Feeling helpless. Victimhood. Disengagement.
For obvious reasons, such feelings are commonplace at the current time, more than ever perhaps, such is life in lockdown, the COVID crisis leaving us all grasping for control, unable to do much more than tread water and await our respective fates.
Such feelings then are, to a certain extent, inevitable; this just another symptom, a sign of the troubled times in which all we find ourselves living, perhaps.
Yet there is rather more to it than this, for this isn’t just about lockdown life; not a recent phenomenon, part of the pandemic’s bigger picture and a mere accompaniment to coronavirus.
Those feelings of helplessness, victimhood and disengagement?
For those concerned with tackling teenage angst, such problems run somewhat deeper.
Here at CPUK, we’ve spent time considering Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Critical Social Justice Theory (CSJT), and the Critical Theory Antidote website , an excellent therapy resource on such matters.
“This is a website for all involved with talking therapies, including academics, practitioners, trainees and clients, who are concerned by the negative impact of CSJT,” the site’s authors explain. Needless to say, we include ourselves in such circles.
In seeking to explain CSJT, what it is and the things it entails, the authors liken the phenomenon to ‘wokeness’. There’s a little more to it than that, but like helplessness, victimhood and disengagement, this is a term of its time and one that most in our midst are able to understand and relate to.
Think for a moment about teenage anxiety. Consider the current cultural trends that award increased social status to those perceived as victims. Young people and children can be encouraged to consider themselves unwell, and to seek the benefits of the victim culture which rewards us when we are aggrieved, helpless weak, or at the mercy of external forces beyond our control’.
The truth is, such processes have been around for a long time.
In telling a tale that might feel familiar, Lisa Marchiano writes: ‘When Carl Jung was a 12-year-old schoolboy, he was shoved to the ground by another child, hitting his head on the pavement, and almost losing consciousness. Instantly, he grasped the opportunities created by this attack’.
Those opportunities? You can read the passage in full here.
The most pertinent point in all this – that, ‘at childhood’s twilight hour, faced with the looming demands of adolescence, Jung withdrew from the world [and] for a while, his fate hung in the balance, as he drifted towards the possibility of permanent, self-imposed marginalisation, and infirmity’ – is one that has some obvious parallels with countless cases known to ourselves and our contemporaries.
Because, as is noted in a section that can be found elsewhere on an enlightening website, young people and children, when ‘seeking to avoid the developing demands of approaching independence,’ sometimes do ‘cling to their frailties’.
Right now, during the COVID crisis, and with a huge rise in social media sharing, such a phenomenon has been amplified beyond all measure.
Yet beyond the pandemic and all that it entails, this has long been a developing issue here in the UK (and, no doubt, elsewhere in the western world), and one that it is important for us both to recognise and address.
The ‘moral culture of victimhood developing on college campuses’? This is a phenomenon recognisable to us here. Self-diagnosis, avoiding our fate and becoming ‘actors in our own drama’? Ditto.
Delving deeper into the Critical Theory Antidote, the website authors note ‘cultural trends that offer unwitting support for young people to claim oppression and illness’; ‘attitudes that create an invitation to victimhood and infirmity’; the embracing of a ‘status of oppression and affliction [that] can invite disengagement from life and an avoidance of one’s fate’; and add that ‘worryingly, it also has negative implications for personal mental health, as it may foster a sense of helplessness’.
This last point strikes quite a chord here at CPUK, for such a sense is one that we encounter often (and not just during the last 12 troubled months either).
The bottom line in all this is that CRT and CSJT are both about self-identification and victimhood. Such matters might run counter to proven scientific research that dates back centuries, but at their root is a sense that, if an individual says something is real, then it is, and that, if someone feels that something is true, so it must be, no matter the fact that objective information is absent. It is about feeling not thinking. About emotion, not reason or logic
The outcome? An external locus of control – a sense that one has not agency or power in a situation. Things just happen to you. You cant help it. It is someone else’s fault. This culture of victimhood fosters avoidance and a constant need to be looked after; an increased risk of mental illness and a failure to realise ones potential, or to develop self-esteem, and all that that entails.
So once again to those feelings. Helplessness. Victimhood. Disengagement.
So once more to the Critical Theory Antidote website, where, under the heading Embracing Illness, the author describes those ‘turning childhood into a mental illness’, noting a trend ‘to medicalise childhood by assigning diagnoses to ordinary distress, which encourages children to perceive themselves as ill.’
In embracing illness, in self-diagnosing and in seeking (and receiving) social status for perceived conditions – most notably, of course, online – those engaged in such a practice are joining what has been labelled ‘the cult of suffering, weakness and vulnerability’, with obvious implications for both short-term mental health and long-term prospects.
To quote from the website one last time, a sentiment that can guide us all, no matter our circumstances or the obstacles that litter our respective paths, perceived or otherwise.
‘The challenges that loom ahead will require us to set aside timidity, weakness and victimhood and claim instead boldness and agency, no matter how grim the odds.’
In regard to such matters, we couldn’t agree more.