. After a year of supporting Probation services in Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Greenwich, Merton and Sutton, I transitioned to working within the Southwark probation service. The new role was to support in partnership with Probation, Police, Housing, Substances and Rehabilitation and employment. I provided the mental health arm of support to individuals involved with the IOM (Integrated Offender Management) programme.
Messy Ms. Snow a probation officer was a ‘conversational’ courts assessor. We held a fast friendship. Discussing the challenges the service users faced and how IOM and probation were aligning to provide improved health outcomes. Ms. Snow was particular about her work-station organisation! Post it notes, coloured pens, pads and computer set up just so. With impish glee, I took great pleasure in re-arranging a few items at her desk. I had an idea of how much the rearranging offset her equilibrium. Ms. Snow also shared in making a mess of my workspace in a similar way too. I wasn’t as organised or as particular about my workstation. Her efforts often caused me to smile. It’s the thought that…
Re-Arrange I would disturb Ms. Snow’s station and then leave to meet a client and on returning note what was disturbed in my area too. Without fail Ms. Snow’s arrangement of her work area would return to pens and note pads and post it notes – to as they were before my involvement. We joked about her compulsion to restore ‘order’. We laughed about my need to increase entropy. An uneasy alliance formed about the balance between order and chaos. Her need to reassemble and my want for disorder. 2 adults acting like children in a serious setting, professionally shepherding adults facing significant difficulties. The idea for the Completion Compulsion was borne in that space. Chaos curiously can invite/inspire order.
Non-Compos The irrationality of tidiness, or the discomfort caused by presumptions of messy work stations/offices/cars/bed/kitchen/living rooms is linked to an idea of messy space = messy mind. ‘An indicator of instability or a ‘marker’ of mental illness, some assume. Ms. Snow and I joked, laughed and made fun of her near incessant need to bring order to what appeared as chaos. A representation of the organisations and people we were working amongst at probation and Together, perhaps. An experience at a staff lunch emphasised the want for both order and completion. A common phrase was said by me which began something like ‘No smoke without…’ or ‘Sticks and Stones may break my bones but…’ As you read these words I wonder have you chosen to complete these well worn phrases? Was there an involuntary sigh as you recognised that leaving the phrases incomplete draws attention to something agape in you, unsatisfactorily incomplete? If so, you are now aware of a compulsion to complete. Because not closing the loop is often discomforting.
Unusual Another example of a completion compulsion arrived whilst working 2 years later as a counsellor at a women’s prison in Kent. The client recently convicted. Troubled by the nature of the crime they were accused and sent to prison for. They found accepting the circumstances of being in prison impossible to bear. The crime they were sentenced for, far outside of their ‘regular’ life experience. This will not be a blog proclaiming their innocence or guilt about the crime accused and sentenced for. The blog is a piece of writing explaining how we (both *Stacey and me) were on course to interrupt her thought patterns.
Unsupported At our first and following meetings, an exploration of Stacey’s past was uncovered. The complicated details of her education, schooling experiences and friendship networks were shared. Ideas of her being a wall flower, bullied, disliked and unsupported by peers. We unpacked what her relationships with friends and teaching staff were like. Departures were another group of people observed. Either she had left them or they had moved away from her. Her current experience of being bullied at the prison by other detainees – a reminder of her past and an uncomfortable undeniable truth about her present. Intrusive thoughts, depression, low self esteem and a waning sense of resilience were discussed and carefully explored.
Projection We talked about patterns of behaviour and associated ideas Stacey held about herself and the past. The intrusive thoughts were linked to her disbelief about being sentenced and about the accusation that brought her to prison. Her dislike of prison. Being away from her family. Confronting difficulty daily. Her life at East Sutton Park, these aspects of her new world she was dissociated from as she had been understandably in her past. A dislocation of how her life was supposed to have turned out Stacey was barely willing to face. It was here that the interruption was to be placed. Starting with a simple game of recognising a patterned hand clap was the launch point of creating something safe and new.
Play Why a game? Most games are fun to play! There is a sense of learning and enjoyment in game play. The 1,2, 1,2,3, 1,2,3,4, 3,4 hand clap is immediately recognisable. Stacey smiled as she recognised and then was able to complete. The next part of the completion compulsion game is to start the pattern of the 1,2, 1,2,3, 1,2,3,4, and not clap the 3,4 part of the pattern. The reason for this is to support tolerance of non-completion. Recognising that surviving the compulsion, is part of building an awareness to interrupting a way of being. The magic of the completion compulsion took root. What was introduced for Stacey was a new cognitive pathway and a resilience to trying something new. The game part makes the completion compulsion accessible and immediately recognisable. She smiled with concentration as she aimed not to complete the pattern. Her feet tapped out the last part of the pattern after 15 seconds.
Sigh We laughed at how this challenge was offered and at how silly the idea of not completing left her feeling. After a few more attempts we were able to breath through the conflicting need of not completing the pattern. When Stacey identified that she could choose to either ignore or complete the compulsion she was able to live inside a paradigm shift. A woman free of the obligation to only see herself as a prisoner, as a person cast out from society for perpetrating a crime. But also to appreciate that she was a creative, able to interpret written material and support others with reading and writing at the prison.
Bi-ped I was later taught in 2019 EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing). Engaging a client with bi-lateral stimulation (clapping, tapping, walking, lateral eye movements or saccades) changes neuro-pathways in the brain. Establishing a validity of cognition helps to embed an alternative way for a client like Stacey to perceive themselves anew. Interrupting the compulsion to complete a familiar upsetting pattern, is key to establish and access ideas of choice, space and alternative possibilities.
Applause There are unseen rewards for completing a pattern. We are rewarded by a hormone feed of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins when a recognised pattern is successfully achieved. For example: the door was shut after using it, the sentence complete, the thought pattern arriving at it’s pre-imagined end.
Abrupt Some degree of discomfort is caused when the pattern is disrupted. When the pre-destined arrival at the ‘end’ is unmet. If you can, think about calling a tele-service for banking, telecommunications, TV, Insurance or other customer experience. Passing amongst the laborious numbered steps to finally, eventually speak with someone. The service alerting you of how long the call may take until you speak with a representative. As a loyal customer, you are mentally prepared for the 5 – 30 minute wait. You’ve made time for this. The annoying music has clicked through convincing you of progress being made. Just before the call is about to be patched through to a real live person, the line goes quiet and next all that is heard is dial tone.
Livid If like me you’re already stretched patience breaks and you begin hurling abuse at the company, and the rubbish telephone service offered, an awareness of the completion compulsion is present. Mainly because of the call not going the way you had planned. The eventual end of the conversation has been hi-jacked. The choices that someone in this position is left with are to leave the call to another time, call again immediately, rage fueled or to vow never to engage with this service again!
Battle The reward arrives once completion of the action is met. After the tenseness of the situation is passed, a relief then fills the space that was formerly occupied. The feeling can be heightened with either food, drink, a good conversation, laughter or movement. But the reward arrives after survival of the event. Such a strong word to use to describe tolerating a moment of low stress. However it is like a micro battle of wills and wants. To have the thing sought one has to travel through the mire to the other side. We could put up walls, convincing ourselves that we don’t need the service. But the uncomfortable truth is that we recognise the importance of whatever the service is and yes, do still need. So once more back into the fray.
