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Being Black VIII: Self-Abuse and the Adapted Other

Diary Entry: Adaptations are constructed out of coercion.  They can happen in any power-based relationship where we give up so much of ourself to fit in, to appear unthreatening.  From the workplace, to ones family, to ones marriage, it is not unusual to fall into line with an abusive man, patriarch, partner, boss, governmental edict.  All in the name of control.  For myself, much of these past twelve months has involved freeing myself from my own co-option within these varying systems of relational bondage. To echo Nina Simone, one day I hope to finally be free.  Free to be me. Finally. 

In our society, psychotherapists regularly fail to understand just how much identity is socially constructed.  Whilst all of our courses delve, rightly, into the relation between child and caregiver, often our theorists struggle to understand how much of the identity of parent, parent’s partner, and their family, is very much moulded by the environments they were raised within.  The generation, the times they grew up within, the social structures in place, the laws, the cultural rules, the prohibitions, these all play a massive part in the messages passed to any one of us as children (Andrews, 2012; Harris, 2006; Neimeyer, 1998).

The most interesting part of this, for this month’s blog, is how much force goes into the maintenance of this aspect of our identity.  From within and without, we often abuse, nay self-other and self-abuse, in order to feel safe, to belong.  The cost to this for all of us is huge.

Personal Note: Just had a run in with my ex-wife.  She is angry at me because she says she is trying to be transparent, and is upset as (after waiting several years) I finalised the divorce before she had the chance to do so.  She wanted to make it all about herself.  I found myself feeling invisible yet again in her presence.  I hated that.    

Social constructions of identity lead to the adaptation of the other.  When the other takes on the unwanted projected shadow of the subject, they cease to be themselves anymore and become that which they are told they are.  So for the behavioural, or sociological aspects of women, these have often been defined as such by a patriarchal system which desires self-definition and control (Beauvoir, 2010).  The ways of managing this have often involved power, oppression, suppression; laws, religious edicts, or the psychological implementation of shame and guilt when one is found not to behave as socially conscribed to do so.  This systemic oppression when passed from a central tenet has also been used towards the racialised other, the other of a sexual orientation, those seen as the other based around their age or physical or neurological ability.  This social constructionist angle to behaviour has even been used against men who fail (read choose) not to identify within the narrow constraints of whatever is seen as real masculinity.

This barrage of ways of being begins pre-birth and continues as one grows and becomes a socially accepted adult.  It involves punishments passed out both passively and actively when one doesn’t conform, and is inbuilt into every institution from school days onwards as we conform to ways of being.  This though means that we are othered, and that we self-other, from a very young age.  We learn to be adaptable, to be controlled, to be controllers of others, really early on, and it is the rare few who choose to step outside of these adaptations and free ourselves or others from the shackles of sociological and psychological adaptation (Alexandrowicz, 2017; Fredrickson & Harrison, 2005; Moore, 2010; van Knippenberg et al., 2004). 

Diary Note:  It is the lack of any type of an apology which has been tough for me.  The lack of any kind of acknowledgement or understanding of the pain caused, the distress, the let downs, the historical rewriting of the whole relationship, a relationship which ultimately just did not work.  The sense that I was never worth any of that, an apology, that’s really tough to take.  So I get why that part of me is furious.   

Like being in a punishing relationship, life for those who see themselves as the other can be extremely difficult.  Ones reality is often challenged, nay rejected, and often any recognition of the pain caused by the Subject’s central need to retain power and control, when raised, is rejected.  There are many ways that this occurs culturally; from the not all men idiocy, to the all lives matter obfuscating colourblindness, the rejection of the pain(s) of the other is doubly traumatic for those of difference.  What they also serve to do is to reinforce all of the narcissistic specialness and superiority of the Subject in a place where they will not be challenged, where they can’t be challenged.  The subject will reinforce its will, often incredibly abusively to prevent the other from protesting, from striking, from speaking up against anything which might be seen as an injustice, or which might mean the subjects humanity and specialness is brought into question.    

Diary Note:    Had a dream where my ex-wife climbed into bed with me, lying with her back to me.  Don’t worry.  Although the dreams points to something of her trying to get back in touch with me, I am not that stupid to let it. 

One of the strangest things about those who self-identify as patriarchal, or as white supremacists or as capitalists, is often how stupid they actually are.  From leaders of governments bleating about how they are leaders in this that in the world and how our world is supposedly at the forefront of this or that, to the person in the pub next to you waxing lyrical about how they know migrants are here just for a free ride on their own hard earned taxes, the ideas of those who believe they know it all ricochet around our society like tennis ball on the first day of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships.

Even when these same Subjects clearly not, or there is a failure to acknowledge their own blatantly obvious failures in performance or character, what often holds them in place is the male sympathy, white sympathy, or class sympathy of the sycophantic acolytes who boost them up like led balloons needing to be hoisted up into the air for them to stay aloft.

The cost to the other here is enormous.  Sometimes, one means of safety is by becoming an acolyte and playing ones role through the adaptation and engagement with the internalised and externalised supremacists narratives.  Yet, this though means one risks becoming inauthentic within oneself, and killing off that which makes one the other, and therefore unique.  The death of George Floyd, the murder of Sarah Everard, and the many fights for rights seen in the world today, are just some of the ways the other though has woken up from is socially created slumber with the fishes. Psychotherapy, for myself helped with this, as working with therapists who understood the politically motivated, social constructions of identity meant they were able to allow me to blossom out of the pig shit of adapted blackness to become the voice I am today.  This isn’t to say though that I don’t hear the seduction of the sirens call of adaptation still.  I still do.  What this is to say is that I have purchased a set of perfectly sized earplugs with which to block out their annoying warble. 

Whilst the Adapted Other survives

The Authentic Other Thrives


Alexandrowicz, C. (2017). ‘Straight-looking, straight-acting’: countering effemiphobia in acting training. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 8(1), 5–18.

Andrews, T. (2012). What is Social Constructionism? The Grounded Theory Review, 11(1), 39–46.

Beauvoir, S. de. (2010). The Second Sex. Alfred A. Knopf.

Fredrickson, B. L., & Harrison, K. (2005). Throwing Like a Girl: Self-Objectification Predicts Adolescent Girls’ Motor Performance. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 29(1), 79–101.

Harris, S. R. (2006). Social constructionism and social inequality: An introduction to a special issue of JCE. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35(3), 223–235.

Moore, G. (2010). Imperial White: Race, Diaspora and the British Empire/Enacting Englishness in the Victorian Period: Colonialism and the Politics of Performance. Journal of Victorian Culture, 15(3), 409–413.

Neimeyer, R. a. (1998). Social constructionism in the counselling context. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 11(2), 135–149.

van Knippenberg, D., De Dreu, C. K. W., & Homan, A. C. (2004). Work group diversity and group performance: an integrative model and research agenda. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(6), 1008–1022.