Becoming Ethical: Excavations of the self

Waking up and becoming more concious  is a never ending task. Let's try and keep talking. I cannot know what is right for you but I do believe if we connect through conversation we can find our personal truths.

By libbynugent, Mar 18 2020 11:51AM

In these strange times, the distress around the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing into consciousness both how connected we all are and how disorientating it can feel to be away from our everyday rituals. However, amidst the want and need to keep safe, life trundles on. Is there a space or need to keep thinking during this time? Issues that may have before felt important can take on a new perspective. Is it useful to maintain our gaze on issues of power and privilege when survival is at stake? My thoughts move around with this hourly, but given the new legislation being passed, regarding increased state power for the police to arrest people and the rationing of care in the NHS, maybe it is necessary to keep thinking about who we deem as contaminant or benign? Who do we prioritise our care giving to? Who is left on the outside; who is seen as less necessary or less fragile?



There’s is a poem I love that I return to repeatedly that helps me a great deal:


Invitation to Brave Space By Micky ScottBey Jones


Together we will create brave space


Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”


We exist in the real world


We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.


In this space


We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,


We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,


We call each other to more truth and love


We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.


We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.


We will not be perfect.


This space will not be perfect.


It will not always be what we wish it to be


But


It will be our brave space together,


and


We will work on it side by side




My experience of clinical psychologists is that, as a rule, we tend to be people motivated by the want to understand others, relieve psychological suffering and promote wellbeing. We want to create brave spaces for ourselves and others. To do this we are typically invested in the use of formulation and when psychologists make connections between human experience and academic understanding they can be very powerful. When we connect the dots we can use our positions to effect real change in the lives of many individuals, groups and communities. So with a spirit of curiosity, as opposed to blame, why is it that we seem to be stuck in patterns of white supremacy narratives? How might we turn our own gaze of enquiry on to ourselves?


Last week I heard about the report of a racist hate crime that occurred at the DCP conference I attended in Solihull in January, where a conference delegate was seen defacing an academic poster with racist comments. This has led to various conversations with other white psychologists, many of whom are expressing feeling sad and confused by what, to some, appears to be a bizarre increase in isolated racist actions in our community. The conversation typically moves between wanting to hold the perpetrator to account, how someone might have behaved had they seen it and then thinking about systemic formulation and accountability taking as a group. Very rarely did the conversation move to what it might have felt like to be any of the people involved - either victim, aggressor or witness. Whilst isolated incidents must be addressed and individual accountability is necessary, I think at some point as a collective we need to own that these systemic problems of racism (and other inequalities) are alive in our community. In my opinion this requires considered and conscious effort to understand all of our contexts, particularly our socially racialized identities, and then drawing from this the full meaning of the acts and resulting felt experience of those involved.


I do get the want to distance myself from these acts, particularly now, however if I just focus on the awfulness of the behaviour of an individual person I might miss the opportunity to examine myself and my culture; the only factors I have any control over influencing. So … what might drive me to do something like this, how might it feel - is it aggressive, hate filled, exciting, funny, impulsive, careful, dangerous, brazen, regretful, powerful, would I want to be seen? How might it feel to be treated in this way - alone, isolated,caught off guard, shaming, unwelcome, publically humiliated, morally superior, vulnerable, exhausting, familiar? How might it be to be the observer: shocking, angry, titillating, overwhelming, disbelieving, numbing, obligated, powerless, powerful? The more reading and understanding I have of group dynamics, power narratives and how society adapts around them then the more I see explicit racist acts like this as being like the metaphor of an opportunistic infection that can occur because there is a lowered immune system. The treatment is not just about addressing the opportunistic infection but also strengthening the immune system to prevent it from vulnerability to these kinds of threats in the first place. We have culturally inherited a lowered immune system (from colonialism/slavery) that we have to work to build back; and in doing so start actively caring for all the individuals hurt by our current culture.


Prior to learning about the racist attack, I had already twice raised concerns about various other problematic occurrences regarding the event in both its planning and execution: The opening address included a white speaker, who in an attempt to address the racist acting out at the GTiCP conference in Liverpool, stood holding an anti racist book declaring they had yet to read it, but held good intentions to do so and that we all need to “crack the whip” and face this. Sadly as a white conference delegate my sympathy instantly went to the person speaking and I just wanted them to be seen for their good intentions; yet many in the room were attending with fresh hope that these dynamics were finally going to be taken up and validated; as I encouraged myself to recognise the less dominant narrative, the symbolism of a leader holding an unread anti racist book whilst making an unconscious reference to being a slave master became beyond alarming. The speaker apologised immediately, their shame was clear and I have no interest in scapegoating that person as I believe the experience, including my reaction, are a repetition of the dominant white narrative of the psychology community: Good intentions for change but a lack of ability to sit with our collective ignorance and not knowing on this subject - being too distracted by feelings of guilt and inadequacy and a want to appear competent.


I know for me, this intolerance of fearing looking stupid or bad, can be so strong it’s tricky not to act out. I am used to being seen as competent, particularly in my professional role and when thinking about human rights, and so when I am not the shame leaps in and I can feel the need to avoid it as it feels so fraught with discomfort and humiliation. I feel hot, then cold, then numb and my brain quickly scrambles to find the right thing to say -so that people wont notice my awkwardness, my not knowing. By then it is normally too late. I can feel irritable and eventually just nothing as I move myself away to let someone else, or maybe just no one, deal with it.


