By Pooja Umbra
Since being diagnosed with an auto-immune neurological disorder and a mental illness as a vegan, I have been putting a lot of thought into the kind of vegan advocacy that can be categorized as psychologically abusive. I have myself partaken in this type of advocacy and I write this using my newly-acquired self-awareness and insight into psychological issues.
I’d like to state on record that I am not a mental health professional. I am articulating this as someone who has experienced psychological abuse from my early childhood and as someone who’s learning to tell the difference between emotionally healthy and unhealthy behaviors.
So what exactly is psychological abuse?
Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional abuse or mental abuse, is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
It encompasses a wide range of behaviors such as, verbal aggression/ assault, domination, emotional blackmail, invalidation, gaslighting and blaming, among others.
Emotionally abusive behaviors by activists or any reminders of past emotional trauma can have debilitating consequences for survivors. Using guilt and shame for AR advocacy with the objective of elevating people’s consciousness to the plight of non-human animals may sometimes yield positive results, but it may also at times make survivors of emotional abuse relive the trauma of the past, feed their suicidal ideation, strengthen their ‘inner critic’, deepen their toxic shame, make the management of their illness difficult, or severely hamper their chances of recovery. Much has been written about certain damaging types of animal rights (AR) advocacy that is triggering to victims/survivors of violent crime such as rape. It is not much different for survivors of emotional trauma. Many in the AR movement, regrettably, still don’t see this as something to be rectified because of their anything goes approach to AR advocacy.
Before AR activists scream, ‘Meat is murder’ or tell non-vegans that they’re contributing to the death of shelter animals by purchasing animals from breeders, they need to stop and evaluate what they want to accomplish and why they’re using the kind of emotionally manipulative/ verbally aggressive approach that usually alienates people with mental disabilities and/or those with a history of trauma. Activists are better off using non-abusive approaches that don’t open up the emotional wounds of others. Furthermore, such non-abusive approaches are more likely to help non-human animals. Abusive tactics only serve to make abusers feel good by feeding off of the humiliation of others. It is self-serving and short-sighted. AR activists with able-minded and able-bodied privileges, as allies to non-human animals, need to recognize the imbalance of power between them and those with disabilities, and tailor their advocacy to be more compassionate.
Emotionality is an asset for bringing about lasting social change, but there is a difference between using corrosive tactics like guilt and shame, and encouraging self-reflection and accountability. All humans oppress non-human animals wittingly or unwittingly, to varying degrees. As those belonging to the oppressor group, we need to have more humility in our activism.
Pooja Umbra is a multi-lingual vegan feminist from Bangalore who is fluent in four languages and semi-proficient in two others. She is a qualified accountant, though is currently on a break. She currently devotes her time to looking after her twelve and a half year old dog and to self- care.