So what is anger?
Simply put, anger is an emotion. In fact, anger is just an emotion – it is neither right nor wrong to feel it. Unresolved anger can lead to serious physical and mental health problems such as heart disease, stroke, depression and anxiety.
What is the purpose of Anger?
The purpose of anger is to alert us to danger and in doing so produce the flight or fight response. In other words, anger is meant to protect us from harm. All of the physical effects you experience when you are angry are there to tell you that something is wrong. It can motivate us to make positive changes in our community or advocate for others. For example, Martin Luther King was motivated by outrage over racial prejudice (some of which he experienced first hand) to start a civil rights movement in America. With this in mind, you can see that anger, in and of itself, is not negative.
It is, however, a complex emotion. Anger is usually considered a secondary emotion. When we get behind our anger, we discover that there is always a primary emotion such as fear, sadness or frustration at root of it. Understanding the emotions behind the anger is one way of expressing anger appropriately, but we will discuss this later.
Where does anger come from?
Anger is usually caused by some kind of perceived or actual injustice, selfish or thoughtless act, hurtful remark, etc. But this is not where anger comes from. Anger comes from inside of you. It is a natural response to dissatisfaction with your environment.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
The dictionary defines a victim as “one who suffers from any destructive or adverse situation or agency.” When the destructive or adverse situation or agency exists in the real world, the victimization occurs in reality. However, when the destructive or adverse situation exists primarily or entirely within the sufferer’s mind, the victimization is more imagined than real. It is real to the sufferers and their pain is legitimate and valid, but they are in distress more than is needed. We need to identify the source of this excess suffering so that we can relieve it in the right way. When we do not know what the right way is, we are liable to relieve it in the wrong way, which will only make the suffering worse. It is not our fault that we do not know what the right way is, they do not teach it in our schools.
Millions of children are victimized by their parents, not because the parents are “bad” people but because they feel inadequately prepared to cope with the demanding tasks of parenthood. These children acquire the victim role early in their lives. This childhood role will not end on the individual’s eighteenth birthday. These children carry their perception of themselves as victims into adulthood where it interferes with their relationships at home and at work. It creates problems for them that they do not know how to solve.
It is important to realize that not all children of victimizers come to perceive themselves as victims. An older sister may emerge from childhood perceiving herself as the nurturer of victims, an older son may adapt the role of the super-responsible rescuer of victims, while the baby of the family may learn to use charm to ward off the victimizations that he has learned to expect from life. It may be that the middle child is singled out to receive the brunt of the abuse and becomes the designated victim of the family. This is the child who will carry the victim role into the future.
All of these children were victimized, but the dynamics of the family constellation has prevented them from playing identical roles. Each child has found a unique “solution” to the victim problem. Yet, these children will become impaired adults also. The big sister will not be compatible with healthy men, only with victims who “need” her nurturing. Her children will learn that it doesn’t pay to be healthy. She will pay little attention to healthy children, only those who need her nurturing. The super responsible son will be compatible with irresponsible, inadequate people who need his problem solving capabilities. If they have no problems, he will be out of business. They will see to it that he is kept busy. The baby will be compatible with people who will take care of him forever.
A significant variable here is the creative power of the individual; some children can use their creative power to solve the painful problems that victimization by loved ones can present. Other children become discouraged and stop using their creative power to solve these problems. Creative power, is a function of the child’s self-respect. Children who find ways to hang on to their self-respect will have more creative power available to them for problem solving. Children who take their victimization as an invalidation of their personal worth, and most of them cannot take it any other way, come to hold themselves in contempt. By extension, they come to have contempt for their problem- solving abilities. They resign themselves to a lifetime of playing the role of the “useless,” “worthless” victim.
Some children are victimized by a tragedy that takes away a mother or father suddenly, permanently and without warning. The child may not have been physically injured in the accident, but they will carry the emotional scars of this deprivation into the future. A few “lucky” children do not seem to be victimized at all. Their childhood is ideal. For them, life is pleasant when things go their way. Their friends envy their good fortune and happiness. However, these people are poorly prepared for the ups and downs of life. For them, the other side of the coin is that life is very unpleasant when it doesn’t go their way. They perceive negative events in their lives as unacceptable deviations from the norm, which is not a norm at all, they only believe it is. They take each disappointment of everyday life as if it were victimization. In time, these “advantaged souls”, too, join the ranks of victims waiting for the next victimization to happen. We tell them to “count their blessings,” as if their assets in the present could undo a negative lifestyle perpetuated from childhood.