"THE CURIOUS PARADOX IS THAT WHEN I ACCEPT MYSELF JUST AS I AM, THEN I CHANGE." ~~CARL ROGERS


I believe each person is accountable to themselves and I think the ‘work’ to be done requires me to develop the emotional maturity necessary for sitting with conflict and pain, so I can stay with these present day conversations about systemic racism in my community. I need to actually connect and accept the feelings of distress before I try and tidy them away by using theories and clever thoughts to protect myself without ever getting close to my own or others feelings. Trying to truly connect with all the parts involved. I think maybe I might be like most other psychologists working hard to be kind and thoughtful yet stuck with these difficult and abusive historical discourses. With life as we know it so under threat, now more than ever we need to be understanding each other as equal and connected. We are all each other’s context.



Indeed the opening address did set the tone of the event: This address ran over by 10- 15 minutes which meant the morning sessions (nearly all of which were on addressing diversity, power and privilege/ anti racism themes) were cut short resulting in them stopping and starting at different times leaving the program schedule in chaos and group facilitators wrong footed by timings. There then seemed to be an open door policy, with significant numbers of people coming and going randomly to the sessions which made it feel unsafe to speak my mind. Later a key speaker advised the audience to hold our breath during the difficult bits of their talk that were addressing the evidence of structural racism in our community and instructing us when we could breathe out again. No one person is to blame. Good intentions and good work were present everywhere just being simultaneously undermined by the cultural script of prioritising the taking care of white people in the room and attending to their discomfort not leaving much space for the upset and distress of everyone else. Some of these things are more innocuous than others, but it felt like the metaphor of a constant slicing of a salami, where there was a persistent action to diminish bit by bit the efforts to tackle the subject and making for a highly unsettling and upsetting morning. The communication of ‘we don’t know how to do this’ felt very clear.




A common exchange I have had in discussing these events resonated with me considerably as I think it speaks with honesty and clarity about the feeling and perspective of many in our community. I thought I would share a mock Q and A here giving the response I wish I had given ...



Question:

I struggle with this idea about racism in psychology and I'm noticing this a lot at the moment because things seem to keep happening. I feel awful about these events but I can’t make sense of them as it is not what I recognise in my daily interactions in our profession. I feel nervous to voice my puzzlement because I fear I'll be attacked! I can see how upset people are about these terrible incidents, and I don’t want to say anything to invalidate their experience, but at the same time I really believe that most psychologists are not racist and do attend to the subtleties of power, culture, discrimination....I certainly do. I might be white and middle class, but I have faced my own discrimination and life experiences and I spend a lot of time reflecting. And yet, I read a lot that suggests that many think our profession is racist. Help!”


My Response:

I think what I’ve noticed on my exploration into this area is that I have huge amounts of gaps in my knowledge base that I just didn’t know were missing. So I would regularly feel confused by accusations or experiences that felt incongruous with my identity. It’s that feeling that led me to start enquiring more. Have you had any opportunity to read books like ‘The good immigrant’ edited by Nikesh Shukla or ‘It’s not about the Burqa?’ edited by Mariam Khan. They are really interesting and helpful. Akala’s book Natives is also an excellent place to begin.


Sometimes I just have to admit that I can’t know what I don’t know. Then pay attention to who does have knowledge and experience in this area and pay attention to what they are saying.


Given racism is such a painful area, it draws out high levels of emotion for all. Projections are flying around everywhere in these narratives and often as a white woman I don’t realise how much I am projecting on to other people - I have discovered as I learn more I hear and see these exchanges very differently - in that the attack I may have perceived happening or feared might, I can now see as distress and hurt from the other person and also the contribution of my fear, my reaction to my feeling shame as triggering my fight or flight or in short my own aggression; However when I cannot see that this is occurring it can be hard to trust anyone who is telling me that it is - it feels so far away from my self image. My blindness can be such that it can feel like I am being willfully misunderstood and as such it is impossible for me to know who to trust. I can only invite others to start to read and talk more about our white history of slavery and colonialism and use our understanding of the human experience to help join the dots - when I do my victim fantasy can withdraw pretty quickly and I am able to contain my feelings and not act out.


I often like to reflect on yoga as a metaphor for my personal development; Bringing these narratives that feel so hidden to me into consciousness is a bit like using with my left hand for a pose when I am strongly right handed; I find this process clumsy, painful and slow. It requires persistence; however in using it I bring myself more into physical alignment: there is more balance in my posture, I become more flexible and I am stronger for it.


The Yogi BKS Iyengar said

“We often fool ourselves that we are concentrating because we fix our attention on wavering objects.”


We need to stop being distracted by the wavering objects of individual acts of racism, and personal morals of right and wrong and concentrate on the felt experience of ourselves and others and how they sit in the context of our collective narratives. The only way to gain understanding is to focus on the fixed object - the system/ our community and its historical context with resulting present day narratives. This is how we move towards emotional and social alignment. To do this we need to commit to practicing staying with the less conscious narratives, the difficult conversations and not avoid or deny.

