Emotional Processing When Your Rights Are Threatened

By Jill Bajorek, LCSW

Human rights are important for numerous reasons, but psychologically speaking, our rights solidify our identities and how others accept us. There are many examples of rights being threatened in past and present, and with reproductive rights being in the spotlight right now it feels like a good time to address the emotional processing of this. This absolutely applies to other examples of human rights, too.

We often talk about control in therapy, and inevitably we get to the point of saying, “You can really only control so much.” We say this to suggest we can control ourselves and sometimes our physical environments, but beyond that we can only attempt to make change happen with others and hope they agree enough to do so. This is difficult when other people infringe on our human rights, including topics about the bodies we are born into, and that’s the change we want to ask about. The lack of control over others is both something we can accept and also feel incredibly frustrated about.

As we focus on the psychological piece, we can say that this is a frustration that makes sense to have. A lot of times people come to therapy to ease their feelings of anxiety, fears, anger. We look at ways to better understand the underlying triggers for these, sometimes acknowledging that our reactions are coming from something else. This is one of the ways we ease those feelings as we learn they might not be about what we initially thought. These emotions, however, can also be spot on. We are equipped with anxiety as a means to protect ourselves from something threatening around us. When the threat is real, anxiety and other feelings are a normal response.

What do we do with these feelings? What is in our control here? We can listen to them. It doesn’t immediately fix any of the macro problems, but it is a start in accepting ourselves. It’s a way we can affirm our own identities. When we believe our feelings and avoid self-judgment of our justifiable anger, for example, we learn more about why we feel that way and can utilize that to build confidence in our convictions and ourselves. This is the fuel we can then use to challenge topics on a bigger level.

Fighting for human rights is a tough battle. We think, “I shouldn’t have to do this”; “Why aren’t people understanding me?”; “How is this not common knowledge?” We do need to see when we are not alone in our convictions. There are often more people who feel similarly and have had to fight outwardly to others, and through their own psychological processes. Joining together both has a better chance of success and validates our beliefs. This road can be tiring, but within the larger group of likeminded people, we can all tackle it together. We can take care of ourselves while others pick up the fight, then return to it when we are ready. This will keep our momentum going while feeling individually supported.

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