Our Heart and Spirit Wounds Do Not Make Us Mentally Ill

Pixabay image (#1739639)

Feelings charts can be a helpful way to identify feelings:

Image source.

A more expanded range of feelings and emotions:

“Emotion Wheel” via The Juno Institute via @DanaSuchow on Instagram.

Emotions are human responses to our environment.

If someone yells at me, I won’t like it. I may feel hurt, confused, angry, or scared. Some folks would reflexively self-defend and yell back, while others would freeze, fawn or run. Freeze, flight, fight and fawn are universal survival responses to danger among all living beings.

Trauma expert Judith Herman explains:

Psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force. When the force is that of nature, we speak of disasters. When the force is that of other human beings, we speak of atrocities. Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning.

The normal human phenomenon of feeling is getting so lost and misunderstood that we are being told our feelings are disorders and illnesses in need of specific kinds of treatment that often cause more harm than any good.

The human experience of having emotions is increasingly being judged, policed and punished.

Colonist culture appears to have a fear of, and backlash to humans having feelings and expressing our emotions. This is resulting in humanphobia and is especially the case in the world of psychiatry/psychology and its “mental illness” diagnoses and “treatments”.

Mental, emotional and spiritual pain is very real and requires tending to, but it is not like treating a broken bone or other injury or illness that is biological and physical in nature, though responsively, the same kind of emotional care, compassion and tenderness is needed. Sidebar: Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are a real and serious thing, but they are not mental illnesses — they are physical injuries to the head which affect the brain and its functioning.

How did emotional and spiritual injuries result in an explosion of mental illnesses and disorders?

The DSM is a baseless, harmful document grounded in the PHILOSOPHICAL ASSUMPTION that mental, emotional and spiritual distress is a biomedical condition.

For example, the DSM listed homosexuality as a “mental illness” and only removed in the 1970’s. This is wholly philosophical mental gymnastics, grounded in misogyny and homophobia, which usually go hand in hand.

Image by Natasha Sandy. IACP article source here.

In addition to misogyny and homophobia, psychiatry is also grounded in racism. It is a colonial institution that upholds the patriarchal, white supremacist, colonist-capitalist-imperialist order of things:

Incarceration via psychiatry enabled the punishment of those who violated race hierarchies; the suppression of anti-colonial and anti-racist resistance; the termination of reproduction — cultural, social and physical, since sterilization was a routine practice; and the perpetuation of slave relations through the forced labour of psychiatric inmates.

The routine neglect and violence experienced in these spaces belied the stated concern with mental and emotional recovery.

Outside of physical containment, psychiatry offered up the objectivity and altruism of its discipline to justify and naturalize unequal race relations. Psychiatry theorized that Black people were psychologically suited for subordination; and developed “drapetomania” to diagnose the Black pathology of resisting slavery and fleeing one’s captors.

Similarly, psychological portraits of Indigenous peoples characterized them as primitive — in a state of child-like cognitive under-development that precluded complex thought, and kept them driven by intuition and superstition. This helped to spin colonial domination as analogous to the protective and loving paternalism of a parent-child relationship.

Psychiatry’s historical deployment towards racial and colonial subordination doesn’t merely reflect the misapplication of an otherwise bona fide discipline. Rather, psychiatric thought and research has been fundamentally propelled by the colonial/racial need to “control … through the production of knowledge.”

by Khadijah Kanji (full article here).

To pathologize someone is to consider them psychologically abnormal or unhealthy.

How can we trust or take seriously psychiatry’s declarations and diagnoses of individual people’s abnormality and unhealth when these assessments come from a culture that is deeply abnormal and unhealthy?

The makers of the DSM have essentially pathologized the human experience — specifically, the part where we have feelings, reactions and survival responses to the world around us.

This makes it way harder to heal because we must feel to heal, or at the least, we must be able to express the emotions we have to distressing experiences.

Emotional and spiritual recovery includes resistance to oppression, whether it is behind closed doors or the socio-cultural and political environment we live in.

In a culture that teaches, demands and rewards compliance and punishes dissent, what does that say about healing?

The late Bonnie Burstow, a University of Toronto professor, radical feminist therapist and prolific author, explains that diagnosing people using psychiatry’s biomedical framework “cannot do justice to the psychological misery of people’s lives, never mind the social conditions that give rise to the misery.”

Retired professor, feminist, writer and activist Georgia NeSmith succinctly summarizes:

In short, the “science” of psychiatry/psychology is blind to systemic conditions and interprets all psychological problems as inherent in the individual, rather than a product of the existing organization of power relations.

As Nazanin Moghadami, a Registered Clinical Counsellor in Vancouver B.C. so aptly puts it:

The DSM fails everyone, even the cisgender, heterosexual, white, able-bodied folks. And if you’re coming from any cultural background other than that, you’re just mentally ill. The DSM is sex-shaming, life-shaming, grief-shaming and emotion-shaming. I really hope that we can collectively move towards trauma-informed, healing-centered care towards all beings that includes animals, nature and our planet.

