Discover more from LaChelle Rising
intellectualizing the healing
unpacking therapy-speak and the limitations of mental health content
I'm not sure about your algorithm, but I regularly stumble across podcasts, Instagram carousels, TikToks, and reposted soundbites that help contextualize experiences that made me feel alone, ashamed, and misunderstood for many years. It's almost as if scrolling on Instagram and TikTok provides a mini therapy session by validating my feelings. Mental wellness and trauma-informed content affirm my choice to set boundaries, reparent myself, and give myself grace as I continue the arduous practice of healing. As positive as this shift is, there are some drawbacks. For starters, social media content is not a replacement for therapy, and an increase in content doesn’t automatically translate to an increase in collective mental awareness. We can engage with content that defines issues we’re working through, but putting a name to a problem doesn’t always result in an incisive understanding of how it relates to our personal issues. It’s not uncommon for people to have confirmation bias, cognitive distortions, or to create self-fulfilling prophecies. I don’t see many conversations in these spaces that address the narratives we create about our interpersonal relationships that don’t account for our blind spots. We can like, share and comment all we want, but how much of that activity shows us where we are falling short, not just the flaws of people who have harmed us?
In many ways, this trend is representative of a collective shift in generational attitudes toward mental wellness and what constitutes unhealthy relationships, specifically in familial systems. Within this shift is a decreased tolerance for people who cannot be accountable for their actions and fail to do "the work" to recondition themselves into more self-aware people. Writing people off as "toxic" and recalling moderately unpleasant experiences as "traumatic" (even if we minimize the real meaning of trauma in the process) has become a trend. In general, useful information spread via social media is often truncated to cater to the limited attention span of users. This results in a diluted understanding of psychological concepts, which then become regurgitated buzzwords (the misuse of the word ‘gaslighting’ is a great example of this). People often engage in therapy-speak without knowing how to do the uncomfortable work of speaking to the heart and relating to deeply flawed people on a human level. This is not an attempt to trivialize anyone’s lived experiences or the significant breakthroughs they’ve had from this type of social media content. My hope is that we reexamine the limitations of therapy-speak as a tool for proactively healing ourselves and our relationships.
In recent years, I've been empowered through social media content (and working with an actual therapist) to take a step away from unhealthy relationships that reached an impasse. It's very challenging to do this with familial relationships specifically because while they may be devoid of the emotional safety needed to co-exist in them authentically, it doesn't change how painful it is not to have people you love in your life. Taking a step away to self-preserve gave me the space to reflect on how and if I can move forward with people who don’t understand therapy-speak or believe in therapy at all.
"Hurt people hurt people" is often used as a justification when unpacking emotional wounds, but I think it's deeper than that. It's one thing to be hurt or traumatized and inflict the same on another person; it's another to have a limited capacity to understand the why behind all of it.
My beliefs around healing and forgiveness differ significantly from how I was informed during my Black American Christian upbringing. I don't believe praying about struggles is a proactive way to work through them. I don't think that forgiveness is required of all of us or that everyone is necessarily worthy of it. This doesn't change the fact that I inhabit a culture and family system that believes in the opposite. You can spend years reading self-help books, going to therapy, journaling, and thinking critically, but none of that prepares you for how isolating the journey toward healing intergenerational trauma can be. Your healing becomes something bigger than learning how to cope with mental health issues caused by experiences you had 20+ years ago. You are healing for your family, ancestors, community, children, or future offspring. It's grueling work that can go unnoticed if you are in relationships with people who do not value or understand its significance. Only you are keenly aware of how transformative it is, and the people you think your healing can serve may not even recognize it as something you're doing to improve your relationships. You start to think, "if only they could also read this book, talk to this therapist, learn this information, we could get along, and everything would be rainbows and butterflies," but everyone is not going to do that, even if they did, it doesn't necessarily mean they will be able to contextualize their emotions and psychological issues in the same way that you do. And it's not necessarily because they don't care to or that they're just irredeemably toxic. Some folks simply do not have the aptitude to do so.
