Updated: Dec 3, 2021
We in New Zealand are not very good at exploring openly our emotional or psychological issues. We leave the exploration of inner turmoil to the professionals, or we pretend it is not there at all by distracting ourselves, keeping busy, ignoring it and pushing it deep. As a health professional I commonly see people who have worked hard to avoid looking at painful stuff in their lives, presenting to me with physical health issues, or mental illness. There is often limited insight into how psychological pain affects or fuels physical health issues. In NZ society there is strong societal pressure to keep struggles to ourselves and to either 'get over it', or 'go see someone’. The struggle to come to terms with pain, be it hurt, grief or trauma is not really generally accepted or embraced. Rather this is perceived as weak, needy, or broken, and hence shameful. Even for pains or losses which have greater social acceptability than those losses experienced at Centrepoint (like the death of a loved one, the illness of a child, or a terminal illness etc) there is still strong pressure to get over it, and enormous social reluctance to explore the damage, to understand the loss, and to lay it to rest somehow and somewhere peacefully. Without laying to rest past hurts we run the risk of repeatedly, inadvertently and unconsciously, pulling them into our present and re-enacting them without even realising it.
What happened at Centrepoint was a uniquely corporate experience; while there was enormous breadth and variability in the experiences people had, they shared enough similarities to bond one to another - more alike in their experiences as insiders than to those who never lived at Centrepoint. This created a unique cohort of individuals experiencing something isolating together. It reminds me in many way of the earthquakes in Christchurch - events which happened to many people around the same time but were experienced profoundly differently depending on the individuals particular risk factors.
At Centrepoint there was enormous variation in people’s experiences. Some people were perpetrators, others were victims (though I hate to use that word, I struggle to come up with another) - and I suspect many were a mixture of both perpetrator and victim. And likely there were some who fell into neither camp also. This creates a weird twist to the whole thing which adds more complexity to the unpacking of it all - unlike superhero comics the goodies aren't just totally good and the baddies aren't just totally bad. And along with that, while the Centrepoint Community as it once was no longer exists, many people remain closely intertwined within relationships that have not adequately addressed the damage. A hugely dysfunctional 'family' with units within the whole big lumbering mass - and for whom 'family gatherings' will no doubt be rather a mess.
I get the impression that there is a large group of the adults of Centrepoint who have gotten on with their lives. But equally I suspect there is a large group of former Centrepoint children who are hampered in their day to day life by the harms which occurred to them at Centrepoint. I think this disparity must force those who profess to care about what happened there - as members of a ‘therapeutic’ and ‘loving’ community - to dig down into the ugliness to search for some answers.
“Get over it” just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.