Or finally to repeat what Micky ScottBey Jones writes:


We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.

We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.

We will not be perfect.

This space will not be perfect.

It will not always be what we wish it to be

But

It will be our brave space together,

and

We will work on it side by side




The anti racist book club for psychologists is a book club and reflective practice space for psychologist for the purpose of developing understanding and awareness of the issues raised in this piece. You can find out more on the Facebook group or at my website www.libbynugent.com



By libbynugent, Feb 7 2020 12:26PM

I’d like to acknowledge Dulcie Cormack and her contribution to this blog when sharing her thoughts, ideas and personal experiences with me in the February Wrexham Anti Racist Book Club meeting. I have her permission to share them here.



I recently asked psychologists, on various social media groups I belong to, to share with me their favourite childhood stories, as I’m interested if there are any commonalities. This mini survey is an ongoing interest, so please feel free to share your favourites with me. Someone mentioned The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and I took the opportunity to revisit it. In the story a toy rabbit wishes to become a Real rabbit - to become Real the rabbit must allow itself to be at the mercy of its fate provided for by his little boy owner: he becomes damaged, worn down, with busted seams, tattered fur and threadbare paws. The faerie tale, to me, holds a metaphor of how vulnerability can create change; that radical self acceptance breaks open our understanding of humanity, so that we can truly live life rather than remain a toy or object.


The story begins this way:


There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy's stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.…


For at least two hours the Boy loved him, and then Aunts and Uncles came to dinner, and there was a great rustling of tissue paper and unwrapping of parcels, and in the excitement of looking at all the new presents the Velveteen Rabbit was forgotten.


For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon everyone else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real. …


Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse. ...


“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nanna came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”


“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”



“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.


“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”


“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”


“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” ’


The Velveteen Rabbit OR How Toys Become Real by Margery Williams



Now on first reading this could be a metaphor for embracing masochism, to charge towards painful experiences and humiliating relationships. However that’s not quite how I perceive it. I see it more as a call to radical self acceptance. To be open to honest communication and risk taking in our intimacies. To let people in. The rabbit must let go of it’s vanity, it’s belief about what must be avoided to keep him desired for and therefore loveable. He must trust in the process of love, but this is a love of life as it is, not the romantic hopeful version. When the final task of initiation is complete the rabbit painfully grieves; his hope to be eternally loved by the boy is held together with his acceptance of the real life limits of the boy’s ability to provide this. It is only when this acceptance occurs that the velveteen rabbit is turned into a plain everyday rabbit, his specialness is truly lost and he hops away into the woods unrecognisable to the little boy who previously owned him. At last he becomes Real.


When I think about this for myself - what are the parts of me that I might need to stop avoiding - is it my greed, my entitlement, my whiteness, my neediness? If I accept these parts, will I not be outed as broken, damaged and bad - who would love me then? What does radical self-acceptance look like? I also wonder about the idea of a little boy being in charge of my life.



Psychoanalyst Fairbairn, described a pattern of relating called the “Exciting Object”. Besides my liking the name I find it a really helpful way to think about some relationship and cultural problems. In his description of the pattern of the “exciting Object” Fairbairn states that this pattern of relating develops in childhood, typically when a child’s emotional needs are taken care of by an intermittently neglectful/absent parent. So sometimes the parent is present and caring and sometimes they are not. To make sense of these changeable ways the child develops two very different stories about the relationship. One is that of idolisation - my parents are wonderful and meet my needs, the future looks full of hope. The second is that of despair and hopelessness - my parents are useless and nothing will ever change. When these interact, rather than being held together to get a good enough view, they flip flop and cancel each other out to create an Exciting object narrative. In this Exciting object narrative the child is always hopeful and longing for a great future, they can see the potential of what could be if only they could work out how to keep the good times going but at the same time the child knows things will fail. So like buying a lottery ticket and hoping you will win, whilst at the same time knowing the chances are extremely low. The excitement of wondering if you can beat the odds, the comfort in being right in knowing you can not.




What this looks like in adulthood is the experience of continuing to emotionally invest in a partner, work environment or social structure when you know it is toxic; however the hope that it might transform into something new is compelling. Whenever the bad behaviour becomes apparent, we recover fast hoping for a bright future full of change, sweeping the negative experience under the carpet, quickly forgetting pain in the name of hope; at the same time striking another internal scorecard against the abuser with a sense of satisfaction that I knew they would do this to me. It’s like our internal world is at the mercy of a child’s changeability. The way to develop a new narrative is to try and hold on consciously and compassionately to both parts rather than flip flop between the two. If we can persist eventually we are able to become a bit more clear eyed. We can feel the yearning for more, the grief, anger and hurt at real life limits - we can become a bit more grown up or Real with our understanding. We might then make different choices. Maybe.



The story shows how as the rabbit starts to understand what it is to be human - and to let in intimacy, we also begin to recognize that all thoughts and ideas the rabbit had about the other toys were projections - he was seeing the other toys the way he viewed the world himself. In real life as we mature we also start to recognise that aspects of others we encounter in life, that create an emotional response, are often a mirror. The superior and inferior toys all reflected the rabbit’s own world view. In psychoanalysis it is thought that nobody truly knows anyone else until they recognize that everyone is them.





