We conflate familiarity with safety & it prevents our personal + political growth
Microdosing on change- a sustainable approach to embrace the unknown
Anything can be normalized if we are gradually eased into it. Anything that is completely ridiculous, violent, abusive, no matter how preposterous can become “normal” if… we are slowly and gradually exposed to it over time without experiencing any alternatives. It begins to define our reality and eventually prevents us from imagining possibilities outside the realm of what feels “familiar”. This doesn’t just apply to the personal sphere. Capitalism and the state are forced onto us as the ‘way it’s always been’. Competition & exploitation of the many by a few is framed as ‘natural’. It explains why it can be so hard for us to dismantle our internalized capitalism/ colonialism- like the cop in our head.
Capitalism and the state groom us to fear change through out our lives and prime us to categorize the unfamiliar as ‘dangerous’. This is done by slowly conditioning us to somatically feel “safe” with whatever we are most familiar with even if it is oppression. Flash forward- we’ve normalized living in a lonely society where no one has the right to live. We are socialized since birth to cling to the status quo because we are told “the monster you know is better than the monster you don’t know”. But what if change and deviation from these oppressive norms wasn’t a monster at all but collective liberation? How can we be more critical of what the state has told us to fear as ‘the monster’ & ‘the other’? How can awareness of our personal & collective trauma help us practice & build alternatives in our relationships? How can we ease into personal and political change such that it is sustainable?
The personal is political
Capitalism/ colonialism, carceral systems like prisons and police, hierarchical systems like education, colonial healthcare systems that individualize our distress and all parts of the oppressive state— it’s all we’ve ever known which makes it exceedingly difficult for us to question our “reality”. I feel visceral pain and anxiety even questioning the way I’ve been socialized to obey and conform. I feel embarrassed that I’ve uncritically engaged in the rat race competing with a superiority complex believing I am innately “better than” my peers based on made up metrics that are designed to pit us against each other. I feel discomfort when I think about the oppressive norms I’ve internalized.
Unlearning involves me first admitting that the way I’ve existed thus far may not be serving me or my community in any capacity. A million environmental/ sociopolitical variables influence the trajectory of this journey. When it’s time for me to face hard truths, I consistently feel ashamed and afraid of being “wrong”. But, all this is a result of me centering my own “personal” journey as though this isn’t a collective, shared struggle. This is me thinking the personal is not political. When I think about my trauma or my pain or even the hurt I’ve caused others through a political lens, I realize that I’ve been socialized with an individualistic ego which makes even evolution and growth feel “unsafe”.
It may be difficult to dismantle our egos & the cops in our head planted by capitalism but without doing so, we remain stuck, disassociated, numb, robotically accepting the monotony of capitalism, unable to even begin to imagine alternatives. Without understanding how the personal and the political are ONE and the same- at best, we end up chasing the illusion of happiness without ever truly embodying it. Most importantly, if we don’t dissect the trauma we’ve experienced from being socialized under oppressive systems (ALL OF US), we end up blaming ourselves or each other for our misery. We end up turning inward or on each other. We end up sticking to the familiar even if it is hurting us- both in the personal and political realm.
Oppression is slowly titrated over our lifetime
The state makes sure to titrate oppression gradually over time, capturing us in our childhood (our first exposure to the world) and this is how any form of violence & brutality becomes “normal” to us. Even if we think we understand oppression, we may fail to realize how we embody oppressive norms, carceral values and individualism in our daily life merely because we’ve had these concepts drilled into us. State propaganda shapes our perception of the self and the world.
It takes a lot of intentional effort to build self-awareness & practice accountability with compassion in relationships. It’s hard to know when we’re falling back on our own bulls**t or being self-centered. It’s difficult to identify when we’re falling back on binaries of good/ bad or right/ wrong or when we’re uncritically projecting our hurt and trauma onto people around us by embodying the values of the empire. However, breaking our own patterns, being critical of our feelings instead of always presuming they are valid or “correct”, and just practicing moving thru conflict with mutual compassion- this is how we practice liberation.