Relief The completion compulsion idea is to learn tolerance of discomfort and disconnected completion. We have a pre-conceived patterned ending in mind. Reward hormones are queued up waiting to bathe the brain with feel good rewards. A peak moment of stress. Followed by an intentional interruption. The usual ending averted. Instead – a period of non-activity, of waiting, or long held moments for curiosity to brew. Asserting another possible wanted completion. Preferable to the interruption. An alternative could be as readily accepted as a proposed pre-planned expected outcome. A positive cognition is what we want the mind to begin accepting. Then allow the ‘happy’ bath of the brain to commence.
Metamorphosis For me, returning to the women’s prison a fortnight later, Stacey shared that there had been a change to her intrusive ideas. Speaking with family outside of the prison a shift in perception had started. Stacey and her family were lodging an appeal about her conviction. A spark of prevailing had begun to be established. Stacey had started a difficult transition to appreciating herself as a person in prison. By interrupting a pattern of thinking a newer cognitive model could be inserted and made use of. She had been able to challenge those who were making things difficult for her in prison. A visible change was noted as we completed our work after 6 appointments. Stacey appeared satisfied with how she was viewing her past, present and future.
Arrivé A simple game of moving things around on a desk turned into a game of interrupting thought completions in Stacey’s mind, resulting in a new way to appreciate herself and her life. The Completion Compulsion initially is to bring to awareness the need to close a loop. Don’t! Wait. See what else arrives…
@calm There is a gap between every heart beat, breath, event and response. Not only does choice exist in the space between but also a powerful awareness awaits #meditation M.O.
Resources I have cast my resource net wide to offer a useful collection of ideas in relation to interrupting our usual pattern of success arrival. Code Switch podcast features an in-depth episode from The Nod featuring unknown celebrities who should be household names. In light of the recent events in Buffalo, I wanted to offer another story of Black life, filled with glamour joy, some tragedy and restitution. From Criminal an unknown story of a man’s choice to create state wide change. Interruption of a status quo is how Dr. Dudley E. Flood engaged with segregation and changed the experience of schooling in North Carolina. The Happiness Lab features Dr. Laurie Santos considering how intrusive thoughts can be redirected in this episode of The Happiness Lab. I end with Dr. Brené Brown’s interview with Adam Grant and the benefits of remaining with an idea past it’s natural conclusion point and reconsidering an initial viewpoint. The highlight for me was when Brené spoke about the Priest and the Prosecutor. There being a fear about the Politician and what they can do with words. Code Switch ft The Nod podcast They Don’t Say Our Names Enough Criminal podcast The Boycott The Happiness Lab podcast Don’t think of the white bear Brené Brown and Adam Grant Think Again
‘To know that at our core there is a knowing, resourced, patient, wise, unbroken peace that lies awaiting rediscovery – the truest magic. The reason to search…’ M.O.
The interesting thing about the psychotherapist is that ‘they’ often cannot tell of what they do behind their closed doors. It mostly is clarifying talk between counsellor and client. A conversation unlike other noise making conversations. The information held between them is confidential. The psychotherapist can speak about process, the results of the work, the deep hole either avoided or climbed safely beyond. This is one of those types of stories.
List There are a few reasons I wanted to write this piece. My ongoing fight with MS, the war in Ukraine, CoViD19 and living while Black. The current uncertainty of life appears to have increased an awareness of the sense of the known/unknown. A few nights ago, I thought about the possibility of the next global conflict, detonations and an ensuing Nuclear Winter. Sleep evaded me as a result of spinal discomfort, an outcome of the slow creep of Multiple Sclerosis.
Hiding Discovery often takes place when one is looking for something else. The long-hidden coin, key set, file, ear ring, and memory, often are found whilst excavating randomly. Almost like the item was waiting for you to venture along this path. Jumping out and surprising! The interesting thing about certainty and beachcombing is what is found. Something is always found! The ‘what’ remains a mystery until discovery.
Modelling A few years ago I wrote about a few of the mental models a counsellor/psychotherapist may use to support clients. These models offer both in the relationship, a frame with which to make the dance of support, seem regular, measured, predictable. Anything at any moment can usurp a care planned recovery. The mythic return to the ‘normal’. Most of the time, the complex and intimate nature of the counselling relationship, can wrestle a surprising memory or event from sabotaging the ground already made. The memory used to germinate understanding, the processes covered and the journey that lies ahead.
Tanktown Beachcombing is a mix of imagination and discovery. The analogy used to support both of us as we walk across ‘their’ ‘our’ joint landscape. For me, it is a pebble beach. Like many around the world such as Brighton, or Tankerton. Beaches I used to visit, with friends and later with family. Now these beaches are mind wanderings, used to explore what the ever-active mind of my fellow beachcomber brings to shore. The most surprising find ‘mindfully’ beachcombing with a client, was a netted live WWII sea mine. Current global crises afloat in our subconscious.
Inside Out The rankling honesty of the current war in Ukraine – upsetting the idea of peace globally, presents us with the uncomfortable. Some profit from upset, others perish. Can we as a species continue to externalise the fight within, the paradox of being human, without facing dire consequences? The war within looks at all we throw amongst the shadow and stride knowingly away from: Shame, failure, contempt, weakness, anger, fear, loneliness, hate. Remaining in a state of uncertainty is to engage with continual discovery and loss – Beachcombing. Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown, uncovers more of our emotions in a clear, earnest and relatable way. Atlas of the Heart supports us to understand ourselves more and with courage, congruence and compassion take the hidden into the light.
Wherever You Go Living in a body of culture, as a Black man, the uncertainty of further experiences of vicarious trauma visiting are constant. The global dominance of Western culture has continued to be called into question, thankfully. Before Breonna Taylor’s and George Floyd’s murders, uncountable attempts were offered by many to re-course, the river of assumed White body supremacy. The West evaluating, assessing, characterising art, science, faith as pagan, primitive, tribal, with no value, demeaned the Global North also. Traditions long practiced, new to the West’s limited understanding (the enlightenment era) of the planet and the people’s living in the global South. In an attempt to silence and squash uncertainty, millions lost their lives to conquest and land theft. Many more, descendents: rebuilding, reclaiming, restoring.
Dumbfounded The pandemic has outlived most projections of how long it ’should’ last. Has the reality of what we are still globally lurching through, begun to reawaken our sense of wonder, fear, and an awareness of how small and powerless we are? 20th/21st century humans, somewhat knowledgeable and yet also unknowingly vulnerable. Humans never really were in control or as omnipotent as had once been thought.
Thought Less I thought with age (me nearing 50) that knowing more would accompany seniority. The philosopher Socrates’ idea of ‘I know, that I know nothing’. Makes more sense to me now. We, convinced by assuredness, that knowing affords us safety, a life, decency, respect, wealth, luck, faith, security has not for millennia been valid. Life does not arrive with a 100% guarantee of anything other than at some point… Death. To beachcomb is to dare, to risk, to lose, to give up hope of ever finding anything worthwhile and still meditate whilst moving. Laughingly picking up finds. Placing sea worn wood, stones, fossils, glass either in bags to take home or carefully back onto the beach.
