Reclaiming Emotional Authority for Mental Health

The following is a piece written by Unsinkable’s Jody Carrow following her interview with Aidan Scott

 

Aidan Scott is a survivor of physical and sexual abuse by a parent who has turned his past into opportunities to promote mental health education, advocacy work, peer support work, public speaking. Most recently he has become an entrepreneur, co-creating an app that literally puts the management of your mental health into your own hands and enables truly collaborative mental health care. He spoke to me from Vancouver, B.C.

 

What does the phrase ‘emotional authority’ mean to you?

So, emotional authority for me really resonated in my own life when I essentially got to this point in my therapeutic process where I hit a wall that I didn’t realize I’d hit. What that looked like in practice was me going to a counselling appointment and sitting down for 45 minutes in that appointment simply debating therapeutic method with my counsellor.

Where I was at in my recovery journey was a stage where there was an accountability and a responsibility that I was not fulfilling. My emotional intelligence – and reclaiming it – was to recognize my role and my opportunity and my capacity to create change emotionally in my life. To recognize the control I had over my emotions and the feelings and the outcomes. For me that was a really big breakthrough because trauma – especially sexual trauma – strips you of ownership; it strips you of the feeling that you have control over anything.

So, for me, that was a huge ah-ha moment. As I looked at it further, and talked with my friends and began looking at the early intervention stage in mental health, emotional intelligence and having an emotional authority where you can be emotionally competent to express your needs publicly or to those that you trust. That’s a very valuable skill.

 

Circling back to the session you were describing, was that what you were butting up against? That you weren’t experiencing genuine connections with people because you weren’t able to share how you were feeling and what was going on?

Yes, it was definitely that. I always had my defences up. And again, it goes back to my experience with trauma and needing to protect myself. I put on an emotional mask for years.

 

I only know what you have shared in your TEDx SFU talk about your life. And there was a turning point for you toward recovery when you said to a friend, “My mom hits me.” How did you get to that moment?

In the least amount of words: fear. Looking back at it, it definitely wasn’t an intentional response, which is weird to say. My mind went on autopilot because my mind and I were seemingly disconnected at that point –

 

The mask came off somehow.

Right! Yeah, exactly and I was terrified and absolutely had thoughts of taking my life at that point and I didn’t know the way out. And didn’t know the words. I talk about this a lot in my other talks, especially as a guy, I didn’t have the language. Guys don’t have the language to talk about abuse.

Even today we still struggle to teach kids the language to talk about what I had personally experienced.

So, the simplest words I could utter in that moment wasn’t even the part that was necessarily so mentally destructive, because it was the sexual abuse that mentally destroyed me inside and definitely most affected me. It sounds cold to say, but physical abuse just sort of happened, and then it was done, and then I’d go on with my day. I could compartmentalize physical abuse much easier because it wasn’t as confusing as the sexual abuse. So that part was the least vulnerable thing that I could reveal: My mom hits me.

And so, I’m thankful to this day that I had friends who listened. It really speaks to importance of community. I know so many young people who haven’t been able to reach out, or have the first person they reach out to – whether it’s a friend or a counsellor or whoever – listen to them. So I look back at that moment and I’m grateful because I don’t know if I would have said something again.

 

Right. If she hadn’t been able to hear you, I could see how that would silence you if not forever, a hell of a lot longer.

Right. And it’s unfortunately really common. Especially within male survivors.

 

In your talk you offer a definition of the word ‘hero’ I’ve never heard before. You say that heroes are people who make space for others. Has your understanding of what a hero is changed over the years that you’ve been doing this work?

No, it hasn’t changed. But it’s hard. I mean, I still find myself in that autopilot response when we’re listening and we want to jump in and say we’re sorry, or we want to try to fix it, but what we’re actually doing is shutting down space for that person to talk to us. We’re shutting it down, not creating it. I’m guilty of that from time to time and I try to catch myself. And creating space – the bravery of it – is the follow up of asking open-ended questions and then just listening and to be in silence for a little bit.

It’s a stereotype but I think a lot of men fall into ‘the fixer’ category… so allowing space for silence opposes the fixer personality. They need a response so that they can move on to the fixing. It’s out of love, but it’s actually inhibiting someone else’s ability to overcome. You deserve the opportunity to overcome what you’re going through. It’s not my place to fix you; I’m not your salvation to the stressor of the day. My job is to be there, create space, and allow somebody to find their answer.

What I learned from peer support work within mental health is to not be the answer.

In closing, is there anything you would like to say to anyone who is struggling to reclaim their mental health and emotional authority?

I really like this one story from my early days in my recovery (I was in my late teens/early twenties) and it came from connecting with Kids Help Phone. I was talking to a counsellor one night at a god-awful hour – I was always the person calling in the middle of the night and no doubt not a single call was simple – and one of the stories they were sharing to help me… was this idea of driving in a car and looking in the rear view mirror and you’ve got this mountain range in the mirror. And when we’re early in our recovery, no matter what it is we’re dealing with, that mountain range occupies all of that mirror. And it’s overwhelming in size and it can seem hopeless.

But, like any good road trip, we get further and further away and those mountains do get smaller and smaller. You could be hundreds and hundreds of miles away and that mountain may be very small on the horizon, but now further down in recovery there is so much more space between you and that mountain… it does come in time; it does take patience. Most of all is this self-realization and respect to say: You’re worth it. You matter. To know that I can love myself. To know that it is a journey and I can drive farther and farther away from this thing in the present… It will diminish like those other mountains in the past and I will be stronger for it. And to know that I’m learning all these new ways so that if I encounter another mountain like it, I can climb it so much faster than before.

For me, that was so inspiring and empowering and just what I needed to hear at that moment. It was not that anybody can take away what happened to me, but more that I can take my past – my path – and turn it from an adversary to an ally. A conflict to a lesson and I can grow from it and be stronger because of it.

Thank-you, Aidan, for sharing with Unsinkable and for all the work you do on behalf of all of us.