Bad things happen to all of us, but those of us with self-respect do not perceive them as personal affronts or punishments from God. They can say to themselves, “Tornadoes, floods and earthquakes come and go, but I am not a Victim, I am still me.” However, those individuals who have learned to play the “Victim” role early in life are not so fortunate. They perceive every reversal, major or minor, as if the Fates for a special hell were singling them out. They have carried their Victim role and its component attitudes from childhood into adulthood. They are viewing life through victim-colored glasses.
For instance, victims are predisposed to perceive adverse situations where no adverse situations exist — “How come Angelina Jolie never returns my calls?” “she hates me, I just know it.” or to exacerbate the adversities of everyday life into full-blown catastrophes (“Other people can drive 90 miles an hour on the sidewalk and get away with it. But not me. Oh, no, I get a ticket. Why me?”). Cliff has been getting away with his wrongdoing for years. However, all the other times when he did not get caught for speeding did not offset in any way his underlying conviction that he is a victim this time. When he sees other motorists pulled over to the side of the road and getting a traffic citation, he does not empathize with them as a fellow sufferer. “Serves him right, the jerk.” No one is a victim to Cliff except Cliff. Cliff’s childhood attitudes exist below the level of his conscious awareness, where events in the real world do not affect them. These attitudes were learned emotionally and cannot be unlearned intellectually or experientially in the present. Neither can he “will” these silent attitudes out of existence.
Unself-respecting individuals are more vulnerable to the victim syndrome than their self-respecting cousins. Since unself-respecting people do not have mature identities as human beings, they can only play the roles that they learned as children and never outgrew. Although “victim” is a noun, these people do not experience themselves as living their lives. They are not the subject of the sentence or even of their own life; they do not take initiatives; they do not act. All they can do is react to what is done to them, they are on the receiving end of life. They live their lives in the objective case. They are the object of their own verb, to be; and their being is always negative.
Victims do not live in the indicative mood, in the world as it is. They live in the subjunctive mood, the world of “shoulds” and “as ifs.” They behave “as if” things were true that are not true at all. They even wonder, sometimes, why they have such an uphill battle coping with the world as it is. They attribute their difficulty to the “fact” that they are Victims of Life, which of course they are not. It is their attitudes towards themselves that predispose them to behave as if they were.
These are some of the major components of the residual anger that victims carry with them wherever they go:
1. As previously mentioned, Cliff often perceives victimization when no victimization is intended. He has no feedback system that will tell him that his perceptions are mistaken, so he continues to believe that he is correct. His perceived victimizations make him feel as angry as if they were real ones: “I should have gotten that raise. I’ve been here three days longer than that guy!”
2. Cliff often feels that it does not pay to protest his victimization. It will only lead to further victimization. He suppresses his anger until he can’t stand the pressure.
3. When Cliff does try to protest, he often does it in a self-indulgent, counter-productive manner which only results in a confirmation of his prediction of victimization: “You’re stupid, Boss.” His boss’s negative response compounds the anger that he had in the first place. He does not see how his inappropriate behavior contributes to the “victimization” that he is complaining about.
4. Cliff suppresses his anger without even realizing consciously that he is doing so. As a child, his attitude became, “Why get angry, what good would it do?” He defines “good” as if it meant changing another person’s mind in his favor, and he “knows” that that is hopeless. That is not the “good” that expressing appropriate anger accomplishes, but Cliff has had no experience with competently managed anger. The concept is foreign to his upbringing. On a deeper level, Cliff is “allergic” to doing anything constructive on his own behalf because it would be inconsistent with his role as a victim. When the pressure of his mismanaged anger becomes intolerable, he explodes. The consequence of his mismanaged anger is often another “victimization” and he does not “deserve” that one either.
5. Cliff is sensitive to the unfairness of life, especially as it impacts on him. He suffers from the mistaken conviction that:
(a) life should be fair;
(b) life is fair to others;
(c) life is not fair to him;
(d) that fairness means sameness;
(e) that he is an objective arbiter of these matters.
