As a nation, we’re not at all well. First we were outraged by President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle, and then came the shock of two financial ratings downgrades.
It seems Zuma does whatever he wishes, and neither Parliament nor his party will control him. Feeling out of control is profoundly stressful, and when combined with a sense of hopelessness and senselessness it can be deeply damaging to individuals and to society.
Painful and stressful
If you don’t think there’s something rather profoundly wrong with our country, you can’t have been paying much attention. Or perhaps you find these things just too painful and stressful to “attend” to, so you just stick your head in the sand. But not reacting at all is like ignoring a fire alarm − you may feel better pretending it’s not ringing, but you’re getting hotter and more uncomfortable as the smoke and flames come closer and closer.
Facing the facts is uncomfortable, but discomfort is sometimes necessary and productive, as long as we make sure it leads to productive action. In the same way, a fever or pain indicates that there is a problem we should not ignore.
Some people ask me how long it will take before people “snap out of it”, and start feeling better about the situation in our country. But maybe we shouldn’t try to feel better before we have made sure things are in fact genuinely better on the ground.
What worries me is that as a society we are too often reacting like abuse victims who become used to the status quo and end up accepting mistreatment as inevitable. But chaotic, selfish, predatory government is not inevitable and should never be accepted without vigorous and ongoing protest. Nobody deserves to be abused.
Textbook definition of sociopathy
Our real psychological need is to stop feeling powerless and take back our power, insisting that the “nonsense” must stop. We need to refuse to accept politicians who work only for their own benefit, who know all about taking, but nothing about giving. We need to stop listening to what they say and instead start observing what they do.
There are senior politicians who sneer at the idea that MPs should vote according to conscience, insisting that they should have no conscience, no inherent sense of right and wrong, and should vote as they’re told to. That’s almost a textbook definition of sociopathy. If MPs don’t have the interests of the country at heart, what are we paying them for?
The prescription for regaining our national health is clear. We need to seize back the power that has been taken from us. Is this a psychiatrist talking politics? Should I rather stick to what I know? No, not at all! When the people in government have become a source of chronic and continuing damage, like an auto-immune disease, we need to understand the pathology and find ways to change it. We’re talking about a modification of psychological and physical health that will relieve our anxiety, a removal of an illness, not becoming numb and enduring the situation.
Like others who have successfully overcome chronic abuse, we need to access the power within us and refuse to give permission for continuing abuse, allowing ourselves to heal, collectively and individually.
Professor MA Simpson is Health24’s CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.
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