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Repression, it’s a valid cultural skill!

September 23, 2010

Lots of random conversations and blogposts lead to this. I had a fairly horrific childhood which I talk about as amusing anecdotes or single-sentence throw-aways with other family members who know what we’re referring to. I can’t imagine talking openly about what happened to me, so I think it’s incredibly brave of people who can do that.

I’m really glad that I’ve been able to help raise kids who can talk about most of their lives. They have so much courage. But – when they say it, especially outside our house, my automatic ingrained response is “shhh! don’t say it where someone will hear!”

I used to write little notes in crabbed handwriting and burn them or shred them. Even an echo of it in a poem or a story I read would be enough for me to shelve that book on the lowest shelf, hidden behind a pile.

A lot of people say repression is a bad thing. That we need to talk openly about things. And I can feel it in my bones how *good* that would be. To have everyone say their sins, their hurts, their battles, their lies – to not have to watch your mouth or push things down.

But if I had done that as a kid or a young adult, I’d have been smashed. Repression is a huge advantage when the people who hurt you are in your family, or your neighbours or your friends. The truth burns bridges. I think of the kids we work with, and what would happen to them if they stood up and spoke about what’s happening in their lives. They’d lose everything.

Being able to speak openly is a privilege of wealth and safety. I don’t have that yet, and it’s so out of reach for many many people. In Cambodia, where people live next door to the people who beat and killed their relatives, where many of the more powerful people have blood on their hands – keeping silent is the lesser evil.

I’m just super frustrated about the prevailing therapy push I’m reading. I do a bunch of reading in therapy, feminism and adoption and – just all over the place to know what I should be reading up on or getting references for our social workers and programmes. And for my kids so I can figure out how to be a smarter better parent.

But a lot of it demands honesty and truth necessary to healing, and I just can’t see that working. That’s a distant shining goal for us.

Reality is a compromise.

I think what I want is recognition that repression isn’t automatically bad. That sometimes surviving through silence is the best we can do. Or at least, forgivable.

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