You may have seen the actor British Laurence Fox and his recent appearance on question time; his response to an audience member Rachel Boyle, was an example of white privilege in action. Boyle, a researcher on race and ethnicity at Edge Hill University, had raised the issue of the racist treatment of the Duchess of Sussex. Fox responded by describing Britain as the “most tolerant, lovely country in Europe”, adding his opinion that “it’s so easy to throw the card of racism at everybody and it’s really starting to get boring now”.


My initial reaction was one of repulsion and horror as Fox’s nonchalant aggression was casually hurled out: his lack of humility in his attitude and his sense of entitlement to equal footing on the subject racism with a woman, who is both a scholar of racism and a person with lived experience of racism in the uk, was clear; his assumption that his boredom mattered and that this was therefore relevant to the conversation was cringeworthy. Whilst I had previously quite liked him in ‘Lewis', I could feel myself distancing from this mental connection quickly and rescripting my appraisal of him: yes we are both white, but he is clearly being so male, so upper class, so southern. His ill informed, lazy, entitled and boorish manner has nothing to do with me. Lewis is rubbish anyway: My taste in programs can often be terrible. He is so rude; I am nice. He is such a typical man; I am a woman. I am middle class, but not that posh. I am not him. I am a proper progressive; I am thoughtful. I run an anti racist book club - I bet he doesn’t read those books. He is not part of my identity. He is other.


Laurence Fox came up in our discussion at the Wrexham Anti Racist Bookclub. As usual it was a small gathering, only this time it was just two of us: Dulcie and I. We have just read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and it was fascinating to use it as an example of a step by step guide to reactions that occur when white people become defensive talking about race. We then tried to apply this to ourselves and our own paths into trying to be more conscious of these narratives. Dulcie noted how surprisingly new and uncomfortable it has felt being on the back foot with this subject of examining whiteness. Her experience growing up was one of always being a fast learner, the one who gets it, she would lead on the ‘challenging the status quo’ conversations and launch herself into difficult conversations about feminism, classism etc. This resonated deeply with me. It has felt extremely humbling to experience myself in this way - of honouring the position of not knowing, and maybe being the person who needs to catch up, rather than being the one leading the way or, at very least, in the middle of the pack. Dulcie shared with me the idea of a window of tolerance: That somehow thinking about whiteness required finding that spot where the discomfort can be felt and stayed with rather swept away into despair and immobility or flip flopped over into idealisation of white culture and denial.


As a self identified liberal white woman, I often know something has been racist and unfair but all too easily I can quickly sweep it under the carpet going back to my lovely, playroom life. Like the rabbit maybe I can become Real through experiencing the full range of myself reflected in others, and recognising that it is a reflection of my own state? With practice I’m learning to accept what I see whilst holding on to compassion for myself, inviting in an adult accountability. If psychoanalysis is right, only then can I truly be relating to ‘the other’. All the wear and tear is sometimes uncomfortable but equally isn’t this just the human condition and always will be. In adult reality there are no easy answers or pain free options but I imagine how much more alive and potent I and our profession might feel if we could let our threads show knowing it is what makes each of us Real.




References:


Fairbairn and the Origins of Object Relations, ed. James Grotstein and Donald Rinsley (Free Association, 1994).


Pines, Malcolm. “ON MIRRORING IN GROUP PSYCHOTHERAPY.” Group, vol. 7, no. 2, 1983, pp. 3–17. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41718185. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.


By libbynugent, Jan 4 2020 10:30AM

For a short time I had a daydream about running a coffee shop. I thought I could make it a community psychology project. It would be a kind of cake and therapy combination. I took this project up with various degrees of earnestness: at one point I bought a book “setting up your own coffee bar”. I kept it by my bedside table unopened whilst I engaged in trialling various coffee making paraphernalia and eating a lot of cake. It took a good few months for me to realise I had little to no interest in the realities of running any kind of shop and that what I actually wanted to do was spend my time relaxing, drinking coffee, eating baked goods whilst feeling valued. I wanted the feeling of community and the hustle and bustle of everyday life in a cosy and safe environment. However I couldn't just go to my local cafe for this and be a customer. That felt too uncomfortable and small. I wanted an experience that felt socially important and somehow more meaningful and less mundane than me feeling lonely, tired and hungry.


The desire to attend a community coffee shop only would come to life if I was running the show: facilitating and not just being a regular customer. I wanted to belong, to indulge in cake eating and rest, but only feeling able to access these desires through the symbol of leading - not just joining in. Somewhere I had learnt that my being an average person who is wanting to belong and has basic human needs was not acceptable or sufficient reason to do this regularly. So whilst part of me longed to join in, I resisted the idea of this occurring through anything other than high achieving. I interpreted my average, human self as a defeat and evidence of my lack of creativity and uniqueness. In my therapy we wondered what this was about. I also noticed running a coffee shop is a remarkably common fantasy in the psychology community. It made me wonder about both my personal and professional scripts about vulnerability, community and belonging.


It is also about this time I heard about the story of Edward Mordrake:


Edward Mordrake (originally spelled Mordake) was a young, intelligent, and good-looking English nobleman, as well as a “musician of rare ability.” But with all of his great blessings came a terrible curse. In addition to his handsome, normal face, Mordrake possessed a terrifying disfigurement: another face on the back of his head.