The aim to willfully, amble alongside others and humbly discover…
Resources A brief explanation of the resources. There are times I feel that the best part of writing these missives are the moving parts that the above grew from. Talking While Black from This American life is I presume a take on the blog series Walking Whilst Black. The episode observes 3 experiences of Black Americans, encountering racism and policies being written to erode the use of critical race theory or any discomfort caused by discussions about difference. A case of seeking to remain willfully ignorant. Certainty is a part of the musical art form – Jazz. There is timing, time signatures, a mood being worked through and produced. With Alice Coltrane’s music, a sense of uncertainty is also apparent on Turiya and Ramakrishna. A meeting of Eastern and Western influences, holding you in their sway as Alice plays piano. The music invites both promise of delivery and holding a refrain, with each note curiously working at the space between. Prentis Hemphill discusses with Patrisse Cullors imagination, discovery and making way for something different. A joyous conversation. Brian Cox and Robin Ince and guests discuss amongst other things quantum mechanics, the Block Universe, Time, Free Will and entropy. The idea of not knowing, the idea of uncertainty and someday being close to answers I found reassuring to listen to. The last reference perhaps could be moved to the top of the references list. The conversation is enjoyable for what it reveals, Brené Brown talks with Father Richard Rohr on the topic of uncertainty. Father Richard Rohr is able to be profound and humble at the same time. The concert hall of Brené Brown – allows both the music and the silence to rebound. Encapsulating whilst the teaching resonates. When truth is heard, it is also felt… Alice Coltrane Turiya and Ramakrishna Finding Our Way with Prentis Hemphill and Patrisse Cullors Entropy Infinite Monkey Cage Uncertainty Unlocking Us with Brené Brown and Father Richard Rohr pt 1
As the year begins to wind down to the holiday season with Winter’s Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa an African American Cultural Holiday and New Years. I am writing my almost penultimate blog of the year to log an awareness of both an implicit and explicit form of othering. Some cultural and religious holidays are internationally celebrated others are misremembered. This time of year where the hours of darkness far outweigh the hours of light, festivals of light are an attempt to remain enlightened. At the end of November I was a panelist on the last True Roots conversation of the year. Emotional Emancipation Healing circles was the focus of the discussion as well as Black Mental Wealth and Black Excellence. Amber Golden, and Therese Taylor-Stinson highlighted that restoration happens when we come together, and look at what has hurt us, make healing a priority and support each other to move.
Mixing Celebrating Christmas is amalgam of pagan festivities and of Christian beliefs. The date of Christ’s birth is largely unknown. Historians identify possible months of Jesus’ birth from April – October. The 25th of December wildly accepted as Jesus’ birthday is very likely to be a falsehood. Winter’s Solstice in the Northern hemisphere occurs every year on the 21st of December and is the shortest day. For some the 21st of December marks the ending and the beginning of the New Year. The shortest day is a recognition of the end of the Earths spin away from the sun and towards longer and warmer days. For pagan communities aware of Sun and Moon cycles an element of magic and thanksgiving observed the shortness of this day. All days that followed would only increase time spent in the light.
Like Kwanzaa is a construction of an ideal for the African Diaspora to celebrate amongst itself a 7-day ritual of community appreciation and cohesion. Kwanzaa is named after the first fruit of the harvest. A feast to give thanks to the community. There is a double meaning to harvest that includes the children and their re-acclimation to values that support the unity of the family. The argument returns to one I presented earlier this year, of finite and infinite games. What springs to mind about Kwanzaa is the union of old and new, those members of the community who no longer exist in physical form and yet are remembered as still belonging to the unity of the family. An appreciation of life yet to be is also a cornerstone of the cultural celebration of Kwanzaa. In 1998 I ventured to visit family in New Jersey for the ‘Holidays’ and was awed by my cousins observance of Kwanzaa. My cousin had a dismissive view of the commericalised Christmas holiday celebration. Some of the words I write here are a remembrance of the sharing and learning he offered me back then.
Year Review Christmas represents for many the birthdate of Christ. The 24th and 25th of December is a time of celebration – seeing family – eating – coming together – eating – wrapping presents -eating – giving presents – receiving gifts – eating – looking back over the year – planning and imagining for the year ahead – napping and eating if there is any room! Christmas is also a time of mass anxiety, upset, commercialism, stress, money and credit card over use, increased debt and increased profits for many retailers. Christmas sales are almost as important as black Friday deals, Boxing day sales, New Years sales and Easter sales. For many, the meaning of the 21st and 25th of December has been all but erased. Interpreted as “What am I going to get?” For many more there is anxiety and stress. Christmas is an unwelcome yearly phenomena. Forever bearing down on willing and unwilling observers. The Christmas march, begins from the first of January every year, and the accompanying concerns the ‘Holiday’s brings, grow continually. ‘It’s for the children’ some say still. I wonder if the smiles of collected parties, adults included on the ‘Big’ day are equal to the 3-4 weeks of anxiety – elevated heart rate, serotonin and cortisol release of preparations previous to the 25th every year?
Increase Light An eclectic and inclusive celebration would in the least recognise the traditions celebrating light festivals the world over. A conscious global community would observe: Diwali, Hanukkah, Winter’s Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the Gregorian calendar’s New Year, and the Winter season concluding with the Chinese New Year every year. My reasoning is that I feel unity arrives as a outcome of awareness, collaborating and exemplifying human connection – sharing both difference and sameness can decrease hostility towards the unknown.
Outline What I have specifically enjoyed about Kwanzaa is the representation of joyous fulfillment extending beyond 1 day. Most of the celebrations mentioned above are either singular or successive. Spanning either 24 hours or a number of days. Kwanzaa is a non commercialised and community centred celebration observing the African family living in *Diasporan lands (Absentia). Every and all dimensions of family is what I am interested in recognising beyond the nuclear. The 7 days of Kwanzaa highlight the collection and connection of the African family gathering. Each day of Kwanzaa are known as: Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba, Imani. For me each day invites a sense of collective success and wellbeing. Inviting mental wealth amongst, strength within the collective and that then meeting each individual as a residual product. I position Kwanzaa as an ideal against the wealth sought in individuality, the incessant greed of possession, and the frequent belittling of others for their lack.
Umoja – Unity Umoja the first day of Kwanzaa. Lighting of the first central Black candle marks the beginning of the 7 day cultural harvest festival. The other 6 candles 3 Red and 3 Green are lit on the following days. For members of the African community living in absentia Dr. Maulana inspired by the Watts riots in 1966 imagined a weeklong celebration incorporating ideas from his studies of African traditions. For me Kwanzaa is a representation of Black mental wealth and an example of Black excellence made manifest. Some of the symbols and phrases can be identified in Southern, West and East African countries. What Dr Maulana has been able to ‘see’ is a gathering of Diasporan African people under 7 guiding principles. Achieving self acceptance and self awareness with an aim to release self from mental and physical subjugation. The African family in unifying would appreciate our inherent excellence, the strength, ability to persevere, to lead, create, challenge, be vulnerable, and to love despite uncountable barriers and obstacles. Kwanzaa invites all to know and love self and know and love family.
Kujichagulia- Self-Determination The act of self determination is to live life with little outside/other influence or determining/governing factors. Doing what is needed and sometimes wanted from a position of curiosity is to be governed by one’s own interest. The motivation feels different when another is advising telling or yelling at you to do something you may not want to do, or need to do. Self determining is to recognise that all choices even the act of not making a decision has an equal and possible outcome. In relation to Self-Determination for the African family, excellence is truly what we are. Attributions of maligned unwanted, discarded, projective identified qualities and stereo types have been incorrectly ascribed. Operating with a belief of not being enough is an unconscious representation of growing up in a number of systems that do not value, or refuse to acknowledge us as anything other than 3/5ths human. Dr Clint Smith’s How The Word is Passed book link below explores the lie in detail. The acceptance of self-determination also inspires the community to know itself. To appreciate ones personhood and of those who came before, and those yet to be born. The resilience of ancestors surviving an inhuman system afforded us a light that is impossible to erase.
