Memory for Liberation: From the Therapy Office to the U.S. Stage
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
We know that for healing, therapy frequently involves taking an honest and often painful look at our history, reclaiming unknown, unacknowledged or disowned parts of ourselves and our experiences, and the ways these may impact us today. We often must make room for, reckon with, and honor these various aspects of ourselves and our histories to truly liberate ourselves both in feeling and in action - for the present and for our future. I believe this reflects an immense act of difficulty and ultimately of self-love.
A parallel process appears to be developing within the United State's consciousness, as numerous voices and groups previously ignored, devalued, and silenced, with (small but increasing) space, are calling upon our collective consciousness to acknowledge, own, and reckon with our hidden and denied historical memories and events related to the oppressions woven into our history.
While opponents of this drive for historical memory reclamation decry that the underlying motivations of such individuals and groups is to defame America's identity, to poison its already healthy consciousness, and to divide us, these are merely tactics of gaslighting and DARVO (more on DARVO in a future post). Just like gaslighting can be used in abusive relationships to deny a person's historical and/or current reality and events in order to maintain abusive power, so too, does this occur on the broader U.S. stage, keeping our collective historical memory unhealthily suppressed and invalidated so that it creates space for the few to gorge themselves on resources and power and restrict access for others to live their lives with basic rights, dignity, humanity, and physical and mental health.
I would argue (along with many others) that disowning our collective history harms not only those who face oppression but those in power too. I can't find the quote, it's something along the lines of "Allowing a person to act in ways that diminishes others also diminishes the self." Devaluing the humanity of others inherently devalues one's own humanity. I remember a former supervisor talking to a fellow trainee who brought an issue to our group supervision - her client was being verbally abusive towards her and she didn't know what to do. My supervisor told her that therapists, just like everyone else, should not have to endure abuse. And then she put forth the argument that allowing her client to engage with her in this way was also detrimental to his own mental health and wellbeing. This dynamic and situation was harmful for them both.
Related to this idea is one of my absolute favorite quotes (again, I'm sure, along with many others) by Lilla Watson: "If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
Anyone who's done a true reckoning with themselves knows that it is done from a place of hope with the goal of connection rather than from a place of condemnation with the goal of separation - otherwise it would not be worth the immense effort and pain it entails. The same is true of this moment in our collective consciousness and history - these calls for memory reclamation are about making a healthy, whole, and liberated collective, in the present and for our future - a profound act of collective love, healing, and transformation.