This horrifying second face was that of a “beautiful girl” — “lovely as a dream, hideous as a devil.” The strange visage possessed an intelligence “of a malignant sort.” Whenever Mordrake cried, the second face would “smile and sneer.”

Mordrake was constantly plagued by his “devil twin,” which kept him up all night whispering “such things as they only speak of in hell.” The young lord was eventually driven mad and took his own life at the age of 22, leaving behind a note ordering the evil face be destroyed after his death, “lest it continues its dreadful whispering in my grave.”


Gina Dimuro, Published May 29, 2018

https://allthatsinteresting.com/edward-mordrake


When thinking about this story and my coffee shop daydreams I began to see some links. I reflected on the following interpretations:


The coffee shop owner is the face at the front - my persona. The part of me that defines who I would like to be and how I wish to be seen by the world. The word “persona” is derived from a Latin word that literally means “mask,” however in this instance, the word can be applied metaphorically, representing all of the different social masks that we wear among different groups of people and situations.


At the back is the Shadow Self, the bit of me that I have learned, (rightly and wrongly) that is bad or unacceptable: the part of me that is the coffee shop customer, who I will not allow to just join in and eat cake unless I do something deserving.


I cannot see what is at the back of my head - These needs and my reactions are hidden from my own conscious view, yet they are there and often visible to others with different scripts and can I ever truly see this part even with assistance.


If I am Edward Drake, do I want to “know” there is another hidden part of me?


I cannot entirely ignore this part as I hear the whispering at night, yet to fully acknowledge that it exists feels extraordinarily challenging. How could anyone want all of that? My instinct is repulsion. But given this is the reality is it better to at least try and know and acknowledge what is there or better to chose to live in denial?


According to Jungian psychology good/bad splits occur in all of us, in many places in our psyche. It is easier to see these divisions in others rather than ourselves. These splits can be encouraged in the scripts we learn from our families and cultures. If we think about cultural scripts from different parts of the world we can see how arbitrary some of these “good/bad” divisions are that create these Shadowed selves. In Europe, for example, making eye contact is often perceived as confident and engaging, whereas in Japan it might be perceived as arrogant and rude. And in America, TV shows depicting violent murders are considered more acceptable than showing nudity or sexual acts, whereas in Europe it’s the opposite. These are just two examples. If we are not aware of our personal and cultural scripts that inform us about what is acceptable or not, we can very quickly end up making decisions based on misinterpretations and misunderstandings.

https://www.thesap.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/shadow.pdf


The difficulty recognising shutt out narratives or hidden parts can be a huge barrier in any person or community’s journey towards learning, integration and emotional health. If these unwanted parts are left unexamined it will lead to our understanding of situations and then subsequent actions being made through a one sided vision of the world which results in unconscious bias. Whilst we may never be able to fully see what is at the back of our heads, if we know there is something there out of our range of visibility we can implement strategies to collect information and so that we can make more informed decisions. Knowing we have a personal and cultural shadow can actually transform how we approach information gathering and decision making processes.

https://www.thesap.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/shadow.pdf




So how might this apply to the clinical psychology community?

From our ‘work for free’ discourse for the budding aspiring psychologist, to the initiation into the competitive world of becoming an assistant and trainee and finally working as qualified clinicians within high demand services, we grow into a very particular narratives and ways of being: typically those narratives that allow us to engage in fierce competition, in a non-threatening way, and that will help us make very few demands on others whilst been given an overwhelming amount of work.


We grow into these identities over time, cohort by cohort. During the process of becoming a clinical or counselling psychologist we acquire the formulating gaze and we learn a scientific vocabulary for feelings. Clinical psychologists typically work in close proximity to trauma and despair and so we pay attention to our ‘new’ senses of transference and countertransference and learn phrases such as ‘sit with it’, ‘ be mindful’, ‘provide a space for uncertainty’ and ‘tolerating not knowing’. We are trained to always have an evidence base, and to jump through hoops, juggling essays, NICE guidelines, research and clinical work. There is little room for life to happen along the way.


What is our own reality of having our personal shame examined and pain contained? How much of these experiences of tolerating safe uncertainty are authentically experienced from within before we offer them to others? How available are our supervision spaces to deal with the inevitable fall out of with working up close and intimately with the naartives of violence, denigration, self loathing, sex, hate, envy and humiliation.



We are required to have both a need to tolerate not knowing and a necessity for evidence base in our work. Both narratives, when not allowed to be processed at depth, foster an approach of ‘getting on with it’ and being seen to be ‘coping’ often leading to an avoidance of the limits of ourselves and what is happening in our personal lives. Most courses discuss numbers of plus 99% pass rates and and rarely offer discourse regarding the people that don’t make it through. Only recently have some training courses begun to offer part time training and I don't think any have module systems of career progression or indeed staff with fingertip knowledge of alternate paths for trainees to take when they fall out of step with the general flow of the group.


The national non-completion rate for NHS trainees for the academic year 2017/2018 was only 0.6%, which includes both people who withdrew from a course and people who failed. This is in line with the rate for the previous 5 years which was between 0.5% and 1% each year.

