Raise your virtual hand if you’ve ever found yourself talking about your healing journey to others and making it seem like you were doing emotionally better than you actually were? Or raise your virtual hand if you’ve ever felt like you were doing really well with implementing healthier habits and behaviors then just had one situation that just threw your whole week off and made you feel like you had taken thirty steps backwards?
I have been guilty of doing both of these things. For a while, I had convinced myself that I was doing really well. Of course, there were those moments, few and far between, where all the things I had worked to unconsciously suppress would come up briefly, but it had not been anything that I could not handle.
However, at the end of 2020, something major ended up happening. I had a major emotional trigger that brought out unexamined emotions that I had convinced myself I had resolved. This situation broke me and in honor of being fully transparent, I don’t remember being that defeated EVER during my entire healing process. What caused me the most confusion was not just my reaction to the situation, but moreso that it revealed a lack of trust in myself. If I was able to convince myself that I was that unaffected by something THAT triggering, what other trauma had I half-assed resolved? It highlighted major disassociations for me in my process and made me realize that sometimes we want so badly to be better versions of ourselves without giving any thought to what that actually looks like.
That particular situation, although unpleasant, made me question whether I had been engaging in what I like to call ‘performative healing.’ Performative healing is when an individual engages in a healing process that is more declarative than it is substantive. It is when an individual places greater focus on the appearance of mental wellbeing rather than actual internalization of practices and techniques that aid in authentic healing. It is exactly as it says: a performance. We live in a culture where mental wellbeing has become trendy. It has become the ‘it’ thing of our decade and although this has numerous benefits in terms of social acceptance and increased dialogue around the topic of mental health, it can foster the idea that the healing process is absent of error, pain, and discomfort, when in fact those are the most critical aspects of the entire journey.
While reading bell hooks “ All About Love”, she discusses childhood and the impact of what we learn during this period of our lives on how we come to understand truth and ourselves. hooks explains that we are taught in childhood to lie. We are taught from a young age that lying allows us to spare others hurt. But when does that translate into our relationship with self? How do we decipher between what is true and what is not when we are taught to believe that honesty breeds pain and suffering? How do we move forward with actual healing that, albeit painful and uncomfortable, actually serves us instead of trying to adapt to versions of healing that others want to see?
These questions are all too important. They push us to see the individuality in healing and allow for a more sympathetic and accepting approach to our unique needs when it comes to healing and personal development.
There is also something to be said about the context within which women of color (WOC) are expected to heal. It can be a difficult process to maneuver. Healing involves a process of self actualization that is often times for WOC in direct conflict to the culture of survival that we are raised in. Our parents do not know the language. We sometimes lack access to individuals within our circles who can guide us towards a reality that, realistically has never existed within their universe and so we embark on a journey that often feels lonely and exhausting. As with any process where we learn something new, our initial habit as humans is to defer to what has worked best for others, but the error with this, in relation to healing, is that this can infer that there is a one size fits all approach to dealing with distinct traumas.
Our hurt looks different and each and every one of us wears it differently in our everyday lives. But no one else can do the work for you, not even the individuals who may have caused it. It is an internal battle that can only be won with personal awareness and effort.
True healing is also holistic. You cannot be solid in one part of your life and be in shambles in another. You cannot live different versions of yourself and expect to be whole. It just does not work that way. You cannot continuously prioritize the physical and emotional comfort of others and not expect to be exhausted or to feel resentful at some point. You cannot focus on improving your emotional health, yet allow toxic individuals to coexist with you in your everyday life. hooks also discusses this in her book, by the same title listed above, when she states “abuse and neglect negates love.”
The best and most honest version of you must show up in every aspect of your life: the workplace, friendships, romantic relationships, and familial bonds. You must work to determine where the similarities lie within all areas of your life because they are at constant interplay. The way you function as a parent translates into the way you function as a partner. The way you function as a partner is indicative of how you show up in your platonic friendships.
One of the worst things I have heard someone say is “but I am not like that when I am with…..” without realizing that this is impossible. We are who we are. We may be better at hiding versions of ourselves in particular settings, but those things still remain at the foundation of who we are. If left unaddressed they consume us and we can find ourselves back at square one. So my advice to anyone seeking true healing is focus on creating one, whole, true version of yourself. Embrace the pain and discomfort and never forget to ask yourself: who are you performing for?
Jennifer Galvao is a writer and blogger based in Boston, MA. Her work is centered on encouraging women of color to engage with another, to move closer to fulfilling their purposes and to ultimately understand how their life experiences have shaped their perspectives on love, lust, relationships, and most importantly self.