What If We Were Never Shushed?

by Dr David Spektor

This is a somewhat outlandish premise, but bear with me. Imagine a world where we were never shushed, a world where all emotions were allowed. A world where there was no such thing as “positive” or “negative” emotion. A world where anger was seen as self-loving, guilt was seen as corrective and an act of love and grief a celebration of your love. Imagine a world where people were not anxious of emotional pain but just saw it as the human experience. A world where emotions were welcome and people were assisted to move through them, rather than abandon them and push them down, leading to all sorts of psychological and psychiatric problems.

It has long been thought that just like our body heals its wounds, our psyche also possesses within it, the potential to heal itself. This inner healing intelligence is within us all. It sounds a bit woo woo, I admit but actually when you take a moment to consider it, it makes sense. Take Bowlby (the father of attachment theory), when talking about the resolution of grief and mourning he said: “only if he can tolerate, the pining, the more or less conscious searching, the seemingly endless examination of how and why the loss occurred and the anger at anyone who might have been responsible, not sparing even the dead person, can he come gradually to recognise and accept that the loss is, in truth permanent and that his life must be shaped anew.” What Bowlby is saying here, in more simplistic and less poetic terms, is one can only resolve grief if one is able to move through all the emotions associated with the loss. In other words, if you are able to follow where your emotions take you (inner healing intelligence), your pain will resolve and you can heal. And yet, we do not live in a world that makes that possible. Instead we live in a world where we move around emotions and not through them. This is, in large part because we were shushed from the moment we were born to this very day. The fact that we even see shushing as soothing, rather than repressing is testament to how poor we are at allowing ourselves and each other our emotional pain.

No-one ever shushes their baby with mal-intent. In fact it is the opposite. We shush because we love and don’t want to see our loved one in pain. And yet our love is best represented by being with and bearing witness to our loved one who is in pain, and that has to happen from the very moment of our birth. All it takes is a slight shift in language and a “shhhh” can become a “there, there” or even a “that’s it, that’s it, let it come out, let it go through.” Which one is being with and bearing witness to, and which one is shutting down? When you do the former you are reducing your anxiety of the other’s pain, and when you do the latter, you are raising your own tolerance to bear your loved one’s pain.

Almost all psychological issues are related in some way to trauma. When there is trauma, there exist deep emotional wounds, and when we work with individuals who have complex trauma or PTSD, our number one aim is to reduce the fear of emotional injury, so they can move through their trauma. In fact, it really does not matter the label, whether it be depression, anxiety, personality disorder or PTSD, trauma (big or small) is often the cause, and the thing that leads to being stuck and unwell is often the yearning to avoid emotional pain.

I am of the strong opinion, most mental health issues are due to all of us needing to cover up, that which could not be loved. The way we cover up is via defences that at first are useful, but later become problematic causing symptoms, which then cause disorders. Unfortunately, in our society as it is right now, our emotions are what we needed to cover up and thus, in reality we are all suffering, with limited hope of resolution.

So imagine a world where we were never shushed, imagine a world where we were free to move through our emotions, and all of us were capable of bearing witness to each other’s pain. Only then, would we find out if our psyche, just like our body, has the capacity to heal itself. I, for one, believe we all have this potential — let’s find out.

Written by Dr David Spektor, Clinical Psychologist, Director of PsychologyCare