Ujima- Collective Work and Responsibility I understand Ujima and the idea of collective work as primarily centred on the organisation of family including extended family and the community overall. As a counsellor/psychotherapist I am in regular conversations with clients that are grappling with their disillusionment of family and also looking to re-structure, reshape and repair these relationships. The work of healing is both individual and collective. The responsibility of advancement can and often does start with one individual and often leads to many taking up the cause. On the 3rd day of Kwanzaa the family is to observe what work has been carried out to support everyone’s wellbeing. What has been harvested in effortful engagements, received as a result of gifts and what time has been given to others to manifest health. Those whose efforts are often unseen, or taken for granted are invited to come forward and accept their role in holding and guiding the family group through the year’s challenges.
Ujamaa- Cooperative Economics In a world that is predicated on profit and loss, wealth and poverty, accumulation over waste and destruction Ujamaa observes the benefits of collaboratively working together to improve an individual’s, a family’s and a community’s economic ability. The 4th day of Kwanzaa observes that consumerism, capitalism and the cultural lay religious practice of Christmas robs some communities of wealth, humility and compassion. Presenting an idea that some deserve not to have a good end of year celebration as these groups are the wrong type of humanity and thus deserve judgement, scorn and little from the table of good sharing. The principle of Ujamaa centers the idea of coming together for the family’s good – humanity’s wellbeing.
Nia- Purpose The 5th day of Kwanzaa is Purpose or Nia. I am mindful of a saying I came across a few years ago. Mark Twain is reported to have said ‘Two most important days in your life: The day you were born and the day you discover why. ‘ Offers a useful perspective to the understanding of purpose. I am taken back to working for Together for Mental Wellbeing and developing training on Tertiary Desistance. Purposeful endeavour is an engaging concept working with people in prison and those once returned. Discovering one’s purpose is a little like inspecting interiorly and finding the one thing or the connected parts of the self, that are beyond passion and can be seen as life’s work. (My mind has ventured to Dave Eggers ‘A Life’s Work of Staggering Genius’) Purpose is appreciating ones inherent and earned skills and to make use of them to support self and others. My born with skills are to artistically represent what is seen, heard, felt, smelled and tasted. The earned skill is psychotherapeutic and being able to write missives to direct understanding. Bringing both together are the blogs purpose. I feel that my specific purpose is in translating concepts of psychoanalytic thought artfully for those who share an interest in healing.
Kuumba- Creativity I witness creativity in almost everything. For instance architecture and living on a housing estate perhaps was a beginning of my noticing the art in a concrete clad environment. The block I lived on had a central atrium with plants and trees growing up from the ground floor up towards the light of the first floors. Natural beauty contained/constrained by the concrete that sounded it. The 6th day of Kwanzaa observes the act of creating a better world. For me the act of creating often begins with an inner spark of something or an experience that is inspirational. The want that follows is to reconfigure, reimagine and reorganise the inception to be something more. Transmuted into physical and active form. Dr. Maulana was able to make use of his studies and understanding to reimagine an end of year celebration to reconstruct the African family. A repurposing of his studies willfully applied to restoring Africans living in absentia. Kwanzaa observes a themed approach to live well.
Imani – Faith The 7th day of Kwanzaa is one of celebration and to acknowledge faith in oneself, family, and community followed by deliberate mindful action which can create opportunity for change. Faith in the ancestors. In those who came before. Faith in those living amongst the community to support those engaged in affirming activities. Faith in those yet born to continue righting the keel of the ship so the remaining journey arrives at a just port. The aim to manifest good returns on the energy of their time and commitments. Kwanzaa a non-religious practice. Kwanzaa aims to raise awareness amongst those who are looking to support their community rather than continually investing in companies and businesses interested only in profit. Placing the global African community as an after thought, a peon to larger market forces.
Celebrate In conclusion festivals that light darkness are representative of human ingenuity and genius. A conversation about misrepresentation of the myth of Christmas has assisted my appreciation of the holiday’s origin beginning in Egypt. What Dr Maulana Karenga has offered with Kwanzaa is an interpretation of his African research for global application. In order to support global unity. From the 26th December – the 1st January, my aim will be to observe the 7 principles of Kwanzaa. Another way to mark the ending of one calendar year and make space for the one that follows next.
Resources The TED talk by Dr. Cheryl Tahede Grills was shared by Kimberly Cato of True Roots prior to the conversation in November, priming panelists and guests for a wholly beneficial and uplifting conversation about EEC . Kwanzaa the official website for the end of year celebration. A wealth of information about Kwanzaa the originator and useful resources for communities wanting to observe the African American cultural holiday. I enjoyed Tarana Burke’s and Brené Brown’s interview on Unlocking Us. What is shared between the two is how vulnerability in African-American communities is a difficult ask. Tobe and the Originals to the list of resources arrived as I poured through a number of music videos. Their movement and creativity are a force to be reckoned with in that the principle themes of Kwanzaa are inherent in what I saw in the interview and in some of their music. TED Talk Dr Cheryl Tahede Grills Emancipate From Mental Slavery Kwanzaa – The African American celebration Brené Brown, Tarana Burke and Jason Reynolds You Are Your Best Thing Tobe and Fat & the Originals discuss Love, Erykah Badu and Breakthroughs Unlocking Us Brené Brown and Dr Clint Smith How The Word Is Passed
When Marlon James the author of Black Leopard Red Wolf offered at a book signing in 2019, that ‘It’s about healing’ he presented me 2 insights in one. This is often the way with the wise. A single sentence containing as many meanings as one wants to ascribe.
Own Self As a writer, Marlon James’ books have invited a sense of closure to misremembered, misrepresented pasts. Stories about Black Africans living in *Diasporan lands are often exotified embellishments. Built upon lies that fall from colonisers mouths and minds as if fully formed. Tall tales have positioned the African in precarious positions and amongst endangered real and imagined landscapes. With diminished ability of self governance, self determination or self improvement. Placing white saviorism in the middle of a mistaken history. Cut stories, as though ripping a past in half could interrupt it’s eventual and inevitable realisation. We see beyond the lines painting the African either in unfavorably bad light or out of the picture. Here I am remembering the last episode of High in the Hog 4 part documentary and ‘The Harder They Fall’ movie.
Simmering The insight Mr. James highlighted was that by writing (creating) we can access healing and that by telling our stories in our own way within language from cultures adopted, we add to the healing pot. There is something about seeing the words and art that you think, being pulled from you and thrown across a page (such as this), a scroll, a wall, a canvas, caste in clay, poured into jewelry, or a clothing design made, into a picture or a film or piece of music, a dance, a move in sport. The spark of that inspiration is then left to affect another. Witness and harness it to their own end.
Re-calibrate Therapy has become almost a lesser than activity. Synonymous with celebrities doing the work to move beyond past harmful experiences. Healing has meaning and therapy seems to encompass everything from Osteopathy, Neuropathy, Light and Sound assisted treatment and, I have been found guilty to be using the abbreviation too, in Walk and Talk Therapy. (What I was later to learn is that ecologically enhanced/assisted psychotherapy can alternatively be used. It’s wordy though.) The term therapy is an abridgement. The argument I am presenting is about meaning making. What we mean when we say therapy – is treatment. Engaging with another trained in the art of psychotherapeutic/psychoanalytic treatment. A form of healing involving a client discussing with a trained professional. Supporting pain from their past to be assuaged.
