The mechanics of breaking a mind

In a greenstick fracture, the bone is damaged, but not broken. Before it can heal, it has to be broken. In terms of body damage and body healing this is unusual as the default is just to have to patch back together whatever is damaged. In emotional healing often the reverse is true, with the original damage looking more like a greenstick fracture, and the need to break something before healing is an option.

The reason for this is that a lot of our troubled mind issues are a response to experience. We develop coping mechanisms to get us through emotionally dangerous times, and eventually it is the coping mechanisms that cause us the trouble. It’s not a clean psychological break, but a bending of self.

To offer a case study on this… body shaming has always been part of my life experience, and my coping mechanism started long before I had any awareness that I was coping with something that maybe wasn’t ok. I protected myself emotionally by participating in the shaming. I agreed with it, I concurred that my body was disgusting and unacceptable. As a consequence of that, I’ve lived out the idea of mind body dualism, my sense of ‘me’ being all about the little voice on the inside and carefully disconnected from the physical presence. I tend to talk about my body as though it’s a separate thing, and not me. When my body isn’t good enough for someone, it’s my body I hate, not the person mocking or rejecting me.

There is no clean and tidy way of patching this up. Obvious ‘mend’ approaches just hide the problem. I’ve learned to not make any fuss about it when faced by people who find my body ok and who are disturbed by my self-loathing. This too is a coping mechanism, and of limited use.

To feel ok about my body, I have to break down everything I’ve thought and believed. I have to separate out belief and coping mechanism from truth, and I have to start placing the body shaming in the hands of the people who did it, and deal with the consequences. To claim this body as my own, and not as an awkward lump of flesh I am obliged to heft about, I will have to break parts of my own thinking. I’d have to break my story far enough to be able to consider that the lump is worth claiming.

To heal someone’s heart and mind is not a quick process. It is likely to be a messy one. It requires space, and for it to have space, that healing has to be more important than anything else. With the realities of work, domestic responsibilities, bills to pay, most of us do not get the time or space to deal with the green stick fractures in our heads. We may end up making more of them to cope with dragging our battered selves through the things we are already obliged to do. It’s only when a person breaks down to the point of being unable to work that we take their mental distress at all seriously. And then, the emphasis is on finding some kind of band aid – usually medication – to get said person back to work as soon as possible. We treat the symptoms, and leave the underlying damage undealt with. The greenstick fracture remains green and painful, and no one takes the time to break the emotional bones and reset them properly.

Mental health problems are on the rise, depression and anxiety are widespread. Unless we allow people the time and space to deal with their issues, they cannot heal. Unless we stop damaging people in the first place, we will continue to get ever more damaged people. We need to step back and look at why so many people are getting ill, and start recognising that there are sick attitudes in our culture that are causing much of the problem.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “The mechanics of breaking a mind

  • Bob Jones

    I compliment your courage : )

  • inanna

    love this, nimue. i believe that spiritual work needs to address both the violence and disconnection in the outer, manifest world; and the internalisation of this aggression and disconnect that we play out in our bodyminds day after day. i am glad there are those called to activism and naming and shaming systemic violence, and its perpetrators – but for myself, the work that i need to do is the internal stuff. it feels like radical self-care to unearth the hatred i’ve learnt for myself; to offer tenderness and space and acceptance towards the unhealthy habits i’ve learnt to fit in as a woman in our sick culture. and, along the way, as i’ve started to recognise the mechanisms of disconnection that we’re taught, the understanding that none of us is immune – that we actually all hate ourselves at some level – is sinking deeper and deeper. time for a new paradigm! thanks for sharing and, as ever, blessings on your journey.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for sharing this. I feel that in fixing ourselves we become part of the process of fixing the wider system. I’ve yet to get to the point where the term ‘radical self care’ does not panic me a bit, but I’m trying to head that way.

      • inanna

        interesting, nimue – why/how does that terminology induce panic for you?

        for me, the notion of “fixing” has the same effect! on the one hand, because i believe that we are all whole, beautiful and perfect; but that life asks, and often requires, that to be covered by layer upon layer of forgetting, partly as survival strategy. and therefore the lies, the crappy conditioning and false stories need to come to light so that they can begin to drop away. i have and do seek the expertise of those who can help with this process, but for me, there are problematic hierarchies and power structures invoked if i start to entertain the idea that i need fixing. hence, “radical self-care”. i want to trust the intelligence, creativity and self-organising principles of my bodymind, just as i do in Nature as a wider principle.

      • Nimue Brown

        Thank you for this, there’s much here that it really helpful to me. At a most basic level, my problem is years of conditioning such that I don’t feel safe if I’m putting myself first. And I know what you mean about the fixing, if you can’t start from a place of self acceptance, if you always have to be a wrong thing that needs sorting out – it’s no place to live.

  • Sheila North

    Plasters fall off so easily. True healing takes time, and space, and quiet. A system which revolves around money, and ignores the soul, prefers the quick fix. But how is it quick when it has to be done over, and over, and over again? The long way is often the shorter way, in the end.

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