I’m blessed to share some thoughts here on the balance between support and space, a theme that comes up regularly for me, as an an unschooler who left home “early” and as a neurodivergent struggling in an ableist world. It came up for me recently while reading the rad sci-fi post-revolution/”silence-breaking” story, “Evidence” by Alexis Pauline Gumbs , and then again when I came accross the awesome post “The opposite of rape culture is nurturance culture“, that talks about attachment theory in the context of patriarchy. Made me want to share all of it with you, cause what’s better than visionary fiction and woke psychology, really? I hope it makes you as excited about turning the whole damn world of health care/ parenting /community support around as I am 🙂
“Evidence”, by Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a very weird and very powerful story. I’m still a little confused even after reading it a number of times, but basically the piece is made of different “exhibits” stemming from a history project done by Alexandris, a descendant of Alexis (the author) in the faraway future (five generations ahead). The history project is about the time of “Silence-Breaking” which happened in Alexis’ lifetime. Thanks to the “Silence-Breaking”, Alexandris, her descendant from the future and even herself farther in the future lives in a time radically different from ours. In one letter, Alexis from the future describes it so: “Now life, though not exactly easier, is life all the time”.
There’s a lot going on in that piece, I particularly love what Alexis Gumbs does with time in there, breaking linearity constantly, weaving different space-times together. While I read her piece, she creates in me a feeling of commitment and accountability both to the ancestors —those before us who risked their lives to break the silence—and to the descendants—those who depend on us breaking it.
It feels like in this future people have found a very good balance between supporting each other and giving each other space. In Exhibit B, a letter from Alandrix (age 12), says to Alexis:
“Now we are very good at growing. I’m growing a lot right now and everyone is very supportive of growing time, which includes daydreams, deep breaths and quiet walks. No one is impatient while anyone else is growing. It seems like people are growing all the time in different ways” (p.35)
This is very different from the way we “grow”, where everyone expects us to do this by this time but thinks we’re not ready for that yet and then considers it’s too late for that. As someone who quit school and my parent’s house at 15, I am very aware that society does not let you easily take the independance you feel ready for (nobody approved of my choices), and paradoxally doesn’t give you the support that you do ask for.
I spend years trying to find adults who would be my “mentors”, as Grace Llewellyn advised us unschoolers to do in The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to quit school and get a real life and education. But the truth is if what you’re looking for is not a parent or a teacher, it’s hard to come by adults who are willing to take any form of commitment towards younger people.
How I wish I’d had, and wish I had, a “Life Navigator” (someone who, as the name pretty straightforwardly explains, helps you navigate life), like it is common for people to have in the utopian story “Reproductive Supporters” in the book The Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-seven visions of a wildly better future (which is another great book about imagining better worlds that I’ve just started reading).
But coming back to “Evidence”, In Exhibits E, Alexis from after capitalism writes to Alexis from before capitalism:
It is on everyone’s mind and heart how to best support the genius that surrounds us all. How to sheperd each of us into the brilliance we come from even though our experience breaking each other apart trough capitalism has left much healing to be done. We are more patient than we have ever been. And now that our time is divine and connected with everything we have developed skills to recenter ourselves. We walk. We drink tea. We are still when we need to be. No one is impatient with someone else’s stillness. No one feels guilty for sitting still. (p.40)
It seems like there isn’t this sickening atmosphere of competition (harvested mostly by middle-and-upper class folks, and that includes me) where we seem to think that someone’s brilliance takes away from ours. Everybody’s brilliance is honored. And at the same time, nobody is pushed. Nobody has to prove themselves or be brilliant all the time or only in certain acceptable way. Stillness is respected as a form of brilliance.