The personal is the political. In fact, the state is aware of this which is why it wants us to caress our egos, compete with each other, pursue being ‘right’ or ‘better than’ others, avoid relational conflict or approach it solely with combativeness instead of mutual understanding. Oppressive systems wouldn’t stand without people being pit against each other- divide and conquer is the oldest tactic of colonialism.
What is familiar & ‘normal’ to you? Question it.
We’ve normalized living in a world where we have to earn the right to live and fight for crumbs thrown at us even though resources are abundant. We’ve normalized spending the majority of our lives toiling away, living paycheck to paycheck, one major health or personal crisis away from being homeless. We’ve normalized having no time or free will to do things that make us happy as we spend the majority of our day coping with the strict confines of a capitalist society. The oppression of many communities has been normalized such that we think poverty, inequity and state violence is “normal” for some to experience more than others. We’ve normalized being grateful for “personal achievements” like a degree, job, promotion, weekends, vacation, accolades etc.
We’ve normalized the meaningless, self-centered, aimless pursuit of “success” within capitalist systems (beyond what is needed for our survival) without ever questioning how that could possibly make us happy. Contentment comes from being in community not being successful and alone. We’ve normalized aspiring to accumulate material possessions to exponentially grow our net worth and achieve arbitrary goals like a marriage and a white picket-fence life. So we end up living milestone to milestone chasing the carrot capitalism dangles in front of us which is an illusion of a “happy future” to justify any suffering or self-exploitation in the present.
Whether we are aware of it or not, oppressive systems take a detrimental toll on our wellbeing and the health of our relational dynamics. No one waltzes into healthy, equitable relationships because inequitable, transactional relationships is what we’re born into and socialized to create. OPPRESSION IS THE NORM. Inequity is the norm. This also means that LIBERATION IS NOT THE NORM and our sheer unfamiliarity with freedom makes it feel very unsafe in our bodies.
Reciprocal relationships are not only NEW to us but also can feel terrifying because we’ve never been taught how to build them. Receiving the love of community and having a village of equally meaningful, deep relationships may actually feel far more dangerous than loneliness or isolation. It may drive our fear of abandonment and stoke our paranoia which has valid political roots. After all, since birth we’re told that we’re alone, that life is a competition for resources, that it’s a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world, that no one will care for us at the end of the day but ourselves, that we have to mistrust each other, aspire to be self-sufficient/ independent/ self-reliant/ self-focused and see our needs or wants as being in competition with those of others. It really isn’t you, it IS the system but this can be a liberating realization because it means you have the capacity to evolve. You’re not a stagnant being, you were molded by oppression but also by many beautiful things in your ecosystem. You can continue to be molded by abolitionist political values and abundant communal love.
We’ve been taught to chart out personal goals & ambitions to amass personal success/ wealth/ social status which is contingent on the failure/ rejection/ demise of our peers, we’re told that we need to be correct/ right/ superior to/ better than/ smarter than others in order to be considered a worthy individual— so no wonder we’re going to fall back on egotistical self-centeredness when we’re at our most vulnerable. In fact, narcissism is the default under capitalism, not the exception. It is bred, encouraged, rewarded & perpetuated. Being aware of this is what allows us to intentionally examine our relational dynamics by taking responsibility and accountability for the role that we play in them.
Being aware of how we embody colonial norms is what allows us to parse through them and practice dismantling them. However, we live under a transitionary era where we are building alternatives to oppression while being forced to engage with oppressive systems. This means we will always be exposed to the brainwashing, covert violence, manipulation and stealthy abuse of capitalism and bring those dynamics back home into our relationships. It’s inevitable. The biggest problem with individualistic, mainstream approaches to trauma healing is that it ignores the overarching context of systemic trauma and reduces problems to ‘bad’ individuals or ‘dysfunctional’ families or ‘backward’ cultures without dissecting how colonialism/ capitalism operate to shape us as individuals, define our family dynamics and desecrate our cultures.
A self-reflection exercise to pause for a moment…
Pause and think about your relational patterns, fears, repetitive behaviors and coping mechanisms you’ve turned to that feel familiar. How well have they served you and your community? How much meaning and purpose have they given you? Have they enabled any contentment? How much of it do you really HAVE to do? This critical reflection may feel deeply unsettling and uncomfortable but it’s time to face all of the parts within you that make your complex whole. It may feel terrifying to sit with these heavy feelings but do it anyways. Move through them, cry, shake, scream, pace, but try not to disassociate and remain grounded in the present for as long as possible. What unfiltered thoughts are coming up for you?
