The Myth of Bootstraps

In considering how I make this an anti-oppressive space, I decided in the summer to publish posts by those whose experiences are different to mine, and whose voices are not always heard. The young have been ignored, blamed, castigated and criticised, which is why it seems very important to hear from them during the pandemic. Today a 16 year old writes of the myth of bootstraps.

The MYth of Bootstraps

I’ve always found the myth pushed by some that, to improve your life situation, you simply have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and take responsibility. I had obviously considered the economic side of this argument, and how sometimes this way of thinking is ineffectual, but often the mental side of this argument, that if you are anxious, depressed or in other ways suffering, you have to work on that yourself. So, how is this myth wrong, and such a dangerous thing. 

First off, this myth, by saying all you have to do is work on yourself, implies in some ways that it’s your fault for being anxious, depressed etc. This is so wrong, and perpetuates many systems which work against some of the people who bear the brunt of these mental issues. (Queer people, poor people, POC). The main thing to consider if you’re suffering from any of these problems is that it isn’t your fault. And whilst for some, self reflection and working on oneself works for some, help is needed. Often bottling things up, or seeing problems in your life as your fault only causes more stress and anxiety, and does nothing but to harm you in the long term. 

Like I said, this doesn’t mean that there is someone out there that can flip a switch and make everything better, or that effort does not need to be put in, but understanding barriers and limits in your control of factors around is important to living a healthy life. You can only control your own responses to factors outside your control, yet it’s important to note that it is ridiculous to expect you, if facing difficult times, to perfectly respond and take a balanced approach to everything. 

It’s important to realise that you can’t just think yourself better. Especially if what is causing the problems in your life is beyond your control. Don’t dwell on problems that are worrying you, but don’t lie to yourself, you have to know what is causing the problems before you address it. This is easier said than done, but counsellors, friends and others can help. Often if you, as I said, bottle up emotions and feelings, it only ever makes things worse. I know this seems a basic thing, but it’s amazing how many people continue to do this, out of guilt or feeling that they only burden people with their problems. This is an incredibly toxic way of thinking, and it all comes from this myth of the bootstraps. 

As with most things in life, it’s about maintaining a healthy balance in your thinking. You have to realise that you must put effort in to help yourself, whilst also not burdening yourself with the thinking that you must take on everything yourself, or that you are at fault for problems outside your control. 

As I said earlier, the people who face the brunt of mental health problems are often those against whom society is most stacked. It’s important to recognise this whilst not falling into despair, it’s important to work, if at all possible, to dismantle systems of oppression, as that is one sure step to the end of this myth.

by Thomas Storey

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