Recently, I published a piece on Medium called Toward a Social Justice Therapy. In it, I describe how systemic issues are connected to our own individual capacity for reflection and self-awareness.
As humans, we sometimes do things without knowing that we do them. Maybe for you it's something like putting on your seat belt when you get in the car, or stretching when you feel something tight in your shoulder. Sometimes we are aware of what we're doing, but we don't know why we do it. For example, when you say something that you know is hurtful, even when you don't mean to be. Our unconscious patterns can run pretty deep, and sometimes we hit a point where we do something simply because it's a habit, and not necessarily because it gets us what we want.
(That's usually the point people start going to therapy.)
Systems are everywhere, and systems are upheld by our belief and participation in them. There are some majorly unjust systems at play here in the United States. Mass incarceration of primarily black and brown people, and primarily poor people, is a systemic issue that hits people and families at an individual level. Sexism and sexual violence is a systemic issue that hits people at an individual level, like when a woman is asked to "smile", and belittled and shamed when she doesn't want to. That is a systemic problem that can make the day-to-day lives of individual people a nightmare.
And, it takes a system of individuals, perpetuating an unconscious belief or bias through their actions that they take for granted as "how the world works," to uphold these unjust practices.
What if we could all become more aware of the ways our unconscious biases influence the lives and livelihoods of other people and ourselves? The ways our unconscious perceptions and beliefs uphold systems that hurt some people while protecting others? That hurt some parts of ourselves while protecting other parts? Would we want to know? Would we want to be open to what it might take to change?
If this is something you would like to explore, therapy can offer a way to take a look at what's troubling you in order to find some understanding. A system such as the one we live in can create feelings of unease, dis-ease, and discomfort. Not only are we as individuals participating in a system - whether we benefit from it or not - that keeps some people (and some parts of ourselves) down while lifting up and prioritizing others, but we do that very same thing within ourselves.
That moment when...
...You feel something uncomfortable and rationalize it away
...You are sick or unhappy and you tell yourself to cheer up, someone else has it worse
...You judge and criticize your choices and tell yourself you're not allowed to thrive
These are all examples of the ways oppression and unconscious bias lives inside us.
When you give yourself the opportunity to know and understand these parts of yourself, there is a good chance you'll also be able to let in new options, find new ways of coping, and learn what your emotions are trying to tell you about what you need and desire. It can be scary, but this process can offer a way of unbinding the deep roots of your unconscious participation in a system that keeps us one-up, one-down as a culture - and keeps you in an internal zero sum game.