I got into a discussion earlier today regarding the helpfulness of bloggers who write publicly about their own struggles. It could be a struggle with anything. The relevant aspect was writing about it for the benefit of helping others who share the same problems. There was some disagreement over whether or not this is truly helpful for others versus scratching the same itch that feels so satisfying when when we watch the wreckage of drama queens on reality TV, hear juicy gossip, or join in the delicious communal bash of a common acquaintance. In other words, does it really help anyone or is it just gratuitous?
One camp says any time we openly discuss our own struggles we give other people permission to share their stories, and this allows people to collaborate, learn, and heal together. The other camp says this is emotional porn for people who can’t/won’t look away or those who get a superiority boost from making a comparison. These are valid points of view from both camps. Reality TV, juicy gossip, and bashing sessions couldn’t thrive if the second camp didn’t have a good point, and we know they do thrive. Support groups couldn’t thrive if the first camp didn’t also have good point, and they do, so the campaigns of both camps can be validated.
If both sides are right, what causes the disagreement? It’s the use of the word “just.” Folks are compelled to invoke the rule of I’m Right You’re Wrong by demanding a correct answer. We Are Both Right gives neither side satisfaction. The issue needs to be decided one way or the other, so one perspective gets invalidated by tossing the word “just” into the discussion. The side that isn’t “just” something is automatically elevated in correctness. These are the petty games we play in the age-old game of devaluing someone (or something) else to increase our own value. We can’t both be right. We can’t both be important. We can’t both be equally valuable and necessary. Somebody must be wrong so someone else can be more right. This has always been bullshit. This is still bullshit today.
In the case of emotional wellness, the sharing of struggle is appropriate and sometimes critical to getting well, being well, and staying well. I am definitely in the No One Heals Alone Camp but I don’t consider the other perspective wrong. That’s not a concession; it’s a fact. Some people do feed on this stuff as emotional porn. Some consider it entertainment. Some get a sadistic thrill from watching other people suffer. One of the most brilliant depictions of preoccupation with emotional porn appears in the book and movie Fight Club. Two of the main characters are addicted to support groups to the extent that they habitually attend meetings for maladies and conditions from which they do not suffer. It’s a thing. The other side is also right.
Deeper into the discussion came the question of those who share with purely altruistic intentions versus those who share as a form of emotional masturbation. The best I could offer on this point is the suggestion that all of our intentions fall along a spectrum of altruism, and that none of us is pure. Healing and growth and recovery is a messy, complicated business and the folks facilitating these things are usually also folks still experiencing these things. Many start with sharing as emotional masturbation and grow out of it. The process of sharing (or over-sharing) helps them grow even if they start with intentions that fall far from pure on the altruism spectrum. The process is vital even if the early results can be criticized as masturbatory. As I have said a thousand times, wellness is work. This is part of the work.
When we show our work we break the social chains that keep others enslaved to Should, Shouldn’t, and Shame. The world needs this work and the world needs to see this work. Do we sometimes frame our work in ways that might get slapped with critical labels? Our intentions questioned? Our efforts downgraded with “just” and “only” and similar crushers? Yes, but these are not good reasons to stop. The next breakthrough for you or for someone who hears you could be one blog post away.
Not that I don’t understand the implied stigma; I can assure you it happens to me all the time, even after growing out of the plagues of puberty in wellness-blogging. Over the years I put plenty of emotional porn out there. Plenty of jerk-off posts that I swore were intended to help people but mostly helped me feel differently about myself or things I did to others. I haven’t been a blogger for ten years without moving up and down the spectrum, sometimes in drastic measure. Nonetheless, that doesn’t make anything I’ve written with the smallest potential to help someone wrong, invalid, or “just” anything. Or anything you’ve written. Or said. Or offered. Or wished. Or prayed. Or oozed.
The work we do to make ourselves well is the same work that helps others get well. If we keep it to ourselves for fear of negative feedback we make it harder for others, not easier. Withholding what the world needs to shield ourselves from criticism regarding our intentions is a fear-based denial. This compromises our own wellness and denies the world a chance to be different or better through the benefit of our experience. And you can believe that no matter what your intentions — pure, impure, pornographic or otherwise — you will still get negative feedback from someone who needs you to be wrong so he/she can be more right. But you can also believe that negative feedback becomes irrelevant and inert when someone becomes well through your work. There is nothing more positive.
Write about the red chair at the crossroads.
Write about the adventures they planned.
Write about an anonymous tip.
Write about the boy who wanted to climb _______, and the girl who broke his heart.