Is Your Healing Work Anti-Oppressive?
Anti-oppression, anti-racism and intersectional feminism are important frameworks through which to approach any kind of healing work, including recovery from trauma, addiction and mental health challenges. I believe these frameworks must be integral to the work, lest that work is insincere and ineffective because it is founded on cognitive dissonance.
Healing is a form of liberation. We are shedding toxic thought and belief patterns, detrimental behaviours and abusive ways of relating. When we are unwell, we are trapped, as the Eight of Swords shows us, surrounded by self-loathing, doubts and fears. Emotional experiences often hide in our bodies, creating physical health issues and mental health issues alike. (For more on this concept, check out Gabor Mate’s book, When the Body Says No, and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk) To heal is to set ourselves free.
Herein lies a natural parallel between personal healing and collective liberation. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously coined the concept that none of us are free until all of us are free. Following this truth, the wise words of the Magician card comes to mind: As Above, so Below – As Within, so Without. When applied to a healing lens, this means that your wellness, expansion as well as your pain and failures are not yours alone. We are inextricably connected, and without attention to the ways in which we partake in oppressive systems, we will always remain blindfolded and imprisoned, like the subject in our Eight of Swords.
It is useful to think of anti-oppression as collective shadow work. We are collectively excavating the ego, whose aim is to keep us small. This collective work is not distinct from your own personal shadow. The collective shadow lives within you.
The liberation of Black, Brown and Indigenous people is fundamental to collective healing. If you are white, you likely uphold white supremacy in conscious and unconscious ways. Without deconstructing your investment in whiteness, your shadow will live on, manifesting as an invisible but palpable entitlement, exceptionalism and fragility. These are concepts I learned from Layla F. Saad, in her book Me and White Supremacy.
Spiritual bypassing accompanies colour-blind ideology in many New Age circles (the light and love crowd). “I don’t see race” is a dismissive position akin to “I don’t focus on negative energy”. It is crucial to remember that healing requires feeling negative affect as well as positive to integrate the shadow, heal trauma, and create resilience. Becoming aware of racism that exists around you and within you is a key step in uncovering dark truths that ultimately keep us stuck until they are addressed.
When we seek only positive energy, we live in denial of our fullness. The goal of spiritual connection and healing cannot be to repress that which does not please us, but to confront and integrate it. Without this integration, we do not know ourselves truthfully, and we cannot see each other clearly. We betray ourselves and others, and deny ourselves true wellness in exchange for an idea of wellness that is disconnected from our felt and lived reality.
My practice as a tarot reader, counsellor and affect theorist focuses on emotional connection for relational wellness. I believe this is central to our personal and political struggles for health and liberation. When I see healing work that does not incorporate anti-oppression and anti-racism, I am struck by the impossibility of connection presented in that work.
This is because emotional connection is an experience of feeling seen, heard, known and understood (in the wise words of Alan Robarge, psychotherapist and relationship coach). This level of authenticity requires a deep and honest appreciation of the good and the bad in ourselves and in others. Without a confrontation with the shadow, our connections are shallow at best. If we are ignoring parts of ourselves and others, we will not find authentic connection, and therefore, we will not find healing and liberation.
Your expansion is not yours alone. Take a hard look at yourself and ask, “when am I silent in the face of oppression?” “When have I excused violence against Black, Brown and Indigenous people of colour?” “How do I ignore the well-being of others while focusing on my own?”
It is when we can see ourselves with honesty and compassion, and hold ourselves accountable, that we are free to expand, connect and love fully.