27 January 2009

Looking for Patterns - and Going Berserk

So at this point I am facing the fact that my behavior in a specific time and place was abusive, and I'm going to avoid making excuses for it as best I can during this next post.

"Accept those things you cannot change..."

I can't change the past, not even the immediate past. But I can make an effort to understand it, and by doing so, perhaps change the future.


The Dance of Anger is turning out to be exactly the right book at exactly the right time. It's about recurring behavioral patterns, driven by anger that's not clearly understood or acknowledged. Best of all, the author is willing to share her own patterns and explore her own anger, and that's exactly the model I need right now.

It's pretty obvious to me that my behavior was driven by anger. Large anger, serious anger. I need to know where this anger comes from - and 'a history of abuse' isn't specific enough. This was very specific anger. I am willing to bet that it has a similarly specific source.

First Uncomfortable Question for this post. Have I ever done anything like this before?

Get coffee, sit still. Pray to be honest with myself. Remember.

Yes. As a matter of fact, I have done this before. Very rarely, but that's beside the point right now.

OK: what were the circumstances when I did this before?

Don't rush, this isn't a timed final exam.

Let me see. About 18 months ago, I 'blew back' at an office bully who exploded in my face without real provocation because he asked me to do X and I told him I would take care of it as soon as I finished Y, which I was working on at that very moment in order to meet a deadline.

Was I rude to the person in any way before he blew up? Think seriously about this. No, I wasn't. I was Leveling, speaking the truth. I didn't diminish his need but I also didn't set it above my legitimate priority at the time, which was to finish Y. I reassured him that X would be next and would be done that day, in fact, if at all possible.

How did I 'blow back' at him?

He blew up at me, called me a collection of scatological terms, and stomped out of my office, leaving me in a state of complete shock. I didn't become sad, as I would have earlier. Nor did I become frightened, as I would have earlier. I was just stunned by the unwarranted abuse, recognizing it for what it was.

I blew back at him when he came back for seconds. He tried to do a drive-by dump on me again, about 30 minutes later, while I was now trying to finish Y and, at the same time, figure out how to address his outburst constructively, because I wasn't going to let it go.

Bad, bad time to try anything. This time I let him have it, verbally, with very few holds barred. I didn't use scatological language about him, but I did use it, as in:
"And you didn't give a rat's * what the h--- I was doing or had to do, for what, or how many other tasks I have, you didn't give a s--- that I have had to work overtime, weekends, holidays to get this d--- thing done.

Then I immediately got up, walked down the hall to my department head, and told on myself, leaving nothing out. One of the things I told on myself about is that I've never done this before, anywhere, on any job, ever, which is true. I also clarified that I don't plan to do it again, ever, unless similarly provoked, but that I would reserve the right to do it again, in very much the same way, if treated that way again by anyone.

By the time I finished, my Department head was grinning at me, and when I said, 'I understand if you're displeased about this but I didn't see much of an alternative that would have had any real impact, and I can't accept that kind of treatment.' ... he winked at me and said 'Go get 'em Tiger'.

OK... that doesn't quite fit the bill. That was weaponized anger, and probably falls under the category Just Use of Force, aka Setting A Boundary With TNT. It also seems to have worked, at least up until now.

When else have I gone berserk?

Oh. My.

Berserk, as in berserker. As in:
The etymology of the term *berserk* is disputed. It may mean:
• "*bare*-sark," as in "bare of shirt" and refer to the berserker's habit of going into battle unarmoured, or often, completely naked. Ynglingasaga records this tradition, saying of the warriors of Odhinn that "they went without coats of mail, and acted like  mad dogs and wolves" (Snorri Sturluson. Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. trans. Lee M. Holander. Austin: U of Texas P. 1964. p.10).
• Others have contended that the term should be read "*bear*-sark," and describes the animal-skin garb of ther berserker. Grettirs Saga calls King Harald's berserkers "Wolf-Skins," and in King Harald's Saga they are called *ulfhedinn* or "wolf-coats," a term which appears in Vatnsdoela Saga and Hrafnsmal (Hilda R. Ellis-Davidson,"Shape-Changing in the Old Norse Sagas, " in Animals in Folklore. eds. J.R. Porter and W.M.S. Russell. Totowa NJ: Rowman and Littlefield. 1978. pp. 132-133), as well as in Grettirs Saga (Denton Fox and Hermann Palsson, trans. Grettir's Saga." Toronto: U of Toronto P. 1961. p. 3).
• Some berserks also took names with björn or biôrn in them in reference to a bear. This is likely to be the source of names such as Beowulf and Bödvar Bjarki.

Or as in the psychohistory suggested by my father, when I came home from college wearing a Frank Frazetta T-shirt captioned "Berserker", featuring a horn-helmed warrior, battle-axe in hand, fighting desperately against a massed army of ghoulies and ghastlies...

"Poor b---d," he said, after applauding my choice of artist; "What else do you do when you know you're outnumbered, you'll never see your wife and kids again, you're cornered and you're doomed? What else can you do but take as many of them with you as possible when you go? Who knows how many survived by using that tactic? The Celts were famous for it... good girl, you're true to your heritage. Don't forget where you came from." And he, too, grinned at me...

Interesting memory that. "Go get 'em Tiger", 35 years earlier.

OK. This doesn't quite do it either... but it does one very important thing. You can see that I've been given implicit, if not explicit, permission to use anger, as a weapon, by two men in positions of authority in my life.

Not indiscriminately. In desperate straits - especially in that long-ago conversation with my father. But the implication was definitely there with my department head as well.

I've run about as long as I should, for a single post, at this point, and I didn't get where I thought I would. I have instead come up with one instance of constructively but forcefully expressed anger and two instances of strong male figures giving me permission to have and express anger, even strongly.

