As much as I love doing social justice education and psychotherapy, the title trauma-informed therapist does not seem to capture a full picture of what I do, let alone who I am. Similarly, transgender woman and Asian immigrant are two pieces of the social identities I hold. That is all they are: two pieces of the whole puzzle. I am also joy, humility, work in progress, love, quirkiness, and more. The idea of being (identity) vs. doing (practice) is relevant in our anti-oppression work as well.
I entered social justice work through sex work way back when I was in Thailand. It was not because I was self-actualized. It was because my survival depended in it. Some of us fall into and in love with liberation work because it is non-negotiable for our survival and for our beliefs; others choose this work because their privileges afford them the passion, position, and power to uphold everyone’s humanity. I have learned to welcome everyone to the party because each of us has something beautiful to bring to the table. This is where the distinction between being (identity) and doing (practice) comes into play. Some of us practice anti-oppression because it aligns with our core values and integrity. With this alignment in mind, we bring our whole selves (identities) – selves that are full of grit, grace, and wisdom -- to the work. On the other hand, sometimes we enter the work with a mixture of passion, obligation, and fear. We hope to cultivate our identity in the work. We yearn to call ourselves an abolitionist or an anti-racist accomplice. Most of the time, most of us are a mix of being and doing. Neither is good or bad. It is simply is.
Liberation-for-all as a practice where we bring more of who we truly are to the work rather than trying to find who we are as an ally in the work. Photo by James Lee on Unsplash
When we focus on the doing in order to develop a coveted identity (like social justice ally) instead of recognizing how our existing identities add to our anti-oppression practice, the doing-being distinction is no longer semantic. It is somatic. We feel in our bodies that the textures and flavors of our advocacy become different, especially when we make mistakes.
A call-in may feel like a personal attack on our worth and integrity when we think our righteous social justice ally identity is criticized. Biologically, in the presence of a threat our nervous system mobilizes to defend and protect us from harm. The brain’s emotional center (especially our amygdala) has been doing a grand job at this since the hunter-gatherer period. But an amygdala does not discriminate a call-in from a call-out. However we can choose to react to the threat or to respond to it. As a professional mistake maker, I would like to propose an approach where we consciously pause, take a few steps back, and see our mistake as such. Choosing to step back gives us the clarity to see the full picture instead of zeroing in on our hurt ego/identity. Instead of a shameful self-attack after we make mistakes, our self-talk can look like:
“I am human. All humans make mistakes. This really sucks and it hurts because I should have known better. Yet, I do not have to make it about me. I know my worth. I will adjust my action because it was not aligned with what I believe in.”
The alignment between core values and actions that is grounded in humility.
Photo by Joel & Jasmin Førestbird on Unsplash
When our action comes from our core values, we know how to bring more of ourselves to the work without making it about us and without getting lost in the shuffle.
Crocodile Lightning is a wonder-full work-in-progress. She integrates her passion in trauma-informed care, healing justice, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and bodywork into her work as a trauma-informed, social justice somatic therapist and educator. She enjoys cooking, eating, and petting other people’s fluffy pets.