There is a Facebook group for women who have been abused by women in their lives. Some of the rules of the group include that members are to support the women posting in the group, to always assume abuse, and to never side with the abuser. There are over 56,000 women in this group, posting various stories and speaking on atrocities conducted by the women in their lives who are supposed to love and nurture them.
I am a member of the group, invited by a friend who has suffered abuse of this kind. I watch the posts, just reading and absorbing the stories, refusing to comment. Occasionally, there comes a post where I will raise my eyebrows at the narrative of the poster. Something might seem off, like maybe the poster is overreacting or being petty or refusing to see a side that doesn’t paint them in the light of the constant victim. But the comments are full of women encouraging the poster to continue acting a certain way that doesn’t encourage growth; they are devoid of women asking questions that might challenge the views of the poster. If someone does speak up, they are told to be quiet and to support the poster. If they don’t, they are removed and blocked.
These kind of groups are everywhere, on every platform and in every aspect of life. Echo chambers for every possible perspective, political, emotional, societal…like attracts like after all. We run to people who will validate our pain, who will say “yeah, fuck them!” and we will avoid people who have contrasting viewpoints because we see challenges of our viewpoints as personal attacks instead of examining the ideas in a objective way (because emotions are anything but objective). But refusing to be challenged in any way? Where are the catalysts for growth? Of course no one should be berated in a support group and people should be validated…but what happens after the validation of experience?
I told my therapist about this group. My concern is that no one’s therapist is telling them they are fucked up. Abusers go to therapy too (hopefully). Are they sitting down with their therapist and getting their viewpoints validated in an echo chamber? When I think of all of the emotionally destructive personality disorders that wreak havoc on the people in these troubled souls’ lives: narcissism, borderline personality disorder, etc, how are people not getting told by their therapists “yeah, dude, you’re an asshole”? (tactfully, of course). How are people getting better if they aren’t getting challenged?
I go to therapy and get my emotions validated. Are they people who have hurt me doing the same thing? Are they getting told that I am the one in the wrong like my therapist tells me of my abusers? Are they getting absolved of any responsibility?
Dave (my therapist) says that bad therapists simply validate and empathize instead of pushing deeper into the work and asking questions like, “What were you looking for with this interaction?” or “Have they always lied? Or have they lied sometimes?” or “Is there a reason you felt you had to say that to your ex?” or “Why are you reaching out to someone who has shown they don’t care about you?” Bad therapists don’t challenge or push back on views or cause you to be curious about your reasons for actions or intentions. While validation of emotions and experiences are PARAMOUNT to therapy, that is only the beginning of the climb to recovery. When a therapist can’t extend beyond empathy and compassion to ask questions that might piss off their client for challenging their views, there comes a “toxic positivity” therapy style, thus titled White Girl Therapy. You know the kind: they provide lip service that is reminiscent of the girls in a bar bathroom who are all about the love and the hype. It is hollow and you come away with nothing substantial, just the knowledge that someone noticed you. If you aren’t coming out of your therapist’s office occasionally thinking “oh my god, I was wrong in how I handled that. I can do better next time because I understand why I acted that way and begin to heal what created such behavior in me” are you even in therapy?
Therapists should be able to challenge their clients’ views, perhaps experiencing some turmoil in the client/therapist relationship for a bit, before righting the emotional ship and continuing the work. Perhaps it is necessary that a client feels safe and validated by their therapist, knowing the therapist cares for them, that the therapist sees all of their life stories and their connections before challenges get thrown into the mix. Perhaps it is important for respect between the client and therapist to be established so the challenges aren’t immediately discarded in a massive defense by the client to protect themselves.
If you want a cheerleader, go to a football game, or join a Facebook echo chamber. I’ll be over here occasionally full of shame and horror at my actions. Thanks, Dave, at least I understand why now, and unpacking that is another story.