Some have noted a pattern of suspicion followed by silence among those who knew something about Sandusky’s behavior with young boys. Those who work with survivors of child sexual abuse know this pattern all too well and are often angered by it. How do we explain the reluctance of people to talk about their suspicions openly so that something might be done to stop these atrocities?
One of the explanations suggested is that the abuser is a person of power or status who could use that power to punish anyone who dared talk about what they suspected or knew. Though there is some truth to this, especially in the minds of the young person who has been manipulated and sometimes threatened into silence, I think there is a more basic explanation that comes clear in an understanding of the nature of shame and our responses to behavior that evokes shame.
Shame is one of the powerful survival emotions with which we are all hardwired. It is the emotion that compels us to surrender and try to hide when we are faced with an overwhelming threat or defeated in competition. It can save our lives in a primitive battle over status, and it has a complex function in forming our consciences and guiding our moral awareness. But although we use the word in a way that has many complex connotations, it is a fundamental and powerful basic emotion, and shares some characteristics with other survival emotions.
1. Shame compels an immediate behavioral response. Fear compels us to freeze first, then run. Anger compels us to attack. And shame compels us to surrender and withdraw, averting our gaze and trying to hide. We want to become invisible, and anything that draws attention to us makes the shame stronger. So when someone tells an inappropriate joke at a party, everyone wants to crawl under the table. And when someone in your group is behaving badly, no one wants to be the first to call attention to the problem. “For some people, the subject is literally unspeakable.”
2. Shame is contagious. Like the panic triggered in a crowded theater when someone shouts fire, or the rage evoked in a mob when it is focused on a target, shame over someone’s exposure evokes an emotional response in all of us. Depending on our relationship to the person shamed, the emotional response can be one of shame or anger, but if the person is a member of your family, tribe, or a group with which you identify, the shame will come first. When Dad is drunk and making a fool of himself, everyone in the family wants to leave the scene. A secondary
reaction of anger may set in soon, but the initial response is shared shame. If our political leader makes a gaffe, we all groan inside before we go into defensive action.
3. Shame is followed by anger. But the anger may be expressed toward almost anyone. After feeling the sting of shame, we may be angry at ourselves, we may be angry at the world, we may be angry at the easiest person to be angry at – which maybe the victim of the abuse – or we may fear the anger of others that we know is likely to emerge if we make a lot of noise about the shameful situation. So family members enable the alcoholic rather than confront, institutions shield and hide the abusers in their midst rather than share the shame of exposure, and people with suspicions of others, particularly leading members of the group with which they identify, keep their mouths shut and their heads down (the classic posture of shame). The fear of angry reprisals can extend to fear of legal action against the institution involved. But underlying this fear is the naive wish that it will all just go away if we can cover it up or keep quiet about it.
Understanding the nature of our powerful survival emotions, how they compel us to freeze, run, attack, or hide, can help us resist the self defeating behavioral responses that can arise in response to emotionally loaded situations and help us solve problems sooner. Wishing the problems and the feelings would just go away only prolongs the damaging situation.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The following script is from “The Baby Lab” which aired on 60 minutes..Nov. 18, 2012.
It’s a question people have asked for as long as there have been people: are human beings inherently good? Are we born with a sense of morality or do we arrive blank slates, waiting for the world to teach us right from wrong? Or could it be worse: do we start out nasty, selfish devils, who need our parents, teachers, and religions to whip us into shape?
The only way to know for sure, of course, is to ask a baby. But until recently, it’s been hard to persuade them to open up and share their secrets. Enter the baby lab.
This is the creature at the center of the greatest philosophical, moral, and religious debates about the nature of man: the human baby. They don’t do much, can’t talk, can’t write, can’t expound at length about their moral philosophies. But does that mean they don’t have one? The philosopher Rousseau considered babies “perfect idiots…Knowing nothing,” and Yale psychologist Karen Wynn, director of the Infant Cognition Center here, the baby lab, says for most of its history, her field agreed.
Lesley Stahl: Didn’t we just think that these creatures at three months and even six months were basically just little blobs?
Karen Wynn: Oh, sure. I mean, if you look at them, they–
Lesley Stahl: Yeah.
Karen Wynn: They kinda look like little, I mean, cute little blobs. But they can’t do all the things that an older child can. They can’t even do the things that a dog or a pigeon or a rat can.
No pulling levers for treats or running mazes for these study subjects. But they can watch puppet shows. And Wynn is part of a new wave of researchers who have discovered seemingly simple ways to probe what’s really going on in those adorable little heads. We watched as Wynn and her team asked a question that 20 years ago might have gotten her laughed out of her field. Does Wesley here, at the ripe old age of 5 months, know the difference between right and wrong?
Wesley watches as the puppet in the center struggles to open up a box with a toy inside. The puppy in the yellow shirt comes over and lends a hand. Then the scene repeats itself, but this time the puppy in the blue shirt comes and slams the box shut. Nice behavior…mean behavior…at least to our eyes. But is that how a 5-month-old sees it, and does he have a preference?
Annie: Wesley, do you remember these guys from the show?
To find out, a researcher who doesn’t know which puppet was nice and which was mean, offers Wesley a choice.
Annie: Who do you like?
He can’t answer, but he can reach… (reaches for nice puppet)
Annie: That one?
Wesley chose the good guy and he wasn’t alone.
More than three fourths of the babies tested reached for the nice puppet. Wynn tried it out on even younger babies, 3 month olds, who can’t control their arms enough to reach. But they can vote with their eyes, since research has shown that even very young babies look longer at things they like. Daisy here looked at the mean puppet for 5 seconds; then switched to the nice one for 33.
Karen Wynn: Babies, even at three months, looked towards the nice character and looked hardly at all, much, much, much shorter times, towards the unhelpful character.
Lesley Stahl: So basically as young as three months old, we human beings show a preference for nice people over mean people.
Karen Wynn: Study after study after study, the results are always consistently babies feeling positively towards helpful individuals in the world. And disapproving, disliking, maybe condemning individuals who are antisocial towards others.
Lesley Stahl: It’s astonishing.
Wynn and her team first published their findings about baby morality in the journal “Nature” in 2007, and they’ve continued to publish follow-up studies in other peer-reviewed journals ever since — for instance on this experiment.
They showed babies like James here a puppet behaving badly — instead of rolling the ball back to the puppet in the middle, this green-shirted bunny keeps the other puppet’s ball, and runs away.
Then James is shown a second show — this time the bunny who he just saw steal the ball, tries to open up the box to get the toy. Will James still prefer the puppet who helps out? Or will he now prefer the one who slams the box shut?
[Annie: Who do you like? That one.]
He chose the one who slammed it shut, as did 81 percent of babies tested. The study’s conclusion: babies seem to view the ball thief “as deserving punishment.”
Lesley Stahl: So do you think that babies, therefore, are born with an innate sense of justice?
Karen Wynn: At a very elemental level, I think so.
Paul Bloom: We think we see here the foundations for morality.
Paul Bloom is also a professor of psychology at Yale, with his own lab. He’s collaborated with Wynn on many of her baby studies, and he also happens to be her husband.
Paul Bloom: I feel we’re making discoveries. I feel like we’re– we’re discovering that what seems to be one way really isn’t. What seems to be an ignorant and unknowing baby is actually a creature with this alarming sophistication, this subtle knowledge.
