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.