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Listening To The Self Amidst Internalised Stigma

Some (long) thoughts from Natalie: I read this tweet by @DurgadasADuriel with interest. I think it is spot on and the 'discernment' he talks about explains the focus of the work we do with our peers at in2gr8mentalhealth. I believe in the power of energy or qi, and in body intelligence. I'm currently following a taoist path which helpfully took no notice of Cartesian dualism, the mind - body split, and it's impact on the growth of atomised Western 'medicine', so I certainly wouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater; but feelings in the body, where is so important to be able to trust these, can be complex and conflicted when interrupted, masked or warped by the power of negative 'social conditioning'. This happens in the case of internalised stigma, societies have long promulgated the harmful message: 'as a person with mental health difficulties, you are worthless and have nothing to offer'. When we work with individuals and systems on internalised stigma, we create energy around this issue and direct it towards the areas that individuals and systems need to pay attention to (much like the use of acupuncture in Traditional Chinese Medicine). For systems, we help them pay attention to the myriad insidious ways mental health stigma operates in organisational structures, gets 'operationalised' in policies and covertly or overtly gets 'messaged out'. For peers we help them pay attention to the fact that this 'messaging' process is powerful and exists, and that malign, stigmatised beliefs from society and it's institutions can be introjected or internalised (ie the individual receives and deeply agrees, more or less consciously, with the message 'as a person with mental health difficulties you are worthless and have nothing to offer'). Powerful historical and current discourses of mental health prejudice are still upheld in our societies and in all of our institutions. Back to the 'discernment': once the introjection/internalising process from society is understood, it is validated through fellow peer experience, supported through solidarity, and then given help to 'discern' it from their true Self (a myriad of wonderful personal attributes including worthiness and talent for example). We can go further and explain more subtle aspects of what gets 'messaged out' from systems, here you get further into the world of psychoanalytic theory and look at what and how systems can project - which, like all us humans, is often all the things we don't like to think of about ourselves, the things that make us feel uncomfortable, and it's often things that give rise to feelings of vulnerability. What we know clearly is that systems do not like to feel vulnerable themselves either. System vulnerability can look like anything that threatens its ability to meet its promises, tasks or financial viability for example. Systems can see mental health difficulties in its workforce as impediments to growth or sustainability, much more so than physical health difficulties because of the huge stigma attached.

The peer often shoulders the weight of feeling like the impediment, but who or what is really impeded? Is it the person, or is it the system that hasn't yet devised ways of actually working with a human population that can be widely vulnerable? Who do systems think is in them and working for them? It is standard that all people will struggle from time to time with different things in life. Systems should be built around interaction with life and humanity and it's ebbs and flows of good and difficult energy just as it is, rather than idealised versions of us all which actually leave systems vulnerable. What this often means is capacity building (great in the time of underfunding!), the capacity to move around absence and distress with simply a 'what do you need?' question, and an ability to resource the spaces left whilst people rest from work. Let's build this way, rather than ignore or dismiss vulnerability or hope it won't happen, this can lead to to merciless and unwarranted feelings and actions in organisations, and actually a more vulnerable even less resourced system. What we do here at in2gr8, is to ask of systems: 'how do you understand the humanity that works inside you and for you?' 'To what extent do you understand that all people in any role can experience difficulties? Do you understand that we are flesh and blood? How do you form policies, position statements and guidances around that? How do you build in capacity for when people will need to rest from work *as a default*? How do you understand mental health difficulties? ...and much much more... There is so much going on for peers, who are recipients of so much harmful stigma, it is essential to be able to to return to the Self and discern what is going on, to elaborate the useful internal conflict they will find between the Self and the system, and oust the shame and worthlessnes. This often involves a move from nurturing a listlessness, to a shift through rage as a part of that ousting process which is understood here and held, directed into activism and celebrated as part of the journey. It results in a 'clearing of the screen' so internal beliefs are increasingly divested of deleterious social messaging, and there is an upsurge in an energy which increasingly enables the beautiful navigation from a trusted centre/gut/heart to guide through the social morass. The internal world becomes a trusty North Star. This is an incredible experience for many of us who have been through it. Here we are back to 'energy doesn't lie' and 'trust your gut': once energies have been cleared enough from what gets put into us from toxicities in systems, we can begin to operate from a powerful self-trusting position. But if you are resonating with words like 'energy' and 'gut', watch out for the denigration of energy work, it's not much liked here in the West probably because it hasn't been attended to in many randomised controlled trials yet. This is the West's infancy and ignorance and the result of Karl Popper's influence on the process of science - that's fine, for some it is important to have some rigour, it'll come in time I believe. Til then, about four to five thousand years of incredible Indian (prana) or Chinese (qi) work must sit at the 'feet' of Western clinical trial doors waiting 'humbly' to be let in...I say the sooner we enegage with the possibilities of energy work (we are all energy) in a humble and genuinely curious manner, and egos, restricted thinking and cultural biases are challenged, the better. I'm off to do zhan zhuang standing qigong and Yang family style Tai Chi Chuan, and feel the increasing sensitivity that I am cultivating to my own and others' energy in a different way than I learned something similar but different in working with projections and counter transference. You have read integrations of psychoanalytic theory (introjection, projection) internal familiy systems work (Self), broad systemic thinking (individual and system relationships), and consideration some Taoist principles (qi energy work particularly amongst much more that I haven't said). At ' in2gr8' we do as it says on the tin, we 'integrate' mindfully for increased strength - on all levels. Thank you for reading a rather large post written whilst I'm battling a new invasive and functionally impairing tinnitus. It has helped to try to distract myself and stay with it. Qigong has been recommended for tinnitus didn't you know? All best from us here, as always.

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