And he says discovering this in babies who can’t walk, talk, or even crawl yet, suggests it has to come built in.
Lesley Stahl: So, remember B.F. Skinner, who said that we had to teach our children everything through conditioning. So, does this just wipe him off the map?
Paul Bloom: What we’re finding in the baby lab, is that there’s more to it than that — that there’s a universal moral core that all humans share. The seeds of our understanding of justice, our understanding of right and wrong, are part of our biological nature.
Wait a minute, if babies are born with a basic sense of right and wrong, a universal moral core, where does all the evil in the world come from? Is that all learned? Well maybe not. Take a look at this new series of discoveries in the Yale baby lab…
[Annie: Would you like a snack?]
In offering babies this seemingly small, innocuous choice — graham crackers or Cheerios — Wynn is probing something big: the origins of bias. The tendency to prefer others who are similar to ourselves.
Karen Wynn: Adults will like others who share even really absolutely trivial similarities with them.
So will Nate, who chose Cheerios over graham crackers, prefer this orange cat, who also likes Cheerios — over the grey cat who likes graham crackers instead?
Apparently so. But if babies have positive feelings for the similar puppet, do they actually have negative feelings for the one who’s different? To find out, Wynn showed babies the grey cat — the one who liked the opposite food, struggling to open up the box to get a toy. Will Gregory here want to see the graham cracker eater treated well? Or does he want him treated badly?
[Annie: Which one do you like? That one.]
Gregory seemed to want the different puppet treated badly.
Lesley Stahl: That is amazing. So he went with his bias in a way.
And so did Nate and 87 percent of the other babies tested. From this Wynn concludes that infants prefer those “who harm… others” who are unlike them.
Paul Bloom: What could be more arbitrary than whether you like graham crackers or Cheerios?
Lesley Stahl: Nothing.
Paul Bloom: Nothing. But it matters. It matters to the young baby. We are predisposed to break the world up into different human groups based on the most subtle and seemingly irrelevant cues, and that, to some extent, is the dark side of morality.
Lesley Stahl: We want the other to be punished?
Karen Wynn: In our studies, babies seem as if they do want the other to be punished.
Lesley Stahl: We used to think that we’re taught to hate. I think there was a song like that. This is suggesting that we’re not taught to hate, we’re born to hate.
Karen Wynn: I think, we are built to, you know, at the drop of a hat, create us and them.
Paul Bloom: And that’s why we’re not that moral. We have an initial moral sense that is in some ways very impressive, and in some ways, really depressing — that we see some of the worst biases in adults reflected in the minds and in the behaviors of young babies.
But Bloom says understanding our earliest instincts can help…
Paul Bloom: If you want to eradicate racism, for instance, you really are going to want to know to what extent are babies little bigots, to what extent is racism a natural part of humanity.
Lesley Stahl: Sounds to me like the experiment show they are little bigots.
Paul Bloom: I think to some extent, a bias to favor the self, where the self could be people who look like me, people who act like me, people who have the same taste as me, is a very strong human bias. It’s what one would expect from a creature like us who evolved from natural selection, but it has terrible consequences.
He says it makes sense that evolution would predispose us to be wary of “the other” for survival, so we need society and parental nurturing to intervene. He showed us one last series of experiments being done in his lab — not with babies, but with older children of different ages. The kids get to decide how many tokens they’ll get, versus how many will go to another child they’re told will come in later. They’re told the tokens can be traded in for prizes.
[Mark: So you can say green, and if you say green, then you get this one and the other girl doesn't get any; or you can say blue, and if you say blue, then you get these two, and the other girl gets these two. So green or--
The youngest kids in the study will routinely choose to get fewer prizes for themselves just to get more than the other kid –
[Ainsley: I'll pick green.]
– in some cases, a lot more.
Paul Bloom: The youngest children in the studies are obsessed with social comparison.
[Mark: So you get these seven. She doesn't get any.
Paul Bloom: They don’t care about fairness. What they want is they want relatively more.
But a funny thing happens as kids get older. Around age 8, they start choosing the equal, fair option more and more. And by 9 or 10, we saw kids doing something really crazy –
– deliberately giving the other kid more.
Mark: Green or blue?
They become generous. Chalk one up to society.
Lesley Stahl: They’ve already been educated?
Paul Bloom: They’ve been educated, they’ve been inculturated, they have their heads stuffed full of the virtues that we might want to have their heads stuffed with.
So we can learn to temper some of those nasty tendencies we’re wired for — the selfishness, the bias — but he says the instinct is still there.
Paul Bloom: When we have these findings with the kids, the kids who choose this and not this, the kids in the baby studies who favor the one who is similar to them, the same taste and everything– none of this goes away. I think as adults we can always see these and kind of nod.
Lesley Stahl: Yeah. It’s still in us. We’re fighting it.
Paul Bloom: And the truth is, when we’re under pressure, when life is difficult, we regress to our younger selves and all of this elaborate stuff we have on top disappears.
But of course adversity can bring out the best in us too — heroism, selfless sacrifice for strangers — all of which may have its roots right here.
Paul Bloom: Great kindness, great altruism, a magnificent sense of impartial justice, have their seeds in the baby’s mind. Both aspects of us, the good and the bad are the product I think of biological evolution.
And so it seems we’re left where we all began: with a mix of altruism, selfishness, justice, bigotry, kindness. A lot more than any of us expected to discover in a blob.
Lesley Stahl: Well, I end my conversation with you with far more respect for babies. Who knew?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None 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.
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.
People who are suffering the pain of internal pressure, tension and stress are not as productive as they need to be. Coping with these unseen, often unconscious problems takes energy that they could be put to more productive use. They waste their energy in futile wrangling over minutiae, personality clashes, sulking in the corner, and looking out the window. We say that they are “preoccupied,” but we do not know what they are preoccupied with. Neither do they. They are preoccupied with solving painful problems that they do not know how to solve.
We are not taught in school how to identify the presence of internal stress. We never learn where it comes from nor how to relieve it in the right way. We spend our lives “relieving” it in ways that make it worse. When we finally burst a blood vessel, they will nod sadly and say, “It was the stress.” Yes. But which stress?
Our doctor will solve the problem by saying, “You’ve got too much stress. Quit your job.” Or he will put us on pills that will numb us to the inner conflicts that are tearing us in half. It would be far more useful to identify these sources of our inner stress as a first step toward making them go away.
Source Number One: Negative Control
We are in control all right. We run a tight ship. We don’t miss a thing. However, after we are taken to the hospital, we will miss quite a bit. There is an irony here, that the very things we are trying to prevent, such as loss of control, turn out to be our fate in the end.
• If we do not know how to control in the right way, we will control in the wrong way by default.
• If we don’t know what to control, we will control the wrong things and fail to control the right things.
• If we don’t know who is controlling, if we are only playing a role opposite someone else’s role, nobody will be in control. A mere role that we play according to a script from the past cannot control situations effectively in the present.
• If we don’t know what control is, we will make up our own definition of control that will not match up with the demands of the real world. In a contest between ourselves and reality, reality will win every time.
The Wrong Way
Internal stress comes from having the wrong definition of “control,” a definition many of us have learned from our parents when we were three. We have not reassessed our definition since then: To us, control means “preventing bad things from happening.” This definition, or more correctly, this attitude toward control, breeds endless stress because:
• It requires us to know what is going to happen before it happens.