Trauma-informed, healing centered mental health care means a) caring about, and b) tending to people’s trauma wounds by 1) doing tons of genuine, empathetic validating of their story(ies), especially their traumatic experiences, 2) making and holding a safe space and pace for the exploring and expressing of the different feelings attached to the trauma(s), and 3) collaboratively working to undo damaging scripts and behaviors that these wounds imprint on the psyche (e.g. shame, fear, self‐loathing), and gradually replacing them with kinder, more self‐compassionate scripts and behaviors.

It is very common to not know what it means to “feel our feelings,” especially for those of us born and bred in emotionally oppressive and repressive cultures.

Many of us were robbed of the ability to learn how to feel our feelings. Feeling our feelings became something associated with shame, “too much,” danger or an inconvenience.

And so instead of learning that our feelings are precious and good (and something we can’t actually eliminate), we learned they are dangerous. And with enough repetition, the feeling response in our body became paired with our survival system, meaning when a feelings arises, so does a trauma response.

The work of feeling is not just feeling out feelings — it’s about learning how to be safe in them and that we won’t be left when we have them. This is the wounding around feelings.

Getting into the body is not a simple choice. It is a process of relationship building and self-awareness. And it is really hard. It takes time learn that feelings don’t mean danger and that they won’t kill us.

We need many repeated experiences of “surviving” our feelings to become willing to release them freely and with more ease.

Source: Psychotherapist Tami Sasson

Therapies other than talk therapy are diverse and powerful. Animal therapy such as equine (horse) therapy has long been known to be incredibly effective, especially for treating trauma.

Creative, expressive therapies such as music, body work, dancing, acting, writing, painting, drawing and improv can do wonders for people’s mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Activism, social justice and abolitionist work — however that may look for us — can be powerful, therapeutic and liberating because it has us going outside of ourselves and connecting with others in shared values and visions and has us taking direct actions against oppressive factors that cause harm and trauma in the first place.

The power of art is magnified when it acts as a connection and change agent, because it begins to break down and reverse the formula for dis-empowerment:

Telling our story — in whatever way comes easiest and most natural to us — helps us understand who we are, and hearing other people’s stories is how we learn valuable, transformative life lessons.

Check out Layla’s Instagram page for empowering mental/emotional/spiritual education

The power of connection and storytelling cuts across all cultures and binds us in our collective humanity.

As Hannah Gadsby says, *connection* is the focus of the stories we need.

Connection is a core component of healing, and support is critical to help us get through difficult times in life.

The psychiatric industry pathologizes human distress by labeling people “mentally ill” and then “treats” alleged “mental disorders” in two ways:

(1) Coercing people into taking brain-damaging psychiatric drugs (i.e. anti-psychotics and anti-depressants (SSRI’s & SNRI’s)) which have been proven to increase rates of depression, suicidality and homicidality (source), and (2) Coercing people into seizure-inducing electro-shock “therapy”, which is now called “ECT” — electro-convulsive therapy — a brain-damaging and incredibly harmful psychiatric assault. This is not to say all psychotropic drugs are harmful; some are helpful and some are harmful.

SOCIAL CONTROL— not healing — is the bedrock of psychiatry. From this perspective, the DSM and its “diagnoses” and “treatments“ are highly effective because they render people POWERLESS.

Image: “Electroconvulsive Therapy” by ApocalypticPorcelain, Words: Lyrics from “Rise” by Public Image Ltd. (PiL) / Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols

Bonnie Burstow concisely summarizes the situation:

Psychiatry alienates people from their capacity to name, invalidates people’s conceptualizations, imposes a stigmatized identity on them, places them on paths not of their own choosing, deprives them of liberty, and imposes harmful treatments on them.

Ineffective, inhumane psychiatric “treatments” are traumatic and result in MORE distress and problems, and get people further away from healing, normalcy, health and balance.

Our feelings are what make us human and alive.

Only by safely moving towards our emotional and spiritual woundedness with Respect, Love and Support, can we begin to reduce and heal it.

What about hurts that feel like death of the heart and spirit?

This thing about falling apart, it doesn’t go away. Time doesn’t have that magic. Distance is one thing. But magic is something else. And there are some falling aparts there is no magic can fix. — John Trudell

Some heart and spirit pain is too deep to “recover” from. We can’t change history, but we can change the impact certain events have had on us by experiencing new felt realities (also known as corrective experiences).

We can reduce the intensity of our suffering over time and with much patience when Respect, Empathy and tons of Support is received, from others and from ourselves.

Pixabay image (#19513)

We need as much compassion and support as we can get, for as long as we need, in order to get through what we’re going through. This kind of connective healing support does not come from labels or chemical lobotomies or seizure-inducing electroshocks to the brain, it comes from tender, respectful people with kind and open hearts who safely MAKE SPACE for one another’s pain.

NOTE: This article is for the vast majority of The People. It does not apply to ~5% (?) of the world’s population such as those afflicted with the very real dis-ease of psychopathy and sociopathy, and who inflict infinite terrors upon others (including whole cultures) and who need to be kept away from The People for safety. That is a separate article.



Anti-colonial Psychotherapist & Rehumanizer: Own Your Value, Step Into Your Power, Seize Your Liberation https://www.instagram.com/rehumanizingourselves/

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Natasha Sandy

Anti-colonial Psychotherapist & Rehumanizer: Own Your Value, Step Into Your Power, Seize Your Liberation https://www.instagram.com/rehumanizingourselves/