Self-Love-Based-Improvement: Another Side of Body-Positivity

The third season of Queer Eye is out, and there’s one particular thing that I really appreciate about this season—they balance the concept of self-love with self-improvement. The fab five are always showering whoever is the focus of the episode with love and encouraging that person to learn to love themselves, but they also challenge that person to grow in the areas they are most struggling.

Sometimes, that’s in challenging one to practice social skills or find people to connect with. Sometimes that’s in buying somebody a gym membership and teaching them how to work out so that they can lose weight.

The idea that self-love and self-acceptance aren’t mutually exclusive from self-improvement goals is a concept I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Quite a bit of the body positivity that I’ve encountered has been combatting this unhealthy approach to physical health—the inner critic that tells you that being thin is equal to being beautiful or that you’re a lazy slob if you eat a piece of cake. It’s a fucked up approach to dealing with diet, exercise, and appearance because it relies on bullying oneself and working towards goals based on arbitrary standards of beauty and acceptableness.

But at the same time, there are times when it is appropriate and healthy to want to exercise more or lose weight or change one’s consumption habits—just as it is healthy for one to want to grow in being able to reach out for emotional support or get a different job or improve one’s mind.

Queer Eye reminded me that it’s possible to have physical goals while coming from a place of love and acceptance.

Externally, the approach might look similar—watching what you eat, getting to the gym, etc. But internally the process is very different.

Instead of “I hate myself; I can’t love myself until I am like _____ (insert appearance-based goal)” or “I hate myself; I’m such a pig. I shouldn’t eat ____” or “I hate myself; I’m too lazy to get the the gym” the dialogue is “I love myself; therefore I want to see my body at a healthier weight” or “I love myself; therefore I want to be stronger” or “I love myself; therefore I choose to eat foods that will nourish my body.”

The universe is bringing this reminder to me at the right time.

For the last several years, I’ve been struggling with on and off injuries that I couldn’t seem to overcome. It limited my ability to be active, with the frustrating side effect of gaining weight. I watched myself lose the ability to fit into some of my favorite clothes, lose the stamina I had worked so hard to build in being able to run, hike, even do a yoga class, and lose my confidence in my sense of self.

At that time, I needed the reminder that my body isn’t only worthwhile when it looks a certain way or is a certain size. I needed reminders that it’s okay to be where I am, that I’m not lazy or unhealthy or worthless or ugly or any of the other messages that got instilled by media and advertising growing up as a girl in our society over the years.

But more recently I have begun treatment with a physical therapist for EDS—a condition that results in hypermobility (e.g. being able to partially dislocate my arm simply by raising it above my head). The physical therapy is focused on strengthening my body so that injuries don’t happen as often…and I’m starting to see results. I’m able to be more active as a regular rule rather than spurts of activity followed by a long healing process for whatever latest injury I have.

And I’m starting to get hope. I’ve begun monitoring my diet more, trying to encourage myself to adopt healthier habits like not snacking after 9pm, making sure I eat in accordance with how physically active I am so that my caloric burn is higher than my caloric intake, and choosing foods that are more sustainable and less empty calories.

It’s slow, but I’m beginning to notice results. I’m liking the changes I’m seeing in my body, starting to get hope that maybe I can wear some things I haven’t had the heart to get rid of but that haven’t really fit for a while. I’m also starting to be able to do things I love again that I haven’t been able to do for a long time–things that make exercise fun for me.

At first, I felt ashamed of the fact that I had these goals for my body, wondering if that was a sign that I wasn’t really able to love and accept myself.

But Queer Eye was able to remind me that it’s possible to want to change my body’s way of being in the world without it being about self-loathing. Loving myself doesn’t mean being perfectly content with where I am and never wanting to grow or change. It means respecting my limitations, seeing the value in myself as I am, and finding respectful ways to work towards my goals.

Most importantly, it means my goals are rooted in my love for myself rather than trying to make myself loveable.

 

Irreconcilable Differences

The last month or so has been incredibly intense for me. Back in the beginning of the summer, I wrote about how I had reached a point where I was no longer satisfied with merely avoiding conflict with my family at the expense of myself, keeping a delicate balance that indicated more about the fragility of the relationship than it did about actual peace. I resolved to pursue allowing myself to be more present in visits, not hiding out of fear of a fight.

Little did I know what door I was opening. Before I even had a chance to challenge myself to live up to my own dedication to authenticity, I found myself embroiled in a toxic stew of insults, cold shoulders, and hostility. Maybe they had always been there and I was just more aware. Maybe this visit was coincidentally bad. It’s hard to say.

