Elon Musk’s recent Twitter buying and love of free speech has sparked a storm of conversations about mental health issues related to hate speech and bullying. Calls for cancellation, removal from the platform, content throttling and other stifling measures are often made in the name of “trust and safety”.
But these conversations rarely consider the sanity of free speech advantages. As a clinical psychologist, I believe that freedom of expression far outweighs censorship in terms of well-being. Here are three reasons:
1. Freedom of expression promotes learning and growth.
Humans develop ideas based on social feedback. Freedom of speech facilitates this by facilitating the exchange of information and a healthy separation between people’s beliefs and their inner selves. Our thoughts and beliefs are part of who we are, but a healthy person can maintain a stable self-image despite changes in their beliefs. When we can separate our beliefs from our core identity, we set the stage for growth. Conversely, if we experience them as synonymous with our core identity, we can become rigid and inflexible.
Learning to reject maladaptive beliefs is the key to mental health. Sometimes just hearing ourselves say something out loud – and realizing how silly it sounds – helps generate a new perspective! In addition to hearing ourselves, it can be helpful to listen to others: exposure to diverse viewpoints promotes growth.
2. Freedom of expression assistance secure spaces.
Censorship does not crush hateful views; it simply subverts them. This in fact harder to trust that we access other true views – ironically undermining the concept of a “safe space”. But when the “haters” share openly, we can see them clearly – rather than constantly questioning and second-guessing each other.
Free speech also helps “safe spaces” because safety increases when people realize they are Actually safe – even hearing odious views. Teaching people that “words are violence” is disempowering because it stimulates an unwarranted fight-or-flight reaction rather than an intellectual response.
It is my legal duty to alert the authorities if a patient is at imminent risk of harm to themselves or others – but it would be a serious breach of confidentiality if I did so because a patient intended to vituperate. his neighbour. The essential distinction is that physical evil is on a completely different level than evil words.
3. Freedom of expression can reduce anxiety and depression.
Freedom of expression can build resilience against anxiety and depression in several ways:
- Verbalizing our inner life increases our sense of control. Putting our thoughts and feelings into language increases our sense of control and self-efficacy, both of which are protective factors against anxiety and depression. Labeling feelings also helps prevent the amygdala from “hijacking” our thought process, paving the way for more lucid thinking..
- Authenticity facilitates social support. Social support is a known protective factor for mental health. When we are forced to hide important parts of ourselves, we feel inauthentic and isolated. Fear of being “cancelled” because of open dialogue can degrade our social support, increasing vulnerability to anxiety and depression.
- Freedom of expression can increase self-awareness. Self-awareness is essential to mental health. When we usually hide our thoughts from otherswe can become less aware of them ourselves. We are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression when we lack self-awareness due to suppression, repression or denial.
As a clinical psychologist, I understand that freedom of expression promotes growth by enabling healthy personal reflection and authentic change – rather than creating pressure to pantomime change by repeating politically correct talking points for fear of being undone. Mental well-being and resilience require the ability to examine and overcome challenges and even pull through them. A society that allows for open dialogue facilitates this process.
Mental well-being also requires healthy boundaries. If I encountered a client who expected it to be the role of others to stop have thoughts he didn’t like or that it was the role of the public square (aka Twitter) of eliminate voice he didn’t like, I was helping him develop a sense of personal agency, boundaries and resilience to its own benefit.
There are situations where some dialogue is inappropriate, but overrestriction leads to unhealthy levels of suppression and repression. As a clinical psychologist, I believe that we would be a richer, healthier, and smarter society if we welcomed a greater diversity of thought.
Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, is the author of “Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety.”
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