As part of my ongoing research into understanding psychotherapy and human nature from a cultural perspective I will be writing a monthly blog. If you would like to sign up for my quarterly newsletter detailing the latest news from Dwight Turner Counselling (including news of the latest blog entries) then feel free to enter your details on the side of this page
Please note: older blog entries are collected together every 6 months at the base of this page.
Endgame: The Saviour and the Other
(Published the 3rd May 2019)
This month I want to talk about the link between the saviour complex and narcissism. My ideas are not new, but are prompted by the stories which have flooded the news recently of volunteers and workers rushing to Africa, to Asia or to South America, to go and build huts, or to dig for water. Workers who are then angry that their one week, one month, or 3 months of effort has not been rewarded by such ungrateful natives. This was something Freire (1970) noted in his works, pointing out that the saviour, in his case based around concepts of whiteness, was built upon an ideal of supremacy, that only the saviour knew what the other might need.
The simple fact that these people look for gratitude, says so much about the narcissistic nature of these endeavours, but the saviour is not just based around whiteness. In my view, as a psychotherapist, the saviour is a concept hidden within us unconsciously. It is a distortion of the hero archetype, which when wedded to the narcissism of the person, or culture, or gender, then transforms it into something which needs validation for all the good deeds which it feels it has done. On a more individual level it is seen in the parent who chides the child for all that they have done for them, expecting father’s day or mother’s day cards for example, the effort of parenting is one done on the behest of the parent. The distortion arriving with the simple factor that the child did not submit a request to the parent to parent them, with a list of requirements as such, and that parenting, good enough parenting, is about being in service to one’s children.
There is something else about the argument against the Saviour, white or otherwise, that people tend to miss. That as much as the saviour speaks of wanting to help, by their own narcissistic need to be that saviour, what they are actually working towards, is to actually consciously/unconsciously keep the other in their place; subservient, less than, in need of the saviour to rescue them.
The reality of the organisations behind the saviour, from the charities to the governments, is that if they were really interested in providing assistance then they would have humbly helped to alleviate any suffering generations before today. The example of the cultural narcissism of the West therefore needs the suffering of the other as an object against which they can project their heroism. The other is weaker, the other needs rescuing, only I can therefore help them from the pit of suffering they have found themselves within.
The saviour is not just found in these instances. The most obvious place to find the Saviour is in film and media, where stories abound of the man, normally white, who rescues the woman from bad guys, the minority from a life of poverty with the gift of a chance at a better life on a sports field, the city of New York from alien invaders, the universe from the annihilation of half its inhabitants. The list goes on and on and on...
The most interesting aspect of being in a world full of saviours is when you are on the receiving end, when you are in the thrall of the saviour. It is also often difficult to recognise this symbiotic behaviour because often these types of people present as friends, or as those who will support you whenever you need such. Then comes to time to ask, informing those around you of what you need, there are denials, and one is told that you do not really know what you need. That only the saviour can truly know this. This is as recognisable when it comes from governments and other major institutions and their treatments of so called third world countries, as it is for the individual looking for help from those who one would call friends. A brilliant example arises out of David Cameron’s visit to Jamaica back in 2015, where when asked to atone for the evils of slavery, he instead promised the Jamaican government money to build a prison (Riley-Smith, 2015). The dark brilliance of this simple example is that not only does it reveal the narcissism embedded within the saviour complex (that the British government knows best), but also we witness the inherent racism in the suggestion of a prison to keep all the bad black people locked away.
Yet, let us turn this around. This is important as there is another subtle danger though in that as the Other we do not always recognise how complicit we have been taught to be in relation to this saviour. Be it that we are women waiting for the prince to come and rescue us from the tallest spire in the castle where we are held hostage, to persons of difference waiting for those in power to grant us the rights we so crave, the saviour needs one subtle thing from us in order to make us complicit; that of our patience that they, and only they, can make right what is wrong in our world (even if it is they who manufactured such dissonance in the first place). A brilliant example is the conscious post-colonial complicity of my own ancestors who travelled to the United Kingdom holding in their patient palms the promise of better life in the motherland.
I’ve written here in the past about the ‘Girl Who Waited’ and how insidious it can become to overly trust the saviour when they promise to do something for us, to save us. Their waiting disempowers us whilst their promise disavows us of our agency. And as I walk towards the latter edges of middle age, I re-recognise just how strange a thing it is to wait to be saved; something I have known from time to time, but something that it is so easy to forget in cultures so embedded, so built upon, cultural narcissism.
