Michele Toomey and the Evolution of Liberation Psychology
© 1999 Michele Toomey, PhD

Liberation psychology came out of my rejection of psychology's traditional belief that opposite sex meant unequal opposing sex. In 1971 when I read that a survey had been done throughout the country of mental health professionals asking them (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers) to list the traits of a normal healthy male, and they all listed such traits as independent, objective, aggressive, intellectual, and strong, and then listed the traits of a normal healthy female as dependent, subjective, passive, emotional and weak, I was taken aback. Then they asked the professionals to list the traits of a normal healthy adult, and to my utter dismay they listed the same traits as those of a healthy male. I was appalled, and I did not endorse those descriptions. They felt biased and sexist and to make matters worse, they also carried over into the paradoxical inner world of opposing forces and genderized traits. Since then I have spent my life exploring, researching and discussing the nature of opposites in our system, not just opposite gender, but opposite traits and forces within us. This exploration evolved into liberation psychology.

I challenged the reasoning that attributed to males the traits that we as a society admired and considered strong while females were thought to possess the traits that were considered inferior and weak. Needless to say, to have opposite synonymous with unequal was bad enough, but I also realized that there was an added twist that locked women and men in inequality and hostility. That was the way power was defined. Power, traditionally, is defined as strength, as the ability to control, and superiority is attributed to the controller. Of course, such a definition locks women into the inferior weaker sex role, since men are generally physically stronger than women. So men are given the dominant superior position. No wonder when a woman and man have sex it is described as his conquest, and when they marry, she is in some form, his: his wife, his possession, who has his name.

This definition of power added another layer of inequality between opposite sexes and oriented their relationship toward power struggles and hostility. It also set up a power struggle within us between our opposing paradoxical sides that have been labeled male and female. What I discovered was the all too neglected fact that the inner power struggle is then one of primary importance to us and if we don't address the oppression that can come from this approach to our inner world we will never be liberated from ourselves.

So, liberation psychology evolved with a challenge to opposites and to power, to hostile inequality and dominance as the assumed nature of the relationship between opposites. What evolved is an exciting approach that provides us with a theoretical orientation that assumes our relationship to ourselves and to others is one of accord not conquest and power is no longer seen in terms of strength and control but in terms of energy and force.

All of a sudden everything looks different. By changing the basic assumptions we change the basic relationships. We have a search for peace replacing the strategies of war. We have intimacy as oneness, a choice not a conquest, and we have reconciliation of opposing forces not victory of one and defeat of the other as our goal. The great thing, too, is that it applies to our whole paradoxical (opposite) nature not just to gender. With this orientation, we are able to participate in our paradoxical inner communication network with integrity and respect as we try to discover and understand the complexity of what is being communicated.

Liberation psychology defines liberation as the freedom to choose intimacy. It assumes that our communication network within is designed to keep us at one with our paradoxical nature, and that we need to be taught how to participate in this network in a way that maintains its oneness. Self-expression with accountability is the vehicle that allows us to do that because it preserves the integrity of the system.

Visualizing the self's communication network as a spiral comes out of the belief that all the self's various paradoxical forces are equally legitimate and that they are meant to work as a team. The relationship between these forces within the self is one of forming, informing and being informed by each other, not controlling or being controlled. Thoughts are formed and informed by feelings and feelings are formed and informed by thoughts. The body is formed and informs the spirit and the spirit is formed and informs the body. In addition, the self is formed and informed by us. Then the imagination allows us to travel all around this network, allowing all the forces to communicate and understand each other, with images and metaphors translating the language of each force into a common one that allows each to know and be known by itself and by the others.. A spiral is a perfect image as it conveys the interconnectness of the system. It is an egalitarian giving and gathering of data as it circles around and spirals in and out, back and forth, over time and through space, within ourselves and outside to others. It speaks of connection and intimacy, of respect and caring.

Todays technology allows us to see in living color the messages being transmitted and received within our brain, and there is nothing in those images that contradicts the idea that our network works with its various components, not against them. It is not an image of hostility and war, it is an image of openness to messages, reactions to them, and linkings from one to the other to the other, informing, being informed, and forming one another. When anger and hostility or fear and anxiety enter our system, brain mapping technology allows us to see the color of the energy and the activity of the brain change. It shows stress and indicates an increase in the difficulty we experience when trying to deal with these strong negative reactions to the message. Without the presence of anger or fear, the transmission of information has a rhythm of its own, and a capacity to accommodate to various levels of interest and difficulty. Liberation psychology's approach to the self's inner communication network is supported by brain mapping technology and it expands the interpretation into a holistic psychological model that teaches us how to participate in this network without violating it.

The infinity sign superimposed on the spiral represents the processing that occurs as we receive, react, interpret, reflect on and then decide how we are going to relate to information that we receive and transmit. Integrity, honesty, allows us to process in a liberating way, and the imagination allows us to make associations, and create metaphors to capture the feelings, thoughts and images that are brought forth by our reactions to the messages. It is an awesome and complex system that takes discipline and understanding of the process if we are to participate in it without violating it.

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