What does Harry and Meghan's interview tell us about ourselves?
Many of us have seen the Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan about their treatment in the press and in the royal family itself. It was a powerful demonstration of speaking truth to power and regaining a sense of autonomy.
But, it was also a phenomenal illustration of the maintenance of boundaries in toxic relationships. To paraphrase Meghan at the end of the interview; he saved us all. He saw what was coming and he took action to protect himself and his family.
There are a few themes for me that came out of this interview that I feel may have resonated with many people.
Protection and betrayal
When asked about her regrets, Meghan said that her only regret was believing that they would protect her. With everything that she has endured in the press and in her personal life, what hurts the most is the sense of betrayal of those who promised to protect her.
Betrayal by those we love is perhaps one of the hardest things to endure.
Trust is impossible to fully restore once it’s been broken. We can make a conscious effort to trust, we can believe and we can hope, and have a perfectly good life in doing so. But, once we’ve been hurt by the rupture of betrayal, we will remain partly defended to the potential of it happening again.
Ruptures like this can happen in a variety of ways for all of us and we have all experienced betrayal in our own lives. We are relational beings and, regardless of how it feels sometimes, we are wired for hope and to help others. It does not come naturally to do otherwise. Our survival depends on our ability to relate well to others and betrayal undermines that ability, throwing our perception of a safe world into the reality of an unsafe one.
Meghan drew a parallel between Ariel in The Little Mermaid and herself. Meghan no doubt recognised in herself the headstrong, independent character of Ariel, but what really touched her was the fact that Ariel had to trade her voice in order to be with the man she wanted to be with.
We are often silenced in our own lives. While we don’t live in a palace and we are not under the scrutiny of the international press, we can still find ourselves being silenced. We put aside our needs to attend to the needs of others.
We trade our autonomy for a moment of peace in an otherwise volatile relationship. We deny our feelings because our parents, our friends or our partners are unable to hold the space required for us to show how we really feel. We create a façade of strength and confidence so that no one will attack us in a moment of vulnerability.
Harry made it very clear that he felt trapped in ‘the firm’ and in his relationship with his family. Born into an institution that values strength and silence over public displays of emotion and that actively fears retribution from the press for the latter, Harry got the message very early on that his emotional state was to be hidden from the public eye. It was not something that could be held for him by those closest to him either.
There are many people who can recognise this in their own families. “I went through it, so can you”, “Why can’t you just be strong like your brother”, “Don’t make a fuss, people will stare or think badly of us.”
The message we receive from caregivers, teachers and friends may have been very similar to that of Harry’s. “Your emotional state is inappropriate right now” or “I can’t hold your emotional state right now, I’m barely able to hold my own.”
Being able to express our emotional state is essential to our overall well-being and very difficult to do if it is not received well. It is important to find someone who can hold that space for you.
Race: Us and them
As much as we purport to be a beacon of multi-culturalism, accepting of all colours and creeds, the reality rears its head publicly at times and shows that we are just as frightened of those who are different to us as we ever were. The psychology of ‘us and them’ is fascinating to read about but for those who have to live with being ‘them’, it is a lonely and frightening reality.
We are hard-wired for survival, and fundamental to that survival is a sense of belonging. When we, as human beings, lived more as communities it was essential to our survival that we remained a part of the collective. Being exiled and left to fend for ourselves in the wilderness was a death sentence.
Fast forward to today and we are not threatened by tigers in the forest or by having to hunt and gather our food. Our threat is being socially ostracised or displaced.
So, when an outsider appears in our village, our reading group, our church or our family - someone who is of a different culture, a different race, a different upbringing - we perceive this as a threat to the status quo. We immediately fear for the stability of our community and our place in it and, so, we begin to excise or destroy the threat.
We have come a long way in acceptance of others but there is still an intrinsic survival mechanism that is activated when we fear ‘the other’. We need to do the work on ourselves to feel safe, worthy and good enough as individuals so that a new member of a collective is seen as an asset rather than a threat.
Harry was bravely open about the stigma that he still felt surrounding the mental health of his wife. He was reticent to mention it to anyone for fear of what they would say.
We have made great strides as a society in lessening the social burden for people who struggle with their mental health. However, our mental health remains an area of our personal lives that we hide away.
Perhaps it’s embarrassment. Perhaps it’s not wishing to appear weak. Perhaps it’s that we know our emotional state cannot be tolerated by others or perhaps we fear being socially ostracised and left to fend for ourselves outside of the collective. Whatever the reason, stigma still exists.
What is interesting to consider is who is holding on to the stigma? We all naturally assume that the stigma comes from judgements in society (and it does) but we forget that it is individuals who make up a society.
The judgement comes as much from within ourselves than from outside.
Many clients will present themselves in counselling and say that they’re not really sure why they came because so many people have it worse. It’s a subtle way of distancing themselves from the reality of their struggle. It’s an apology to the therapist for wasting their time and it’s an attempt to minimise the potential for judgement, even though the judgement is coming from within.
Harry stepped away from two toxic relationships. The one was the institution of the monarchy. The other was the international press. Both were controlling figures in his life.
What or who is a controlling figure in yours? Is it your job, your partner, your parents, your fear of failure? Drawing boundaries around these things is difficult.
Walking away from everything you’ve known because you know it is the best thing for your mental health takes an enormous amount of strength and will. Perhaps it is only when we realise how much strength it takes to remain the same, do we realise that the same energy can be used to draw boundaries in the service of our well-being instead.
In conclusion, the interview with Harry and Meghan shone a light on a variety of issues that we all deal with in our daily lives. It showed us that money, love, power, status and nationality have no bearing on our susceptibility to mental health issues.
It showed us that pain can be hidden very effectively by even the most privileged in our society. And it shows that, as hard as it may be, we can all choose to protect ourselves from destructive forces in our lives, if we believe we are worthy of better.
Header image: ComposedPix / Shutterstock.com
Main body image: Shaun Jeffers / Shutterstock.com