Being around my family in that way, with everyone interacting with each other as if they were held hostage rather than fulfilling a desire to see me, opened my eyes.

For the first time, I realized that I don’t really ever interact with my family—I interact with the cult. I am not part of that family anymore. I am a stranger. I could not one of them because I am not of the cult.

For the first time, I realized that nothing has really changed. They may not be able to physically abuse me anymore, but the psychological game was still present, jerking me around.

For the first time, I realized I couldn’t save my parents—from the cult, from the awareness that their abuse had hurt me, or from the consequences that accompanied not taking responsibility for that abuse.

For the first time, I thought about how if this were a friendship, I would have ended it years ago. If it were a marriage, I would have gotten a divorce.

It was then that I knew I couldn’t maintain a relationship with them. I was healthier when they weren’t in my life. The more I tried to hold onto them while they strung me along, the more I betrayed myself.

I wasn’t able to take action on that knowledge until a few weeks ago.

There’s something primal and terrifying about letting go of the illusion of family even if you’ve never had the actual experience of a loving family. Yet each time I tried to talk myself out of this move, telling myself it was “one bad visit” and that “things could get better,” I knew I couldn’t bear to walk into that house ever again.

My own pain is to be expected—managed even.

What intrigues me is the response that others have.

For the most part, we have gotten over the stigma of divorce. There are still pockets of judgment, but they are rare these days. If I were to tell the average person that I was divorcing my husband because he had been physically and emotionally abusive and had refused to take responsibility for that or make any effort to change, I would be praised for the strength it took to make my decision and offered assistance and comfort. If I never wanted to speak to him again after the divorce, no one would question that.

We’ve come to accept that break ups with romantic partners, while unfortunate and painful, are sometimes necessary.

That is not guaranteed to be true for blood relatives.

There is no legal recourse to divorce my parents. Articles and self-help guides that offer support and advice on parent-child relationships more often talk about reconciliation after confrontation or setting boundaries.

If I choose to tell someone that I have chosen to cut my family off, I’m just as likely to be accused of being unforgiving and over-dramatic as I am to be offered comfort and support.

And I don’t understand why that is…

What is it about shared genes that makes toxic relationships something to cling to when, in other circumstances, it would be considered more unhealthy not to end the relationship?

My decision did not come easily. It was years in the making and driven by a multitude of incidents. This last visit was merely the final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and came at a time when I had tremendous support to help me through. I don’t think it is meant to be an easy decision, but I wonder if it might have been easier if there had been just a smidge more acceptance for the idea that break ups are sometimes just as necessary with family as they are with partners.

There is a part of me that wants to keep this private because of how painful it is, but I realize if I do that, I contribute to the stigma. If I am willing to talk about my journey when boundary-setting or confrontation are on the table, but I shy away from sharing when I realize that there are irreconcilable differences, I am no better as an author and blogger than the self-help books that I resent right now.

So I share my pain, aware that others may read in horror, judging…but mostly hoping that some who read realize they aren’t alone.

 

Reclaiming Healing Part II: Spinning the Web

Welcome to part 2 of my reclaiming healing mini-series. If you missed part 1, you can find it here. This week I’m going to begin exploring one of the aspects of healing that stand out to me as I explore the meaning of the concept for myself.

But first, a relevant tangent.

In my dedication to radical self-care, I have learned that there is a nauseating pop-culture view of wellness that makes me want to smack people…and then there is the more nuanced concept of wellness as developed by researchers.

If I were to listen to pop culture, I would think that wellness was a light switch with two positions, Well or Not Well. Usually it’s relegated to one or two facotrs, e.g. physical wellness or emotional wellness.

But when I look at wellness more deeply, I realize that it’s a multi-faceted, ever-changing thing. And it’s not so much about obtaining perfection in all of the facets as it is about balancing them and obtaining the best functioning of them all in that period of time.

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One version of the wellness wheel. Source: SAMHSA

Thus, someone can have a physical health problem and still be relatively well if they have a strong support network, a healthy environment, plenty of resources, methods of caring for themselves emotionally and physically, and a way of finding hope or meaning through the experience.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should. I think as a society we have a tendency to reduce healing to as simplistic and ineffective a model as we do wellness, but if we were to actually look at a visual representation of healing, I’d bet double the amount I owe on student loans that it would be more like the wellness wheel than like a light switch.