Wtf does it mean to ‘microdose on change’?
If you identify the political, systemic roots of your distress, it can actually feel very demoralizing- like you have no personal agency because you can’t ‘change all of society’. If you identified familiar behaviors in you where you embody oppressive, capitalist norms or values, it can feel overwhelming or impossible for you to imagine being different. Dramatic change or a departure from your patterns can feel scary because it’s all you’ve ever known.
However, when we realize that the personal is political, we see that personal transformation can only happen as part of a collective and is similar/ connected to political abolition (a bidirectional relationship). Just like we have to dismantle prisons, police and the capitalist state by building alternative systems of care, we abolish the cages in our mind by gradually dipping our toes in the unfamiliar and titrating change. We have to slowly practice being free.
Overnight ‘change’ is not only overwhelming but it’s unsustainable, risking an equally drastic rebound. For example: capitalism has always leveraged the threat of violence, punishment or societal abandonment over our heads making fear our greatest motivator. We’ve never had true free will to make any choice. So if you identify a part of your life today where you do have some agency like choosing to not overdeliver at work or spending more time in community than in isolation or in systems, making these choices can feel terrifying because you’ve never had agency. Thus, you’ve never practiced or navigated decision making in a context where you’re not driven by fear and feel empowered by community support.
Personal examples of how I’ve microdosed on change:
Abusive relationships have always felt comfortable (a lifelong pattern) because they feel like home. I was attracted to inequitable romantic dynamics and evaded healthier bonds that felt dangerous to me. I microdosed by easing into trust and practicing reciprocal love in my friendships and I was transparent about these fears in my romantic dynamics where I ‘tested the waters’. I identified the political roots of why I end up in abusive or unbalanced relationships which made me realize that I wasn’t broken and this is a shared struggle for anyone under capitalism (even though there may be layers or distinct nuances).
I recently realized I still attached my worth to academic success so to microdose, I first worked on understanding how it was a politically-driven attachment from a life without safety/ security, especially as a nomadic refugee/ immigrant. I thought exceptionalism would save me and capitalism had always reduced my worth to productivity, achievement and ‘success’ which my biological family embodied as a result. I microdosed by slowly creating my boundaries with the institution, decreasing my work hours (so I wasn’t overdelivering), removing commitments that drained me and reducing the projects that I took on over a year. It felt scary the first time I chose not to apply to a ‘prestigious’ institution/ award/ grant or not to participate in an unnecessary competitive rat race with my peers but now I can’t push myself to do it even if I’m told to because it doesn’t align with my political values. I’ve gradually grown into embodying abolition/ anarchism. I still feel ashamed/ humiliated when authority figures judge me or validate my colleagues while dismissing my worth but instead of reacting by trying to ‘prove myself’, I sit with the pain and seek comfort in community instead.
Internalized colonialism has made me want to be white and American my whole life. The reinforcement of these norms by relatives made it feel safer for me to chemically straighten, destroy & burn my natural curly hair, bleach my skin to be fairer, shave ever iota of body hair, or wear western clothing (even though it felt a bit strange on me). About 3.5 years ago, I cut all my straight hair, buzzed it down to my scalp and slowly grew out my ethnic curls with friends helping me find healthier ways to care for my hair. I started wear a Kurta (a traditional South Indian top) over jeans or pants every once in a while. Flash forward to today- I wear full traditional South Asian outfits like a Salwaar Kameez to work almost everyday, from the hospital to the clinical or research lab. Microdosing is not easy but it is a complex, windy journey full of joy and struggles- all the things that make us living beings.
Until next time friends,
Even though change can feel deeply uncomfortable and harrowing, I’m noticing that in living a slow and sustainable practice of liberation and care, the experience can also be soft and peaceful. Wishing you moments of ease, safety, and hope as you embody radical love in personal and collective ways :)
I love that every piece you share (including this one) holds so much nuance! Your real-life examples of micro-dosing change leave me hopeful; you are modeling liberatory thinking, and I'm grateful for it.