All this unfairness makes him very angry. He is the victim of unfairness and he cannot understand why he is being singled-out for victimization. “Why me?” He does not “deserve” this abuse because he is a “swell guy” if he says so himself. His present definition of fairness is the same one he had when he was four years old. “Everybody gets the same size present.” That is not fairness, it is sameness. He doesn’t know the difference. He also defines fairness as “getting my way.” When he doesn’t get his way, it is not fair. According to his self-serving definition, bad employees like himself should get the same consideration as good employees. His boss does not share his definition. When they argue, they are not on the same wavelength, but neither one knows why.
6. Allergic To Cooperation – Cliff tends to confuse requests for cooperation with demands for submission. These “demands” make him angry. When he refuses to “submit to his boss’ invitation to cooperate as an equal,” he sets himself up for the disaster that he has predicted for himself.
7. Control is very important to Cliff. He is a controller. Unfortunately, he does not know what control really is nor how to get it. He can only control in negative, destructive ways. Cliff defines control as “preventing bad things from happening.” His built in scenario has several components:
a) “I predict that I will be victimized in the future as I have been in the past.”
b) “This prediction is scary and painful. It is my responsibility to relieve this pain in any way I can.”
c) “If I can prevent the victimization from happening, I won’t get hurt.”
d) “I will try to prevent bad things from happening by increasing my knowledge of what is going on.”
e) “It is important that I know what people are thinking. If it is bad news, I can try to head it off at the pass.”
f) “I must know what is going to happen in the future by asking questions in the present. Knowledge is power. When I do not know the future, I feel painfully powerless and out of control. I must find a way to relieve this pain.”
This multi-faceted scenario is not conscious or rational. It has nothing to do with solving real life problems in the present. Since Cliff feels inadequate to cope with life in the present, “control through knowing” is his way of overcompensating for his perceived deficiencies. His solution to this problem cannot work. His problems do not get better, they get worse, and they ultimately turn into a crisis. His life is one crisis after another. When he learns how to cope with life as a self-respecting human being, his crises will come much farther apart. Since Cliff cannot know what people are thinking or what the future will bring, he cannot control his life or prevent the disasters that he predicts for himself. He feels out of control most of the time. He has set himself up for a lifetime of anxiety.
8. Anxiety is a feeling of dread, that something terrible is going to happen at any minute.
As a victim, Cliff lives with anxiety. He is not aware of his anxiety as such because he has become used to it over the years. These are some of the basic assumptions that contribute to anxiety:
a) Cliff feels inadequately prepared to take life as it comes.
b) He lives his life on other peoples’ terms. Since we cannot really know what their terms are, his life is going to be unpredictable and insecure.
c) Since he has no hope of success, he can only predict disaster in the future.
d) He lives in the future in order to keep the feared disaster from happening.
e) He defines security in terms of external and internal defense mechanisms which do not work in the real world.
f) He defines control in bizarre ways that leave him more out of control.
g) Cliff’s anger is out of control. When his anger is out of control, he is out of control. He experiences his out of control anger as anxiety.
9. A major component of Cliff’s anxiety is his anger at himself. When bad things happen, not only does he perceive them as a personal victimization, but he is angry at himself for failing to prevent them from happening in spite of his intense but useless efforts to do so. This anger at himself is out of his conscious control. He is not even aware that it is down there. He is preoccupied with his conscious anger at the source of his current distress, i.e., his boss. This preoccupation keeps him from identifying his self anger. It never goes away. He displaces his self anger onto other people who do not deserve it. Sometimes they displace it right back, confirming his victim role and perpetuating his anxiety.
10. Humorlessness – As with many victims, Cliff makes the twin mistakes of:
a) Taking people seriously when he should not,
b) Not taking them seriously when he should.
He does not have a sense of humor because a lifetime of anticipating victimization precludes the luxury of lightening up and appreciating the absurdity of the human condition. He lacks the adult judgment to discern when people are kidding and when they are not. As a consequence, he reacts inappropriately to most situations and is then victimized. Perversely, he sees humor when other people are victimized. He feels superior to them; he is relieved that it wasn’t him this time.
11. Inappropriate Responsibility – As the victim child in his family, Cliff assumes so much inappropriate responsibility for warding off victimization that he neglects his real responsibilities. Once again, the consequences of his misplaced priorities will be negative. He then assumes responsibility for his victimization, but in the wrong way. “I should have seen it coming,” he says. He feels guilty and angry at himself. He does not learn the right lessons from these disasters, he merely reinforces the wrong ones, over and over.