Last week, I talked quite a bit about physical healing and the parallels I see to emotional/psychological healing, but it doesn’t just have parallels. The mind and body are astounding in the way they relate to each other, and science is just beginning to scratch the surface of how interrelated they can be around trauma (for a deeper look, check out Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score).

In the healing work I have done around my sexual abuse, I have had to learn how to respect that mind-body connection and the reality that memory is stored in my muscles as much as in my brain. Both my body and my mind have to heal, but they require different kinds of healing practices. Counseling has been invaluable to my mental and emotional healing, but it took working with a physical therapist to address some of the physical damage.

But like wellness, healing is not just emotional and physical. Growing up in a cult is a relational trauma, and there has been a social component to my healing as well. I’ve had to learn how to trust again. I’ve had to learn how to take relational chances and open up to people—how to ask for help or reach out for support. And most importantly, I’ve had to learn how to set boundaries.

The cult was also a spiritually abusive place though, so healing my spiritual life has been a large focus of my journey. Much of that has taken the form of exploring Paganism and Goddess spirituality…which could also be seen as a healing of my gender identity as I created new ways of thinking about the feminine that didn’t root it in shame, inferiority, and perversity.

Already I have loosely and easily covered several of the wellness wheel spokes. I could go on and on tracing a map of healing in a myriad of places. I use the wellness wheel as a jumping off point for visualizing, but it could be just as easily portrayed as a web.

The short of it is: healing is simply not simple. It’s multifaceted in a gorgeously complex and interdependent way.

 

Spiritual Crisis in a Psychological World

Our society is fairly young in its abandonment of spiritual journeys and rites of passage. What once would have been the territory of the sacred has become the territory of the psychologist.

We’ve tried to sterilize, medicalize, and materialize human existence after centuries (or millenniums) of spirituality. We’ve buried our guides, forsaken our ceremonies, and detached ourselves from our process in exchange for diagnoses and medications.

Carl Jung believed that myth was

the primordial language natural to these psychic processes, and no intellectual formulation comes anywhere near the richness and expressiveness of mythical imagery.

In other words, the psyche speaks in myth, and science and psychology alone cannot begin to even touch the depth that mythology reaches for the soul.

I once thought that reclaiming my spiritual life was something I had to do for my healing because of my history within a cult, where so much of my abuse has been at the hands of religion; however, I don’t think I believe that anymore.

At an herbal conference a couple weeks ago, I attended a class about sacred herbs in spirituality. The teacher started the class by talking about tobacco and its use in various Native American spiritualties as a purifying herb. I was struck when she mused about the high rate of cigarette addiction in the United States, wondering whether it indicated that people were seeking a cleansing without realizing it.

The comment stuck out to me not because it was a light-bulb comment on its own, but because it came on the heels of several similar thoughts I’ve encountered in a wide variety of settings.

At another conference I attended, the speaker (Ron Coleman) was talking about how mental health crises sometimes resemble spiritual awakenings. In this instance, he was talking about the experience of hearing voices, which in mainstream society is seen as a sure sign of psychosis but which has often been a signal of spiritual encounters in other cultures.

By every indication, he himself was atheist, yet he was arguing against labeling spiritual experiences as mental illness…

Few in today’s society would try to argue that exorcisms, witch hunts, and tortures that developed in response to unacceptable experiences were good; however, what options do we, as a society, offer people for their modern “unacceptable” experiences? Illness labels and medicinally exorcising fictional demons?

On some levels, I think we might offer even fewer opportunities for people to confront their experiences and find a way to work through them to a positive end, perhaps not because we think they are demonic, but because we can’t handle the discomfort of not being able to control their process.

Maybe we’re not meant to.

joseph campbell cave

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” -Joseph Campbell. Found over at quoteswave.com

Ron Coleman described the “proper” role of psychotherapists as midwives of the soul. It’s a radical perspective, but not a new one. Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and so many others have proposed many times over that the psyche doesn’t necessarily need fixing. It needs to find itself again. It needs to take its mythic journey, delve into its spiritual encounters…go into the dark cave.

Perhaps it’s time to start paying attention to the soul again. Perhaps the mind and soul aren’t so different. Perhaps healing “mental illness” isn’t about finding the mental equivalent to antibiotics and surgery. Maybe it’s about finding the mental equivalent of: “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”

A scene from Zelda that has become a meme. Found at zeldauniverse.net

Zelda, that is all. Found at zeldauniverse.net

 

A Time to Hate

If I said that I intensely dislike my family, would it make you uncomfortable? If I said I had an aversion to fundamentalism, would it make you cringe? If I said Bob Jones University disgusts me, would you think I was out of line in that emotion?