• It requires us to solve the problem before it arises.
• It requires that we prevent the disaster perfectly. Nothing less will do.
• It sets us up to feel inadequate to cope with life because we cannot possibly fulfill the absurd requirements of this attitude.
• It sets us up for more disaster, not less because while we are trying to live in the future, we are neglecting our appropriate responsibilities in the present.
• When the “disaster” happens, we blame ourselves for “failing” to prevent it: “I should have seen it coming.”
• We blame ourselves for “failing” to know what the other person was thinking and planning to do to us: “I should have known.”
When we try to live in the future, when we try to “head it off at the pass,” we cannot be in real control. We can only be out of control because our basis of control is not congruent with the real world. We live in fear of impending disaster in the future. This is one of the main sources of anxiety in our lives. It is very stressful indeed.
Suppressing our anger is another example. This is not “control,” either. We are merely “stuffing” it for fear of the consequences of letting it out. We learned as a child that expressing anger was followed by severe consequences. “Stuffing it” now is an example of preventing “disaster” (punishment, victimization, rejection, displeasing, abandonment) in the future. We have never forgotten that lesson. It became our blueprint for “coping” with out of control situations in later life. These lessons once learned, can be unlearned if we know how.
The Right Way To Control
A better definition of control is “the feeling that one is making things happen on one’s own terms in the present.” The antidote to feeling out of control is the feeling that one is in control, not of others, or of life, but of oneself on an appropriate basis. If we want to experience positive control, we must make it happen. The next time we are angry, for example, we can relieve our frustration by reminding ourselves that we have a choice now that we did not have as children – to control it the wrong way, by a) “losing it,” erupting like a volcano, or by b) suppressing it. Or, we can express it the right way. As adults, we can now choose to express our anger in the middle ground between the two extremes: We can tell the truth about it. We can choose to say, “You know, it really makes me angry when you do that!” We have just made that happen, on our terms, at a time and place of our choosing. That is control. That is appropriate responsibility for relieving the pain of our anger in a way that works. We get it out of our system. We do not add another lump to the pile that is making us sick inside.
If we are angry at someone who is not around for one reason or another, all is not lost. We still have our power of choice. We can choose to write our anger out of our system with an anger letter to the offender, past or present. We are making the letter happen right now. We are using the word “angry,” not some childhood euphemism. It is not for the offender’s benefit at all. It is for our own. It will give us relief that the old way of “expressing” it never did. We call this positive method of control, “managing anger.”
It takes courage to manage our feelings and emotions in this new way. It is hard to have courage when we have been discouraged for so long. We need to replace our discouragement with encouragement. Courage is the willingness to take a risk. We are unwilling to risk doing something for the first time. We might fail, or someone might laugh at us for trying. Our lifelong agenda has not been to relieve our pain, it has been to prevent disaster, such as humiliation in the eyes of others. This unconscious agenda is an example of:
• living on other people’s terms, not our own.
• living in the future. We cannot have courage in the future. We can only have it in the present, right now.
When we have the courage to call our anger by its rightful name, to risk the consequences of revealing our secret feeling even to ourselves in an anger letter, we strike a blow for freedom. We are liberating ourselves from a lifetime of inappropriate, hobbling feelings and attitudes that we didn’t even know were there. The irony here is that we do not realize they were down there controlling us until they are gone!
One impediment to having courage is the feeling that we are inferior, we are not worth our taking a risk for. That is not reality, it is only a feeling, an attitude about ourselves. The truth is that, as a worthwhile human being, we are worth the risk, no more and no less than anyone else.
Source Number Two: I Can’t Trust My Judgment
On the basis of our new definition of control, we are free to take the ups and downs of life as they come and do the best we can with it. We have stopped reacting out of inappropriate fears and attitudes e.g., “Life is just one disaster after another, it’s only a matter of time,” and instead, we are trusting our adult judgment to make appropriate decisions as occasions arise. As children, many of us learned not to trust our judgment: “It wasn’t good enough.” Well, it wasn’t very good back then, was it? The problem is that our judgement has gotten much better but this attitude towards our judgment hasn’t grown up with us – it is still back down there interfering with our judgment in the present. Some of us can make ten good decisions in a row, but our old doubt about our judgment will rise up and sabotage the next one. It is as if we were telling ourselves something like, “If I think it’s A, it must be B!” So we override our first choice and pull the plug on ourselves. We were right the first time. We have shot ourselves in the foot. This conflict between wanting to trust our judgment and our fear of making the wrong one is very stressful.
Here, the major impediment is often perfectionism. Our attitude is: “The only way to avoid making the “wrong” judgment is to be sure that my judgment is perfect! Anything less than perfect might be wrong. So I’d better not make any judgment at all.” We decide not to decide. We become paralyzed. Very stressful indeed.
When the crunch comes, we react to the pressure and operate out of attitudes from the past – fear of criticism, fear of punishment, fear of loss, and we come up with a non-rational “solution” that makes everything worse. We “confirm” our attitude that our judgment cannot be trusted. It still isn’t good enough.
The Antidote To Distrusting Our Judgment
Some antidotes to distrusting our judgment would be to:
• give ourselves credit for making successful judgments in the past. We can build on our past successes. We are quick to criticize our lapses, but very slow to validate our legitimate successes. If we don’t validate them at the time, we cannot build on them later. We can say, “I did that. It needed to be done and I made it happen.” That is not “smug self satisfaction,” that is our appropriate responsibility for repairing the discouragement of the past.
• replace our perfectionistic attitude with a more realistic one, such as “My judgment doesn’t have to be perfect, it has to be good enough to get the job done. I am required to be competent at my task, and that is what I am.”
• remind ourselves that an imperfect judgment, in most cases, is not the end of the world. That feeling is called anxiety, and it makes our judgment worse, not better. Instead, we can say to ourselves, “If I make an imperfect judgment on Tuesday, I can make a better one on Wednesday based on additional information and experience. I am a worthwhile human being in the meantime.”
• remind ourselves that, “If I make an imperfect judgment, it is not a “failure.” I can learn from it and not make it again.”
• remind ourselves that, “If the organization loses some money due to a mistake in judgment, it is regrettable. It is the price they pay for having imperfect human beings in their employ. It is the price of our on the job training in how to make imperfect judgments in an imperfect world.”
Source #3: “I Am Frustrated”
Frustration is a major cause of internal and external stress. The frustration may arise from external sources, such as a perfectionistic boss, or an irresponsible subordinate. External sources of frustration are visible to the naked eye – the sources of inner frustration are not. Frustration is an abstract concept. It does not show up on the x-ray directly, all we can see are the things that it has been doing to our insides for a very long time.
We need to define these abstract terms so that we can manipulate them as easily as we do our red hot sheets of steel in the rolling mill. We need to get a handle on these factors that are destroying our health just as bacteria used to do before Pasteur taught us to put the right label on them. Once he did that, an antidote could be found.
• Anger (“This situation is causing me a grievance”), plus
• Powerless (“There is nothing I can do about it”), plus
• Out of Control (“The situation is controlling me. I cannot make anything happen!”).
When we are angry and have the power to do something about it, we are not frustrated. We solve the problem. The anger goes away. We made something positive happen. Many times, however, we are angry, we try to do something about it and it fails. We wind up feeling frustrated. This is the emotion that causes employee burn out, executive heart attack, and “Type A personality” cardio-vascular “accident.” But it wasn’t really an accident, this individual worked at it. He did not do what he might have done to prolong his own life. It was not on his agenda. To relieve frustration, we must relieve all three components – anger, powerlessness and feeling out of control.