His wife, Naomi, is an irresponsible victim. She spends her life seeking exemption from her appropriate responsibilities because she feels that she will only fail anyway, so why bother? She “forgets” to pay the bills because she “knows” in advance that she will make a botch of it. She is incapable of seeing how these exemptions from her household tasks may be contributing to her victimization. When Cliff complains about her carelessness, she feels victimized. She says, “It’s not my fault! You made me forget.” This is the flip side of the fault coin. She denies “fault” because she imagines that as long as she remains “faultless” she cannot be punished. This technique, too, works in reverse. It makes Cliff angrier than he was before, and he feels entitles to punish her for making him angry.
When these two fight about finances, they imagine that the issue is money. Money is only the occasion for the real issue, which is preventing spousal victimization. When Naomi asks for food money, Cliff feels taken advantage of, unappreciated and threatened with loss of control over his paycheck. When Cliff says, “No,” Naomi feels forced to submit to his control, as she had to submit to male tyranny in her childhood. She resents it now as she resented it then. She protects, defends, rebels, all in vain. Her coping techniques are no more successful now than when she was nine. These two become super angry at each other without even knowing why. Their perception of victimization arises out of an issue that lies still farther down, their contempt for themselves and for each other. “Anyone who would pick me out is worthy of my contempt and deserves to be treated accordingly.” Their relationship is based on mutual contempt.
Cliff cannot be happy. It would be inconsistent with his role of the victim. He has learned that, for him, happiness is only temporary, so why bother? Not only is happiness short-lived, but Cliff has also learned that it always ends in disaster and that he will be the victim of it. Therefore, he cannot enjoy his brief moments of happiness when they come because he “knows” that they will end painfully at any minute. When his wife tries to make him happy, he sabotages her every time. This is another technique that he uses to prevent disaster. Since Cliff “knows” that his happiness is going to end in disaster anyway, and the suspense is killing him, he brings about the disaster he expects in order to “get it over with,” sooner rather than later. When it happens, it confirms his prophecies of disaster (“I told you so. I knew it was to good to last”); it confirms his role as the victim. It is the only role he has. He has maintained his consistency once again.
12. Super-Sensitivity – When Cliff receives criticism, he mistakenly confuses his personhood with the imperfection being criticized. He may, for instance, confuse his boss’s criticism of his tardiness with the invalidation of his worth as a person. Invalidation is very painful. His super-sensitivity to slights is supposed to be a defense against being hurt, but like most of his “solutions” to his problems, this one doesn’t work, either. Cliff is so busy seeking solace for his wounded feelings that he fails to change the habits that get him in trouble. He is setting himself up for still another “victimization” the next time he is late. He thinks that he is “sensitive,” when in fact he is insensitive to any pain but his own. He confuses his vulnerability to overreacting with “sensitivity”.
13. Fortune-Telling – Cliff, like most victims, spends much of his life in the future:
a) He defines control in terms of preventing bad things from happening; tomorrow,
next week or next year.
b) He consistently prophesies disaster for himself. He does not “deserve” to expect
anything else. He tries so hard to prevent disasters from happening that he fails to live his life in the present tense.
c) He predicts that he is going to be victimized. He can not stand the suspense, so he
arranges to speed the process up. When it does happen, he says, “I knew it would happen.” He cannot see how he arranged to fulfill his negative expectations. It would ruin the whole scenario if he did
Cliff tries to ward off anticipated victimization by pleasing others in the hope that
they will not hurt him. These others sense and resent his ulterior motives in pleasing them. They hold him in contempt and victimize him for his pains. He consistently tries to please the people he shouldn’t please while neglecting to please those he should, such as his employer and his family members.
14. Suffering Pays – Cliff has learned that happiness does not pay. What does that leave? Suffering. At least suffering doesn’t end in disaster and there is no painful suspense. To him, these are all “advantages.” Moreover, Cliff has learned to use his suffering and make it pay-off. It is all he has going for him. If they ever take away his suffering, he would be in big trouble. He would not be able to trade on it; he might even be happy and he “knows” how that would end. This is his private logic and we cannot argue with it. It wouldn’t help if we did.
