Last week at a grocery store the cashier noted that there was a small hole in the bottom of my cotton bag. I said it would be ok, and she went on to tell me about a funny story when a bag of hers had burst open on a hill and she had to run after all of her fruit as it rolled down to the bottom. It made me remember when my mother had a bag of groceries break onto the driveway at our house. That was not a funny story; she blamed it on me, screamed about the food I had picked out (an irrelevant, unrelated topic), about the fact that I had to do an after-school project with other students and couldn’t be there to unload the groceries myself. With my mother, no matter how insignificant something was, she was always enraged, and sure enough it was someone’s fault; but she was determined to prove that it wasn’t hers.
She was so extremely unpleasant to be around, and as my partner and I sat at the beach afterwards eating lunch, I thought about the contrast, the beautiful contrast(!) with the company I keep now and the way I personally want to be in my own life. I don’t resent every little thing that happens, or feel a need to yell at someone about it all. I remember my mother screaming at me because she had to drive two extra blocks to pick me up, when it was five degrees Fahrenheit outside and the sidewalks were covered in ice. She soon forgot completely about doing and saying these things, but I still have to live with the memories, the wider context of my life that was marred by a monster.
I recall how my mother and sister would attack my expressing myself in a much more reasonable tone and label it “whining” or “complaining,” while they felt themselves entitled to rage indiscriminately about meaningless and small things because they were adults. They didn’t give themselves such labels, and furthermore they seemed to feel it was somehow better to express anger, hostility, and aggression towards other people then vulnerable emotions in themselves–fear, sensitivity, sadness… They, like many people, preferred honest emotions being repressed in favor of outlandish displays of misdirected anger. Anger not expressed at our abusers, especially if they are our parents, but instead at people who don’t stand in line at the bus stop, at young children just being themselves. Of course the other extreme is also wrong–the idea that all anger, judgment and blame are bad, and we should be ashamed for feeling or expressing it against those who have seriously violated our lives.
Recently I started to watch a video presentation by the founder of nonviolent communication. I was horrified that what had seemed like a simple conflict resolution tool was presented as such a totalizing and moralistic approach to life. One that utterly ignores if not snidely looks down upon the boundaries of survivors, the need to hold abusers accountable, and change the world we live in. I watched Marshall Rosenburg instruct adults who had been verbally abused by their parents for a lifetime that they have no right to judge or take anything personally that was said, but need to stay in that toxic relationship and try to better meet the feelings and needs of their parents. When someone approached him about an abusive coworker, he was so convinced the problem was all in the audience members head that he insisted in five different ways that she only believed passive aggressive comments were being directed at her, before finally conceding.
The point where I had to stop watching was when he told the mother of a child that was being bullied by other kids at school and screamed at by his teacher that he needed to put on “giraffe ears” in order to better understand what the kids beating him up and the screaming teacher wanted from him. There was no mention of anti-bullying programs, of the need for more compassionate and democratic school environments, no directive for the parent to do something to really protect the child. It was just presented as his fault, his problem, and he was on his own. In that sense this system can be placed squarely in the realm of other “positive thinking” philosophies. That someone would be so self-righteous in their spiritual morality to condescend that way to a child is unbelievable to me. The root of school bullying is not as he said “children are programmed to think that what other people say can effect their emotions,” it is that kids are being abused, disrespected at home and they take that to school and victimize other children, and the school environment allows it to happen.
Implying that it is the children’s obligation to search in the verbal abuse, intrusions, and ranting of their parents for unmet needs and feelings is completely backwards. Like many abused children, I was in fact very clued in to my mother’s sadness from a very young age, it was part of the abuse and not a solution to it. There needs to be a differentiation of what the obligations are between roles, and an option of just walking away. I don’t think it’s beneficial to train oneself to ignore natural impulses in order to interpret things the opposite way from which they are actually meant and stay in meaningless relationships. Nor is it correct that everyone (or “the universe” as some like to say) has our best interest in mind and is trying to help us. There are entire industries out there that agree with our abusers that the victim is the problem, which makes it difficult to validate reality.
Once in childhood I fell off my bike and scraped my arms and legs rather badly. When I got home, I went to my sister’s door and knocked. She looked at me, saw my cuts, and shouted “you just want sympathy!” and slammed the door in my face. I was six years old, perhaps I did want emotional or physical support after what just happened. That isn’t unreasonable. And I know that if children receive attentive care, empathy, and validation all the time, not just when they are really badly hurt or sick, then they won’t actively pursue these “exceptions” where they are treated well. It isn’t the child’s fault in these situations, as much as they are shamed and blamed for it. Few parents are ever accused of being “attention-withholding,” though many are. When I think about it, she really never stopped slamming that door at me; belittling, discounting, or ignoring my feelings.
As I make progress in my healing, I find I naturally understand myself better and can communicate more openly and clearly with other people. I don’t need to explore something that is seemingly designed to circumvent or replace healing in favor of an extreme. There was a time I was very into ideologies, willing to simply throw everything aside to adopt a completely new system, but today I have boundaries and a sense of myself that I don’t resign for something alien. Blame, judgment, and healthy anger directed to those really deserving it works well for me. They don’t make me into the type of person that my mother was, and it doesn’t equal the violence of my family either. I’m moving farther away from them all the time, and into my own equilibrium, and I’m glad for that.