The first time I recall writing something was when I was six years old. I remember the scene well. I was in our family living room, lying on the floor, writing a story where I was on a school trip, flying on a plane crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Suddenly, about halfway across, a bomb explodes taking out the doors, and plane is in trouble as it limps onwards towards JFK Airport. I remember drawing that scene from the story, with lots of vivid reds and yellows for the flames leaking out of the side of the aircraft.
My father was sat across from me on the sofa reading the Guardian newspaper. On this occasion my father asked to see what I was writing. Excited, as he rarely spent any time reading anything I wrote or drew, I rushed off the floor and showed him the story and the drawing. Pushing his thick brown rimmed glasses up his nose, my father took my piece of A4 paper from me. He studied the drawing and read the text. Then, saying nothing, he threw the story over his shoulder, picked up his paper and went back to his reading, ignoring me. I was distraught. I never did finish that story.
That was the first wound I ever endured about my writing.
Although obviously difficult, it is important to recognise that this one of many experiences has helped shape the man who wrote the book Intersections of Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy. And as I watch my book come out this month, I am as astonished as my 6-year-old probably is that his early horrific experiences have led to something so rich and meaningful. Yet, this is nothing new. There are many ways of using the pain of our experiences in order to create something meaningful and something new, and it is something humanity has done from the dawn of time. From the slaves who sang hymns to alleviate the pain and distress of their predicament, to the blues singers who write lyrics about their experiences, to Sam Cooke whose words within A Change Gonna Come arose from his experiences of entering a racist diner, to Prince who wrote about his estrangement from his abusive father. The use of one’s wounds as a conduit to something deeper has a resonance which transcends many barriers of race, colour, gender, sexuality.
Within the world of psychotherapy, Jung (Stevens, 1990) himself went through a period of psychosis, a process which unleashed out of him some of the most prolific writing the profession has ever experienced. Freud (Freud, n.d.) endured the loss of his homeland when he travelled to the United Kingdom, a wound he would never have the chance to recover from, but which led to some of his best writing in his later years, whilst R.D. Laing (1969) was an alcoholic sadly. All of these artists, psychotherapists, did the best they could with the wounds they had, to create an understanding of the nature of humanity which we still listen in to today. Even Romanyshyn (2010) posited the idea that we not only become therapists because of our wounds, but that this makes us competent psychotherapy researchers.
This is hugely important as we can often feel that the wounds we hold are just too much, too painful, and there is nothing we can do to move beyond these internalised experiences which have so shaped our identity. Internalisation is an important factor here, as it is something we all do. From learning how to smile as we see this mirrored in the gaze of our mother, to learning how to ride a bike as our grandfather took the time to teach us, internalisation is necessary a learning process we all go through in order to form a sense of identity (Ogden, 2004).
Yet, it isn’t only positive experiences which we internalise. From childhood traumas, to the experiences of racism or sexism, these can become internalised objects within our internal landscape, objects which working creatively can often access and help clients to recognise (Butler et al., 2002). Creativity therefore becomes a means of externalising these difficult experiences. For me, that form of creativity was my writing. Was my writing, is my writing, and will be my writing until I die.
I once had a girlfriend who told me that I had been through too much. To be honest, she wasn’t wrong. Also though, she wasn’t totally right. She assumed that the wounds I hold would be too much for me, or for her, and that they would break me. Yet the reality is the opposite. My wounds have made me very much who I am. It was the wounds of internalised racism in my own dreams which formed a part of my doctoral thesis, it was helping my participants work with their wounds around being the other, which have formed part of my book. My wounds are my vulnerability, yet they also are my creativity, my access to the source. My wounds lead me to my story, and my story is rarely just my story, meaning my wounds are rarely just my wounds. The wounds I have allow others to feel a connection, they allow others to see themselves at least partially mirrored in the experiences of a black man, as an other who is similar to them. Then they allow the other time and space to walk over the empathy bridge towards understanding and community.
It is obvious then, that the externalisation of my wounds is hugely important to me as it is this which saved me from whatever fate would have otherwise befallen me. So, from the 6-year-old, the 14-year-old, the 25-year-old, and the 51-year-old, I hope you all enjoy ‘Intersections’.
This wound is my gift to all of you.
Butler, C., Tull, E. S., Chambers, E. C., Taylor, J., & Ph, D. (2002). Internalised racism, body fat distribution, and abnormal fasting glucose among caribbean women in Dominica, West Indies. Journal of the National Medical Association, 94(3), 143–148.
Freud, S. (n.d.). The Dissolutionment of the War. In THOUGHTS FOR THE TIMES ON WAR AND DEATH.
Laing, R. D. (1969). Self and others. Penguin Books Limited.
Ogden, T. H. (2004). On holding and containing, being and dreaming. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(Pt 6), 1349–1364. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15801512
Romanyshyn, R. D. (2010). The Wounded Researcher: Making a Place for Unconscious Dynamics in the Research Process. The Humanistic Psychologist, 38(4), 275–304. https://doi.org/10.1080/08873267.2010.523282
Stevens, A. (1990). On Jung. Penguin Limited.