Note: In this article, I use the term “woman” to refer to an individual’s sex. Individuals who have female anatomy at birth may choose to adopt a different gender identity.
The past week has been difficult for liberally-minded individuals in the United States. Through a series of Supreme Court rulings, citizens lost several fundamental rights. Miranda rights, mandating that those arrested are informed of their rights, and Roe v Wade, giving women freedom in their reproductive health choices, were both repealed. The latter is particularly troubling for me as a physician, given the substantial evidence of harm when women’s bodies are under the state’s control rather than a woman’s (read a detailed statement by the Journal of the American Medical Association here). Why would someone ignore clear evidence that something can overall improve the lives of citizens?
These next few years will see an increase in women dying from complications of forced pregnancies and poverty. Pregnancy can be hazardous for some women, such as those at risk of blood clots. Being prevented from having an abortion can leave a woman (and her fetus) vulnerable to permanent disability from a stroke and blood clot, even if put on anticoagulants. Women with chronic conditions could be required to stop their medications if they accidentally become pregnant due to known toxicity against the fetus, exacerbating health crises that could harm both the woman and her fetus. Finally, women without the financial resources to support the medical appointments required for a healthy pregnancy, not to mention helping a born child and subsequently affording pediatrician appointments, will often have to take on debt, limiting their and their child’s lifetime achievement. Why restrict family planning methods while at the same time opposing funding towards supporting those with less financial resources?
This article is not about showcasing this decision placing discriminatory burdens overwhelmingly on the poor and people of colour. It is about finding peace today, so together, we can maintain a state of mind needed to ensure women regain the rights they lost and gain even more, given that women were not treated as equals to men even before this decision. Read on to learn how you can find peace in our more troubled world.
There are many ways that one can respond to life stressors. In psychiatry, they are classified as mature and immature ego defences, briefly summarized by Psychology Today here. Mature defences typically lead to more lasting relief of suffering, whereas immature ones can propagate it. Examples of mature defences include using humour, converting one’s suffering into doing good (altruism), and converting one’s suffering into a passion for one’s work or hobbies. Examples of immature defences include passive aggression that can harm one’s interpersonal relationships, acting out where one may seek peace through purchasing copious amounts of financial goods or excess consumption of alcohol, or denial where one cannot acknowledge the reality of a given situation.
Fortunately, through mindfulness and practice, one can learn to replace immature ego defences with mature ones, as I have done throughout my adult life. While it took effort, feeling at greater peace with myself and my life choices affords me more energy to invest in others and my hobbies. It has helped me pursue advocacy work with global health and challenge COVID-19 misinformation. But how does one foster these mature ego defences?
Altruism is where one challenges their suffering by doing kind things for others. So when one is perhaps facing guilt over harmful comments said to a romantic partner or friend during a disagreement, one could challenge this by doing something nice for them or simply apologizing. In another scenario, when one is worried about their parents getting older or an illness in the family, one could pursue volunteer work at their local hospital or homeless shelter. Lastly, if one is feeling hopeless, given the recent Supreme Court rulings, one could become an advocate for those seeking to exercise autonomy over their reproductive choices. There is much one could do towards this principle, with one simply needing to feel like they are improving another person’s life. Tell me in a comment the ways you like to help others.
Humour is when one can attempt to make light of difficult situations to ease the felt burden. For students or working professionals, one could make jokes about how a pressing deadline was good for their skin because they did not have much time for showering. However, one should be careful about humour because it can be easy to tell a “joke” that hurts someone’s feelings or propagates harmful ideas, which could lead to a disagreement and more suffering. Making jokes about your boss due to an increased workload or being required to work on weekends could easily strain that relationship, potentially leading to one becoming unemployed. Suggesting calls for violence are “jokes” can make others feel unsafe, causing others to suffer and fear for their lives. Such logic was used by individuals who stormed the Capital on January 6, 2021.
Sublimation and Suppression:
Sublimation is where one converts the energy or suffering from an “unacceptable action” into an action that is more acceptable. So instead of shouting at a driver who cut you off in traffic, you put those feelings on hold (suppression) and bring all that energy out in your video game or gym/sports session later that day. Rather than sending a passive-aggressive message to a friend who you feel did not return your call or text message fast enough, you can take care of chores in your apartment or house instead. Rather than telling people on the internet who do not share your views that they and their opinions are worthless, regardless of the topic, one can volunteer with organizations that advance the issue you care about. Clearly, these mature defences can overlap.
Sometimes it can feel like the world is collapsing around us. There is a certain amount of truth to this as the status quo seemingly continues with the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and inequality becoming more of a norm than the exception. Like Siddhartha Gautama, I too find it startling, for example, that wealth can be juxtaposed on the same street with poverty. In Montreal, I see beggars looking for donations on the side of the road as Ferraris drive by. That suggests that something is not right with our society as it stands. Feeling frustration is a perfectly acceptable reaction. What is important is what we do with those feelings. We can react to our world in a way that harms us and others, or we can face our challenges in a way that motivates equality and prosperity. We can wallow in fear and misery, or we can take those feelings and make something better of them. It is not always easy to do the latter. We can get stuck with the former. What is important is that we ultimately find the strength inside ourselves to overcome our limitations and create a more equal world collectively.