Let’s take an example; Mack is angry at Mary Ann for losing his expense account. Every time Mary Ann looks up, Mack is glaring at her. It’s unnerving. It makes her angry. She tells Evelyn, the Section Chief. Evelyn goes over to Mack and says, “Stop glaring at Mary Ann. It’s unnerving,” She goes back to her seat. She is angry at Mack, Mary Ann is angry at Mack, and Mack is angry at both of them.
Mary Ann looks up again. There is Mack glaring at her. That’s frustration. She thought she had power on her side, and that it would resolve the problem. She sees now that she was mistaken. Nothing has changed. She is powerless. She goes back over and tells Evelyn. Now Evelyn is frustrated. She has been thwarted, her power and control have proven to be useless. She goes back to Mack and says, “Now stop it. I really mean it. You’ll be sorry.” This bluff and bluster does not seem to work, either. It didn’t work the last time or the time before that. Mack is defeating them both in a power struggle over who can keep who from glaring at who. Mack is frustrated because his mismanaged anger is not solving the problem of his missing expense account.
These three people are all in pain. They are all pumping adrenaline which stimulates them to fight or flight. Unfortunately, they can do neither, which only compounds their frustration. They become super frustrated. Their hearts are beating too rapidly, their digestive systems have shut down, their energy is propelling them to actions which are forbidden by company policy, such as yelling and screaming, hitting, poking, punching and so on.
This situation has created an internal conflict between “letting it all out” and “keeping it all in!” They are going to remain in this morbid condition until Mary finally finds the expense account which has inadvertently been filed under “Bad Debts.” Now they are all back in control of themselves, they are empowered to get on with their lives, and the grievances have been removed. The inner stress has been relieved.
But what if the source of the frustration is not so easily removed? What if Mary Ann had put in for a promotion but it was given to an employee with more seniority but less specialized experienced? Or Evelyn had submitted an idea for eliminating four unnecessary steps in processing vouchers but was turned down because her superior didn’t think of it first? That is frustration, and it doesn’t go away. It may become sealed over, like an oyster with a pearl, but it is down there causing “stress” just the same.
Coping With Frustration
Frustration arises when we have only one choice and it doesn’t work, or two choices and neither of them work. Once again, the antidote is that we can free ourselves from these painful beartraps by giving ourselves a third choice. One complication is that, when it comes to relieving anger problems, our repertoire of responses is severely limited. We never learned at home or in school what our constructive choices are. All we have are these destructive choices of our own devising. But we are adults now. We can learn what our new choices are. This knowledge is empowering. As soon as we give ourselves an effective alternative, we will feel relief from the pain of this internal stressor.
Here are some choices that these three people could have made had they known that they were available. All of these choices come under the heading of an anger management technique called, “Telling The Truth.” This is a difficult technique, which is why so few of us use it. Most of us have been using techniques that are easy. That is why they don’t work. We cannot solve difficult problems with easy answers. It takes courage and maturity to do what is difficult. We strengthen our courage and maturity by doing what reality requires, not what we “think” it requires. Most of us do not even know that these hard choices are available to us. We have been told to pretend that we are not angry, we are just “upset,” or “bothered.” These words are not the truth. They are euphemisms for anger, and they do not give us the relief that we need. Also, they require no courage to express. Any fourth grader can express them.
Mack could have relieved his frustration by choosing to say to Mary Ann: “It makes me angry when you lose things that I give you.” Mary Ann could have gone over to Mack and chosen to tell him the truth about herself, which she does have the right to do: “Mack, it makes me angry when you sit there and glare at me. It doesn’t speed things up, it only slows me down. But, it’s your choice. Just don’t complain if it takes me longer to find your expense account.”
Evelyn could have said, “Mack it makes me angry when you sit there glaring at Mary Ann when we have a 4:30 deadline to meet. There’s work to be done. It’s your choice, but if it isn’t done, there will be a consequence in the morning. That’s not a threat, that’s the real world we live in.”
Mack could have said, “Evelyn, it makes me angry when Mary Ann loses my things, and you don’t do anything to improve her efficiency. She needs a better filing system.”
Or, he could have chosen to “let it go.” This is not suppressing or repressing, it is choosing to do what is appropriate in the reality situation. It relieves the internal stress.
Some of us are afraid to use the scary “A” word. It isn’t “nice.” Life gives us opportunities everyday to outgrow such childhood attitudes and replace them with more mature ones. Anger is unpleasant, but it is not a crime. We are not guilty, we are merely imperfect. Sometimes life requires us to stop being so “pleasing” and do that which is unpleasant. It is regrettable, but appropriate to the unpleasant situation at hand. It is up to us to use our judgment and make the right anger choice at the right time.
How Do These Choices Relieve Internal Stress?
We all know that “doing nothing” does not relieve stress. We also know that “doing the wrong thing” doesn’t relieve stress. The third option is to do what reality requires us to do, no more and no less. We can use our judgment to tell us what reality requires, and we must have the courage to do what needs to be done – not for the other person, but for ourselves.
• We are not reacting or overreacting, we are making a considered choice.
• We are affirming ourselves as a worthwhile human being in our own right.
• We are not building ourselves up by tearing someone down.
• We are not letting them tear us down, either.
• We are making it happen at a time and place of our own choosing.
• We are not out of control, we are in control of ourselves.
• We are not powerless, we have the power of choice and the courage to carry it out.
• We are not using our anger to intimidate (control) another person. We are showing appropriate restraint.
• We are not living in the past or the future. We are living in the present.
• We are assuming appropriate responsibility, not too much or too little.
All of these good feelings are components of self-respect. When we make these new choices on an informed basis, not just because someone told us to, we have feelings of independence, security, equality, belonging to the human race and peace of mind. In other words, we have used a difficult anger problem as an opportunity to replace our self-doubt from the past with self-respect in the present.
• The more we succeed, the stronger we become in our new identity as a worthwhile human being.
•The more we respect ourselves, the more likely we are to earn the respect of our co-workers.
• The more we respect each other on a healthy basis, the less stress there will be, internal or external.
In this atmosphere of mutual respect, we will be more likely to cooperate with each other in getting the job done. We will be more productive, and we will enjoy it more.
Children want to be helpful and productive. That is how they learn and grow. Many parents and parental stand-ins insist on keeping their young people in a state of discouraging uselessness with good intentions. This is no more than self-serving mischief, which we define as anything that doesn’t need to be done. Mischief doesn’t make sense to us. It doesn’t even make sense to the mischief maker. Mischief isn’t sensible or rational. It is non-rational. It arises out of purposes that lie below the level of conscious awareness. We can cope with our well intentioned mischief makers when we know what these hidden purposes are:
“Here, let me help you with that puzzle. “(Subtext: See what a good parent I am everybody?”) ( This is Goal 1: Attention and Service for the purpose of self-validation which will not succeed.)
(Better: “Here’s a new puzzle. Let’s see if we can put it together, you and me.”)
“Give me those scissors. You’ll poke your eyes out!” (Subtext: It’s my job to prevent bad things from happening.”) (Goal 2: Power and Control, for the purpose of preventing disaster perfectly in the future.)
(Better: “Be careful. Don’t hurt yourself.”)