What if I said I hate my family/fundamentalism/Bob Jones University?

In a conversation with a friend the other day about negative emotions, I was surprised to find myself defending hatred as a valid emotion. Six months ago I would have said that hatred was toxic and dangerous, the antithesis of love and the root of destruction and violence. Even when I was able to reconcile the empowering, positive aspects of anger and reject the unhealthy prescriptions of forgiveness that victims encounter at every turn in our society, I still felt afraid of hatred.

I thought of hatred when I saw Westboro standing on a street corner holding up picket signs or when someone murdered an ex-lover out of spite. I thought of hatred when I saw fighting in the Middle East. I thought of hatred when I saw the callous disregard for human rights.

I thought of hatred when I thought of dysfunction, prejudice, and abuse.

But is that really what hatred is?

I only recently realized that the connotation I had surrounding hatred was so strong that I didn’t even know what hatred was. It was just “bad.” When I looked up the definition, I discovered that it was essentially an emotional gag reflex.

Disgust, aversion, dislike…none of those held negative connotations for me. In fact, it seemed rather healthy to be able to experience them.

So why was hatred so scary in my mind? Why was I afraid to acknowledge that I hated my family, despite having more than plenty of reason to feel an aversion to them? If I operate with just the definition of hatred, rather than the word itself, I think having an aversion to my family is as healthy as heaving when I eat rotten meat. I know they’re going to harm me if I carelessly ingest them. So, why the guilt over such a healthy response?

When I moved away from my religious background, I needed to believe that God was love, and that love was safe, not harmful. Love became my spiritual guiding light (still is to some extent), so I clung to verses like 1 John 4:20 and 3:15:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen….Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

If love was the “greatest commandment” and the whole of spirituality, I assumed hatred was the root of my abuse, overlooking the fact that the majority of my abuse was justified as love. Love couldn’t be the motivation. Love wasn’t supposed to hurt. Love didn’t seek to do harm. Love never failed. Love was the fulfillment of the law; as long as there was love, it was perfect…right?

Yes, but that’s an idealized version of love. It’s a model of love that promotes a healthy expression of love, but it’s not the only way that love can be expressed. Love can be dysfunctional, just like hatred. Love can be destructive. It can motivate callousness to the rights of others or extreme selfishness.

I can recognize that certain expressions of love are unhealthy and reject those particular scripts without rejecting the idea of love entirely because I also have healthy scripts of love on which to draw. Over the last two years I’ve developed the ability to do that with anger too. Now it’s hatred’s turn. How could hatred not get a bad reputation when they only face of it we see are from those embroiled in dysfunction?

This week has been spent with me exploring what a healthy representation of hatred might look like. The first step came with admitting that I do hate, and recognizing that my hatred hasn’t turned me into a sadistic sociopath. I hate, but I do not want to kill those I hate. I hate, but I don’t view those I hate as less human as a result. I hate, but it doesn’t consume my life or interfere with my other relationships. I hate, but it doesn’t prevent me from loving.

Rather, hatred sets me free, just as anger did, to acknowledge where great harm was done. It releases me from familial obligations that tell me I should let an unhealthy person close to me. It strengthens me to set boundaries and stand up for myself. It clarifies where my values lie. On a broader front, because I hate bigotry, homophobia, sexism, racism, transphobia, etc., hate reinforces my love and respect of humanity. On a personal front, because I hate abuse and manipulation, it reinforces my love for myself.

If anything, my fear of embracing the natural emotions to my abuse has kept me disconnected from my own humanity, preventing me from fully embracing love, life, and relationships. My emotions are not my enemy. They are the tools that allow me to heal. Wholeness and balance come with the recognition that every emotion has its purpose and time.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

If Virginity is a Myth, Then What Did He Take From Me?

Trigger Warning (obviously): Discussion of sexual abuse and purity culture. I promise I’ll have something a little lighter the next few weeks. 

Purity culture taught me that my virginity was the greatest gift I could give my husband. It taught me that losing virginity made me discardable—like used gum or dirty water. It taught me that my value lay in my purity.

Purity culture also taught me that I was responsible for men’s sexual thoughts and actions towards me. It taught me that I could prevent rape by being pure—and if I was raped, it was better for me to die than to live with my tainted purity.

