Editor’s note: This post is the fifth of a series from Rene Henery, PhD, Science Director with TU’s California Program, on the connection between ecological restoration and conservation and healing ourselves of the wounds of systemic racism and other societal and historical injustices.
The healing journey: Different paths to a common destination
In previous posts in this series I share some of my personal experience and evolving understanding of colonialism and whiteness, the nature of the relational trauma they inflict through the weapons of othering and value structures external to and in conflict with intrinsic belonging, and how some of the resulting wounds have shown up in me in the forms of both victim and perpetrator identities.
My ongoing process of understanding my different parts and their different wounds has also revealed some of their (my) different healing needs, opportunities, and challenges on the pathway to belonging (just as a broken leg requires different forms of healing and tending than a systemic infection, or a broken heart).
Healing the Perpetrator
For my perpetrator identified parts, the primary healing need is internal. Often the guilt, shame, and by extension fragility these parts are carrying makes deep, honest introspection difficult.
These parts are often immature and underdeveloped. And it’s no wonder — they include parts of me which I have often denied existed, repressed or wished weren’t there. The result of that repression is that when they show up (in myself or in other people) they often act out, making me feel exposed, embarrassed, messy, ashamed, or out of control; afraid of being judged, that I am a bad person, that I am permanently damaged in some way; afraid of being seen for who I really am.
This is not to say that there isn’t external healing for my perpetrator parts to do as well: healing relationships with all those people and parts of their worlds that their guilt, shame, and resentment has prevented them from seeing, from being in connection with. The way the privilege of many of those perpetrator parts (some of my male identities as an example) has shaped them, however, often inhibits the self-awareness necessary for that external healing to occur.
Colonial acculturation makes my male identified parts think that what’s most important is that they (I) act, think, and lead. Over time, I am discovering that in the absence of feeling, listening to, being with, cultivating love for, and tending to all that is occurring inside, all of my actions, thinking, and attempts at leadership in the external world are simply spreading the pathogen of their (my) internal wounding to others and the collective.
For my privileged, male, perpetrator identified parts, business, action orientation, and leadership often function as bypasses or escapes, avoiding the hardest most important work.
It is that internal healing work — releasing guilt and shame in favor of accountability, listening to those repressed parts, without judgement in an effort to understand why they are behaving the way they are and tending to their needs — that allows my perpetrator parts to listen effectively to others, to be with the experiences of others even when different, to experience connection and compassion across difference, to heal, and to experience belonging.
To be clear, this is not to say that my perpetrator identified parts don’t need or shouldn’t act to make change in the world (to the contrary, they absolutely need to act and urgently, to wake from the sleep of their privilege and step out from behind the curtain of their shame). Rather, the capacity for those actions to create healing as opposed to more harm is a direct reflection of the extent of the internal work, self-awareness, and resulting ability to listen to and be with difference those parts have engaged in — the extent to which they have/ are actively engaged in healing.
The internal healing work for my perpetrator identified parts is also continually challenged by their relationship to privilege and power and the cultural narratives they have experienced. These narratives include explicit and implicit stories about how, for example, as a man I should be capable, have answers, act decisively, be strong, be successful, not show vulnerability, not show weakness, be a leader not a follower, and so on…
Simultaneously, those narratives and the blinders of privilege have complicated and obscured my self-awareness, and attunement to what my actual experience is. That, in turn, has meant that I didn’t recognize the wounds those parts were carrying (the wounds I was carrying). Even if I did, I may have felt ashamed of that recognition, simply wishing that those parts of me didn’t exist at all.
Increasingly, I am learning how it is not those parts of myself, but the wounds they carry that are simultaneously inhibiting me from realizing my own potential and perpetuating the suffering of others, and that is it incumbent upon me to do the work to heal them, the work to reveal their true healthy natures, the work only I can do.
That work to know, accept, and heal my perpetrator parts, has also been repressed in our culture, resulting in little public acknowledgement of, attention to or spaces for those parts to heal and have their needs tended to, especially within the realms of privilege. As a result, part of my work to heal them involves seeking out, identifying, and building the spaces and the support necessary to help them heal.
While I hope it doesn’t need to be said, I don’t see the challenge of perpetrator identities failing to address their healing needs as a function of privilege as unique to me or unique to perpetrator identified parts associated with male identity.
From my vantage, the wounds inflicted by colonialism and whiteness on white identified people are among the most pervasive, unacknowledged and untended in our society.
I see the extent and intensity of those untended wounds in all the white co-opting of black healing spaces, in slogans like #alllivesmatter, in the appropriation of symbology and practices from indigenous and other cultures that are perceived as more “connected” and having more access to inherent belonging. I see those untended wounds in pervasive xenophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, in the extent to which partisanship has become a core platform of many (mostly white male) US politicians, and in the signs and slogans at white-nationalist marches.
Amidst all of the voices trying to normalize, be like, other, or differentiate from, I cannot help but hear a deeper, wilder voice, muffled by the restraining hand of privilege, crying “I am hurting too; I am wounded too; I also need care; see me; hear me!”
Note: The resource list below is not intended to be comprehensive but rather, a partial introduction (in no particular order) to some of the concepts, work, and heart-centered beings that have been in my consciousness through my process of writing this.
- Resmaa MeneKam – Notice the Rage, Notice the Silence – Interview for podcast On Being with therapist, writer, and trauma specialist Resmaa Menekam.
- Dr. Michael Yellow Bird – Decolonizing the Mind: Healing through neurodecolonization and mindfulness – Talk by indigenous scholar, writer, speaker and healer, Professor Michael Yellow Bird.
To read the rest of Henery’s series, Recovering Belonging, click here.