Beatings Hurt, But Psychological Abuse Sometimes Hurts More
Being beaten, bullied, abused, and/or assaulted can scar a person for life. But, doing these same things emotionally, and telling the person that they should appreciate it is devastating beyond belief. This is emotional and psychological abuse. Period.
In fact, studies have shown that psychological abuse has effects that are at least as dangerous, if not more so, than physical abuse. Emotional pain and assault are real, and sometimes worse than physical pain.
One of the worst ways that emotional manipulation, oppression, abuse, paternalism — call it what you will — deeply harms is by fundamentally changing one’s sense of self and agency. If you’ve spent a lifetime experiencing microaggressions, lack of opportunities, surveillance, poverty, and/or overt racism and then meet a doctor who tells you that the emotional distress and fear you experience as a result are, in fact, symptoms of a brain/genetic illness in need of drugs (of course, their drugs, not yours!), your sense of defectiveness and helplessness risks becoming solidified at the very core.
Replacing the taser guns and brute force of militarized police with needles and the psychological manipulation and gaslighting from medicalized authoritarian do-gooders is flipping the same coin on its head. It’s like entering the Upside Down in Stranger Things.
I mean come on! Is this the best answer we, as a society, can come up with when calling for dismantling systems of oppression and racism?
Black Voices Matter
More than anything, being labeled as mentally ill and given mind-altering, numbing, and tranquilizing drugs serves first and foremost to silence and to tame the voices of the suffering. Trauma and oppression give way to chemical imbalances and brain diseases, despite no physical or scientific evidence to justify this.
People are not ill for being angry, crazed, overwhelmed, fearful, suspicious, hurt, sad, and/or unable to express it in ways others find tolerable. And, they sure as heck are not sick because they’re poor, despite the apparent fact that poverty has, quite literally, been medicalized and pathologized as “mental illness.”
The voices of the traumatized, the tortured, the oppressed, the abused, and the hurting deserve to be heard. Psychiatry will ensure that that only happens if it is done in a docile, pleasant, and non-discomforting, straightforward, logical manner. Even then, you’ll still be gaslighted into thinking you’re crazy or be told you’re just paranoid.
As stated in this recent article in The Atlantic: “The country needs to shift financing away from surveillance and punishment, and toward fostering equitable, healthy, and safe communities.”
Who can argue with that? If funding were directed toward programs and initiatives that provide basic needs, hope, and empowerment; if oppressive patriarchal systems were dismantled and rebuilt on a diverse platform of equality; if humanity and relationship were valued above money, retribution, and preparing for war, then we all might find the peace in our communities that we are hoping for. If we had universal healthcare, universal childcare, caring and empathic doctors of all kinds who were trained to listen instead of know everything, and interventions based on safety, validation, and empowerment, then maybe people might actually start to heal.
Sadly, however, the movement towards progress appears to be suggesting taking a parallel road that leads to reliance upon yet another racist system based on oppressive patriarchal ideals. While it might sound caring and kind to turn towards the mental health system to respond to community distress, it must be recognized that this is an intertwined system with that of the (in)justice system and is one equally built on institutional racism, surveillance, punishment, and abuse.
Having social workers, peer workers, and other advocates respond to emergency calls by providing de-escalation of crises through listening and facilitating problem-solving, and by offering home visits (particularly to the elderly and disabled) along with housing connections, food, supplies, family interventions, supportive relationships, and assessment of abuse is a promising initiative that should most certainly be funded to a greater extent than it is currently. More efforts toward inclusion of peers and community members versus healthcare workers is an even more promising step.
At the same time, having social workers, medicalized peer workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists respond to distress calls or community violence through the lens of getting them mental health treatment is simply replacing one racist, oppressive regime with another. They may not come in guns a-blazing or physically beating up innocent bystanders, but, as a system, they are granted the authority to psychologically manipulate your reality, beat you down with words and restraints, and drug you into submission — and insist you thank them for it afterward.
What is needed is anti-violence, preventative, humane, community-based initiatives, not another racist, White-centered, patriarchal, oppressive, violent, forceful system that is dictated by powerful White men and demands a submissive and complacent sort of happy silence.
People need to be brought together with compassion and harmony, not split apart and isolated through diagnosing their pain as existing in the brain, drugging them, and locking them away in a veiled jail cell.
Please, if change is gonna come, can we at least try to do better than this?