“I told you not to try riding your bike by yourself! I’m going to punish you for disobeying me! I’ll teach you to listen next time” (Subtext: I am teaching the child the difference between right and wrong for his own good.”) (Goal 3: Revenge. Relieving the pain of our anger at someone else’s expense.)
(Better: “It makes me angry when you don’t do what I tell you. I don’t want you to hurt yourself. What can we do about it?” “Put it in the shed till tomorrow?” “O.K..”)
“Forget about it. It’s too hard. We’ll do it some other time” (Subtext: What’s the use of trying. We’ll only fail again.”) (Goal 4: Withdrawal in Helplessness and Discouragement. We succeed in setting an example of discouragement for our child to see and follow.)
(Better: “It’s hard isn’t it. Do the best you can and let me know if you get stuck.”)
This is how we shape the child’s attitudes and behaviors. This is how our good intentions replace the child’s native self-respect and confidence with self-doubt. This is how we eliminate the possibility of positive, productive behavior and leave only the option of making destructive mischief. The irony is that we do it all with the best of intentions.
To top off the irony, we say to our adult child, again with the best of intentions, “Why are you such a lazy bum? Look at you. You should be ashamed of yourself! After all I’ve done for you!”
We still don’t get it, do we. And if we don’t get it, how can we expect our child, our student, our employee, our client to get it?
The antidote to all of these mischiefs and counter-mischiefs is positive behavior which arises out of a context of self-respect. We teach self-respect by setting an example of it ourselves. If we do not have it, we cannot set an example of it for others people to see and follow. We can demonstrate our self-respect by replacing our good intentions with real intentions. Children can feel the difference. Real intentions make their lives happy and productive. They will carry our example of self-respect into the future and pass it on to the next generation. If we do not set the example, they cannot carry it on.
If we do not understand the destructive effects that these seemingly beneficent intentions have on our relationships at home and at work, we cannot begin to counter their negative effects.
A. The Individual Parent Has Good Intentions.
1. We have just seen how “good intentions” can have a deleterious effect on young children. Parents cannot see the effects of their good intentions on that child because they are deceived by the camouflage of their self-serving concerns. But this is how parents rob their children of their native self-respect and replace it with self-doubt and self-contempt.
2. Parental good intentions have the effect of replacing the child’s healthy, appropriate attitudes with their exact opposites. The child grows up with negative attitudes towards himself, his loved ones, society, his employer and his community.
3. It is the context of self-contempt that predisposes the child to behave negatively and destructively. His negative behavior brings about punishment and other negative consequences which confirm him in his self-contempt. He carries his predisposition to behave negatively into adulthood where he inflicts his abusive tendencies on the people around him if he thinks he can get away with it.
4. In extreme cases of self-contempt, the individual’s behavior has the hidden purpose of bringing about the pain, unhappiness and destruction that worthless people such as himself “deserve.”
B. People In Positions Of Authority And Responsibility Have Good Intentions.
It isn’t only parents. Teachers, counselors, administrators, politicians, police and so on have good intentions for the people they control. Their misintentions turn out to make things worse instead of better. It is as if they were standing in loco parentis on their fellow human beings, as if they knew what was best for everyone by virtue of their superior station in life. There is no basis for this assumption. In extreme cases, unstable politicians and religious leaders set their followers on a high-sounding but destructive path that has little or no relation to the demands of living in the real world.
C. Good Intentions Make Us Angry.
The good intentions of others make us angry. We don’t know what to do with our anger because these people seem so beneficent. We are reluctant to displease them because of the seeming kindness in their hearts. We need to see that this is not kindness, but rather self-serving, overcompensatory, inappropriate behavior on their part as a our first step to countering it effectively. For instance, we can say, “I know you mean well, that you want the best for me, but I prefer to do it this way. Or, we can say, “No thanks, I’ll be fine.”
D. Good Intentions Can Make Us Violent.
Some people, who do not respect themselves to begin with, are vulnerable to becoming super angry. They are angry at being controlled by well-intentioned but unself-respecting superiors; they resent the well intentioned rules and regulations imposed on them for their own good, as if they were too stupid to make independent judgements on their own. They become super angry when they perceive an injustice in the “wrongness” of a public policy with which they disagree. These controls are often imposed by someone who meant well but had a self-serving power and control agenda below the surface.
The person who becomes violent often has the good intention to right these wrongs by taking up arms against them. We may disagree with his tactics, but we “see his point.” But his point can never be made by using good intentions instead of mature, difficult thought processes. That is how problems are solved in the real world. That is a real intention.
E. We Need To Repair Our Own Damage.
We all had parents! To the extent that our parents weren’t perfect, they made mistakes, too. Their good intentions for us contributed to our present self-doubts, inappropriate roles and negative attitudes. It is our responsibility to identify these carryovers from our imperfect childhoods and bring them into alignment with the demands of the real world. We cannot be as effective in our capacities as counsellors, teachers, parents or spouses until we repair the damage that was done to us. We need to repair the damage in the right way. Too many of us try to repair it with techniques that make things worse instead of better, such as indulging in addictive behaviors, withdrawing from life, escaping into negative excitement and so on.
F. We Have Good Intentions For Ourselves.
Most of these self-destructive techniques are no more than good intentions that we have for ourselves. We bring about our own misfortune when we operate out of mindless attitudes from the past instead of our adult, considered judgment in the present. We must get out of our own way if we wish to live happy, productive lives.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Spanking in school may seem like a relic of the past, but every day hundreds of students — from preschoolers to high school seniors — are still being paddled by teachers and principals.
In parts of America, getting spanked at school with a wooden or fiberglass board is just part of being a misbehaving student.
“I been getting them since about first grade,” says Lucas Mixon, now a junior at Holmes County High School in Bonifay, Fla. “It’s just regular. They tell you to put your hands up on the desk and how many swats you’re going to get.”
Florida is one of 19 states, mostly in the South and Mountain West, that still allow public schools to paddle, according to the Center for Effective Discipline. Most Florida school districts have opted out of using corporal punishment, but almost every county in the state’s rural North has policies that allow schools to paddle students.
In 2011, Democratic state Rep. Ari Porth sponsored a bill to ban school corporal punishment statewide. He says where students live should not determine whether they get spanked at school.
“When I heard that this practice still exists, I was mortified,” Porth says. “No child should not feel completely safe when they go to school.”
But Porth’s bill failed — it never even reached a committee in the Florida legislature.
That’s just fine for parents like Bud Glover of Bonifay, a small town 15 miles from the Alabama border. It’s a place where tradition is valued — and paddling is considered tradition.
“I got my butt beat and I know what’s right and wrong,” he says. “And my children are going to know what’s right and wrong.”
Glover’s feelings are shared by many parents in this part of Florida. “I think the problem with society is we quit paddling,” he says.
Schools often use a wooden or fiberglass paddle for their spankings. There are no statewide regulations on what the paddles should look like, so each school district creates its own.
The paddle at Holmes County High School looks like a short rowboat paddle. It’s about 16 inches long, 5 inches wide and a 1/2 inch thick. You can’t buy it at a store, so Holmes County High asks wood-shop students to make it for them.
Senior Cole Long has never made a paddle, but he’s been on the receiving end of one.
He says he’s been paddled for things like, “throwing papers, throwing pencils, a couple times for cussing and then back-talking.”