Leeds Clearing House


Given the intensity of the training and the fact that life continues to go on regardless this to me feels bizarrely high. Of the approximately 600 people per cohort only 3- 6 people didn’t make it through. How do people cope and what narrative is given to people who don't make it? Presumably people manage by doubling down on their defences. From my own clinical observations a toxic combination of doubt, guilt, and an exaggerated sense of responsibility is a common finding among psychologists.


From these scripts and in my clinical work with psychologists, I have noticed to survive these conditions certain cultural attitudes seem to occur which have an emphasis on:

self-reliance

high ethical values

pride in endurance

discomfort in asking for help

An inclination to learn through teaching rather than learn by joining in

denial of pain/stress

overachiever but may underestimate self

If these attitudes are left unexamined and the hidden scripts within them are unacknowledged it is clear how they can lead to the development of a trickster culture: One which speaks of self care and compassion but shames asking for help and dependency. Ideally we would rely on our training course, or our psychology team members to provide caring minds to let us know when we are reaching our limits. However, how much are we able to connect with others who are also living these silent scripts. It can feel like the blind leading the blind.


A strong theme permeating through my conversations with psychologists is the belief they are the only one who feels like this - that they are alone. I think for many psychologists, the social group primarily relied upon for providing self-esteem and a sense of belonging is their professional group. In my experience, the reflective groups I have been a part of and have facilitated enable psychologists to become vulnerable in a safe environment where they can drop their professional masks. It has been helpful to cultivate a sense of unconditional friendliness and self-compassion as without this it is difficult to look at our darker parts.


If psychologists are serious about cultural change and addressing our problems of structural racism and systemic stuckness in supremacy narratives, then as a group we probably need to begin this work by accepting our own humanness and embrace curiosity for our limits and hidden parts. These excavations are where our striving and collective pride in being seen as ‘good’ people are actively unhelpful - As if we are too judgemental, it will be difficult to tolerate ourselves and we will need to avoid. As a collective I think we are too accustomed to avoidance of direct communication that is also caring. Instead we are polite and politically correct whilst silently nudging - conditioning each other to hide all our humanness, and our being average. We need to transcend these emotions with honest conversation, friendliness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. As a group we have a profound amount to offer and I think understanding our hidden scripts and parts of ourselves we do not see will allow our collective to exist with more depth and realness in our professional identities and maybe finally allow us to embrace the changes towards authentic inclusivity that are so long overdue.



By libbynugent, Oct 26 2019 08:32AM

An internal critical voice is an incessant stream of destructive self talk. Common critical conversations with the self can include scripts such as: “You’re ugly,” “You need to try harder” “You are too loud shut up” and “You’re stupid” “Nobody likes you,” “You are fat and useless”, “You are too much for people”, “Don’t be diffiuclt”, “You are better off on your own”, “You are a mess”...


Sadly this stream of uncontained internalised aggression forms a powerful anti-self that might provide an instant motivation, but will then often discourage a person from acting in their own interest over the long term - Instead fostering self-hate and a retreat from an honest interaction with the world. As such it can corrode every part of life, including self-esteem and confidence, personal and intimate relationships, and performance and accomplishments at school and work.


From some psychology narratives it is tempting to believe that these inner voices come solely from redundant unhelpful thinking styles. They suggest that if you test them out aloud in adult reality you will see that no one really cares how you look, treats you differently or thinks you “need improvement”. But what do you do when the critical voice is not only from the past, but very real and present in the world? When you are explicitly told you have to play by different rules because you are the wrong: social class, colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, weight … just not quite socially acceptable enough to be a recipient of what is fair.


Typically, you learn to make do with what you can get. To swallow the inevitable shame you experience in this process of being in a world where everyday you are different, you are less than. This shame can also come with a self-preserving rage - but you learn to swallow that too. The angry AND fat/ black/poor/female/gay person will only be punished further. You learn to avoid these experiences of shame and rage at all costs. You are told they are pathology and toxic in and of themselves. Better to be placid and likeable. Better to leave those feelings alone. Rise above it. Just do better. Be better.


I still have, at times, a reflex to smother my rage and shame when my shameful parts are provoked even though now I have learned better.


So what does it mean to now know better? It means that I have learnt that whilst there is truth that shame, internalised, is toxic and that rage uncared for is massively destructive, there are also lies. It is not always unhelpful to be in touch with my rage or toxic to pay attention to my shame. Through dreams and storytelling imagery I have come to associate both experiences with the symbol of fire: The white heat of shame, the burning of anger. Like fire, uncontained, shame and rage can storm through life destroying indiscriminately. However shame and rage when held with compassion and their sources examined can open up new world views. When these experiences are harnessed with a view of the self as equal to others and that self is worthy of love, the same fire that was so destructive offers the possibility of cooking up a transformation. Anger and the examination of shame can be used as fuel to cook up the other elements in our psyche that then provide nourishment, cleansing, protection and even prepare the ground for new life. It takes the forces of the steady flame of a self-caring rage to maintain a refusal to keep shame hidden that in turn can break through that which is trapping us.