Ultimately, the saviour is an aspect of the supremacist that is often not seen as such and is therefore little talked about. But it needs to be. It needs to be witnessed in all of its grotesque anti-glory, with the light cast upon it so it can no longer hide in the shadows, seemingly doing the such good work it craves to be admired for. Similarly, for the other to truly engage with the civil, gender, or other rights that it so correctly fights for, the internalised saviour has to be conquered, has to be wrestled with and disempowered, in order for us to take care of ourselves. In order for us to grow.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. UK: Penguin Books Limited.
Riley-Smith, B. (2015, September). David Cameron told to “personally atone for slavery” as reparations row mars Jamaican visit. The Telegraph2, pp. 1–2.
This Blog is copyrighted by Dwight Turner Counselling Ltd (c) and is influenced by my Research Project conducted via the University of Northampton and the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education (CCPE)
Brexit: Democracy and the Other
(Published 20th March 2019)
These are strange times. Teresa May has tried, twice, to force her Brexit Deal through the House of Commons, and failed by record margins, losing both votes by a total of around 400 votes. At the time of writing this month’s blog, Mrs May has now had to ask the EU to extend Article 50, the mechanism by which the United Kingdom was due to leave the EU zone, beyond its 29th of March limit, to a date not longer than the 30th of June 2019.
That this whole, admittedly complicated, process has taken over 1000 days from the referendum to get to this simple point is astonishing. A process whereby the promises of Brexit have been laid bare for what they truly are, and a drive to resist this change has become more vocal over a time. What we have also simultaneously seen more over these past two years is the numerous, incessant attacks upon those same growing numbers who have spoken out against Brexit, by those who are very much for it. This silencing of difference, of a potential opinion of opposition, speaks of something more insidious. The silencing of alternative voices of democracy.
For example, MPs, quite often either female or of colour, or both, who have talked out against Brexit, against the deportation of those who have resided in the UK most of their lives, against those who sit in the Far Right, have endured some of the most horrific abuses possible in this fact. From threats against their lives, against their bodies, against their families, the horror of the darkness that has been unleashed in the name of the Brexitisation of Britain has led many of those on the receiving end to do all from looking for additional legal support, to leaving social media, to more extreme measures to keep themselves safe. This vilification of the political other, often coated in the veneer of anti-political-correctness, is actually as undemocratic as the silencing of those voices who have risen to the surface these past two years.
What I have therefore realised is that this triumvirate of Brexit, Supremacy and Democracy cannot coexist in a country such as the United Kingdom, not when we look at this further and try to break down just what is democracy in this instance. And this is where I think the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau is particularly useful. Rousseau (1998) posited three types of democracy. The third one was the type of democracy where ideas over the rule of law were passed down to the majority of the people to dictate, to vote upon, and to construct. The second type of democracy was actually called Aristocracy, where the power is limited to a small number of people, and everyone else, the majority, are subjects of said democracy. The first one is simply a monarchy, where the means or ruling are in the hands of a singular person. Although Rousseau also states that this number at the top, between the aristocracy to the monarchy, might vary towards that singular leader, the further up this chain we edge between aristocracy and monarchy, the closer we get to a type of supremacy, needed in order to govern, nay rule, said population.
Yet, it should be obvious to most readers, given the narrowness of where the messages for a brighter future are emergent from, that we are actually living within an aristocratic democracy. What is also fairly obvious is that Political Correctness is a threat to this form of democracy, as the voices of the other, indeed their ability, their right, to self-identify and to be seen as equal to those seeing themselves as part of the elite, challenges its very fabric. The attacks on political correctness, which are really designed to maintain this aristocratic democracy, are nothing new, and are a tool used by the Elite on numerous occasions before. As Stuart Hall (1994) discussed in his paper on the subject, whilst acknowledging the origins of PC he also recognised the flaws in its make-up and functioning, being as much rooted in an attempt to resist the political patriarchy by utilising the same tools used against it. This flaw, I would argue, has led to alternative narratives about things like Brexit being not just being dismissed, but being destroy, annihilated.
Aristocratic Democracy here in the UK is Class based, and my point here is that this powerful form of Democratic Supremacy is like the perfect storm of Privilege and Power combined. Aristocratic Democracy as a systematic force here has used fear to enforce its narrative. Fear of the other, fear of the loss of autonomy and control, fear of the future. It has also used a kind of fantastic nostalgia, for the time when it was all perfect, for a future where we can once again rule the world. These presentations of the past and the future in fantasy form, speak of the unreality of the supremacist narrative. It governs not by remaining in the present, looking at the impact of universal credit upon those who need the most support, not on the thousands living on the streets, or taking food from food banks, not at the destruction of the NHS or the devastating privatisation of essential services. Politically, Aristocratic Democracy presents a smokescreen of promises and innuendo. Politically, it plays with the envy and narcissism of the other, binding it to its will.