“I used to be a really wild child,” he says.
States That Allow Corporal Punishment In Schools:
Source: Center for Effective Discipline
A couple months ago, Long won $7,200 at a bull-riding competition in Texas. But even to a bull rider, Long says, the paddle can sting depending on who’s doing the spanking.
“The assistant principal, he hurts,” Long says. “I’ve had it plenty of times from him and he gives it to us a little more.”
Long says he thinks all schools should paddle students because the spankings teach discipline and respect — and much of the community agrees.
Every once in a while, parents like Tenika Jones of Levy County will object to their child getting paddled. Last year, the principal at Joyce Bullock Elementary sent home a waiver asking parents for permission to paddle students. Jones says she didn’t sign it, but her son, Geirrea Bostick, was paddled anyway.
He was 5 at the time and it was his second week of preschool. Gierrea says the principal spanked him twice for slapping another boy on the school bus. He says the principal first told him to take his jacket off. “Then [she] spank me on my booty,” Gierrea says. “I cried all the way home. It was really hard.”
Gierrea’s mom says the paddling left welts on Gierrea’s bottom, and she was outraged.
“If I would have hit my son how she hit him, I would have been in jail, I would have been on the news, I would have been messed up trying to get my children back,” Jones says. “She whipped him up and to me that’s child abuse.”
Jones is in the process of suing the Levy County School District for paddling her son without her permission. But Robert Rush, an attorney at the law firm representing Jones says state law does not require schools to get parental consent.
“If the school board and the principal specifically authorize corporal punishment, it can be administered lawfully against the parent’s wishes,” Rush says.
According to Rush, the school principal sets the policy for paddling, and if the school acts in accordance with that policy it’s very hard to sue.
“They’re immune both civilly and criminally by law,” he says.
But attorneys can argue excessive force was used.
The school’s principal, Jamie Handlin, and the school district would not comment for this story because they’re in pre-litigation, but Handlin told the Williston Pioneer newspaper, “Nothing was violated.”
“I disciplined out of love, not anger,” she said.
Schools are the only public institution where hitting is allowed. It’s not allowed in prisons, hospitals, mental institutions or the military.
According to the Center for Effective Discipline, the most recent statistics show that 223,190 American students received corporal punishment in 2006. In Florida alone, 3,661 students were spanked in 2010, according to the state’s Department of Education.
But school corporal punishment in general has been on the decline. New Jersey was the first state to ban it in 1867. The next state, Massachusetts, didn’t follow until more than 100 years later, when child protection laws started popping up and paddling students starting falling out of fashion. Most recently, New Mexico banned paddling just last year.
Deborah Sendek, a clinical child psychologist with the Center for Effective Discipline, says research on corporal punishment shows paddling does not deter students from misbehaving.
“What we tend to see is the students who are paddled are paddled repeatedly throughout the course of the academic year and the following year and the following year,” Sendek says. “That’s one of the things that tells us it’s not effective.”
Sendek says paddling can also have negative short- and long-term physical and psychological consequences.
“The rule in school may be that we only hit for certain things and we only hit with a paddle,” Sendek says. “But if we have a culture where we believe it’s OK to hit, then it can be generalized.”
But supporters of school corporal punishment argue that paddling helps keeps kids in school, since the alternative would be suspending students with bad behavior.
Willie Williams, principal at Madison County Central Elementary and Middle School, agrees. The only problem is he can’t bring himself to administer the punishment. And when others do it, he says he can’t bear watch.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
It is ironic that many people who make terribly destructive mischief see themselves as “good hearted,” even “noble” and “long suffering in the service of others.” They are often surprised at the ingratitude of their “beneficiaries,” who have experienced painful abuse “for their own good.” They may even feel “victimized” by this lack of gratitude. This can be very confusing to their black-and-blue “beneficiaries.”
Take for example, Sam, whose father was a bully and a tyrant. Sam is loyally following in his father’s footsteps. Sam’s younger brother, Bob, rejected his father’s cruel example and went to the other extreme of being super-pleasing and super-considerate of his loved one’s feelings. It is a mistake to ascribe Sam’s mean-spiritedness to “machoism” or testosterone levels. He followed his father’s iron-fisted example because it seemed to be a short cut to success. It saved a lot of time that he felt would otherwise be wasted in explaining, justifying, reasoning and cajoling. Bob goes to great lengths to make sure that his loved ones understand everything at all times in order to avoid hurting their feelings and other unpleasantnesses.
Both of these people have “good intentions,” according to which they can justify their behavior to themselves. Bob’s good intention is to prevent pain and suffering by sacrificing himself, if necessary, for the good of others. Sam sees nothing wrong with expecting perfection from those whom he can intimidate into submission. He uses verbal criticism, sarcasm, punishment and physical pain (“re-education”) to achieve this high-sounding ideal.
Sam does not know how to bring about positive outcomes at all and he does not care whether he knows or not. This is just a cover story that he uses to absolve himself from guilt and responsibility for the damage that he causes. He can say, “But I’m doing this for you,” and he believes his own fictions.
Sam’s intentions are not for his loved ones, they are entirely self-serving. They serve the purpose of relieving the pain of his inferiority and inadequacy feelings at the expense of people who cannot defend themselves against him. His good intentions are counter-productive, for they do not make people better, only worse; not stronger, only weaker. His own “strength” is merely over-compensatory, phony strongness and he becomes a quivering coward in a confrontation with someone who sees through his veneer of superiority.
Sam’s good intentions are going to be self-destructive in the end. He is not solving problems according to the demands of reality, he is making it up as he goes along. He is operating out of attitudes, not adult judgment. His hidden purpose is to relieve the pain of his self-contempt. Since he does not know how this is done in the real world, he can only react subjectively to situations as they arise. He prides himself on being tough; that is, unsentimental and unemotional. But he is a cauldron of boiling emotions, such as anger, hate and contempt. This witch’s brew makes his decisions for him and he isn’t even aware of its existence. He wouldn’t believe it if we told him. He would deny the validity of his own negative emotions. “I’m not angry at my father for what he did to me. I have put that all behind me.” He solves problems by denying that they exist or beating them into the ground. These problems will not go away. They will eat him up from the inside.
It is ironic that people like Sam feel “unappreciated” and by extension, “good-for-nothing” when they have not been good at all. They have no insight into the latent purposes of their self-serving good intentions. What is worse, they resist our efforts to make them see the destructiveness of what they are doing.
It is even more ironic that, after years of abusing people he should be protecting from abuse, Sam comes to feel like the “victim” of these ingrates. Their ingratitude makes him angry. In fact, it makes him super-angry; which means angrier than he needs to be and angrier than the reality situation calls for. Sam’s anger at his loved ones has many identifiable components. It is useful to sort out the constellation of attitudes and expectations that make him vulnerable to volcanic eruptions:
1. “You are unfair to me. If I am ‘good’ to you then I expect you to be good to me in return. That’s fair.”
2. “Unfairness makes me angry because it is wrong. People shouldn’t be wrong, they should be right, like me.”
3. “Wrong-doers are inferior. It is my right to stand in morally superior judgment upon them.”
4. “Wrongness needs to be punished. It is my self-imposed responsibility to punish evil-doers for their own good, so they will not do it again, especially to me.”
5. “They have failed to live up to my expectations of perfectly fair reciprocity. They have disappointed me. Disappointment is painful to me so I am entitled to inflict the equivalent degree of pain upon them in the name of fairness as I have defined it.”