For a long time I didn’t want to know about my wounds, or rather I knew but didn’t want to think they were big a deal. My inner critical voice firmly in place helped me keep my head down. I wanted people to see me as easy going, friendly and helpful. Likeable. I have enough privilege in my life to harness the denial required to achieve much of this persona. Whilst I knew other people suffered I believed my critical voice and survival strategy of enforced niceness was a sign of my resilience rather than my hidden shame and uncontained aggression. I would tell myself that compared to other people I had nothing to complain about. Anger without self love has a strange way of minimising and dismissing our lived experience so that we see our experiences as so lacking worth or value, that distress can only be located in other people; that is to say it has a way of leaking out and displacing itself as a projection onto others. So at the same time as me being ‘fine’ i could become wildly impassioned on behalf of others. Incensed at their injustices, their oppressions, their hurt. Furious with their aggressors. Or equally, I could also aggressively accuse anyone who wasn’t going to collude with how nice I was. Always the rage, the badness, the disgust was in the other. I was just helpful and nice.


Much of my awakening could best be described in the story of the Frog Prince:


In the tale, a young and protected (or defended) princess reluctantly befriends the Frog Prince, whom she met after dropping a golden ball into a pond. He retrieves it for her in exchange for her friendship. However she did not really want to be friends with the frog. She didn’t know how to voice her disgust of him, and so she pretends to be nice; she then tries to run away and leave him behind. The king hears of this and holds her to account for the promise, insisting the frog be invited into their home. She is too ashamed of her feeling of disgust and so again pretends to be ok with it. The pretense goes on and on until the frog ends up in her bed. Finally the tension of holding both rage and shame break through. The princess gives in and throws the frog against a wall in anger. ‘I can’t do this anymore. Think of me what you will but i’m not going along with it. This ends now.”

In this surrendering into aggression by the princess, the Frog Prince magically transforms into a handsome prince or rather a perfect partner for the princess.

In modern versions, the transformation process has been sanitised: triggered when the princess kisses the frog. I find this sanitised version does not resonate with me in the same way.

Here are some present day examples of such transformations:

In the anti racist book club for psychologists we recently read ‘Why I’m No longer talking to white people About Race’ by Reni Eddo Lodge. This is an incredible example of the individual liberation that comes from a mixture of anger, self-care and an examination of the shame she was being forced to hold. Likewise the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby in her work “Nanette” owns her anger and outs her shame - refusing to humiliate herself ever again by making jokes about homophobic violence directed towards her. Additionally the singer Lizzo, embracing her plus size black body singing ‘Truth Hurts’ whilst dancing in unapologetically revealing clothing for the BET awards ceremony is a joyous moment. For these people turning towards their own pain, anger and shame provided extraordinary space for creativity and connection with others. In all these cases it appears to be born from making a commitment to see the self as equal, and being honest about what they are experiencing in their internal world: self-love, despair, anger, rage and shame. Producing life changing shifts not only for themselves but so many around them.

What would happen if clinical psychology as a culture took up this call? Where would it take us? How might our professional world be different if there was a place to go where you are nurtured to become yourself. Letting go of the need to cover up or defend and instead accept all of your idiosyncrasies, fears, wounds, false belief systems, flaws, difficult moods, body size, skin colour, gender, sexuality etc and be supported as unique and imperfect instead of hiding, rejecting and wishing that we were different or like somebody else.

Ironically, when a person or culture claims and accepts their shadow, that which is rejected and suppressed about themselves, transforms from being a source of shame to being strength of character - the unwanted frog becomes a perfect partner. The pain and shame offer soul. Such people and systems give others permission to accept themselves as they are, their freedom becomes contagious. There is so much potential in our professional world. Imagine if as a profession we could embrace this. This is the profession to which I want to belong to.


As a final attempt to convey my point I will turn to The West Indian poet Derek Walcott . He describes this process incredibly in his poem Love After Love:


The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other's welcome,


and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you


all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,


the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.




By libbynugent, Sep 1 2019 12:42PM

In my therapeutic work as a clinical psychologist I have regular supervision. In fact it is a professional requirement. It is essential to my work and keeps me focussed on what is going on as well as providing me with great insight and support. One of the most valuable lessons I have been offered, over and over is this: it is not about me.


This sounds obvious. I’m there to support people. It's the client who is the center of attention, and everyone knows it. But learning to decenter the self, in order to place someone else at the center, is always harder than it sounds. It is obvious. But it's not easy. Often our drive to help, be useful and take care are really about centering our own needs to be seen as useful or caring and not about what is going on for the person sitting opposite me. It is so tricky that I now consider learning to decenter myself as an ongoing task - a bit like a form of emotional personal hygiene.


For me, there are two distinct tasks required to achieve this. First, it means working to deliberately put to one side my doubt about being good enough and let go of any impulsive reaction to this thought of wanting to show how hard I am trying to do a good job. I think this is a human default phenomenon - imposter syndrome. But I have to tolerate this feeling of not knowing rather than act it out. Providing therapy and working as a qualified clinician isn't about proving myself, to anyone. Not to the individuals or services that might employ me; not to the doctors, social workers or nurses around me; not to myself, even. It's about being there. It's about paying attention to what's happening with someone else, closely, so that I can witness as much as possible what is going on, maybe gain some understanding and maybe even anticipate needs as they arise, so that maybe, just maybe, I might offer an intervention. In theory this should occur without my needing any acknowledgment from the client of my internal world because it's not about me, what I know, what I don't know, or even some of the more noble reasons I’m there. It is about the other.


