06 February 2009

I've Had Enough, And Enough Is Too Much!

Let's recap.

A couple weeks back, I 'lost it' elsewhere in cyberspace, and found myself reacting with abusive anger towards a group of people whom I found appallingly abusive.

This was both ironic and totally counterproductive, BUT, much more importantly, it captured my full attention, and I realized that I must, really must, address it.

This business of, at times, acting abusively in anger. Rare times, thank God, very rare indeed. But - as long as it's happening at all, there's something here that needs to be recognized, confronted, thought through, and changed, where change is possible.

Otherwise, all I've been doing here for the past two years is blowing smoke.

So.

I've been reading such literature as there is, on anger, and on anger originating from experiences of abuse.

It's not easy to find information that genuinely applies. There are articles aplenty available. But most seem to be based in the fallacious assumption that it always takes two to tango, that all anger originates in situations where both participants share blame.

Abuse is unilateral. That's what makes it abuse... and the anger created by abuse is the anger of those unjustly accused, unreasonably mistreated. The anger of the exploited, the anger of the innocent. But it is still anger, and it needs to be expressed constructively, if it is to have any constructive effect.

I have found a few very helpful articles online, but - again - I'm winding up extremely grateful to Lundy Bancroft [along with Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D., credited previously].

Recently, I posted here about his book, "Why Does He DO That?", and implored people to read it. I'd thought it was probably not going to be terribly relevant for me, since its focus is more on Domestic Violence and the abuse that leads up to DV, so I'd postponed reading it...

... oh, how wrong I was.

Having learned that he has a lot to teach me, I am now reading two of his other books: "The Batterer As Parent" and "When Dad Hurts Mom"... even though I have never been battered or battering.

Because I have lived and worked with people whose lives have been affected by domestic violence... and those people matter, and understanding their situation - and its possible effects on their attitudes and behavior - matters.

In fact, it matters to me, personally, much more directly than I've ever considered before. I'll get to that in a moment.

Bancroft describes, in detail, a set of attitudes that accompany battering specifically, but also abusiveness in general.
-A desire to control - people, situations, outcomes.
-A sense of entitlement - which gives rise to double standards, exploitiveness, and
-self-centeredness that excludes even the possibility of other selves.
-Disrespect for others; a sense of superiority to them.
-Possessiveness in the sense that others are treated as things, and certain others are treated as things the abuser owns.
-Manipulativeness
-Hypocrisy [not stated as such, but this is what it is]
-Blame-shifting; evasion of responsibility
-Denial and minimization
-A perception that love equals abuse, or confers the right to perpetrate it.
Abusiveness, as a character disorder, truly IS a character disorder. It is a disease not of thinking, not of feeling, but of values.

And yes, when I am honest, I can see some of these distorted values creeping into my own attitudes, on those occasions when my anger boils over and wants to rampage.

Not all of them, thank God. Primarily
-the desire to control [by God, I'll convince these idiots if it's the last thing I do!]
-a sense of entitlement [I'm right about this, and I'm going to persuade these blockheads if it's the last thing I do!]
-and, of course, you can't have either of these without both disrespect and a sense of superiority.
These are not, thank God again, among my values when I am "clothed and in my right mind", which is 99.999998% of the time.

Which means that I can answer the question "So, does this make me an abuser?" honestly by saying:

No, but I can behave abusively, and have done so perhaps 00.000002% of the time.

You will note that I have my foot firmly on Wiggle Wiggle Squirm Squirm at this point. WWSS wants to point out how provoked I've been on these occasions and how I don't resort to this kind of behavior unless I am pushed beyond anyone's reasonable limit of tolerance.

I'm not going there. There might be some excuses to be made along those lines, but this is not the time for that. Right now, it's time to figure out: Where did I learn this? Where did I pick up the tendency to shift values - temporarily, under duress, but still, shift values - in this way?

At home, of course. When I examine the way in which my parents modeled anger, I see these things lurking underneath.

It should not really surprise me that my parents did not 'do anger' well. What should surprise me is that they 'did anger' as well as they did. You see, they were both children of battered mothers. And this is a fact that, until now, I had never fit into my own personal puzzle.

Why? Because by the time I was born, there was no longer any battering in my grandparents' marriages. In both cases, family history relates, a son intervened to stop the battering permanently, once the boy was sufficiently well grown to lay down the law to his father. The son who intervened in my father's family was my father himself; the son who intervened in my mother's family was her younger brother.

Probably because the cycle was broken in both their families in this direct and deliberate way, my parents' marriage was free of battering.

There was, however, emotional and psychological abuse, which originated with my mother primarily.

Again, now, let me stress: they were both children of battered mothers. The fact that their families 'intervened' to stop battering is amazing.

The fact that they did not understand and were unable to avoid recreating other forms of abuse is sadly, all too understandable. There was almost nothing available to them to learn from... except the behavioral examples modeled by their own parents and relatives. Which were generally fairly unhealthy.

So how did my parents 'do anger'?

My mother concealed hers, kept quiet, and coiled to strike.

She was never direct, always retaliatory, and often struck back in an area totally unrelated to the source of her anger. At times it would be a single blow; at other times, she would snipe, and pick, and pick, and snipe, until you felt like a pile of whitened bones by the end of the evening / weekend / meal / event.

Family members literally never felt safe from this. There was always some old score to settle, and one rarely if ever even knew that it existed until she struck out.

My father tried to temper his responses to the occasion - but with my mother, he invariably tried to placate, and this usually failed.

As a result, he did model self-control in response to normal frustrations of daily living; he was a patient and involved parent, rare for his time. It would have been better - for the whole family - if he had been able to express healthy anger in response to abuse, and confront it directly. But he had no model for that, other than the old confrontation with his battering father, which didn't fit this situation.

So, I grew up watching him tolerate persistent psychological abuse...

... gradually become furious ...

... come to a slow boil.

And he would hold his anger in...

... until he couldn't hold it in any longer ...

... then let it blow.

With words.

.
.
.
.
.

Well, now.

It appears I've inherited more from him than his Breitling watch.

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