I’m in the middle of writing a long post responding to the ideas in several articles I’ve just found on the topic of how psychotherapy and political activism (in these articles, specifically feminism, but has broader applications) have incompatible goals. I don’t agree with every single part of the articles, but I’m finding a lot of them say exactly what I’ve been thinking for a long time. And I can’t write the full post now because I’ve got a nasty migraine, so I’m settling for discussion of one part.
One of the most interesting comments someone made in one of them, was about something I’ve noticed happening to me a lot: Being accused simultaneously of being too emotional, and of not “opening up” enough emotionally. The author discussed this mainly in terms of social class, but acknowledged that many of the things she was describing were things that could happen on the basis of other differences.
Anyway, she said that the difference was between two different approaches to emotion. The more therapized version, she said, involved a totally intellectualized version of emotion in which, for instance, someone could calmly sit around and say something like “I have a lot of anger issues around that” and then go into a lot of “process” (a word I still don’t understand, but that I’ve heard a lot in these contexts) about it. The other version, her version, did not involve saying things like that, but did involve actually acting pissed off when pissed off. It was more about having emotions integrated into your daily life without necessarily going “Here, here’s an emotion, I’m going to dissect it and destroy it because it’s scary unless I can do that.”
Anyway, she said that this way of doing things could get her in a lot of trouble at political meetings of people who saw things in a very therapized light. She might raise her voice or use forceful language when she got mad about something, and people could then call her “too emotional” and tell her to “quit scaring people”. But then she would not be sitting around publicly describing every nuance of her internal emotional state — that is something she reserves for close friends, and still probably doesn’t do in a therapy-like way — and would thus be also regarded as “too guarded” and “not opening up enough”.
This explains a whole lot about how people react to me. Apparently the “I am nice” signals I’ve talked about, are partly signals of using the sorts of language accepted in the therapy culture, which is part of why I get seen as, well, not very nice. And as too emotional in various contexts. And so forth. And apparently the fact that I don’t self-therapize in public (or for that matter in private, although like the author I was reading there’s a lot I’ll discuss in private that I’ll never discuss in public) also contributes to the fact that I often get responses like “I know what you’re about, but you don’t let us know who you are” or “We’ve known you a long time but I don’t think any of us really know you” or “You need to learn to open up more about your feelings” and so forth. These things had always baffled me, especially since they’re often said by the same people who are super-uncomfortable with any actual display of emotion on my part, but who go on and on and on about their own emotions (in that detached sort of way) at length and in fairly non-productive ways.
So… this makes sense to me. It’s two different ways of experiencing and looking at emotions, and I’m far more into the “If I’m scared or mad I’m going to act scared or mad rather than talk pseudo-objectively about my ‘fear or anger issues’” range of things despite being heavily and forcibly therapized at one point in my life. (The forcibly therapized bit just means some echolalia along those lines will occasionally slip out.)