One negative payoff for his suffering may be the attention that he receives when he suffers. Another payoff may be his feeling of “moral superiority” over those who have not suffered as he has. This type of suffering victim is called “the Martyr.” Some victims use their suffering to exempt themselves from the tasks of life. They feel inadequately prepared to cope with the adult responsibilities of life and can only predict failure for themselves. Their agenda is to prevent their failure by getting out of their responsibilities before it is too late. They want to exempt themselves from their assigned duties and yet still receive the benefits from them. They malinger, they go on sick leave, they do not make him happy, they are the misery that he prefers to the even worse nursery of trying to succeed and failing. Many of them succeed at this for a time. When they fail, it is through the fault of others. In the meantime, they are exempt from guilt, fault, blame and responsibility. It is not their fault that they have this “condition.” They really do not see how they arranged all this as their solution to problems of daily living.
We have made the understandable mistake of taking this victimization or grievance more personally than reality requires us to take it. Our perception of ourselves as a helpless, “stupid” victim results in a dangerous loss of self-worth. We cannot respect people who allow these tragedies to befall them. It happened in our world, so it is somehow our fault, our responsibility. This is a carryover of our childhood feeling of egocentrism, when we stood at the center of our world as we perceived it. This inappropriate attitude from the past sets us up for more pain that we need to feel. We need to sort out the pain that is real from the pain that arises out of mistaken attitudes and other childhood vulnerabilities.
The antidote to this aspect of our suffering is to regain the self-respect that we had before the event. Perhaps our self-respect was built on a shaky foundation. “I can respect myself as long as I don’t encounter any problems that I cannot handle.” According to this self-imposed condition, we can no longer respect ourselves under the present circumstances. We need to replace that definition of self-respect with one that is less conditional and less porous. We need to find a way to experience ourselves as worthwhile human beings in spite of our faults and imperfections, one of which is that we are constitutionally incapable of being in two places at the same time or that we lack the courage to beat off three muggers with loaded guns. These imperfections in our nature are acceptable and we can accept ourselves in spite of them. No one has ever told us that; we must tell ourselves.
As one step in the healing process, we need to regain control of our rage. We can begin to manage our anger by writing an anger letter. It does not matter if someone reads it. It is not for their benefit but for ours. Afterwards, we will be in a stronger position to write the next anger letter, which is harder. The next letter is to ourselves. We need to start writing a letter to ourselves and to see what we bring up from the depths. We can identify specific criticisms that we have towards ourselves, which makes them easier to put in an appropriate perspective. We can use our rational faculties now to see that we are not guilty of being incapable. We need not be angry at ourselves at all. We are angry that it happened and at the undeserved, unfair changes that it makes in our lives. We can choose to write it down and get the anger out before it turns to poison and spreads.
The last stage of the anger management process would be to forgive those who caused this pain. We often balk at forgiving the perpetrator, for we “do not want to give him the satisfaction,” or we do not wish to “condone” his behavior. We may even imagine that we can prevent a repetition of the crime by harboring a grudge against him forever. We cannot forgive because what he did was “wrong;” if it were “right,” we wouldn’t have to forgive him at all. These are all faulty attitudes from our childhood, which impede the healing process. They are based on the false premise that the process of forgiveness is for another’s benefit, which it is not. He will never know about it. It is to help us recover our sanity sooner rather than later.
And who else must we forgive? We must forgive ourselves for our “failure” to foresee the event and prevent it from happening. This anger at ourselves is based on absurd premises, but it is very real. Our emotions do not care whether they are based on solid ground or not. They have no eyes and they cannot see; they have no brains and they cannot think. We have brains and we must think. We must use our adult judgment to make appropriate choices. Then, we must put our choices into action.
One action we can take is to write our forgiveness down in a letter so that we can validate our experience and make it real. Writing it down helps to bridge the gap between our head and our heart. It helps us to repair that which has been torn apart. We need to take action in the real world on our own behalf. If we do not, no one will. In writing our forgiveness letter, we are doing something that victims cannot do. Victims have no power to forgive, self-respecting people do.
Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation. Every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed, looked forward to those one-hour periods. Each day, for that one hour his world would be enlarge and extend to all the activity and color of the world outside.
The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene. One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing on the street below. Although the other man couldn’t hear the band, he could see it clearly as the old fellow by the window portrayed its every detail with the most descriptive words.
Days and weeks passed. The afternoon peeks into the outside world continued. Bright, sunny days, but rainy days too. Dark clouds rolling in and intense lightning bolts descending on the park. Pedestrians running for cover as the rain came in sheets, blown by a howling wind. It would soon be winter, they said, as they speculated as to whether or not the pond would freeze hard enough for skaters. Maybe there would be a Christmas tree on the frozen lake, and carolers too. They wondered how much snow they might get this year.