The warning for those others who buy this promise of this golden future is as much a psychological one as anything else. For the other, there is no otherness, in fact the other here psychologically is forced in to a position of the supplicated Echo in relation to the narcissism of the supremacist (Spivak, 1993). This is what unconsciously sits behind the need of so many to silence, to put down, to hate, or to be violent towards, those who already are different but are willing to speak out against Brexit. Their refusal to be othered, to become the echo, is not only an important aspect of democracy, but also an important unconscious factor in the maintenance of the cultural psychological wellbeing.. This misconstruing of the type of democracy we reside within is therefore hugely important to recognise as we deal with the fallout political, or more so the cultural, from the distressing experience that is Brexit.
So, when I say that the true obstacle to a democratic Brexit process is Supremacy, I say so with a sense of sadness which speaks of the trials and tribulations to come for those other who will continue to speak up. Differences of opinion were an essential aspect of this Brexit, and it seems that this has been ignored. Millions have been misled, millions have been lied to, and millions have been left out of the day to day drama that has been the excruciating negotiations leading up to the separation on the 29th of March 2019 (or whenever it is supposed to happen).
I, for one, have really benefitted from being a part of the EU. As a person of difference, and as an academic with a valid voice of the other, I often felt safest when I was in Europe, sometimes more so than when I am here in London. I will therefore make the most of any opportunities to be a part of this wider community in the future. I have a duty to speak up, to be as vocal as I can in my continued efforts to create a different type of democratic future.
Durant, S. (Ed.). (1994). The War of the Words: the political correctness debate. London: Virago.
Rousseau, J.-J. (1998). The Social Contract. UK: Wordsworth Editions Limited.
Spivak, G. (1993). Echo. New Literary History, 24(1), 17–43.
This Blog is copyrighted by Dwight Turner Counselling Ltd (c) and is influenced by my own post-doctoral research project into our experiences as the Other
Voices of the Other: Drowning in the Sea of Supremacy
(Published 14th February 2019)
I have spent a lot of the past month pondering supremacy. This has come up for a number of reasons (too many to list in this blog), but on the back of last month’s blog I was concerned by just how much we resist the idea that supremacy plays a huge part in all our lives in the Global North. Offering examples which we may all have witnessed. The man who mansplains feminism to women, the white person who explains just what racism is to someone of colour/other, the able-bodied person who knows what is best for someone considered to have another ability, the European who knows just what is best for persons in Africa, or the mentally well individual who knows what is best for the person labelled with a mental illness. From the world of academia to the world of Twitter, my encounters with supremacy can be anything from microaggressions to trolling to outright hate speech and hostility.
Offering some examples of just how much we are embedded in a world of supremacy, I would like to present a few here this month. Firstly, the idea of something being ‘normative’ speaks of the centralising of an experience (be it heteronormative, whiteness, or seen as patriarchally normative). These ideas of what is right, of what is normal, automatically set rules of what is right and what is wrong, and of how one should be. Yet, what these also do is unconsciously recognise the supremacy of that normative experience. And whilst it is there, and whilst many of us see it and recognise it, what is often not raised as an issue is the supremacy and how this power dynamic resides in so much of our cultural thinking.
Another example, economics and supremacy also go together. Logically, the moment where you have a system where one group can only afford one type of universal healthcare, for example, and a minority can afford to fly in the best care possible from whichever part of the world they want, then we live with a world with layers of more than just privilege, we look down upon the other from a position of supremacy.
Supremacy also sits within the psychotherapy. For example, the development stages which form aspects of psychodynamic thought, the idea that the child holds a more self-centric view of the world, one which means it cannot relate to the other, be it mother, another child etc (Weil & Piaget, 1951). This is the type of wound that appears when people regularly start a sentence with ‘if it was me/my issue/my problem, I would do this (and so should you)’. One reason for this is this is a wound emergent out of the child’s failure to negotiate this bridge towards a relationship with the other. This failure then leaves it with a dilemma. The other is there. I do not understand it. How does its presence impact upon my identity? I feel threatened. I therefore need dominion over it.