6. “I am the victim of their evil-doing. Victimization makes me angry. I am entitled to victimize them as they have victimized me.”
These attitudes are not rational and Sam is not consciously aware that he has them. He acquired them in childhood. They worked for his father and he sees no need to review or question them now. If he were to question his rightness, his whole structure would collapse. He cannot imagine what would take its place. The whole idea of self-examination is too painful and too scary to be accepted into consciousness. His attitudes will see to it that it does not.
Our hope is not for him. He has not asked us to have any hope for him. Our concern is for his abused family members and co-workers who feel powerless and out of control. He provokes them to react against him and then punishes them for reacting. He wins both ways and they lose both ways. It is maddening for them and soul- destroying.
We have to teach his victims how to identify Sam’s posturing and provokings as pure mischief; these things do not have to be done in the real world. We can teach people how to disengage emotionally from these mischiefs, so that they will have choices open to them that they do not have now. They will be free to do the unexpected: instead of defending themselves against him, which implies that he is wrong; they can find a way to agree that he feels the way he feels. They can calm him down by saying, “It’s awful when that happens, isn’t it?” or “I don’t blame you for feeling that way,” or something else that will let him know that we are not the enemy, we are on his side.
We can even learn to validate his anger. “I am sorry that you are so angry.” This is not rationalizing, defending or submitting, it is empathizing, which no one has ever done before in his experience. He has made it very difficult for anyone to empathize with him by his extreme attitudes and behaviors, but we have to do it anyway. We can use his anger attacks as an opportunity to validate him as a person in spite of his unpleasantness.
We can learn how to validate his feelings of victimization, which are not real to us but very real to him. We can say, “I’m sorry that you are feeling victimized by all of this, but could it be you are perceiving victimization where no victimization was intended? I don’t blame you for being angry.”
These are the last things he expects us to say. We can be creative and find even more ways to take his side in spite of his abusive mischief. We can ask, “What can we do to make it better?” He might say, “Off with their heads.” We can say, “That’s a plan. What else can we do?”
We are not doing it in order to be rewarded for our perspicacity. We will not feel “good-for-nothing” if we are not. We are behaving appropriately under difficult circumstances. We do not have good intentions for our tyrant, we have real intentions for ourselves: to relieve the pain of our existence in ways that work. We are doing it because reality requires it.
It takes courage to say these things for the first time. It’s scary. If it weren’t scary, we wouldn’t need courage. Our reward will not be a pat on the back from our victimizer; our reward will be a degree of relief from the grief he has been causing us.
After we have done this Homework on our own behalf, our reward will be a feeling of accomplishment, success and confidence that we can do it again. We will feel a sense of identity, maturity, control, security and equality. We will feel that we are not victims anymore. We are not just existing, but living our lives in the present. These are all components of self-respect. The more we respect ourselves, the more likely it is that he will respect us and treat us accordingly.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Society is made up of people who used to be children. Some of these people were validated by their parents as worthwhile human beings in spite of their childhood faults and imperfections. Others were not so fortunate. They tried to be good little children, successful in one arena or another, but when they saw a sibling being praised while their successes were ridiculed or merely ignored, they felt that their efforts were all for nothing. At that young age, there is no middle ground between worthwhile and worthless. If they have an attribute, such as intelligence, that is not valued by their sports-loving or appearance-mongering elders, they take their disfavor personally, as if it were a reflection on their worth as a person. Their asset then turns into a liability. Young people tend to define themselves in terms of their external success and their personal attributes. When these qualities are despised, they have little left to fall back on.
As most children do, these individuals have made the understandable mistake of perceiving the absence of validation as if it were an invalidation. After years of such misperceptions, they have come to feel that their goodness was for nothing and that they were personally worthless as a consequence.
The following is a conversation with such an adult child. She has carried her good-for-nothing feeling with her into adulthood where it is affecting her most important relationships. She will, if she does not change, transmit this negative feeling about herself to her own child. We are trying to break this cycle of parent-child good-for-nothingness in this generation.
Irene has come in for counseling because she has an anger problem. She is not aware that a major source of her difficulty is her vulnerability to feeling unappreciated and good for nothing. She does not see the connection between her childhood experiences and her over-reactions to disappointment in the present. To this day, she is unaware of her dependence on others for the validation of her worth as a person. She has placed this responsibility on her own child and he is doing a terrible job with this burden that he shouldn’t have in the first place.
Irene: “Well, I did it again. I got so angry at my son Glenn that I picked him up and threw him against the couch. And, you know, I don’t regret it. I don’t feel guilty, so don’t tell me I should.”
Therapist: “Telling you to feel guilty wouldn’t help, Irene, but tell me why you don’t feel guilty.”
Irene: “Because this time he had it coming, the little jerk, and I gave it to him. And don’t tell me I was wrong. You guys are always saying that the parents are always wrong and the child is never wrong.”
Therapist: “I never say ‘always’ and I never say ‘never,’ except sometimes. What did he do that was so ‘wrong’?”
Irene: “He saw this toy advertised on television. In the commercial, the kids were having such a good time with it, so he wanted it. I tried to tell him that it was too old for him, he’s only 5 years old, and that it was only fun when you had a group of children competing with each other. He cried every time the damn commercial came on. I figured that I’d get it for him just to keep peace in the house. Well, I got to the store Saturday and the damn thing cost $82.50! I don’t have $82.50 to throw away, I’ll tell you that right now.”
Therapist: “No one does, Irene. What happened to make you so angry?”
Irene: “It broke my heart to buy that piece of junk, but I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Therapist: “How many minutes did he play with it?”
Irene: “It wasn’t even minutes! It was seconds! He took one look at it, kicked it around a little while, and then started to play with the picture of it on the box! That’s when I saw red. I blew up and grabbed him by his little shirt and flung him against the couch. I left him there, screaming. He didn’t know what hit him, and I’m glad!”
Therapist: “There’s no doubt about it, Irene, you were `right.’ Your predictions were right on the button, and I’m sure that any jury in the world would agree that you are smarter than your five year old child.”
Irene: “Then I wasn’t wrong?”
Therapist: “`Wrong’ is the wrong word, Irene. You feel that your behavior was `justified’ under the circumstances.”
Irene: “You’re damn right, I do. The ungrateful brat didn’t even say, `Thank you.’”
Therapist: “That’s it. Now I know what’s making you angrier than you need to be. It isn’t just the money, is it Irene? It isn’t just the fact that you didn’t trust your own judgment and that you let your child control you into doing something that you `knew’ was a mistake.”
Irene: “What is it then?”
Therapist: “Irene, it sounds to me like you are suffering from being a `good for nothing’.”
Irene: “That’s just how I felt, and I had every right to feel that way!”
Therapist: “No one says you don’t, Irene. You also have every right to stick your finger in the light socket. I’m just not sure it would help. Irene, it makes you very angry when your `goodness’ to people is not reciprocated, doesn’t it?”
Irene: “I don’t expect Glenn to reciprocate. I just expect him to be a little more appreciative of what I do for him. Is that so wrong?”
Therapist: “There’s that word `wrong’ again. Being appreciative is a form of reciprocity, isn’t it? When you do something good for him, it’s only natural to want him to do something good in return, such as saying, `Thank you, Mommy’, or cleaning up his room for three days in a row.”
