For Your Own Good

If anyone hurts you, in body or in mind and then tells you they’ve done it for your own good, or that it is necessary in some way, run. Right then. Don’t stop, don’t think about it, don’t look back. There may be occasions to make exception for members of the medical profession, dentists, people who are pulling lumps of shrapnel from your legs etc, but even then if it feels wrong, take that discomfort seriously and make sure they know.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post on You Shouldn’t Feel That Way, how ‘I didn’t mean it’ is often given as a reason for putting that negation on someone. ‘I did not intend you to experience this as harm’ is another one, and goes with ‘it is for your own good.’ Attendant concepts include ‘I know best’ or ‘I know more than you.’

Whether or not the intended process is actually doing you any good, to tell someone it is without recognising that they feel otherwise, is patronising. It’s another way of taking away, reducing the person on the receiving end. It might be your body, your heart, your mind, your home, your child that is suffering… but someone else knows better and says you should take it. They might even go so far as to suggest that you should be grateful for all this helpful stuff they are doing to you.

It’s disempowering. For anyone who is less than totally confident (and if you’re bruised already, you’ll likely be there) it’s hard to be sure. It makes it possible to end up accepting and tolerating hurtful things that are not in fact remotely for your own good. While this kind of patronising and reducing can be undertaken by people who are of the misguided belief that they are indeed right and do know better, it’s also an easy tool in the hands of those who intend to hurt and abuse. So whatever the professed intention, this kind of behaviour should always be resisted and challenged, because if it stops being something seen as ok, that’s one less tool for folk who want to abuse. It’s a very easy way of both harming and controlling a child. It is relatively normal for adults to tell children that they know best, and it’s for their own good.

If you are in a position of authority and responsibility – parent/child relationships being a good example, think carefully about how you express that authority. Yes, you probably do have more experience, more insight, you can see a bigger picture. If the other person needs to endure something they aren’t going to like (taking medicine, the pain of having a splinter pulled out, the discomfort of facing a fear etc) then put it in context for them. Tell them what you know and can see that makes you think it would be better and give them chance to give informed consent. Withholding what it is that ‘you know best’ about keeps power in your hands and prevents them from learning. Even with very young children and very confused people, there’s much to be said for offering some kind of explanation. It shows them that you take them seriously, you aren’t poo-pooing their hurt, you aren’t reducing them, you are actually trying to help. Don’t ask them to put blind faith in your ‘I know best,’ show them respect and explain what you know. However good you think your intentions are, if they learn to bow to ‘It’s for your own good’ you might be setting them up to be victims of someone who really does mean them harm. Knowledge is power. Don’t withhold it.

In whatever form it takes, true help gives to the person on the receiving end. It doesn’t lessen them, weaken them, make them dependent or dent their confidence. True help gets people back on their own feet and as independent as they can be. Anything that keeps a person limited, and takes power and autonomy from them is not actual help, it’s a nasty, manipulative form of control. And frankly, I don’t care whether it was ‘meant that way’ or not, the result is still the same and the result is what matters. Good intentions do not reliably make for good outcomes, especially when we imagine that we ‘know best’ and don’t listen to what the other person thinks and feels.

‘It’s for your own good’ is all about authority and power. It’s about asserting that I’m bigger, better, cleverer than you and making you accept my authority. If I do it, and I get away with it, maybe next time I think I know best I’ll take something else away. I’ll feel justified in hurting you, morally superior as I do it, telling you what you need to hear, even if it makes you cry, forcing you to do things you hate because you have to learn. If we go down this track together, I become a monster and you become a victim.

If someone says ‘it’s for your own good’ when it doesn’t feel that way to you, run, and don’t look back.

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