Upended Two representations have recently been offered on TV, that psychotherapy is a tool used to ruin or invite in a healer’s unrest. The two cases I am choosing to highlight here are characters bent on utterly destroying each adherent. My concerns are about two shows ‘Hypnotic’ Netflix, and ’The Shrink Next Door’ Apple TV. There are clear boundary issues that are crossed and transgressed in both. I wonder if they ever really existed for the therapists involved? My concern is that a mislaid belief about psychological attempts at healing will be unconsciously accepted as truth. In turn then, the bent towards accessing additional support will be interrupted. The seemingly global succession of mindfully engaging with some psychological intervention willfully overturned.
Complex Because – for me healing is a multi modal and multidirectional phenomena. Healing travels into the past, amongst the present, and supports an understanding and use of the future – simultaneously. I mean that when a counsellor, psychotherapist, psychologist, healer is supporting an individual or a group or a couple they are working amongst and with a range of differing and sometimes competing factors. Healing can include the client’s history, family, intimate partners, work patterns, associates, aspirations for the future, sleep, diet, exercise, rest, entertainment and past experiences. In couples and with group the experiences everyone brings to a healing encounter can be magnified. With group support the experience is as if another living entity is involved with the process as with the people involved – almost.
Where There Is Light Then there are the shadow aspects clients don’t wish to bring to therapeutic encounters. Both Carl Jung and Freud called this the Shadow Self. The Shadow Self is the part of ourselves we do not want to own or claim we know, because of it’s often distasteful, deplorable desires and dreams. Previously I mentioned Smaug the Dragon in the Hobbit as a depiction of the mortal dilemma. As humans we are as impressive as the Dragon, as deep and as cavernous as the dungeon Smaug inhabits and as precious as the horde of gold the Dragon rests upon. When we can embrace all seemingly separate parts of ourselves then…
Laboring Healing is to recognise all parts of the individual including the split off shadow aspects of the self and support a repair that has hurt persons hold all aspects of themselves carefully, with kindness. As mentioned before if we cut parts of ourselves off, we are doing a disservice to our whole being. We cannot fully access who we authentically are. If a part of ourselves is forever banished we spend energy on the look out for the usurper to return and disrupt. We perpetually anticipate the interlopers inevitable resurgence. Perhaps we are to address healing as an ongoing active engagement with no predetermined or presumed end. Like a story without conclusion. Perhaps what Marlon James was introducing as the concept of healing, is to be continually tilled and tended to as soil…
It is all about healing!
Resources The Mindful Cranks podcast introduces Manu Bazzano who supports an idea of mindfulness, meditation, psychotherapy and letting oneself go. Hana and Leila presenters of The Stoop podcast look at accessing psychotherapy and what causes some members of the Black community to either seek support or not. Eldra Jackson offers his story in this TED talk as a way to describe what happens when a trauma is denied exposure and the opportunity for healing to take place. Stormy Monday explores the music habits some persons in San Quentin prison use to look after themselves. The Mindful Cranks with Manu Bazzano The Stoop On The Couch TED Talk Eldra Jackson Masculinity Ear Hustle Stormy Monday
The experience with the charity was painfully inspirational and set me up with a want to build a communal space for Black and Asian mental health professionals. Meeting Frank Lowe in the summer of 2019 moved the want aspect into a need. I will investigate what causes a need for a space that I and marginalised others could feel comfortable in below.
Diversity Space Kent prisons offered a useful sidestep from the set of challenges I contended with as a project manager at the charity. As the lead counsellor for the Kent cluster of prisons I held onto hope for a number of new experiences. Meeting the No. 1 governor at the beginning of my time at one of the six prisons I was to oversee, encouraged me to believe in change as a possibility. The number one governor appeared approachable, a good listener and socially aware of the setting of the jail and the over representation of young Black men detained at the prison. The governor was clear that the concerned focus on ne’er do well’s, sent to prison was a societal/political/educational issue if we widened the lens.
One Amongst Many In the second year of managing 6 prisons, alongside 3 other Black and Asian staff, we started and implemented the Diversity Space. There was something I found hard to metabolise, voice, and process about being a Black male lead counsellor managing a mostly White staff team across 6 prisons. The diversity space gave me chance to lay down the shields, masks, double consciousness I walked along every corridor with, into every room carrying, all meetings attended, most telephone conversations and only a few counselling interactions. As Code Switch’s ‘This Racism Is Killing Me on The Inside’ link in last week’s post highlights, the effect of being discriminated against wears the recipient down.
The Need I have previously highlighted that walking whilst Black in the 21st century is a different experience than living and walking whilst Black in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Working in prison as a person of proposed seniority, with legitimate reasons for being a key carrying member of staff offers a number of challenges for both uniform and detained persons in prison. There were concerned looks by prison staff as I appeared from behind a previous locked door. These concerned looks intensified from staff when I began walking the corridors with a cane to assist my slow MS labored progress. Persons in prison treated me as an anomaly. Visibly disabled and Black, not uniformed, hobbling about with a cane. ‘He must be one of us then’ seemed to be the consensus. I was once asked by a person in prison where he could get a cane like mine? He and I weeks later laughed once he realised that I was staff. I needed a space where I could process these mal formed moments, vent my frustrations amongst a room of people who yes resembled me in some way, but also understood what walking, breathing, living as an othered person was like.
Beginning Starting Diversity Space I wanted a safe space in a prison more than once a month! The irony is not lost. As a member of staff there was something either confusing, discombobulating and often discomforting about being a Black free person working in prison. The team that I supported did their best to accommodate and support me. The practicals of getting the computers to work, or using the telephone system, and finding various cell blocks or locations of colleagues the team excelled at. The deeper learning of moving amongst a populace of staff who had rarely interacted with a Black man, other than in prison was a gap perhaps too great to fathom.
Tresspass I did not share my frequent observations, experiences and worrisome times of being treated as an other. For instance, my first day at one of the prisons, a member of the psychology team almost with eyes of unpleasant surprise wanted to loudly proclaim but stilled their tongue ‘you can’t come in here!’ as I entered the counselling and psychology office. The hastily dropped assessment may have been that a Black prisoner was entering a protected ‘White’ space. The topics of race, class and poverty were often left overlooked. They unspoken barbs of information perfuming an already laden atmosphere. An undercurrent of fear lurked in every corner. The social subjects of othering people too large to appropriately be dissolved in any singular discussion. I felt that my presence in prison was a question some could not find a fitting answer to. As a result I was often left reeling from acts from staff that limited the aim I had of wanting to improve circumstances for persons in prison and staff that cared for them. Diversity Space offered a balm. Similar to my experience to BAATN I felt appreciated, seen, heard and understood once the group began.
Underestimate When a group of like-minded individuals begin a project that ultimately is used as a tool to hold themselves together within a hostile environment. Violent uprisings can be an outcome, however, the gatherings are usually fertile ground to develop ideas that disrupt and destroy the psychological hold power structures like White supremacy maintain. The aim – to move the needle – the axis of control – away from oppressors. Generally, the idea of coming together is to be of support, to listen, to share stories, to laugh uproariously and to find ways of managing an intolerable set of circumstances whilst not losing one’s mind. The empathic embodied understanding received by fellow colleagues, was one of the best and most fitting outcomes the group offered me, a Black member of staff working across 6 prisons in Kent. I no longer walked the corridors alone. There is an implicit confidence that a person with knowledge strides with. I walked the prisons, as if carried by an unseen army/team beside and around me. I had a special group of psychologically and sociologically trained Black and Asian professionals that were in the Strange Situation with me.