Not what I intended. A little too much like making excuses for it, if I don't push beyond this point.

So I have to keep pushing.

I've remembered some instances that truly do correspond to my recent idiotic behavior, much more closely. Fortunately, they're widely spaced in time, which does make me feel a little better.

But I need to go over them. And the berserker business is going to be very relevant, I think.

I also begin to suspect it wasn't by chance that a British young man, who loved me once, long ago, christened me Boudicca. I had entirely forgotten that, too, until just now. I believe he meant it as a compliment...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, lots of deep stuff going on here, Stormchild. And I don't think for a moment that you are excusing yourself. That Boudica reference clinched it for me; I had to comment.

It seems like a muddy swirl of falsely accused when doing your best, raged at without provocation, cornered, being devalued, and being betrayed. And then, when you lose it, beating yourself up because you let them get to you.

I dunno. Sounds human to me, not abusive.


I think you are on to something pondering the instances when you have not behaved in ways you are proud of yourself for. I think it might help you understand yourself. But be kind to yourself as you probe.


27 January, 2009 20:30  
Blogger t howell said...

Stormchild, be careful not to abuse yourself in the process. You have a good heart—you need to love yourself for it. Not a perfect one—none of us have, but a good one. Bless you.

"Forgetting those things behind, I press forward...."

27 January, 2009 23:23  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Thank you, Renewed. In the situation described here, you're absolutely right; that's exactly what was going on.

It was a little different when I blew up at the folks TH kindly terms 'knuckleheads' :-) :-) [see his comment to previous post]. I wasn't cornered there, my participation was voluntary entirely. I had all kinds of options, but I picked shrieking and doorslamming. Idiot. It's definitely worth looking at that.

This will be a journey worth making, I can tell. Since my father died in 1997, that remembered conversation with him is very precious now.

Also, I now see clearly that at least three important males in my life [my father, my Dept. Head, and the young man I once loved] didn't merely 'grant me permission' to 'wage anger righteously', they admired me for having the ability to do so.

Say what you will about gender roles and female independence - and I have a lot to say about that :-) - in this social framework, that's HUGE. And very positive.

Almost like a blessing for the journey.

Thank you too t howell :-) -

I'll be careful.

I know it's unrealistic to think we can become absolutely perfect here. The idea that we can and should be perfect - here, by our own devices - accepted uncritically, without paying any attention to the implications - is actually a breeding ground for narcissism in ourselves.

We can't, and if we think it should be possible, we're tempted to create that False Self and wave it around as a decoy.

I don't want to go there either. If I manage this process well, it may actually help me come to better terms with some of my human imperfections.

One thing I am noticing, as a result of doing this work, that interests me hugely. A few years ago, when I was starting the serious work that led to this blog, I found many sources of information that 'missed the mark' in my opinion - the authors denied the existence of abuse, or minimized its impact, or tried to imply that people who are abused somehow 'attract' it like a magnet attracts iron filings...

There were times when I would feel serious, large anger, reading those things. And start feeling around for my double-headed battle-axe, as it were. I generally restricted my berserkerin tendencies to scathingly critical marginal notes, but the anger was there, very real and very much alive.

I've gone back and read many of these writings again in the past 6 - 12 months. I still see portions of them as totally wrongheaded and inept, but instead of feeling huge anger now, I feel regret that other people may be misled by the incomplete, incorrect information, and further damaged or delayed in healing.

This is progress. It means something significant. It's a good place to be.

[How much of that Large Anger was frustration at finding Yet Another Dead End where I needed Wise Counsel? Probably a great deal. I'll have to explore this. Thank you for helping me see it.]

28 January, 2009 10:01  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Oh. **Sigh**

Symbols and their power.

I'm aware that the double-headed battle-axe has taken on a new symbolic meaning in these times.

With full acknowledgement of those who wear it in that token, I meant it as a symbol of the old Norse and Celtic warriors, male and female, from whom I descended [in part]; i.e., 'Boudicca' Preparing To Take Up Arms.

Over and out :-)

28 January, 2009 10:17  
Blogger t howell said...

"Forgetting those things behind, I press forward...."

By that I don't mean ignore the past, the events, conditions and people that shaped you, but to not let it constrict you. The apostle Paul, who made the above statement, called himself "the chiefest of sinners". He also wrote, "Love is kind, unselfish...." Who better to know that than he, who had experienced both states of being? "I find within me," he wrote in Romans 7, "a battle raging between the good I desire to do and the struggle to do it. Who will free me from this? Thank God, it is Jesus Christ."

28 January, 2009 17:54  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Thanks, t howell, again :-)

This is very much an Act of Faith, you know. He is, indeed, freeing me -

:-) Peace and blessings


31 January, 2009 17:55  
Blogger CZBZ said...

"if we think it should be possible, we're tempted to create that False Self and wave it around as a decoy."

O yea...

If you had three important males validate your right to be human and therefore 'angry', you are a blessed woman indeed. However, you're still a female with all the socialized expectations for doing ‘gender’ well. That means using passive-aggressive defenses, not out-and-out confrontation.

Didn't you consider making him muffins laced with x-lax? Or spitting in the cup of coffee generously presented as a peace-offering? Now that's doing your gender right, Stormchild. *wink*

I love that you were called Boudicca. My beloved called me CabbageHead.

I prompty put garlic in his mashed potatoes.



31 January, 2009 18:00  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Ah but I LOOOOVE garlic, and mashed potatoes.

Besides, cabbages are wondrous things. They can literally cure some types of ulcers. I am not kidding. Thou wert nobly christened, Lady Brassica!

And you know, I've been called a LOT of things besides Boudicca, by a LOT of people.... I'm just not repeating any of them here.


31 January, 2009 18:23  

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