This made me think of something I really liked in the book A Woman on the Edge of Time. If you remember from my earlier post, A Woman on the Edge of Time is the story of Consuelo, a woman inprisonned in a mental hospital who is contacted by Luciente, a person from an utopian future. One day when Luciente is visiting Consuelo at the mental hospital, she asks why Consuelo has come to stay in a room “only fit for machinery”. Consuelo answers that she didn’t choose to come here, she was forced. Luciente is quite bewildered by that fact and says:
“Our madhouses are places where people retreat when they want to go down into themselves—to collapse, carry on, see visions, hear voices of prophecy, bang on the walls, relive infancy—getting in touch with the buried self and the inner mind. We all lose parts of ourselves. We all make choices that go bad… How can another person decide that it is time for me to disintegrate, to reintegrate myself?”
I know very well as a neurodivergent, a mad person that this is exactly what I would have needed and need sometimes. That the healing that in our society is so hard to find—that seems like years and years, really a life, of work— might happen relatively “easily” with the support and space offered by such madhouses.
When I think too much about this I wonder how the hell can people fail to realize that instead of wasting ressources on treatments (hospitals, meds, etc,) that we do not want nor need nor find useful it would be much better give us just exactly the support that we ask for. Why is it so hard to find and access any middle-ground between on one hand being forced to be independent and to do things beyond our capacity (such as when living on our own) , and on the other hand being forced to be dependent and forbidden from doing anything for ourselves (such as in hospitals and nursing homes)? I think the answers lie in power, money, how screwed up the Industrial Medical Complex is, ableism & ageism; all of which I’m not feeling like getting into too much right now.
One other piece of the puzzle I can give today though, that might help us birth that utopian future, are insights I got from learning about attachment theory in the piece “The opposite of rape culture is nurturance culture” by Nora Samaran, which completed very well what I’d learned about this theory in the Trauma Informed Conflict Transformation course by Rain Crowe.
There’s a lot going on with that piece as well and I really love how she approaches the question of why do people rape—a very important question for a girl like me who’s into transformative justice—and how she puts attachment theory in the context of patriarchy. Psychological and biological theories often don’t consider the importance of social forces such as gender or race so I’m really glad she’s mixing those up in here (at least with gender).*
All that said, what is this attachment theory I keep talking about and how does it relate to a better future?
Basically, according to the research as Nora explains it, people can be divided in four types of attachment styles (ways in which we attach in our relationships). Those styles were wired in our limbic brain when we were small depending on what our relationships with our primary caregivers was like. Those four types are: secure, anxious, dismissive avoidant and preoccupied avoidant (and a few who are “Disorganized”).
Secure people, which apparently compose 50% of the population (really?? where you all hiding at?!) are both comfortable with intimacy and independence. Their parents or caregivers were attuned to their needs both for support and for space and gave them each as needed. In relationships (I guess most of the litterature speaks about romantic relationships but in my opinion those theory totally can and should be extended to frienships), those people know how to show up for the other person, and trust that the other will, so they easily find the right balance between autonomy and intimacy. And as Rain pointed out during the course, they both feel their emotions, and know how to deal with them.
Cool. What about the rest of us? People with insecure attachments are divided between anxious (23% of people) and then two styles of avoidant (25% of people), dismissive-avoidant and preoccupied avoidant.
Anxiously attached people like meself look actively for intimacy, and are always afraid that people will bail on them. So we need a lot of reassurance and closeness, especially at the beginning of a relationship, and if the other person shows up with consistency, our need for autonomy (which everyone has) can then express itself. We’re also super loyal and loving to the persons who help us feel safe. So far as our emotions goes, we generally feel our emotions and are able to express them but get overwhelmed by them and have a harder time dealing with them on our own.
Then avoidant types: Dismissive-avoidant people do not feel their need for intimacy (which they have like everyone— every mammals) and believe they don’t need anybody. They need a lot of space and can seem very distant even to the people they’re close too. They can deal with their emotions, but don’t feel or express them. Preoccupied-avoidant people on the other hand seem to me like some sort of a mixed bag between anxious and avoidant. They crave closeness but are scared to express it and hope people will figure it out on their own while they sulk.