When I rejected purity culture years ago, I also rejected the concepts of virginity, purity, and sexual innocence along with it. I needed to in order to begin to come to terms with my sexual abuse. I needed to be able to believe that they were just constructs—myths—in order to slough off the guilt and self-hatred that I felt over having been violated.

More recently, I’ve been trying to give myself space to access some of the deeper veins of my grief around my sexual abuse. But I found I can only name that grief with the very constructs I rejected.

Innocence. Purity. Virginity.

Certainly the innocence I was taught I’d lost is not the innocence I grieve. Feminism has done its job. I do not feel culpable in any way for what happened to me.

But there’s a different kind of innocence whose loss I feel intensely.

I’ve come to think of it as the Peter Pan innocence.

It’s what I lost when I was forced into an awareness of sexuality—a violent understanding of affection and love—at an age when I could barely understand that some people had different body parts from others.

It’s the innocence that allowed me to believe that those who claimed to love me were safe, the innocence that gave me a sense of autonomy and belonging to my body, the innocence that assured me that monsters were make-believe and nightmares weren’t true. And it was ripped away from me when I was five years old, leaving in its place a shattered little girl who convinced herself that she was bad in order to continue to believe that her spiritual leaders were good.

And just as I know that I’m not responsible for what my abuser did, I also know I’m not bad because of what he did. But the purity that I lost has nothing to do with good or bad.

It’s the purity of separation.

There are days when I feel like I carry my abuser with me wherever I go, like an invisible residue. No amount of assuring me that I’m not dirty is going to take that feeling away because the “dirty” doesn’t stem from me. It’s his dirt, his perversion. I know that, but I’m still tortured by the visceral sensations.

Sometimes it feels like I share my marriage with him—the unwanted third-party who lurks in the corner waiting for an opportunity to pop out again and remind me that my first sexual encounter was traumatizing and invasive. The beauty of consensual sex—that amazing experience of soul-sharing—is so easily interrupted by flashbacks, as if my abuser can walk into our bedroom and whisk me away to my childhood whenever he wants.

It tears me up that he was the one who stole my virginity. I don’t give a rat’s ass about the value judgments society tries to place on being a virgin or not being a virgin. Virginity, to me, has nothing to do with the hymen. It’s not an object. It’s just pre-sexuality, like pre-menstrual.

I envy the choice that others have to end their virginity.

Beautiful, romantic, irresponsible, silly, uninformed, embarrassing—I’d give anything for my first sexual encounter to be any of those—a stage of growing up and discovering my sexual self. By rights, I should have been able to choose when to end my virginity, where, and with whom. I’m sure I would have made mistakes, but at least they would have been mistakes from my choice.

But I didn’t get that choice. The end of my virginity was forced on me. My first sexual experience was forced on me.

It doesn’t matter that the patriarchal value of innocence, purity, and virginity is bullshit. What I lost goes deeper. It’s the loss of a childhood naivety, the loss of discovery, the loss of choice, and the loss of first times.

I can’t get those back, and to make matters worse, I find that I can’t even properly grieve them without the words that were used to blame me for their loss.

Perhaps one day I’ll be able to find a way to turn that grief and loss into something positive. Grief has always been a Phoenix process for me, and I’m sure this one will be the same. But right now, all I have are the tears, the rage, and the emptiness. All I have for myself and my readers this morning is the rawness of truth telling without any flowery ways of making it sound okay.

This is the grief I wasn’t allowed to feel when I was five.

Trauma Addiction: Freud Would Be Proud

There’s a certain trauma theory that I’ve come across a few times in the last few years that disturbs me—trauma addiction. That’s not trauma and addiction. That’s addiction to trauma.

I’ve mostly seen it come from people uncomfortable with the pain of trauma when they make statements like, “Why do you insist on reliving it?” or “You need to just let go.” I’ve only encountered in in one professional therapist that I went to briefly.

Several days ago, though, I came across the theory of trauma addiction in Psycholotical Trauma by Dr. Bessel A. van der Kolk. I guess I had just assumed it was the expression of ignorance, but to find that it’s supported in some psychological circles was truly shocking.

As both a survivor and someone who is studying trauma, I feel very uncomfortable with this theory for a number of reasons.

For one, the theory seems to make some huge assumptive leaps. In the book, van der Kolk lists the following examples of trauma addiction to support his point:

“Voluntary reexposure to trauma is very common. Veterans may enlist as mercenaries or seek other dangerous occumpations; incest survivors may become prostitutes; abused children may expose themselves to dangerous situations or engage in physically self-destructive behaviors.” (van der Kolk, 73).