One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.
Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed.
It faced a completely blank brick wall.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We respect problem-solvers in this country. We do not and cannot respect people who fall down elevator shafts or slip on banana peels. We fault them for their obvious lack of wisdom and foresight. We find their predicament improper, even absurd. Our tendency to “blame the victim” is an approach that is acquired in our childhood. We remember being told to stop crying, “Oh, quit bawling. You probably had it coming. It’s your own fault. I told you not to play with the big boys.” According to our all-knowing parents, we have brought our victimization upon ourselves. This is how our parents solved the “crying child” problem. They blamed it on the child! They were off the hook. They have taught us to blame ourselves for our own grief.
These parental interventions do not help at all. They are not constructive and do not lead to enhanced family relationships between people who are supposed to love and respect one another. Now, when our child cries, we do the same thing to them. Why do we do it? We do it because our child’s misfortune presents us with an unexpected problem, with which we feel inadequately prepared to cope. As parents, our feelings of inadequacy are uncomfortable, sometimes even painful. We are angry with the child for this insult to our sense of competency.
Our child will grow up with the outlook that, “Victims bring it on themselves and I am one of them.” Such children grow up with a negative developmental experience. They feel bound to live out their parents’ expectations. They will arrange to be victimized and then blame themselves, as they were taught to do in childhood. They are not masochists and do not enjoy doing this to themselves. They are merely perpetuating the role that they learned to play as children, maintaining the consistency of their lifestyle and “obeying” their parents’ implied command to fail and blame themselves. As miserable as this obedience makes them, it is the misery that they prefer to the even worse misery of disobeying their parents. They would feel guilty, but even worse, they are afraid that they would not know what would happen next.
Some “victims” reading this will say, “So it is my fault after all. I do bring this on myself.” They may even perceive these words as yet another victimization. But it is not their fault that these powerful desires from the past rise up in the present and trip them up. These feelings shape their responses to situations and influence their expectations of themselves and other people. It is not a matter of fault or guilt, it is a matter of human imperfection. Some victims, as we have seen, “bottom out” and come in for help. Others are too far gone in their self-contempt and cannot bring themselves to do so. They do not “deserve” to be helped or are too afraid of the consequences. It is not their fault, but there will be very negative outcomes for them. It is regrettable that this state of affairs exists, but “blaming” is useless and counter-productive.. For example, Sara was twenty-eight and was having difficulty in her marriage. She has little or no interest in sex and her husband is finding it impossible to offer her any affection. As often happens, the couple’s sexual adjustment was satisfactory during the early stages of their relationship. After the honeymoon was over, something from the past bubbled up to ruin their happiness.
For his part, her husband Mike was used to getting his own way. He does not cope very well with disappointments, for they are not supposed to happen to him. His counter-productive demands for intellectual explanations, reasons, excuses and accountings do not endear him to his distraught wife and they are growing farther apart every night. Sara realizes that she brings her baggage of self-blame to her marriage. However, her husband Mike is all too happy to agree that their problem is all her “fault.” Mike knew when he married her, that Sara had been raped when she was seventeen. They had talked about it rationally and maturely. If anything, their objectivity bordered on the clinical. Mike felt that his enlightened approach to this trauma had relieved any negative beliefs that his bride might have had toward the gender to which both he and the perpetrator belonged. He was right. Gender was no longer the issue. Victim hood was.
Sara was raped by a boy she met in her dorm. He was a little older than she was and he seemed charming and self-assured. She found out at the trial that he had been raping girls for years and getting away with it. She, of course, like most victims, blamed herself for being so “stupid” as to let it happen. Her disdain with herself has not gone away and she has carried it into her marriage. Now, it is preventing her from accepting the happiness that her husband is trying to share with her. Victims do not “deserve” happiness. However, there is still another impediment further down.
Sara focused on her friend’s reaction to her rape story. She remembers stumbling out of the park into the local hamburger hangout, all dirty and bloody, her nose broken and dress torn, pouring out her narrative and fully expecting her companions to raise a posse in defense of her honor. There was no such response. Her chums looked at each other and without exception, offered their counter-explanation of what had occurred, “Oh, Sara’s at it again. She’s making things up. It couldn’t have happened that way. You probably pissed him off and he beat the crap out of you. You can’t be raped unless you want to!”
