Updated: Mar 4, 2022
There’s a lot of talk about personal or individual sovereignty these days. I wonder if we truly know what it means.
It can be heard loudly in the topical freedom campaigns across the country and the world right now. There is a growing movement of people concerned about their rights to free access to community and about mandates for health procedures. While not venturing into the complexities of these particular debates – it’s the spark of interest in “personal sovereignty” and its use that we want to explore here.
One of the key Mind-Life mindsets states:
Maintaining our personal sovereignty is a basic human right. Psychosocial disability is primarily caused by loss of personal sovereignty.
Why is “personal sovereignty” important to Mind-Life as we seek to reframe psychosocial disability by designing provocative resources that assist people to avoid the pitfalls in both providing and accessing help?
Let’s start with some general definitions of personal sovereignty.
Self-ownership, also known as sovereignty of the individual or individual sovereignty, is the concept of property in one's own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to have bodily integrity and be the exclusive controller of one's own body and life.
It’s a concept that has gained traction in this current era and yet doesn’t feature in directly any dictionary definitions – although there are plenty of debates, blogs, articles, discussions and even retreats to be found. Some links and references explored in preparing this Blog are listed below.
Sovereignty, on the other hand, has a clear definition: supreme unrestricted power as of a state, the position dominion or authority of a sovereign, an independent state.
The term sovereignty features strongly in First Nations people’s plea for recognition of sovereign rights around lands and country. As stated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart (2017) This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
In this context sovereignty has a deep spiritual and political theme. It is also deeply personal.
We also hear the term sovereignty in relation to countries and politics, especially when the discussion is around trade and war. The matters sovereign states are concerned with. This is all too prescient and painful in the light current of global events. Sadly, we find ourselves thinking about sovereignty in times of international conflict that we never wanted to imagine.
And of course, the king or queen of any given country is regarded as sovereign. The ultimate ruler.
Given this range and diversity of thought what do we mean at Mind-Life when we refer to personal sovereignty?
Mind-Life relates exercising our personal sovereignty with our inherent right and ability to self-determine, self – lead, and activate our full community membership, despite the presence or absence of mental distress. To be able to stand up to those people and processes that exclude others, because community and our participation in it is a basic human right and really, really matters to our wellbeing. Our thoughts are around what it means to make decisions for ourselves, to direct our own supports, connections, friends, jobs, and lives. It’s here that personal sovereignty seems a good description.
Many who have been given a diagnosis of mental illness and as a result an additional diagnosis of a “psychosocial disability” are at significant risk of experiencing a myriad of limitations put on their individual decision-making and individual life design. This is not due to their inability to make decisions or lack of desire to enact their personal sovereignty. Such limitations principally arise as a by product of how help provision has been principally designed, implemented and operationalised to be the major activator/actor in people’s lives.
Indicators of a loss of personal sovereignty, as a result of seeking help from a help provider could include:
Loss of voice, as others speak for us, often about us and without us.
Loss of knowing what really works for us, as others have determined this for us based on their knowledge of our distress.
Loss of self belief in our ability to lead our life and our own direction, as others have created that direction for us,
Loss of choice in who, when, where and how we engage in our community life, as others may have steered and limited our participation to be within illness saturated service environments and illness saturated relationships.
Loss of fight for what is morally right, as the consequences of standing tall to these may be too hard and too costly
The question that arises is why help systems are designed in such a way that these losses occur.
Perhaps the answer can be found in some of the entrenched core beliefs and assumptions that are held about people with psychosocial disability. Those beliefs and assumptions that do not respect the individual’s ability to speak for themselves, that see people as broken or damaged or unable, and that do not recognise individuals own agency. Or the beliefs and assumptions that we need to protect people with psychosocial disability from themselves and to protect society from them.
These are uncomfortable questions, however until we examine our assumptions and beliefs, we find that we lead ourselves straight back to institutional times, or that we create institutions within community.
This is why for Mind-Life maintaining our personal sovereignty is a basic human right.
Personal sovereignty must be protected at all costs in the way help providers provide help.
Here are five ways help providers can uphold individual personal sovereignty …
Include people within every meeting that concerns their life
Listen to what people are saying and asking for
Take an adult-to-adult stance in communication
Be genuinely curious about possibilities
Believe that each person has their own agency and ability to determine what is important for them
Mind-Life Resources, including the complete set of mindsets, intentionally focus on addressing the loss of personal sovereignty.
It’s time to think about how the concept of personal sovereignty applies when offering help of accessing help.
Links and Ref: