Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ignoring Mental Injury

I want to talk more about this concept of "mental illness" versus my preferred term "mental injury."

To begin with, as one commenter pointed out, mental injury feels like something that has an end...like we can heal and move on. I love that observation.

Another difference, of course, is that injury clearly implies that something happened to make you feel this way, react this way, be this way.

And something did happen.

This is one of the dirty little secrets of the mental health community: There is a REASON you feel the way you do, but they like to brush that stuff under the rug and hand you your pills instead.

Expressing that reason fully, having it validated, and then figuring out how to move beyond it is the real solution to most mental injuries. So why don't we just do this?

As psychiatrist Judith Herman points out in her very important book, we can't admit all of this because it would mean, at its very base, admitting to and exposing the vast array of abuses of children and women in our Western culture.  (Also see the work of Alice Miller, in particular this book.)

(And for an infuriating read on how we have pathologized women to keep them in their place, go here.)

All of this admitting to how abusive we are as a culture has huge implications for how this culture does business in general (and by "business" I mostly mean "war"), and for a good read regarding that go visit my friend, who is getting delightfully fired up about the macro (whereas I work in the micro).

And something to begin thinking about:

Humiliations, spankings and beatings, slaps in the face, betrayal, sexual exploitation, derision, neglect, etc. are all forms of mistreatment, because they injure the integrity and dignity of a child, even if their consequences are not visible right away. However, as adults, most abused children will suffer, and let others suffer, from these injuries....Most people tolerate this blindly because the origins of human violence in childhood have been and are still being ignored worldwide. Almost all small children are smacked during the first three years of life when they begin to walk and to touch objects which may not be touched. This happens at exactly the time when the human brain builds up its structure and should thus learn kindness, truthfulness, and love but never, never cruelty and lies. Fortunately, there are many mistreated children who find helping witnesses and can feel loved by them.  -- Alice Miller


Jaliya said...

"Be the change you wish to see in the world," Gandhi said, and here you are, being the change :-)

I so agree with you, Christine. I've come to abhor the term "mental illness". It's vague and usually comes with a (hidden or not) sneer.

Richard Mollica, a physician who wrote a powerful book called *Healing Invisible Wounds*, calls trauma 'the existential injury'. When I read that, I wept. THAT'S IT!, I thought. A person's entire existence is wounded in trauma, because trauma threatens one's entire life.

In my experience, injury can become illness when it occurs again and again, leaving deep and vast aftermaths throughout a whole person. I see the illness as what arrives after, and underlies, the injury -- if the injury itself is not tended to. Perhaps what we call illness is actually a symptom that has arisen from an untended injury, or one that has been 'treated' inappropriately.

Judith Herman, Alice Miller, YOU --> wise sages!

P.S. The new header / design of your blog = gorgeous! :-)

Tess Giles Marshall said...

This different terminology is brilliant. It permits causes to be named and blamed and, as you say, also allows the potential for healing.

I love the quote you have from Alice Miller about injuring integrity. "Integrity: the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished" is what my dictionary says, and I think that word undiminished is of utmost importance here.

Beautifully thoughtful post. And the links to what others have written look intriguing. Will follow them up tomorrow.

ellen said...

I like the term mental injury...never heard it before. I think too I'm basically lucky anti depressant drugs didn't work well for me and made me ill. The individual who prescribed them was also completely uninterested in my past. So I'm on the same page Bliss Chick. Looking at what might be making us feel bad and expressing that is hard work, but good work in the end.