These invalidations of her grief almost hurt worse than the attack itself. She had trusted these people and she thought they trusted her. Their denial of her validity was a double betrayal, 1) of her trust in the people she was close to and, 2) of her own judgment in choosing to trust them in the first place. Compounding Sara’s anger at her betrayers and at her own poor judgment was her rage at the unfairness of this tragedy. She had been the “responsible older sister”; the “good child of the family.” However, her lifetime of goodness had failed utterly to protect her from this devastating, unmerited, physical and emotional debacle. She felt “good for nothing.” She was angry with herself for wasting seventeen years of being good. She could just as well have been a hell-raising witch for all the good it had done her. The fragile foundations of her life fell apart that night. No new foundations have been laid in the past eleven years to take their place.
Now, here is her husband asking her to trust him and herself and let life happen. She has never forgotten what happened that night when she let go opened her to life and made the mistake of trying to be happy, like other people. She is not about to make that mistake again. How could she be sure that her husband would not betray her and then blame her for anything that went wrong; as he was already starting to do. No. Her distrustful behavior was her way of “control” by “preventing” bad things from happening again. “After they happen, it’s too late.” To her, this approach made obvious sense. She was not going to be reasoned out of it by her pseudo-logical, super-rational husband who had his own self-serving reasons for wanting her to loosen up.
As part of her counseling, Sara worked to understand why her friends unanimously pounced on her and blamed her for her own victimization, why they denied the evidence of their senses and overrode her account with a fictitious account of their own. It made no sense to her. She could not get on with her life until she sorted out these ragged loose ends.
This group of horrified teenagers must have felt totally inadequate to solve Sara’s problem. Their feelings of inadequacy were compounded by the shock and horror of what they heard and saw. As imperfect human beings, their first priority was to defend themselves against the pain they were experiencing in their own hearts. These are some of the components of their seemingly “heartless” response:
1. It is not enough to say that they “denied reality.” The question is why? When reality makes us feel painfully inadequate, we relieve the pain by canceling out the stimulus that is causing it. People who respect themselves and feel competent to take crises as they come, are less likely to deny reality.
2. The teenagers sought to minimize their pain by “demoting” Sara to a lesser status, that of a “trouble-maker” who is by definition “unworthy” of the care and concern, which they felt inadequate to provide. Since she is inferior to them, they are now “off the hook,” they are not responsible for solving the problem.
3. Problem-solving is an important part of our self-respect. When we cannot solve a problem, we feel inadequate. We relieve our distress by imagining a solution to the problem, even if it is not the problem that was presented to us originally. Sara’s problem was not the problem anymore, they had their own problem and they felt compelled to solve it.
4. Now that Sara is denigrated as a victim of her own provocative behavior, they are able to feel superior to her. Their momentary feelings of inadequacy and inferiority are now overcompensated for and need trouble them no further. Their “superiority” is part of the anesthetic that they need to relieve their own pain.
5. We all need closure. We cannot live our lives with all those loose-ends dragging behind and tripping us up. We like neat, tidy endings; not bloody, gaping wounds. When our coping techniques are inadequate to provide realistic closure, we sew-up our crevices with sutures of our own devising. Very often, these pseudo-closures are enough to get us out of the immediate danger zone to a safe refuge where we can collect our thoughts. For instance, we “forgive” our perpetrator too soon. This is not emotional first aid; this is more like putting a band-aid on a fracture. Some of us regret, forever, our failure to go back and obtain more effective treatment for our wounds when we had the chance. Our short-term good intention for ourselves will turn out to be self-destructive in the long run.
This analysis of the “Blame the Victim Syndrome” helped Sara to put this aspect of her trauma in a more realistic perspective. She had been faulting herself all these years for her “naiveté” in trusting those people and for trusting her own “stupid” judgment. She can see now that these young people had their own constellations of vulnerabilities and imperfections that prevented them from being more responsive to her assault than they were. On the basis of these insights into human imperfection, Sara is working through her legitimate anger at those people who let her down. She has written them a “gang” letter, which helped her to sort out the many facets of her rage.
She also uncovered her terrible anger at herself, which she relieved by writing herself an anger letter. While she was at it, her old anger at the rapist surfaced. She didn’t know where he was anymore, but she wrote him an anger letter, too. Even after all these years, she was surprised at the intensity of her emotion as it spilled out onto the pages. She felt much better afterward. She knows now that if these angers well-up in her again, she can write more anger letters. Now that her anger is in control, she feels in control.