He later even refers to a study that he himself did (but didn’t publish) that found a significant number of war vets who watch war movies.

The problem is that he goes from describing behavior to determining motivation without any supporting evidence to show that the behavior stems from that particular motivation (an unaccepted enthymeme fallacy). How could he possibly know why all war vets enlist as mercenaries? Or why they watch war movies for that matter?

It seems that these vets are caught in a double bind. If they voluntarily continue with the occupation they’re trained in, then they’re “addicted.” However if they do something that countless other people are able to do without being pathologized (watch movies), they’re still “addicted.”

The second example bothers me even more though. It takes the assumptions a step further and assumes that prostitution is necessarily the same as rape. But a voluntary prostitute (let’s assume he’s talking about voluntary because the implications of him talking about sex slaves is even more disturbing) has complete control over the sexual encounter. She is the one who chooses her clients. She is the one who sets the boundaries. If she’s not, then she’s not really voluntary and I would consider the sexual “encounter” to be rape.

Contrarily, incest involves the violation of boundaries and non-consentual sexual violence. The only connection between rape and voluntary sex work is the involvement of sexual organs. If prostitution is seeking out and reliving trauma, then so is having sex with a spouse.

Lastly, the cutting.  Ugh! I’ve listened to so many psychologists try to explain cutting in a way that makes them happy. It’s always the one thing that seems to play into and prove whatever their pet theory is around depression, anxiety, or PTSD. However, it rarely holds much accuracy to those who actually do cut.

Although there are as many reasons for why others cut as there are individuals who cut, I think it definitely has strong connections to trauma. But the connection isn’t an addiction to trauma.

It is a conditioning of trauma.

In high school, my cutting and hitting stemmed from the belief that I deserved to be punished for my mistakes. It helped to justify the punishments I received from my parents. It helped to distract from the terrifying thoughts and memories that plagued me. It helped to give me something physical to actually cry about because it was horrible living with wounds that I couldn’t see, couldn’t name. It was a coping mechanism for trauma, and if I was “addicted” to cutting, then it was because I didn’t have any other coping mechanisms to fall back on, not because I was addicted to trauma.

Which brings me to my second disagreement with the trauma addiction theory—the definition of addiction becomes too broad to hold any value.

Yes, battered partners can fall into a pattern of abusive relationships. Children can fall into a pattern of self-destruction. A broken sense of self is hard to love and hard to nurture. Old scripts are hard to unlearn. New ones are hard to learn. And to some extent, the familiarity of a negative situation is going to feel more comfortable than the unfamiliarity of a positive one.

But if that’s addiction, then addiction becomes anything from relational or social schemas and models to coping mechanisms to conditioned behavior, which means it covers pretty much every aspect of human interaction and personality and, as a result, covers nothing.

Aside from the fact that such a broad definition isn’t fair to people who are actually struggling with addictions, it does a disservice to trauma survivors. It disempowers survivors by making them feel trapped into their behaviors. It makes them their own enemy by framing the behaviors that helped them survive as “bad,” and it diminishes their ability to change through learning new coping skills and redefining their relationship models and identity.

My final objection to the trauma addiction theory (and I think the most important) is its vast capacity for victim blaming. Addiction implies the abuse of something. So addiction to trauma implies that a person is . . . what . . . abusing trauma?

It leaves the door wide open to say that the victim is the one seeking out the trauma to feed a desire/need. Technically, the victim should know better and avoid trauma, except that their need for it is so strong that they seek it out to their own detriment.

It sounds so much like the rape culture mantra “she was asking for it” that my skin crawls just to think about it, especially considering that one of the largest traumatized groups is women and girls who are sexually and physically abused. Like Freud’s theory that women make up rape fantasies because of some masochistic desire, the trauma addiction theory has far too much potential for devaluing the pain of victims and diminishing what was or is being done to them.

Perhaps in Freud’s day it was unfortunate but understandable that the theories around trauma would be both rudimentary and subservient to the status quo (men who didn’t like women talking about their rapes); however, I would hope that we’ve come far enough in our understanding of trauma to no longer need the manipulations that Freud resorted to with his patients/trauma victims. There are other theories that do a better job of describing the behaviors, thoughts, reactions, motivations, and wounds of trauma survivors that don’t resort to unaccepted enthymemes, broad generalizations of specific conditions, and victim blaming.