Second, it means identifying, owning, sorting through my personal and social baggage around culture, life and relationships both good and bad. We don't get to leave these bags behind: I can't hide my gender, my white skin, my northern accent, my body shape and functioning, my clothing/hair choices etc so there is an importance placed on decentering them. But I can't decenter it if I don't know the personal value of these parts, their social currency and what these factors do to my relationships. For this I need curiosity, exploration and feedback. This task is uncomfortable and challenging at times but vitally important if I want to do this work.



I recently noticed some collective feedback to clinical psychologists. It was offered in reference to the ancient Greek myth of Procrustes who claimed he had a bed that could accommodate anyone perfectly of any height. I hadn’t heard of this myth before; it’s a powerful metaphor and cautionary tale:

It warns of the dangers of imposing our own ideas of what is helpful and necessary to do, in the name of caretaking and kindness to others;

It exposes how: what is storied up as kindness can often be thinly veiled aggression with entitlements enforced with tyranny.


The feedback came via social media. I occasionally had been involving myself in a Twitter debate regarding equitable access to clinical psychology training courses. Then I noticed these twitter posts:



“Really disappointed with *some* of the conversations on twitter regarding the low numbers of people from ‘BAME’ backgrounds on the DClinPsy. The conversations completely lack the voices of ‘BAME’ applicants & trainees”.


“Its impossible to sum up such complex conversations on twitter and it’s also quite bizarre for non-‘BAME’ people to discount real experiences of racism and discrimination in the profession.”


“Non-Bame people dominating these conversations reminds me of aggression disguised as hospitality. The greek myth of Procustes captures this behaviour very well.”




Not being familiar with the myth I went to Google ...


In the Greek myth, Procrustes was a son of Poseidon. Poseidon is the god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses and is considered one of the most bad-tempered, moody and greedy Olympian Gods. You can only imagine what his son would have experienced from him and what he had to learn to do to avoid his wrath and get his needs met. Procrustes lived in a stronghold on Mount Korydallos at Erineus. This resting place was along a sacred route between Athens and Eleusis and has many passers by. At this resting place he had a bed, in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night. He would tell them he had a bed that fitted all sizes perfectly. Everyone was welcome to stay. His kindness and hospitality was plentiful, yet things soon took a dark turn as when night falls he sets to work on them to either stretch them to fit the bed or amputate their excess length; in fact nobody ever fitted the bed exactly, everybody had to be adjusted. Procrustes continued his reign of terror until he was captured by Theseus, travelling to Athens along the sacred way, who "fitted" Procrustes to his own bed.


Theseus became known as the unifying king. He battled and overcame foes that were identified with an allegiance to an archaic religious and social order. His role has been called the “agent of major cultural transition”.


The term “Procrustean” has now been appropriated in English and used to refer to situations where different shapes, sizes or properties are force fitted to an arbitrary standard. This is what can happen when our ideas, attitudes and generalised societal norms are left in the centre of our thinking and we attempt to impose them. They stretch apart or cut off the unique aspects of the self or group that doesn’t fit in, and forces these parts to hide. Instead we wear masks.


Clinical Psychology culture often has an excellent critical eye. This is a good thing in so many ways as it allows us to identify need and be truly hospitable care takers in terms of our formulations and research endeavours; but this critical eye also has a shadow. Particularly when turned internally or on to othered aspects of the group or the self. As a culture we are able to use this critical function and provide relentless adjustment in the name of support: We can have opinions on everything. This constant need to tweak narrative - to find the flaw and offer improvement can be destructive. I think it comes from a place of our culture aspiring to provide perfect caregiving,


Most psychologists are familiar with the concept of the ‘good enough’ mother. However whilst never explicitly said, giving imperfect but ‘good enough’ care is often understood as being something that has to be tolerated like a ‘just passed’ grade: a shameful defeat that has been salvaged by compromise or a sad ‘settling for and making do” because of life’s limitations. Good enough is rarely discussed as the thing that is desirable of itself. That “good enough” is what is essential to provide optimal opportunities for relationship and exchange between carer and caregiver. We all need a little wiggle room in bed, and some more than others.



As for the twitter debate: whiteness is a collective effort and not really about any one person’s individual contribution. No one person could be called Procrustes, but a group of us working together creates the same effect. Each white worldview jumping in to be ‘helpful’ is like another chisel cut, or twist to stretch the bed. Our collective helpfulness in saying to the other, “we will do this for you”. We know what you need, and we will help you, is really an instrument for dominance being used to assimilate the other into the shape we want.


This noticing is not an endorsement for negligence, rather an encouragement to find our internal and collective Theseus. The travellers on the mythic journey did need rest and care. It is not a case of ignoring and dismissing those that walk past our door on their quest. It is cruel and uncaring to not address wounds and tend to fatigue from the journey when we have resources. However, just as the myth ended, we need to kill off our Prosecutes culture, by being mindful of who is dominating our conversations, whose voices are centred and inviting them to decentralised. There are other ways. We need to learn to unify and integrate the different voices in community: to take individual and collective responsibility for the self awareness required to achieve this. We need to practice the discipline of tolerating our fears and learning what social and cultural baggage we bring to the conversations we are trying to have so that we can work at decentering them and creating space for care.




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