08 February 2009

Whence This Urgency?

First a quick note to any new readers...

This is a blog about learning to recognize and constructively deal with abuse, which I consider to be quite pervasive throughout our society. I believe we can do so without despairing. Instead, we can arm ourselves with knowledge; it is then often possible to choose a path that prevents us from being either a helpless target or a conscripted aggressor ["choosing, when we can, to be neither prey nor predator"].

For the past two years plus, I've focused on amplifying and deepening the knowledge I've obtained along the way, and I have described events that have occurred to myself or to others, preserving anonymity as best I can. Some of these events have illustrated forms of abuse, others illustrate responses to it.

I have also spoken, in theory but from direct personal experience, about the importance of both support and accountability in the process of recovery.

Without support, we may never gain enough validation to get any traction in our recovery; we just whirl in circles, doubting everything and everyone, most of all ourselves. Without accountability, however, there's another serious danger: we learn to apply the new information to everything and everyone except ourselves.

This recent series of posts involves me applying the information to myself. If this alarms you, or you are uncomfortable with it, please feel free to read the archives starting with the post immediately preceding "Blowing A Gasket", and working backwards in time from there [or vice versa, working forwards and stopping there.]

In my last post, I referred to another of Lundy Bancroft's books, "When Dad Hurts Mom". I'd like to share some advice he provides, which he applies to abusers, but I would apply to everyone who has had inappropriate behaviors modeled for them by either abusers or their frustrated targets:
Bancroft repeatedly emphasizes that neither anger management nor parenting skills training will help an abuser to change. What is required, in addition to these or in place of them, is a specific abuser intervention program, in which the abuser is repeatedly, firmly but constructively, confronted whenever he attempts to avoid facing his own abusiveness. Abusers given anger management or parenting training alone will simply misuse the principles they are taught, twisting them around as ways to further blame and abuse their targets. Only a program which literally requires the abuser to apply the principles to his own behavior will have any chance of success.
As with abusers, so with those of us exposed to their behavior patterns. We must learn to see, not only without, but also within, and we must be able to do so without fear, or shame, or excessive self-condemnation.

It's a tall order, and it's hard work, but it is very, very important.

Moving right along...

I now see that there are situations in which I apply an inappropriate model for expressing anger. I know where this model came from and I am able to view it with both compassion and detachment -- vitally important to moving forward. What I now need to think about is the fact that this is not my standard model for expressing anger. This is a model I use only on 'special occasions'. Which is good, as far as it goes, but I can go further now.

I resort to this model in situations where I am, or feel myself to be, trapped; cornered; overwhelmed; surrounded by abusers and targeted by them; or when I perceive others to be in this condition.

There have been rare occasions when this was 'the best option', but usually it is not.

What is my emotional state on these occasions?

I feel angry - of course. I also feel fundamentally threatened [being cornered, overwhelmed, and subjected to mass attack is going to feel like a fundamental threat to one's survival], or I see others as being in that position.

But I also feel, as I noted in the previous post, a huge desire to control, a sense of entitlement to control, and a combination of disdain and superiority [moral and ethical] that adds up to strong feelings of contempt.

Some of this is a 'survival driver'. Many cornered animals will attack the predator, as a last resort, when that is the only way open to them. The Berserker impulse is not limited to human beings.

If I reflect, I can see that on those occasions where a type of survival really was at stake, and I expressed anger in this way, one of two things happened: I successfully backed the predator[s] away, or I drew them from cover in such a way that there was no mistaking the predatory, destructive intent.

However, there have been occasions when my survival [economically or as a member of a group] wasn't at stake. What was threatened then?

When I really put thought to this, I'm surprised at the answer. Sometimes, apparently, I've feared for the survival of my principles.

This, I think, explains the occasion which has prompted this series of posts.

And there are several fallacies there, that I can see clearly now.

First, my principles aren't "mine" - they're not unique to me. Many others hold similar beliefs. Therefore they survive entirely independent of me...

Second, my principles, in "me", survive as long as my soul survives and holds to them. In the here and now, they survive as long as I survive and can act from them, or can articulate them to others.

I am vulnerable to being drawn into the Karpman Persecutor Role when I feel compelled to act as an "enforcer" of these principles on others. But then, paradoxically, my principles don't survive -- because then I, myself, have overridden them.

Click.

Another piece snaps into place.

Many of these situations don't need Stormchild to ride to the rescue. My tension can be resolved quite simply, merely by setting an internal boundary with myself, and refusing to engage. [It keeps being true, over and over: the only way to win is not to play.]

Many other situations can be resolved without unleashing the Berserkerin. To constrain is not necessarily to enforce. And there are, in most circumstances, alternate behaviors available to me which do not require the use of force - although setting a 'hard boundary' unilaterally is a forceful act, it is not force in the same way as tantrum-throwing. It is focused, channeled, self-constrained, and limited.

The key, for me, will be to block that sense of urgency, of fundamental threat, that prompts the Berserkerin; understanding that in nearly all cases she is an archaic response [linked back in time to my childhood, no longer needed in adulthood].

Since I am already channeling other types of anger constructively via conscious displacement of my fight-or-flight response, i.e. treadmills and pillow-punching, I am confident that I can do the same in these cases, now that I better understand the dynamics and the source of my response.

And - there is no blame, there is no shame. There is history, there is compassion, there is understanding, there is regret, and there is honest determination.

Which means:

there is healing. Not instantaneous, but well launched, and well provisioned for the journey.

to be continued...

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