Thinking Space I met Frank Lowe as he delivered training on Decolonizing Psychotherapy in Bexley, South East London. The event changed something in me. I felt Frank largely presented his truth as a catalyst for change to be made amongst attendant staff groups. Frank highlighted the need for change fundamentally within the NHS and specifically within psychological professions. Last weeks blog pointed at the ‘over and under representation’ aspect that engulfs the delivery and receipt of care in the National Health Service. During the training, I boiled over when a senior (PMSF) psychologist suggested that we are all racist. In essence they were correct. Growing up in a racist, financially oppressive, sexist, classist, homophobic, ableist society is going to have a deleterious effect. My position was that the likelihood of being stopped searched and unlawlfully killed by police was less likely for them and unfortunately more an eventuality for me. This the summer before the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Before Corona Virus Disease 2019 permanently rearranged our planet. Frank during the lunch break pulled me to one side and offered his wise understanding. His advice ‘Do something that changes the dynamic for you and those who look like you. Don’t stop until the environment, your environment, that you work in feels good with you in it.’ He thanked me for my honesty and challenging what was left ‘unsaid’ to be heard. I exited the training with the germ of a concept burning away until we turned DS into a reality. I was only too happy to share with a few others and start something called the Diversity Space in October 2019. I would like to also thank my then manager who recognised a need for Black and Asian professionals to meet outside of the ‘White gaze’. There is a history of health services taking time, energy, health, family, money, opportunity, choice, friendships, promotions away from those who toil endlessly within it’s substrate structures as ‘othered’ people, and offer little to compensate for multiple losses. The idea was to find a community within a community and our way to health.
Continuance A part two will follow taking in the steps of how we developed a singular focus – focus group. An impossibility as there are too many foci…
Resources I came across the Mary D Ainsworth Strange Situation whilst attending my counselling training. I use the term strange situation to show how being in a prison as a Black civilian was seen as strange. Often by those who looked upon me and by my awareness of those who looked at me – askance. Double consciousness 101. Robert Glasper’s Got Over artfully uses the voice of Harry Belafonte to resonantly express the arc of his career and his lived experience of being an outsider and othered. The request is to recognise achievement no matter the obstacle. Gabor Maté and Resmaa Manekem share a beautiful conversation. These two pioneers at the top of their fields having an equally empowering conversation about Race, difference and learning to survive the discomfort. Thank you Kwame Opoku for the share! The Unlocking us Podcast with Brené Brown and Esther Perel, two women at the height of their respective powers – highlight the need for all of us to be aware of Thanatos and Eros. What we lose by not being aware of the death of the other both actual and metaphorical. What can be gained as we dance, play and experience the erotic is also wonderfully unpacked. Rohan Thompson of Breakthrough Counselling and Wellness talks with Isaac Callan about a report that impacts staff in the district of Peel Ontario. Rohan discusses the beyond intimate labor from a Black union that caused the report to make a significant impact. The link for me in relation to the podcast and the NHS is how a minority group observing and experiencing a racist system leans into their own discomfort and articulates what steps are to be taken to bring about necessary changes. The Am I Going Mad series of YouTube documentaries invites us to observe the challenge of being Black in the world, contending with racist thought belief and actions from the societies we live in. With This American Life I felt the title was a useful frame to begin looking at what has been built within a system of hate and what else could exist once the towering edifice cracks, crumbles and falls into dust? Got Over Robert Glasper and Harry Belafonte The Wisdom of Trauma with Gabor Maté and Resmaa Manekem Unlocking Us podcast Brené Brown and Esther Perel What’s The Point Management of child welfare in turmoil Am I Going Mad Are All Men Created Equal This American Life Made To Be Broken
I continue thought on being something other in the psychotherapeutic profession. Whilst the experience is singular, I know I am not on my own.
The Problem A problem halved, is a problem that is shared. Or so we are told, and a few believe. Many hold to a sense that they alone carry the burden of their thoughts and worries. Often withholders are surprised by what happens when they begin to discuss concerns with a trusted other. At times the trusted other is an outsider to their lives. Strangely, anonymity helps entrust the listener and the sharer to intimately examine past and present hurts. This – the relationship between counsellor and client, coach and coachee, mentor and mentee, perhaps also teacher and student.
Taught The experience I have had of being othered has been a part of the caring profession for as long as I have been aware of the double standards held within the profession. Caring and caring less about those who are identified as other. Therapy is to be an experience of supporting individuals, groups, organisations observe the problem(s) and provide support in moving into the beyond. Completing my training as a counsellor at Uni of Greenwich, I have grown increasingly aware of the long held and embedded ideas that accompany being Black and working in the psychological profession. By omission of African, Asian, and global community influences and contributions to the psychology profession, an unspoken idea remains prevalent of Black and Brown bodies delivering care. Some notions may include identification of African Diasporan practitioners as inferior, incapable, unintelligent, possessing poor communication skills, lacking in technical ability and seen as a low quality substitute compared to qualified ‘professional’ (White) mental health practitioners.
Difference Stratified At most – 6 weeks worth of teaching for the 3 years I was at Greenwich, involved an awareness of Gender, Race, Religion, Age, Culture, Class, Economic status, Education, Sex (G.R.A.C.E.S.). Millions of topics relating to equality were lightly grazed. I am grateful for being introduced to BAATN in my second year. I had no awareness that BAATN existed, and have enjoyed what I have learned from being a member.
Standing Amongst I once described being at one of BAATN’s men’s gatherings as being not only seen, but heard, understood, recognised and valued. My presence was accepted as amongst. A hugely significant and powerful moment of realisation for me. Ralph Ellis’ book Invisible Man offered a useful frame to know what a Black man might experience beyond the sanctity of his home.
Pscyhotherapeutic Beginnings The profession I am a part of is yet to appreciate Black people as amongst and belonging alongside difference. The understanding I have is that a supremacy is incapable of holding a compassionate view inside a nihilist agenda. Europe birthed an idea of psychology that was largely Eurocentric, built on Greek foundations of Philosophy. For me, the link to African (Egyptian) beliefs and traditions is undeniable. The contention I have relates to the progression psychology has taken since the 19th century. Becoming centred and refined on an understanding that gaining more knowledge of the subconscious, will reveal our path to healing. But as the ancestors invite us to be aware, to truly know self is to also be aware of our physical nature too. The body has as much influence on how we think and feel as does the subconscious. The investment made to dust off the research into psychedelics and psilocybin, invites a further leap from mind singularly to mind body and spirit connections. Is this not where those in Middle Earth centred some of their beliefs and understandings of humans living on the planet eons ago? How have we lost this information and what has made ‘Psychology’ the purview of a select few Frail Pale Male Stale people. Freud the genus but the belief in the European model of therapy being best, has many other global traditions behaviours and practices scrapped and made to be valueless muck.
Prometheus I am in a part of the book ‘Work Won’t love You Back’ by Sarah Jaffe, where the author looks at intimate labor and observes how largely Black and Brown women are treated in professions that care for others professionally. I wonder if the inbuilt label of being classed as unskilled and unvalued is also cast upon Black and Brown mental health professionals? We aren’t what the model of a highly skilled professional in text books looks, sounds and behaves like. It is at the institutions that change is to happen. What is taught, how it is taught and by whom it is taught has got to change. Informed this week that Wales is to introduce Black History teaching to all of it’s curricula will in Wales address the change that is to happen globally. The West did not travel the globe liberating people from eternal darkness. The West plundered the Global South for it’s wealth and plunged nations and billions of people into a modern form of windowless shadow. The gloom that persists is the one that hides the light of realisation from plain sight and holds to high ransom (debt, imprisonment, indentured labour, substandard education, threat of war) for those seeking to enlighten the masses.