Irene: “That’s right. That’s just how I feel, and I can’t see what’s wrong with expecting a little cooperation from your own child.”
Therapist: “One thing wrong with it is that it sets you up for painful disappointment when your child doesn’t live up to your expectations. Another thing wrong with it is that it is inappropriate to expect reciprocity from a five year old child who is not on the same wave-length as you are. You have your purposes in doing the things you do, and he has his purposes in doing what he does. His purposes don’t always complement yours. Third, the child senses that you have expectations for him, and he isn’t sure that he can live up to them. He may think that you expect him to reciprocate or respond `perfectly’ and he `knows’ in advance that he isn’t going to make it. He can only `fail.’ He learns to feel inadequate when he has to measure up to his parent’s expectations for him. He learns to perceive himself as a `disappointment’ and a `failure’; he learns to feel worthless. In his discouragement, he doesn’t bother to reciprocate at all. Fourth, he `knows’ that he can upset you by not doing what you expect. He knows that he can get even with you by `not giving you the satisfaction,’ which I suspect, is an attitude that is prevalent in your house, and which he may have learned from his parent’s negative example. Fifth, there is something intrinsically, inherently misleading about expecting `good for good’. People resent having to be good because it’s expected, not because it is their spontaneous wish to reciprocate someone’s kindness. Irene, did you learn as a child that if you do something good, your goodness will be rewarded?”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
As children, we were vulnerable to perceiving the bad things that happened to us as if they were personal victimizations. We took our deprivations and grievances personally, as a loss of self-worth.
Now, as adults, we have the same predisposition to play the victim role when there is no victimization. For instance, when we do not get a promotion, we feel “unfairly” deprived, victimized and out of control. This unfairness makes us angry, but our definition of “unfairness” is not objective, it is subjective. “Fairness means getting my way. Life is unfair to me when I don’t get my way. How can they do this to me?” The managers feel that they have promoted the better employee on the basis of objective considerations. But we are not interested in objectivity or real fairness. We have our own private considerations, grievances and anger. We are a victim looking for a place to happen, and it just happened. This negative situation has confirmed us in our unhappy role. This is not living, this is merely existing.
The “tip off” to the Victim Syndrome lies in the words, “to me.” That is The Victim talking. Our antidote to playing this childish role from kindergarten (“The teacher held up everyone’s picture but mine. Why me?”) is our self-respect. We can replace our unhappy role as the victim with an identity as a worthwhile human being whether we get our way or not. We can say to ourselves, “Could it be that I am perceiving victimization where no victimization is intended? Even if it is intended, I am still not a victim, I am a worthwhile human being in spite of it, no more and no less than anyone else.”
When someone is angry at you for causing them a grievance, being late, divorcing them or firing them from their job because the plant is closing, you can assume that there is an element of victimhood in their rage (If there is not, there is no harm done; but there usually is). This perception of personal victimization makes their pain worse than it needs to be.
You can relieve their painful over-reaction to the reality situation by identifying the victim component to them. They are not aware that they are playing this role as such, for they have been doing it for years. It comes “natural” to them now. You can say, “I am sorry that you are feeling victimized by all this,” and that is true. You regret that it is happening. This does not mean that you caused the “victimization.”
Or, you can say, “Could it be that you are perceiving this as a victimization? Well, it really isn’t. It’s regrettable. I wish that it weren’t happening, but you are not a victim, you are a worthwhile human being in spite of it. On that basis, you can get on with your life and do even better than you have done before.” That is emotional first aid. You haven’t “cured” them of their predisposition to feel victimized, but you have treated them with respect in spite of their imperfections.
Penny knew that her husband Dave had been victimized as a child. She knew that he was still predisposed to perceive things as victimization when they were not. She was twenty minutes late for a rare lunch date with him downtown. He was furious when she got there. “Wasting time” makes him angry, feeling out of control makes him angry and perceiving himself as the victim of her tardiness makes him the angriest of all. She didn’t defend herself because she knew that she was not the issue and time wasn’t the issue, his anger was the issue. She had learned to say, “I’m sorry that you are feeling victimized by my lateness, but that was not my intention. I don’t blame you for being angry.” She did not say it in a patronizing, pseudo-clinical way, as if she were talking to a problem child. She had the right words and the right music. She had disengaged from Daves mischief, but not from him. She spoke to him as one imperfect human being to another.
Dave was able to let go of his anger and fear of being hurt by someone he loved, as he had been hurt so many times when he was growing up. His anger subsided and he felt understood and validated. With Penny’s help, his role as his wife’s victim was being replaced with an identity of his own as a worthwhile human being. They went on with their lunch.
Here’s another example: Gina met Warren at a singles dance. He was charming and well off. They seemed to hit it off from the very start. He was from out of town and had no family here, just a few friends. For the first few months, everything was fine. Then they started to argue, as couples do. After a few more months, he began beating her. Gina didn’t think too much of it, she saw her father hit her mother plenty of times. “That’s what involved people do. They hit each other.”
The beatings got worse. She lost her feelings for him and wanted to break up. He stalked her on her way home from work. She became afraid of him. She was not his lover anymore, she was his victim.
In counseling, Gina learned to see Warren as someone who perceived himself as “Life’s Victim.” In his eyes, everyone was against him and for no good reason. He could never see how he contributed to the negative things that happened to him. It was never his fault.
That weekend he called her on the phone for a date, as charming as he was the night they met. Gina had learned to identify this tactic as “The Old Charmeroo” and she knew how dangerously deceptive it was.
She arranged to see him so that she could tell him in person that it was over. That was her first mistake. She should have told him right then on the phone. He insisted on changing their rendezvous from a neighborhood cafe to a fancier restaurant out in the country. She went along with it in order to avoid “displeasing” him. That was her second mistake. She should have stayed with her original agenda instead of surrendering control to him. Her “pleasingness” set her up to be victimized by this self-styled “victim.” He was in control and he was going to use his control destructively. This is the only way he knows how to use it. It is consistent with his self-contempt.
Warren got her out in the country, away from everyone. He was angry at her for not giving him his way, for depriving him of her company and for inconveniencing him. In his eyes, these “offenses” constitute victimization and he felt entitled to punish her for her “crimes” against him.
He hit her harder than he ever had before. She was truly frightened and she knew that she was in big trouble. Fortunately for her, she had learned to disengage from mischief and to do the unexpected. Instead of yelling and screaming, which he would see as another rejection, another “victimization,” she asked herself, “What is the last thing he expects me to do?” He expected her to accuse him of hurting her, to order him to stop or to threaten him with the law, which she knew was a joke. She did not do any of these useless things. She talked about herself, not in a self-pitying way, which could only invite more abuse and scorn, but in a new way, as a person in her own right. She was making it happen, “I’m all right, It’s OK, I’m fine.” She was reassuring him that she was not going to get revenge on him and that he wasn’t going to succeed in provoking her into doing anything that would give him an excuse for more madness.
He pushed her out of the car and drove off. She walked to a gas station and called a cab. She never saw him again. She knows that he is still out there, doing it again to his next victim, but there is nothing she can do to prevent it. Some problems cannot be solved and it is regrettable. But she is alive and out of harms way. She is not a victim or a pleaser anymore. These roles have been replaced with an well-earned identity as a worthwhile human being in her own right. She is not compatible with victimizers anymore. She is compatible with self-respecting human beings.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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