I have spent much of my life working to unpack and address the legacies of abusive power, colonization, and oppression that I have internalized. It is life-long work. Work I find essential to being the person I want to be and doing the work I need to do in the world. Work that helps me to manage risks and discern abusive power in my life. Work that is a central piece of how I endeavor to make my BDSM practice a conscious, consensual, and intentional use of power.
Internalized oppression and colonization are inside you, and that often makes it difficult to recognize, and takes a lot of work to disrupt and unpack. One of the things that helps me is to really take a hard look at how I am thinking, as well as what I am doing. So that’s what this post is about.
One of the core pieces of cognitive therapies for a range of mental health issues is about recognizing and interrupting destructive patterns of thinking. This is very hard work, requires a lot of practice and a deep commitment to metacognition—thinking about how you are thinking. Not an easy task, particularly when managing mental health symptoms. Folks I know sometimes talk about what their “badbrain” is telling them, as a way to identify these thinking patterns as not what they truly believe, but what they feel stuck in.
I find lists of thinking patterns really useful. (Partly because I generally find lists useful!) Lists like this one of black and white thinking patterns are a treasure to me, give me something concrete to look for when examining my own thinking patterns.
I am sharing my own list with you. A list of oppressive thinking patterns that I have personally identified and am working on noticing in my own thinking. It may not surprise you to notice that there is some overlap with the list I linked to in the previous paragraph.
Note: This is a work in progress, not a final or complete list. I would be very interested in hearing about oppressive thinking patterns that I have left out. The nature of this list is that it names internalized judgments and frameworks. That likely may make it difficult to read, and especially to read all at once.
- Binary thinking: Either/or, good/bad, all/nothing, always/never
- Body/mind split: thinking/talking about your body as separate from you, seeing bodies as separate from minds, seeing bodies as the enemy, mind over matter.
- Supremacy of the mind/logic: seeing the mind/thinking/logic as more valuable/important/better than the body or the emotions. Valuing thinking over feeling or bodily knowledge/experience.
- Fracturing: Breaking bodies/people into parts, thinking of and evaluating them separately.
- Perfectionism: Not allowing for mistakes, wanting to always get it right, prioritizing being right/perfect, measuring against an image/ideal of perfection.
- Reducing people/bodies to objects: Viewing people as objects, without full complex lives and stories and their own needs, values and choices. Reducing people to stereotypes, what you want them to be, simple ideas, there to give you what you need. Not seeing people (including yourself) as whole human beings.
- Reducing people/bodies to utility/labor/ability: Valuing/viewing people and bodies in terms of their use, their potential utility, the labor they can do, their monetary value. Devaluing bodies that do not produce money or particular kinds of labor. Devaluing people/bodies based on their inability to work.
- Evaluating people based on normality. Judging things/actions/people based on whether they are normal.
- Supremacy of nature. Judging things/acts/people/identities based on whether they are natural, genetic, scientifically accepted, occur in the animal world, accepted as being rooted in instinct and evolution.
- Competition over scarcity: Seeing others as the enemy because they are endangering your potential resources. Viewing the world as a zero-sum-game, a pie that is carved up, and you will never get as much as you need. Assuming that certain identities/groups should be operating from an idea of scarcity, that scarcity is permanent and not something they have agency in, and those folks should therefore take whatever crumbs they can get and be happy with that.
- Entitlement: Seeing space as something to own, to conquer, something you deserve, something you are in competition over. Seeing bodies as there for you to touch, claim, own. Thinking you have the right/obligation to intervene/fix/save “problematic” bodies/people. Seeing culture/people/land as there for the taking.
- Body negativity: Thinking of bodies as bad, shameful, problems. Valuing only certain kinds of bodies, or certain areas of bodies. Seeing only certain kinds of bodies as worthy, desirable, good, normal. Seeing physical pleasure as bad, or trivial, or a slippery slope to bad things (e.g. drugs, too much food or sex, etc.). Trivializing the importance of bodies, physical capacity and ability, bodily experience of the world, embodiment.
- Sex negativity: Thinking of sex and desire as bad, wrong, shameful, dirty. Valuing only certain kinds of sex, seeing only certain kinds of people as sexual or worthy of desire, seeing certain kinds of sex/desire as wrong/shameful/ bad. Seeing BDSM as inherently shameful/fucked up/crazy/bad. Seeing sex as ok only if you can validate or justify it (love, marriage, pro-creation, heterosexuality, normality, not perverted, orgasmic, etc.). Thinking that if we allow certain kinds of sex/relationships, it’s a slippery slope to rubberstamping all sex/relationships (including those seen as bad). Trivializing the importance/power of sex and pleasure.
- Supremacy of health: Viewing/valuing bodies, people and behaviors as good/bad based on their physical/psychological health. Devaluing sick or disabled bodies, and devaluing mentally ill people. Valuing bodies based on mobility. Valuing people based on mental health. Assuming normal=healthy. Assuming that abnormal=unhealthy or abnormal=crazy. Assuming health is something easily measurable, visible, and in individual control. Blaming people for having bodies/psyches/desires that are seen as unhealthy. Justifying people’s bodies/actions on the basis of health.
Note about using this list as a tool for reflection: I have found it useful to focus on one item (or maybe just one of the examples within a bullet point), and just try noticing where it crops up in my thinking over a period of time (say a week, or a month). It has sometimes helped me to first try to notice that pattern of thinking outside myself before turning that same noticing inward. I have first tried to notice a pattern of thinking in books or movies or things people say around me on the job. Then I might try to notice that pattern in my journal writing, or my non-fiction writing, or my own stories. Then I might try noticing how it crops up in how I’m thinking about something, or the things I say to myself.
Final Note: If you look at an item on this list, and are perplexed at how it might be an example of oppressive ways of thinking, I encourage you to puzzle it over for a while and see if you can figure it out. (I often find those things especially useful avenues for thought.) If after some thought, you want to hear my own thought process on that particular item, feel free to ask me in the comments, shoot me an email (PraxisProductions at Gmail dot com), or put an anon ask in my tumblr inbox. I may not answer in a particularly timely manner, but I will attempt to answer.
(cross posted on tumblr)