Over and Under Engaged in similar work a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist a belief is held, that roles such as these are the purview of White highly skilled, highly educated women and men. Caring professions in the West are heavily over-represented by a main ethnic social and class group. That deliver services to ever over-populated people represented by G.R.A.C.E.S groups, in institutions. Schools, Child and Adolescent Services, adult education and prisons are a small list of a mismatch between the numbers involved in delivery and receipt. Observing mental illness and support on offer at hospitals, residential short and long stay facilities, psychological interventions in the community, again I am struck by two experiences of over representation by those providing care and those on the receiving end of it. I wonder what those who provide care to those receiving care believe, think, feel about their knapsack of real or presumed privilege?
Supervision Attending an online supervision group I note the welcome received, (tight, brief, a hint of something undefinable yet all too present). Generally I like to arrive early to the meetings. I hear and regard the effusive positive welcome and list of accomplishments other therapists are lauded with. A warmth, recognition of something similar/familiar, a thing not spoken but still wholly palpable. I understand we like people who in some way mirror ourselves. When met with a frequent experience of being unconsciously or consciously reviled a weathering happens. Aware of the apparent unconscious bias I say nothing of the discomfort these experiences cause. I do not want to be the rabble rouser. The upstart, bringing contention and upset, where others feel sanguine. But some degree of psychological pain experiencing the deletion of my attendance happens. I am at a loss of how to make use of the feeling so as to experience this edition of supervision well. A better solution may be in non-attending. Or showing and saying little (another form of non-attendance), or even being the one who throws each meeting into necessary checking of insults felt and throwing hurts back to be managed by the group. An hour or 2 is not enough to fully disgorge the malcontents held, and I wonder what ultimate good is caused?
Always Seen, Often Ignored Being othered and feeling an inconsequential value within the counselling psychotherapy profession is a common experience I note. Being the only Black person, nay the only Black man (on screen) at a meeting of mental health professionals is a scene on repeat. I am shocked less by these moments. There can be little comfort in solitary confinement. The scene (me alone or to be counted amongst a smaller population of global majority attendees, alongside a larger whiter group of people) has presented itself many times before. The threat of being discovered as not as good as, pointed out as the fraud or made the subject of biased judgement lurks peripherally. One is unable to hide in plain view.
Intimately Labouring What would I like to happen instead in group? Would platitudes, and over ingratiating welcomes make me feel better about attending mostly White gatherings? For me, the change would be about a sensate shift towards feeling less at the wall, clamoring to flee. Fearing attack from an unknown assailant. My preference that all at a space, potentially, are unknown unknown allies. That are doing the emotional, psychological, spiritual work to lessen the sense of distance between G.R.A.C.E.S groups of people, of which I place White people amongst.
Canvas The sense of attending a space where all in attendance are (un)consciously aware of the lack of representation from Global South communities could reduce unease. The challenge ahead is staying with the sense of discomfort. The *taughtness of an environment in time will lessen. Even when the experience is incredibly difficult. It’s the example of my Spidey sense going off at the Pizza Place, letting me know that an unknown foreign agent (fear) is malevolently spoiling an experience. The deciding factor, an awareness that perceived difference does not make anyone lesser or should jettison them from a room. If a space is filled with curiosity and a willingness to make it beyond – to the other side of the challenge then mostly all are usually lifted further along. A new path of awareness can be engaged with. An appreciation of the complex richer connections made across aisles, ages and other forms of perceived stratification and otherings enhance learning. To be applied by continually evolving professionals.
Therapy Today The latest edition of BACP’s counselling magazine Therapy Today (October 2021) offers a wonderfully rich complex yet balanced review of Black therapists engaged in changing the psychological landscape of counselling and psychotherapy in the UK. ‘On the shoulders of giants’ the title of the magazine, looks at a range of professionals. Offering examples of the many women and men who have battled to steer important changes made for the improvement of the profession. My reasoning is ‘But we all have hearts, minds and bodies with which we think, feel and move with’ and so a mass experience of living whilst human can be identified, installed and ideally utilised for the fulfillment of all.
Resources The term allostatic load was the first time I recognised what prejudice, othering and the effects of racism are for Black and brown bodies is medically noted as. Code Switch podcast, discusses what Weathering is and how it can affect people. An earlier blog listed the second link. Black (African American Psychoanalysts) speak of their experiences, training and working with members of the public. When I first watched the documentary I was both affirmed by what these esteemed colleagues discuss and also slightly dismayed. An inherent sadness is present within the pride of being a Black Psychoanalyst and the reality this title holds a mirror to. The link to the Podcast takes you to BAATN’s site. listing the richness of the Black African And Asian Therapists Network Podcast series of talks and presentations. The highlighted episode with Arike and Eugene discusses what steps training organisations could take to become globally influenced, engaged and representative of, in relation to psychological teaching. The podcast was both encouraging and conscious of the work still ahead for many colleges and universities staff students and graduates. The last resource may have been missed in the shuffle. Listed amongst the resources discussing a Pizza shop experience. Jennifer Mullins discusses her journey to become a therapist the learning she experiences in both the class room and most importantly outside of the institution are both inspirational and illuminating. Black Psychoanalysts Speak BAATN Podcast Creating Partnerships Training With Organisations: Lets Talk About Race Decolonise Therapy interviews Jennifer Mullins
Further Reading I am yet to read the Race Conversation by Eugene Ellis and Black Identities, White Therapies edited by Divine Charura and Colin Lago. My listing them here is to highlight that I am still learning and growing. Race Conversation in Psychotherapy by Eugene Ellis Black Identities White Therapies edited by Divine Charura and Colin Lago Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy: Mockingbird by Dr Dwight Turner
Following last weeks post, that observed experiences of being othered, ostracised and shamed, attending a cultural phenomenon a nativity play. I continue this blog series observing a *recentish example of being the other remaining mute, and finding safe side bar.
Charitable Work A few years ago, I worked for a charity where the strange experience was of being othered and held outside of. It is not because of what some staff said specifically. Most are aware that saying racist, sexist, homophobic things at work will lead to reprimands or dismissal. Racial abuse was not metered to me as a member of staff but was in the acts that had me do double takes. Questionable acts were observed discussing cases involving marginalised communities that either worked for the charity or were supported by staff.
Tops The feeling was of not being seen, listened to, wanted, being valued and insights shared – not appreciated. As I progressed from new employee, to my first, second, third and final year with the organisation, I started to notice the holes. I shared my understandings and points for growth change and development with managers and was either ignored or the ideas petered out to nothing. The organisation whilst heavily committed to engaging in change with those worked with, was less invested in making changes amongst itself for increased employee satisfaction. Handing to a manager Brené Brown’s 10 point manifesto for improved employee satisfaction was an example of mine, to shift an experience towards health. See Below from Brené Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’. A sense grew in me that for as long as I worked within the charity even if I made it through the glass ceiling, I would be furthermore cutting myself crawling around on the broken glass to potentially make improvements.
Square Peg Me being seen as the other, were based on a few factors: my training, age, race and the way I saw and interacted with the world was different to most of the colleagues I worked with. I saw my difference as a strength. Others may have seen my position, as a former prison counsellor, problematic. I did not fit. They psychologists, me an integrative counsellor. My support of probation services in London was quietly daring. Sharing insights with probation officers of the psychological lives of their service users. The feeling of familiarity to the experience service users had whilst working with psychologically trained staff did not escape me. The awkwardness, the implied superiority, the speaking over and talking down to, often present. The awareness could not be brushed off, packed or folded away. An interpretation I have of the experience is that within the charity I was looked on as criminal, outside I was hero? The binary can cause ruptures in thinking. I could code switch and was okay chopping it up with service users and probation staff alike. ‘Power amongst and power to’ helped build rapport to perform my practitioners role well.
