A Final Letter to Radical Activists Who Think Emotional Work Is Less Important than Political Work

For the last time: it is the same work, people. Literally the same.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

I promise, after this rant, I am done explaining this one. So, one final time:

Any attempt at social change without centering emotional change will perpetuate the same cycles of suffering and injustice, because emotional transformation and social justice are the same work.

Let’s break it down:

Real social change can’t happen without democracy. Democracy requires power sharing. Power sharing requires giving up your monopoly on control. Giving up your monopoly on control requires trust. Trust requires confronting your own traumas and fears.

Without confronting our own traumas and fears, we perpetuate the need for power hierarchy because we fear that, if we are not in control, we will not be safe. This happens in macro ways and micro ways.

Real social change can’t happen without cooperation. Cooperation requires mutual aid. Mutual aid requires understanding one another’s needs, as well as our own. Understanding someone else’s needs requires empathizing with them. Understanding your own needs requires empathizing with yourself. Empathizing with anyone, especially yourself, requires confronting your own traumas and fears.

Without confronting our own traumas and fears, we perpetuate the need for competition (which is, at its most extreme form, war) because we fear that, if we do not come out on top, we will not have our needs met. This happens in macro ways and micro ways.

Real social change can’t happen without justice. Justice is an act of reparation after harm; it is healing. Real reparation is empathetic and transformative. Empathy and transformation require confronting your own traumas and fears.

Without confronting our own traumas and fears, we perpetuate cycles of harm and injustice, because we fear that truly taking accountability for harming others and changing our ways would cause too much shame. We value our own feelings of comfort over the needs of others. This happens in macro ways and micro ways.

Real social change can’t happen without real inclusion of those who have been excluded. Real inclusion requires empathy and understanding. Real inclusion requires trust. Empathy, trust and understanding require confronting your own traumas and fears.

Without confronting our own traumas and fears, we perpetuate exclusion because we fear that, if we truly include the needs of others, we will not have our own needs met. This happens in macro ways and micro ways

If you do not confront your own traumas and fears, and start working through them actively, you will continue to perpetuate cycles of authoritarianism, power monopoly, competition, injustice and exclusion in all that you do.

“The revolution” is not more important than emotional growth and trauma healing. Trauma healing and emotional growth are the revolution. On the micro (personal and interpersonal) scale, we call this emotional work. On the macro (social and global) scale, we call this social or political work. One is not more important than the other, for they are literally the same thing. It’s the same work.

None of this “I’ll confront my trauma after the revolution” crap. The process of confronting and healing trauma is the revolution. That’s what we’re all doing here: confronting and healing trauma on the personal, interpersonal and societal levels. Same shit, different toilets.

Understanding that justice is healing, healing is justice, and both are absolutely necessary — this will make both “sides” of the work happen faster and more smoothly. Prioritize the emotional work and you’ll stop hurting your comrades as much. Your radical organizations won’t break down. You won’t get so burnt out. Your relationships won’t be so toxic and harmful. You’ll be a better revolutionary. Your political work will improve.

I promise you. But you have to trust me on this: the emotional work is just as important.

Or, to put it this way: by not confronting your own emotional traumas, you are actively perpetuating injustice in all that you do. You are part of the problem until you actively participate in the solution. If you want to heal the world, you have to face your feelings and your fears.

To say it louder for folks in the back — emotional work is political work; political work is emotional work. They are the same work. There is not an order of importance or necessity. They are exactly the same fucking thing. It’s all trauma healing.

Let’s all start acting like it.

We are all practicing our own consciousness and none of us is perfect at it yet. It’s a practice. No one can reasonably expect perfection of you overnight, nor can you expect perfection of yourself. At the same time (who loves a dialectic?), everyone also has the right to get upset when they get hurt. You can make mistakes, and you can hurt people, and other people can be upset about them.

But like with all of the work we do — keep going. It’s worth it. You can ask for help if you need it.

But for the love of all that is holy, stop pretending emotional work isn’t absolutely central to the revolution. Emotional and political transformation are one and the same. You literally can’t do one without the other.

(To anyone who only prioritizes emotional, psychological or spiritual work because engaging with social or political suffering feels too divisive, difficult, negative or antagonistic, listen up: emotional and political transformation are one and the same. You literally can’t do one without the other.)

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