I learned a lot in “The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture” about why some of my friendships were/are so difficult, each of our attachment styles being so different, which is apparently not surprising because anxious and avoidant people seek each other out since we confirm each other’s ideas about “reality”. I also found very useful her analysis of this dynamic in the context of oppression: “it takes two to enter into the avoidant-anxious trap, but patriarchal culture normalizes an avoidant style and stigmatizes an anxious style, wherever it appears”. However none of us should feel ashamed about our attachement styles, as Nora Samaran says:
“This is really tricky, because insecure attachers have limbic brains structured by shame and guilt and may hear accusations where there are none. The solution is not to shame people for feeling shame. Instead, the solution is a complete transformation of social relations to allow wholeness back into our world”.
I find attachement theory very useful for understanding my own life and relationships, and I’m glad there’s hope for individuals to change our attachment styles through both securely attaching to ourselves (the path for healing Rain told us about), and securely attaching to others (which Nora gets into), thus building our “nurturance” ability. “Nurturance”, as Nora explains, is the beautiful word for a balanced way of being with another person that gives both support and space, as needed, mostly by picking up on non-verbal cues, and responding accordingly. So excited to build this ability in myself and my friendships! But we must see this change as a collective wide-scale undertaking, as building this “nurturance culture”, this future where “our time is divine”.
We can’t expect one or two caregivers to be able to be constantly nurturing to their kids, especially if that role mostly falls on women (of color, particularly). We need people who take on roles like the Life Navigators from “Reproductive Supporters”, and we need places like the madhouses from A Woman on the Edge of Time. We need people who are willing to support kids, disabled/sick/mad people and elders to the entire extend that they/we ask for it, and no more (that part would be a lot easier if adults and abled people weren’t getting much more out of having people depend on them then they realize and admit).
We need to be part of and create more Radical Childcare Collectives (collectives of people who offer childcare for free, often but not only to help parents be available for community organizing) and Centers for Independent Living (centers by and for people with disabilities, that offer peer-support, and sometimes assist with housing referral and adaptation, personal assistance referral etc). We need more radical health support networks and mad/sick/disabled solidarity, because we don’t need sane and abled people as much as they think we do (which, to be clear, is no excuse for them not to show up, after all they’re the one keeping us from accessing each other!), just as kids don’t need us as much as we think they do (and the same warning applies: this is not an excuse to leave any of them behind!).
And, circling back to transformative justice, in Nora’s words :
What we need is a model for slow self-love that brings the shame up into the light, and reality checks with others who accept you unconditionally, hold you accountable, and aren’t going anywhere. We need a model of justice that recognizes the lived reality of interdependence and learns to do it well, not a justice of shame that frightens us all out of looking at our shadow sides or weakest selves…
So, are you as excited as I am ? What do you feel/think about all that? Tell me all about it 🙂
Octavia’s Brood: Science fiction stories from social justice movements edited by adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha
Woman on the edge of time by Marge Piercy
The Feminist Utopia Project: fifty seven visions of a wildly better future edited by Alexandra Brodsky and Kauder-Nalebuff
The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture by Nora Samaran
Trauma-aware Conflict Transformation course by Rain Crowe
The Icarus Project, a radical mental health network
The teenage liberation handbook: How to quit school and get a real life and education by Grace Llewellyn
Don’t Leave your Friends Behind: Concrete ways to support families in social justice movements and communities edited by Victoria Law and China Martens
*I’m also always wary when talking about knowledge that comes from very ‘official’ sources as attachment theory does (it comes from neurosciences). Those kind of knowledge tend to be construed as objective and universally true which in my opinion is incredibly cocky. I see them as nothing more than what some American white upper-middle class abled men in the 21th century have thought by looking at brains—a totally valuable and useful knowledge but not in any way more so than knowledge my grandpa & great-grandmas, would have had in the land now known as Cameroun a century, or ten centuries back. So my personal approach is to take that knowledge to the full extend than I find it useful, no less, no more.
Picture from: http://www.thetravelchica.com/2011/12/puerto-madryn-argentina-elephant-seals-isla-escondida/