Charlie Hebdo & Uncomfortable Freedoms


Charlie Hebdo & Uncomfortable Freedoms

As I listened to the news of the murders at Charlie Hebdo I cried. Battling with writers block at the time I was forced to confront the very free and ephemeral nature of my struggle and that my fear was solely for my own lack of productivity rather than persecution for the outcome of my labour. Anyone who puts their creativity ‘out there’ from blogging to fine art runs the risk of ridicule or dislike alongside the possibility of appreciation. Tracey Emins 1998 ‘My bed’ seems to evoke particular vitriol. Perhaps the gamut of responses is to be more expected in the world of social media where anonymity can afford  for speedy and unconstricted ideas to find a mass audience in seconds, but to once again know that people had in the 21st century lost their lives for expressing themselves, their politics, art and ideas was a confronting reality. As a therapist who writes it was particularly poignant to hear that one of those who lost their life was the psychoanalyst and columnist Elsa Cayatbanksy_-_je_suis_charlie

As someone with strong connections to North Africa I am aware of the polarisation that is often underlined in moments like this, and the inevitable backlash against Islam from those who fail to see the actions of extremists as distinct and non-representative. We can only hope that the long-term legacy of this tragedy can be a reassertion of freedom not reductionist constraint.

In extremis and trauma the casualty is always the capacity to think, to play and explore. The brittle and defensive often compels us to more primitive ways of being; survival, fight, flight, or freeze. In the words of Malala Yousafzai to the UN General Assembly in 2013 “We realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realise the importance of our voice when we are silenced”. Her response to a regime that sought to exterminate her both as individual and symbol tells us that it is precisely in these moments of oppression and terror that we need freedom of speech, art and creativity, something of ambiguity that leaves us with questions and a sense of not knowing. This is the opposite of traumatic shock. In our transaction with art and literature we are free to choose to look and engage or look away. Around the world there are those losing their lives for that which many of us take for granted. I hope that we can honour their courage by fighting to maintain the place for equality of expression and difference in the written, spoken and visual, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Sarah Benamer

Charlie Hebdo & Uncomfortable Freedoms2023-12-01T12:39:50+00:00

Great Expectations


Predictably, the English football team’s performance last night did not meet the expectations of many, despite being apparently low. Sarah Benamer is today’s guest blogger examining our expectations, thankfully not discussing football. Here she is with a thoughtful approach to our relationship with self, others and money.

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In times of uncertainty human beings tend to respond (often through necessity) from a defensive place, from their most insecure internal structures. In this place we forget about quality of life in favour of survival mode, a place of reaction and just ‘getting by’ rather than engaging bodily, emotionally, and thoughtfully. We often feel that we are alone and that life is living us rather than the other way around.

The strong desire that every human being has to attach and belong takes us to the heart of what it means to be vulnerable, to feel like a child again, and is highly susceptible to suggestion or manipulation when we feel insecure. This is evident on our ballot papers in the presence of the more nationalist political parties, which tell us that we can feel better, and be stronger through collaborating to exclude rather than tackling the feelings of vulnerability associated with living in a period of rapid change. This epoch of great uncertainty in our work, environment and even the way we relate seems to be leaving many of us behaving as if we are under siege; financially, practically, and personally; ultimately disconnected from ourselves and our communities.

These demands of 21st century living are not going to go away and opting out is not feasible for most, so I am wondering how we free ourselves from the rigidity of survival of the fittest to experience our lives more fully without needing to marginalize others or ourselves? How do we keep ourselves orientated towards quality of life?

Earlier this year whilst travelling in Asia I was reminded of how our expectations and desires must essentially be shaped by our culture and circumstance. Watching someone wash or brush their teeth in river water in proximity to the largest mobile phone factory in the world gave me pause to reflect. I thought about my irritation at the sporadic nature of the boiler in my shower back in the UK. Frustration at clean, drinkable water not fulfilling the brief of the ‘H’ on the tap. What a princess! I thought about the outlook of the workers in that locality, and the differing prospects that their children might have. I pondered how many generations it might take to forget and to experience the successes of ones forefathers as disappointments in our own lives?

My expectations and disappointments like those of all of us have been shaped by my context, a western consumerist milieu that structures my emotional experience. So how can I/we short-circuit this to find our way back to quality of life? To compare ourselves to others across the world from a privileged viewpoint is patronizing and inevitably does little but describe the status quo. Comparison and competition with others (and in deference to The World Cup by this I do not mean in sport!) disenfranchises us from the very essence of who we are. It also sets up the very ‘them and us’ dynamic that at its least is lonely and at its worst becomes bigotry and hatred.THRIVE

In her recent book ‘Thrive’ Arianna Huffington writes of ‘The Third Metric’ of coming to appreciate different measures than wealth and power in shaping our sense of ourselves and our happiness, not least of which is physical wellbeing and sleep. In this (albeit from a very privileged place) she now rejects the ‘have it all’ dogma, recognizing that there is always a price to be paid. Brene Brown speaks compellingly of embracing our vulnerability and forgetting who we are supposed to be in favour of who we are. I am deliberating about something that takes from the psychotherapeutic tradition of self knowledge, of taking time to reflect, moment to moment whatever our circumstance. Of remembering all that we are and all that we hope to be, of connection to our bodies and locating ourselves in our moment and place in time with understanding and compassion. It is in reminding ourselves of these very personal details – our individuality, history, beliefs, desires and aspirations that I suspect we might find empowerment to quality of life.

In the words of the late Maya Angelou…“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” We are often our harshest critics and under pressure lose sight of what makes us who we are in favour of feeling ‘less than’. So as you approach your summer holiday, start the hellish school run or tackle a particularly busy or challenging time in work can you carve out a place for reflection and choice rather than the ultimatum of survival mode? Can you remember where you come from; the choices that you made that brought you to this point, or the regrets that can perhaps inform you in your future? Can you stay with what it feels like to be you? I say this not from the point of knowing, but as one who is still searching.

Sarah Benamer: The Intimacy Clinic

Great Expectations2023-12-01T12:39:19+00:00
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