Us an Dem

Are you tired of people treating you differently? Do you feel you are being picked on? You may be being othered.

At the heart of othering is the thought that I am being made out to be different and the feelings of discomfort and alienation that such thoughts this may bring.

From our earliest days we are told that some people are like us and that some are not. In such ways we come to hold one group of people to be our group and the other groups of people to be different to us. All of which makes sense in helping us to work out and to understand our place in the world.

There are however ways in which this process can become harmful. Our group may come to view itself as superior in any number of ways – healthier, more intelligent, clean or virtuous – and likewise we may come to label certain other groups as inferior in any number of ways – sick, stupid, dirty or immoral.

We may be told that we are a member of a superior group of people and that we are not like the others in the inferior group of people. In this way, the difference between us and the others becomes a distinction between the desirable and the undesirable, between the acceptable and the unacceptable, between the good and the bad.

In this way we may come to view these other people purely on the basis of what we have been told about them. Worse, we may come to judge them to be undesirable, unacceptable and bad purely on the basis of this prejudice.

Then what can happen is twofold. First we may act out of our prejudice to penalise these ‘othered’ people. This may be officially by passing laws against them and it may be unofficial by making up rude and demeaning names for them or worse by physically attacking them. This leads to the second part, whereby those treated in this way cry out against the injustices they are being made to suffer. They may do this formally on a case by case basis. They may seek justice and redress top from their oppressor while understanding that this is often asking the oppressive group to act against its own members. Or they may act informally. They may politely ask the people concerned to stop making rude and offensive remarks. They may be less polite verbally or they may react with violence against their oppressors property or even attack their oppressors physically.

Stop for a moment and think how this came about. The natural process of separation and individuation developed into a distinction between those who are like us and those who are not. This distinction was used to create a distinction between our group and other unlike group. And this distinction was exploited to create divisions with the intention of gaining advantages for members of our group over and against members of the other group. It is this exploitation that lies at the heart of what is wrong about othering leading, as it does, to prejudicial injustice.

There are many well-known examples of othering such as men othering women, white people othering non-white people, rich people othering poor people (‘the poor’). In each case one group holds an advantage which they exploit to take from the othered group what is rightly theirs.

And what may this be? What is it that people rightly have? Well, good jobs and possessions certainly. But also dignity, self-respect, independence, freedom of thought and self-determination. And aren’t these the very things that psychotherapy seeks to help individuals achieve?

So in this sense, psychotherapy may be seen as the opposite of othering. With psychotherapy you can bring the disparate parts of your life together in a way that makes sense to you and feels comfortable for you. In time you can come to experience wholeness in yourself and togetherness with your family, your friends and the world around you. And in this way psychotherapy represents a process of togethering.