I’ve been thinking about Greta Thunberg over the summer. The Swedish teenager and climate campaigner has been travelling by boat across the Atlantic to the US to attend a climate conference. I thought about this particularly hard as I sat in my seat waiting to take off from Gatwick for a trip to France. A quick visit to myclimate.org enabled me to pay around £25 to offset the carbon emissions of the trip but this didn’t really salve my conscience. Greta is putting her money where her mouth is. I, currently, am not.
Thanks to colleagues, clients, and the News, I’ve been prompted to reflect more deeply about the whole issue of climate change and anxiety about the planet, and I’m wondering how to respond from a therapeutic perspective.
My initial question is around shame. As soon as we start talking about climate change we very quickly feel the weight of guilt and shame descending as we face our part in messing up the planet. But how useful is this? In therapy we discover that shame often leads to negative outcomes. When we feel shame we may engage in avoidance activities like drinking, shopping or playing on our phones, we may overly blame others and justify ourselves, and we may feel crippled and unable to take positive actions because we have lost faith in ourselves and our own worth.
Nature doesn’t shame us. It continues to include us in its natural processes and cycles, and to hold us in being, growing and dying. If I shame myself around taking my flight this summer do I empower myself to live more responsibly? Or do I simply lose hope in the face of the problem and give up? Perhaps a more empowering and kinder way forward is to forgive myself and allow a place on my mental bookshelf for the future possibility that I might just ‘do a Greta’ and take a boat next time?
If therapy is anything it’s a process of un-shaming. Perhaps by un-shaming ourselves and our clients we can all become compassionate humans who accept our precious smallness and its limits and, from that kind place, extend kindness to others and to the planet.