Supremacy is therefore one of the cornerstones of inequality, and without questioning this aspect, then all we are doing is opening the door for certain others to walk the path towards that same fragile sense of supremacy. It is something that has arisen out of class differences dating back centuries, the patriarchal system that is tens of thousands of years old, to the demarcation of racial differences, or the religious differences which have led to wars. In a way, I could argue here that in this culture we crave suppression, we crave the boot of the supremacist. This is not too far fetched an idea, especially as French philosopher de la Boetie (2015) posited all the way back in the 16th Century or so. For some people therefore, the idea of equality is actually parity with supremacy, and therefore the reinforcement of those same inequalities they initially resisted.
This is one of the reasons why I am, sadly at times, coming to the conclusion that it is almost impossible to dismantle supremacy. From whatever its origins supremacy is a systemic construct which is so engrained within the cultures of the Global North that it drives everything from which children choose to play whom and who also they exclude, to which country chooses to trade with whom and why. It influences and underpins our everyday prejudices moulding them into something that is more than the other, and reinforces that sense of superiority we all seem to need in this culture.
There are those theorists though who, perhaps, offer a route out of this seemingly helpless position as the oppressed other. Utilising the work of Sandra Harding, and Standpoint theory, Harding (2004) lays out a vision whereby those who are basically the Other are best positioned to discuss their own experiences as said other. It is a theory that talks of research whereby the real experiences of the other are not governed by those who have a vested interest, conscious or otherwise, in maintaining their sense of superiority, but by those who are on the outside of the circle.
It is a theory though that has its critics. For example, one of its problems seems to be the idea that if a person is sat on the outside as they other, they should automatically have a story to tell from that position. Whilst I can see where this flaw has come from, what I suspect it does not recognise is that within each of us is someone who also holds a layer or privilege. If identity is intersectional then using myself as an example as well as being black and the son of immigrants, I am also an academic and heterosexual. To therefore talk from that position as the other means that I have to consciously place to one side those aspects of my privilege which might hinder my thinking.
Another criticism of this theory is that it lacks empirical validity. My issue with this secondary criticism of Standpoint Theory is that any theory that is new, or that is philosophical in nature, at least in its beginnings, will lack the theoretical underpinnings for it to gain some type of validity. It is also a criticism that reeks of the same type of scientifically heteronormative supremacy that the scientific community often resides within. So, whilst the theory has its critics, it is also my strong belief that StandPoint Theory also has another function. This function is to redress the unconscious power imbalance that it underlines and is inherent within any type of interaction where the other is present. It is the outsider, it is the lesser, it is without power.
So, to redress this within society is not so much about stripping away the world of supremacy, conscious and unconscious that we all live within. My belief is that to move beyond this is to recognise that this powerlessness bourn out of experiences of otherness in the face of supremacy is only countered by giving myself, our self, our own voice. The Standpoint therefore has a personally transformational aspect that I think is hugely important. One that I think then challenges the worlds of supremacy we live within.
de la Boetie, E. (2015). The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. USA: Mises Institute.
Harding, S. (2004). The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader. New York and London: Routledge.
Weil, A. M., & Piaget, J. (1951). The development in children of the idea of the homeland and of relations to other countries. International Social Sciences Journal, 3, 561–578.
This Blog is copyrighted by Dwight Turner Counselling Ltd (c) and is influenced by my ongoing exploration into The Other
New YouTube Channel: Being The Other
Being The Other (press the name to be taken through to YouTube) is a channel by the Other, for the Other. Based upon my own doctoral studies, this channel seeks to challenge some of the narrow stereotypes around the experience of being the other, offering a newly developing perspective on experiences as the other.
Please subscribe, follow us on Twitter or Facebook under the same title and I look forward to working with you.
Blog entries from Oct 14 to May 15:
Oct 2014: The Other PT1: Kristeva, Power and the Other
Nov 2014: The Other PT2: When Echo needs to speak up!
Jan 2015: The Other PT3: The problem with the assimilation of the Other
Mar 2015: The Other PT4: Outsider, the Genius
May 2015: The Other PT 6: Encounters with the Other within the global marketplace
Feb 2015: ICON: The black superhero in the Superhero Age
Blog entries from April 14 to Sept 14:
April 2014: Sozinho - the quest for intimacy
June 2014: Copa de Monde Brazil: An Afrocentric perspective
May 2014: Cosmospirituality - (Part One)
July 2014: Afro-Spirituality explored (Part Two)
Sept 2014: A post-colonial exploration of our Afrocentric identity (Part Three)
This Blog is copyrighted by Dwight Turner Counselling Ltd (c) and is influenced by my Research Project conducted via the University of Northampton and the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education (CCPE)