The last post discussed what happens to us when we dehumanize other people. This post is going to focus on how often we choose to dehumanize ourselves. There are a couple of reasons I chose to write them in this order even though so much of this blog has focused on the need to care for ourselves first and foremost. After all, as I was reminded at the MindfulLawyer Conference, “the heart pumps blood to itself first.”
I chose to write about dehumanizing others first because honestly, it has been more in my face, so to speak. Daily I have witnessed people who ostensibly care deeply about others speaking in awful ways about people because of those peoples’ actions. But then I realized that we can only begin to dehumanize others when we have learned to do it to ourselves just like we can only truly care about others once we have learned to care for ourselves.
So, why do we dehumanize ourselves? It is a coping mechanism. It allows us to not endure the full impact of the emotional world in which we find ourselves. On many levels this is necessary. At the most recent conference I attended this past weekend, a lawyer stood up in the room and said his job is to be a lawyer, not his client’s bff (and yes, he said b-f-f). And he is right; we need to step off the emotional roller coaster that clients (or friends and family) want us to ride.
But it can also cause us pain. When we dehumanize ourselves and turn off our emotional centers, we train ourselves to do just that. When we tune out the pain, we are also training ourselves to tune out the joy and happiness. We are creating new samskaras, or patterns, of how to interact with people. This time, however, they are about tuning people out, so we can protect ourselves.
It can be scary to meet your clients, or anyone, where they are emotionally. It means being vulnerable. It means sometimes feeling their pain. But it also means that we remember how to emotionally connect to ourselves as well. Bringing ourselves back to this state of humanization reminds us how to humanize others. It helps us empathize with them and not be dull to their pain.
At the end of the day, we are all in this world together. Thus, dehumanizing ourselves and dehumanizing others are, in many ways, the same. They are defenses to protect us for recognizing that people we think are awful are also human, and to protect ourselves from feeling the pain that others experience. But these mechanisms also keep us apart from people and ourselves. We are less able to experience joy and happiness, less able to laugh, and less able to fully experience all that life has to offer.
There are certainly days where tuning out is necessary. But when we make it a practice, we only bring long-term harm to ourselves. I cannot claim to be an expert in dealing with this. My new job forces me to confront this not on a daily basis, but on an hourly one. But what I have realized, in this job and before, is that when we choose to separate consciously, we can consciously return, as long as sometimes we are willing to go to the place of connection, even when painful. I notice my life start to become a crazy mess when I tune out and dehumanize myself without realizing it. When I finally do realize that I have done it, I realize how difficult it is to come back to a place of joy. But the realization helps, and each time it gets easier. It is about creating the patterns of humanization.
Do you notice when you do this? What do you do about it?
© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.