By Michael Rosen
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For an end to self-blame

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Issue 411

Susan Rosenthal (Feb SR) identifies the illusion of the individual in psychology and therapy.

There is clearly some connection between the materiality of social existence and individual lives, but how should we conceive of this connection beyond saying that the social and the individual “determine” each other?

Whatever model we come up with has to explain how people often accept ideas that run counter to their daily existence and own interests. One possibility posed by some theorists is through a version of “introjection”. This is the mechanism by which we “internalise” the needs of those with power and control over us. This may be part of something equally significant, self-blame.

Nurture and education are shot through with mechanisms which engineer self-blame. Consider, for example, the ideology foisted on to children with “anyone can succeed” in an upcoming exam. The reality is that all exams are fixed to produce a percentage of “failures” but when the results to the exam are given and if you are a fail, then it must surely be your fault and not a consequence of the exam system.

Similarly, most “discipline” systems at home or at school are instituted on the principle of “because I/we say so” so that it is extremely difficult for the child on the receiving end to challenge why that discipline system has that particular form. If you fall foul of it, the consequence will be self-blame: you are “bad” or “wrong” because the system says you are, and the system is “right”. This engineers obedience and passivity, a crucial part of how capitalism succeeds in reproducing itself.

In terms of mental illness, there is seemingly no escape from self-blame. Resisting these instruments of self-blame breaks open the prison door — which is, I think, Rosenthal’s point.

Michael Rosen

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