A therapist learns self-acceptance through her LGBT friends
By VIZLA KUMARESAN.
I grew up in a big house with a lot of people. The thing about big houses is that there are many rooms, and rooms have doors. Behind these doors, a child’s whimpers and cries can go unheard. Tears can be hidden. Amongst many adults, a child can become invisible. Actually, a child is expected to be invisible because she has to be a good girl and not be a bother to anyone.
Growing up in that big house, there were things that had been traumatic. Today, I still deal with the painful memories. I have a therapist for this. Yet, there are times outside of my therapy that I want to talk about it.
Yet, there is still that awkwardness when I bring up something painful from my past. When I express anger or hurt about the things that happened to me. People want to know if I am ok. They ask me if I am getting help. I tell them I am. They ask me how it’s going. I tell them it’s been 8 years and still going. So long? They ask. Yes, I tell them. It is a work in progress.
They ask me how I am. They don’t like it when I say, “Sometimes I am, sometimes I am not.”
People ask me to “move on”. The fact is, I don’t know what that means and people become frustrated when I tell them that.
FILTERING MY EMOTIONS
When relating stories of trauma, people can relate to anger. They will hatch plots on how to get even, or talk about how that anger can be used to make a better world.
Sadness, though, makes people uncomfortable. I can see the panic in the faces of the people I talk to. They start shifting in their seats. There is a scramble to look at anything other than your face. Suddenly, their watches become very important.
I was frustrated and angry. But I was also empathetic. How could I expect them to know how to react? Why am I upset with them for not reacting in the way I wanted them to? As a matter of fact, what did I expect from others when I told these stories?
So, I found that I stopped talking about my experiences and my feelings. I hide them. If I have to speak about them, I filter my emotions. I end up managing how my listener is feeling rather than how I feel. I focus on protecting the listener from becoming uncomfortable. I was a child again, being seen and not heard.
NO NEED TO SILENCE THE PAIN
It was then I started to connect with the stories told by my friends from the LGBT community. No, I am not talking about comparing to see whose traumas are deeper, but about the way they tell their stories. I appreciated the unapologetic ways in which some of their stories were shared. Sometimes the emotions were raw and it was painful to hear. They would speak plainly and simply about what was done to them – every ugly detail. Sodomised while in detention. Raped when they were kicked out of their homes and had to sleep rough. Clothes-pins clipped on nipples. Breasts squeezed to see if they “feel real”. Locked in their rooms and beaten because their parents found out about their love for someone of the same sex.
It was painful to tell these stories but still they told them. Again and again. They cried. They laughed. They cursed and swore and they hugged.
My LGBT friends opened themselves to me about their vulnerabilities. They talked about how it was sometimes a struggle to wake up in the morning, or even to live. They were candid about how they hurt themselves, and how they sometimes spent the whole day crying. They shared stories about how they continued to live and function and thrived despite this. They could understand that that was strength. They did not feel that they needed to silence or deny their pain in order to be strong.
This is a paradox few understand. It cannot be explained. It must be lived and experienced.
I AM SORRY I MESSED UP
My LGBT friends talk a lot about self-acceptance – I am who I am; I cannot change what happened to me; it is not my fault. And, I agree and support them in this. In saying that, I was struck by my own contradictions and hypocrisy. I struggle with accepting myself. I am hard on myself and don’t trust people who don’t treat me the same.
How can I advocate for self-acceptance when I struggle with accepting myself?
In advocating for self-acceptance, I am also reaching to and healing that part of myself that is perfectionistic and critical of myself. I can talk to that side of me that sees me as weak and stupid.
Being open and vulnerable with my LGBT friends has given me the space to learn to say, “I am sorry I messed up”.
They tell me, “Goddammit, Vizla! But, you are going to do better next time, right?”
Yes. I will definitely try.
This is how I have grown. Honest relationships are vital for this. I have found that this is more important than closeness. Trusting that someone is honest with me, and with whom I can be honest in return, has helped me build intimate relationships without expectations. I could not get that while growing up within a heteronormative narrative that said I should compete with women for the affections of men; and that the goal of love is to possess and own.
CHALLENGING MY PRIVILEGES
I also realise I am privileged. I have the privilege of having a language that allows me to communicate the things that have happened to me. I also have the privilege of having a wide range of support from family and friends.
What the hell do I have to complain or be sad about?
Plenty, I say. But people probably don’t get that when they see me. I do not deny my privilege, though.
Many people assume that when you’re privileged you have nothing to gain from others. This is so far from the truth. I am privileged but that privilege comes with a price. When I was ready to challenge that privilege and be open, my life was enriched. I can only hope I can do the same for my friends.
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Vizla Kumaresan is a Clinical Psychologist with an LGBT affirmative practice. She is hoping to break stereotypes of mental health professionals: they are humans with problems, too!