Mirroring I often sat across from people who looked like me in probation services. A feeling as if a fellow returnee from behind the wall, often present. My crime – working whilst Black amongst a charity that chose to look the other way. Focusing on delivery, winning new sustainable and long reaching contracts, rather than it’s culture and treatment of staff. The charity was long in service and yet poor in dynamic development. Tied possibly to governmental funding cycles and predicting positive outcomes to grant applications. Other Black staff working for the charity either left their work contracts early (sometimes within weeks) or found ways to make their set of circumstances work for them. I spent over 3 years thinking I could change culture, by kindness and cakes. Small acts could, I believed fell the juggernaut of racial oppression and the sense of othering I frequently found myself battling amongst, questioning lofty ideals.
Singular Whilst amongst a staff team, I felt some responsibility to influencing the culture. I was not alone in wanting to positively affect things but when seen as an outsider, one often cannot change what occurs in the building shouting from the pavement across the street. I read Daring Greatly in September 2015 and thought there were a number of insights shared in the book that really brought in to sharp awareness what the charity could do. I enjoyed the chapter ‘Mind the Gap’ that looked at organisational culture determining specific changes that improve experiences for all. Brené Brown lists questions that could potentially push an organisation to be aware of the unease had in areas relating to; errors, vulnerability, (**pain) shame and blame. Brené concludes observing what an actively responsible culturally aware organisation, does to support a staff team and their work. Invite communication! It is a shame that the charity I worked at, was criminally motivated to bring change only on their own terms.
The Count I once mentioned the concern the charity may have had like this to 2 other Black members of staff. 1 is a manageable concern, 2 a problem, 3 a gang, 4 looks like an unmanageable riot 5 or more – a hostile takeover and at worse a mutiny.
My comments were made amongst a huddled meeting during a comfort break, outside on a cold, grey mid morn. The informed colleagues observed a perceived sense of paranoia from others when we rejoined the main group. I wanted to mark the occasion as important for the rarity of being seen together and seeing ourselves in a fleeting moment of solidarity – happy. When asked what were you lot talking about? Attempting to snatch the moment away. We knowingly smiled and said “Nothing that should bother you, much.” The suspicion confirming the hypothesis. We were trouble for a number of unobvious reasons. This moment sowed an important seed for me.
Street View Being an outsider, I am often first to notice the roof smoking and catching fire. The possible routes to safety and what improvements can be made to support all who work in the building mitigate against future disaster! I am also on hand for the rescue teams when they arrive, accounting for all staff leaving the building and who may remain inside still and where they might be. We may have heard the saying ‘Prevention is better than cure’. An example could be of internally questioning what has some team members not be vocal or even in the room when choices, plans and change decisions are being made? The uneasy hard to reach one is often that which provides the most insightful answers and ways forward.
Cycle Within a circle, each point lies equi-distant from the centre. Being amongst can feel both precious and magical. When I think of community settings, I bring to mind gatherings that enable a circle to form. Within a circle, hierarchy and importance are difficult to assume. We are all at a point equal to the other. Recognising the importance of the whole together represents one truth. The sum total of the various parts and individuals is another. One is no more relevant or important than the other. To be discounted harms the whole, which is the point I attempted to arrive at in the White Supremacy series. Whilst silenced and left to remain outside of, the remaining whole cannot be as powerful or as life altering in relation to human development of all our experiences on the planet.
Resources I have wanted to use this particular episode of Resistance since I listened to it earlier this year. The fit for me is, listening to Jermaine Guinyard walking a difficult path in Nebraska with his family. We listen to a story of being willfully excluded by a community and the pain that follows. We also hear how Coach G over time turns an impossible tide.
A distant memory has been unearthed. As thoughts often do – tugging on a few more to join their masquerade ball. These series of writings are in support of another.
A form of racial attack in the form of exclusion is often not documented, fear of further reprisal or silencing disbelief – can stall efforts seeking justice. I will aim to draw out both the strangeness of experiences like these, and also the self questioning that arises in the pieces that are to follow.
Mockingbird Dr Dwight Turner’s Intersections of Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy, summarise in a myriad of ways what it means for Black, Asian and members from Global South communities to live in former colonisers countries. Dr Turner pays attention to what his experience was to be trained in counselling and psychotherapy. Mockingbird does well to observe: Feminism, what members from the LGTBQi+ communities continue to contribute to the lexicon of intersectionality, the poor and working class, as well as embodied experiences of the disabled, a community since 2011 I count myself among. Assimilation into community and acceptance is granted partially at significant personal cost. A loss of identity, culture, sense of community, language, a knowing of oneself is summarily deposited outside the exclusionary zone of becoming a therapist and adjusting to living amongst…
Past It Dr Turner also shares his disquiet of being a lecturer and accosted by a student. You may have seen images of #thisiswhatapsychotherapistlookslike after an encounter where he met *affrontery. My fantasy is of a White woman stating “But you don’t look like a psychotherapist, you look more like a bouncer!” The caring profession is littered with redundant opinionated professionals with outdated views that belong in centuries past.
Altered The first remembering of difference that has floated up for me, is a primary school excursion. I cannot remember if it was a class trip, or a venture to reward an achievement for friends of mine and I. We had gone to see a play at a theatre in London. As children, we may have found some thrill being away from school, but may have found the play of little interest. The play was either a nativity or a pantomime. A cultural experience I had little knowledge of, or interest in. After watching for 20 minutes we (my friends and I) found fun elsewhere. What I vaguely remember is being told off. Reprimanded for throwing wet balls of tissue paper at ceilings and at friends. Playground behaviour at a reputable establishment. A teacher growing redder and angrier at each of us, saying words that were meant to hurt and shame. They did! I can remember leaving the bathroom, head bowed, with a heavy heart. Something of significance had transpired, an element of innocence removed or dented.
Mushy I also remember some of the boys being resolute that they were going to tell their parents. Which they did. I can remember 2 parents attending a meeting with the school a week later. Not mine. I carried my shame without disclosing. Fear of further punishment and their disbelief stopped me. What fails to be recalled are the exact events, the teachers words, what nativity play we saw, what theatre and what reason I had of not being aware enough of the hurt she had caused my friends and supposedly – me. Something other may have been said, decrying of our inner city, poor, council estate dwelling, or lack of appreciating a cultured artistic performance. Her anger, disappointment and confused rage – causing us all to register with shock that the teacher only saw our demise. We, supposedly trapped eternally to live our lives on the housing estate. A heady and unworthy blow, delivered for simply not enjoying a play. We, making a wet paper towel mess of a theatre bathroom and being held as criminally deviant as a result. She may have used strong and shaming words. Adding further to her sense of the wrongdoing and branding us *whip-handedly. Instituting my first experience of the ‘them and us’ polemic idea.
Culture The idea of who was acculturating whom is what I am now left fathoming. Perceived difference does little to engender a feeling of shared interest, warmth, curiosity or journeying to discovery. We witness as citizens on our planet, an increase of ideas towards separation, division and increased animosity against the other. Displacing a growing state of anxiety. Answers lie in what Dr Kelly suggest below…
Resources The below link is to the excellent podcast by Ibram X Kendi who interviews the university professor Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley about misguided notions of superiority and capital interest. The link to the writing above is the perception of which ideas of betterment are seen as valid and overvalued and what ideas are vanquished as valueless. Ibram X Kendi Be Anti Racist podcast Capitalism