The Impact of Socialization
One of the things I’ve noticed over 23 years of teaching empowerment self-defense is how impactful socialization is when it comes to taking in and eventually believing the negative messages others create about us. This internalization of other’s beliefs, to the point where they feel like our own beliefs, can be so automatic we aren’t even conscious of doing it – so it’s no use to blame ourselves for blaming ourselves!
To name just a few way we internalize other people’s negative beliefs about us:
- others objectify us and then we self-objectify,
- others perpetuate victim blaming and shame and then we blame/shame our selves, and
- others tell us we don’t have worth and then our own internal critic takes over and tells us we aren’t valuable.
Is it possible to counter the weight of negative internal dialogue to ease the burden we carry from these messages (as we also do the social change work that would mitigate the causes)? Can we do that without accepting the narrative that it’s simply up to us to think more positively and then all those external forces won’t have power?
Self-care vs. Self-improvement
I have been pondering the difference between self-care and self-improvement. There is a wealth of advice to “think positive.” But, let’s be real; positive thinking can only go so far. Positive thinking alone will not counter larger social issues and systemic oppression. It won’t take away structural barriers.
How does this relate to internalized beliefs for sexual assault survivors? It’s hard to avoid self-blame and shame with positive self-talk such as, “It wasn’t my fault, no one asks to be raped” when the dominant (rape) culture insists that if it happened to you, you must have asked for it/caused it/deserved it.
Self-compassion and a re-scripting of that negative self-talk can been seen as SELF-CARE as opposed to self-improvement. David Hamilton talks about separating your identity from your shame, as Margarita Tartakovsky writes. Not all his advice resonates for me, but I did like this exercise:
“Make a list of what you feel ashamed about. Now rewrite each sentence using these five parts:
“It’s not that I am _________ [insert shamer].”
It’s not that I am worthless.
“The truth is that __________ [what you did or how you perceived yourself].”
The truth is that someone treated me as if I am worthless when they targeted me for sexual assault.
“That doesn’t mean that I am ____________ [insert shamer].”
That doesn’t mean that I deserved to be treated that way.
“In fact __________ [insert a positive].”
In fact, I am a human being and entitled to respect.
“I am __________ [insert the opposite].”
I am worthy.
“Dozens of studies including recent experiments by Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis, from the University of Thessaly, indicate that these inner monologues influence our behavior in both positive and negative ways,” writes Polly Campbell.
In this article, Campbell lists some strategies from Ethan Kross. One strategy seems to tie in to a focus on self-care and self-compassion vs. the “think positive” model:
Koss suggests we ask ourselves, “Why are you feeling ______?” instead of “Why am I feeling _______? which can create feelings of shame or anxiety. Taking a third person viewpoint may give us some distance. It may allow us to see the social context and outside force(s) at work instead of assuming it’s our failure or a personal weakness to be fixed.
Instead of having this internal dialogue:
Q: “Why am I feeling worthless?
A: “I just need more self-esteem and then I won’t feel worthless.”
Consider this internal dialogue instead:
Q: “Why are you feeling worthless?
A: “Because someone treated me as if I am worthless.”
Do these exercises resonate for you?