We rarely talk about how a base level of intelligence and educational privilege is required even to begin understanding the psychological concepts that put a name to behaviors and relationship dynamics that have harmed us.
Practicing compassion towards people who hurt you is often the first step toward healing. I don't mean compassion in a way that absolves them from their behavior or deluding ourselves into thinking the harm we endured wasn't as bad as it was. "Hurt people hurt people" is often used as a justification when unpacking emotional wounds, but I think it's deeper than that. It's one thing to be hurt or traumatized and inflict the same on another person; it's another to have a limited capacity to understand the why behind all of it. We rarely talk about how a base level of intelligence and educational privilege is required to even begin understanding the psychological concepts that put a name to behaviors and relationship dynamics that have harmed us. It's narrow-minded to think that everyone can come to the same realizations we've come to in the same ways, especially when we're talking about incredibly complex issues.
Sometimes our boundaries are just barricades that keep us stunted and from doing the hard work of repairing broken relationships.
Oddly enough, coming into this understanding has made me incredibly grateful. Yes, I've been hurt and experienced things that have created behaviors and thought patterns I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to unlearn and reframe, but I'm incredibly fortunate to have this skill. I'm also fortunate that in taking space, I've built a muscle for regulating my emotions. How I will use these skills to reconcile strained relationships remains to be seen. First, I must assess if the relationships I've walked away from are salvageable. What good, if any, remains in them? Will rebuilding these relationships leave me vulnerable to enduring re-opened wounds or new wounds? Do I have an increased capacity to heal from new wounds? Can I co-exist with this person by setting compassionate boundaries that hold space for our differing limitations? Can I redirect and self-regulate my emotions when I sense old patterns emerging? More importantly, which approach generates the most transformative healing: reconditioning the relationship through a different approach with a newly increased awareness or remaining no contact and siloed in my healing journey?
An essential aspect of gaining more emotional fortitude is learning discernment. Some relationships are irreparable, but to determine that, we have to begin rewriting the narratives we create about them and consider if there is a way to tailor our approach to them that is cognizant of each person's differing limitations within the relationship. Sometimes our boundaries are just barricades that keep us stunted and from doing the hard work of repairing broken relationships. Intellectualizing your feelings is not the same thing as truly understanding, feeling, or working through them— there are extra steps that need to be taken, and the pacing of those steps is up to you (if you choose to take them at all). As for my strained relationships, I don't have a concrete answer on the way forward at this stage. However, asking myself these questions and considering reimagining and rebuilding rather than deeming estrangement a permanent solution is a step toward a more enlightened direction.
Corregidora by Gayl Jones
In my last newsletter, I talked about Black Women Writers at Work by Claudia Tate, which introduced me to so many Black women authors that I'm so sad I've only just now discovered, one of them being Gayl Jones. I was happy to stumble across this book at the bookstore and figured it was a sign I should pick it up (I honestly will find any excuse to buy a book even though I have NO business doing so with my neverending TBR list). A trigger warning is necessary for this book as it deals with abuse, SA, and incest. However, it gave me a lot to reflect on regarding intergenerational trauma, misogynoir, and the hypersexualization of Black girls and women. It's a short but profound read.
Unprisoned on Hulu
This show is the main reason I’m writing this newsletter. It gave me so much to think about and hit so close to home (literally, it’s based in my hometown, and Delroy Lindo’s character has some eery similarities to my father). Kerry Washington plays a hot mess of a marriage and family therapist who is a walking contraction. Her father (played by Lindo) is released from prison after 17 years, and she’s forced to take her daddy issues home with her literally. It’s a refreshing series that does away with the lazy strong Black woman trope and addresses how to move through deep-seated hurt and allow space for redemption for the people who have hurt us.
Pretty self-explanatory. I made this playlist of songs I often revisit for someone who was going through a tough time. Maybe it will come in handy for you one day.
If you liked this newsletter, please share or post about it and tag me.
Catch me on these digital streets.