The following is a short story that I use often in my counselling sessions. It is excellent for anyone who struggles with anger or anyone who is around negative, critical or even emotionally abusive individuals.
There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.
One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.
Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.
Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”
“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”
Often if people upset us deliberately, they do so with the sole aim to upset us, they want you upset, they want you reacting, they want to capture that reaction; they want to use your reaction to discredit you to others or at least hurt you and take something from you. People may totally ignore you to let you know they do not care (see discard stage of abuse), or they may discredit you to others, criticise you, attack you, abuse you then deny or minimise or justify their abuse (see gas lighting or smear campaign). So people can attack us directly or indirectly in more manipulative ways. There are many ways a person will use to try to hurt you if that is their aim, your reaction to that is your responsibility. Responsibility is your ability to respond.
It is important to pause before you react and think about this. As it may be a reaction they want. Would you want to give to someone who deliberately wants to upset you in some way, exactly what they want?
In cases of reported extreme psychological abuse, narcissism for example; apparently it is common to hear how they may feign concern about their victim, and show compassion and love for the victim to their audiences. Whilst behind the curtain of illusion, they treat their victim in despicable ways. Then if the victim is to retaliate and tries to defend themselves, the abuser can then often use that as evidence that the victim is unstable and this allows the abuser to gain support, whilst isolating their victim. There are lots of people sharing their experiences of what they perceive to be narcissistic abuse on the internet and sharing such examples.
If someone is deliberate in trying to hurt you in a more abusive way, do you want to give them your power, or do you want to try to keep your power?
If someone hurts you, observe it. Assess is this deliberate, or is this an off day. Either way it is not yours to carry really is it? If the harm is physical, then it is at crisis stage and in need of professional support and intervention as pointed out by a reader recently. My focus in this blog is on prevention and ways to tackle emotional abuse.
Establishing if your relationship is dysfunctional or abusive is another topic. You could be in a relationship that is very damaging, but not be aware. Gas lighting, smear campaigns, devalue and discard are more ‘carbon monoxide’ forms of emotional abuse. Even if you do identify it, it can feel ‘normal’ if you have been brought up around dysfunction possibly?
If you have a gut feeling about someone, if something just doesn’t feel right, but you can’t really put your finger on it, if you often feel you are bad and that is why someone or certain groups criticise you, if you sometimes feel people are ‘acting’ nice in a fake way, if you find yourself having to make an effort to please them, or feel that it is very easy for them to reject and get upset, attack or criticise, then my advice is read up on signs of abuse. If you are faced with groups of people attacking you, it could be the smear campaign and gas lighting of one individual playing victim, or slandering? Many report such experiences. Advice from experienced domestic abuse services may help.
This blog highlights a simple tool to disarm negative behaviours in general or emotional abuse, so will only be effective to a certain point, but it may help people identify early stages of abuse?
I have at times worked with prolific offenders (PPO) over a number of years. Some had a real resistance to any support and could be mistrusting, lacking in motivation and had steel like ‘fronts’ of negative attitudes as some kind of shield it seemed? They may have had a good reason for this to some extent, as they seemed genuine when they spoke of workers in the criminal justice system being negative towards them and condescending. Some workers have a position of power, that can at times change a person’s personality and lead to authoritarian attitudes, hopefully this is rare and I have had the fortune of working with some excellent professionals. Some workers may be passive which may not always be a good approach? So it seemed that some would test me, to see if I was I authoritarian, or passive and a pushover? I like to think I was in between. It was healthy of them to test and see if I can be trusted, rather than trust blindly.
Eventually, by treating this group as the equal adults they were, challenging their negative behaviours in a respectful yet assertive way and listening to what they were saying, we often seemed to get somewhere. Working through the victim attitudes of blame and lack of responsibility, we got some really good work done eventually. I will not deny it did take patience as a professional that is for sure, which actually made me warm to these peers all the more.
Many PPO’s realised that if they do come across a worker or anyone for that matter; who will abuse their power at some point, that their reaction was their choice and could bring on positive or negative consequences.
Moving on from that example, if someone was to attack you in some way, either belittle or humiliate by whatever means, then what is the best outcome? Would the best outcome be for you to be faced with punishment, character assassination because of your reaction, whilst the abuser smiles with all the power they have just sucked out of you? Or would you like to see an abuser squirm with frustration that they can not take your power and are the ones who are left visibly holding their own dysfunction?
If you react angrily to mistreatment then the person mistreating you could point out your anger and their mistreatment could remain hidden. If you react calmy by pointing out their behaviour, then who is left holding the ‘gift of insults’?
Our response to certain situations can either fuel or ease circumstances. Sometimes abusive individuals will deliberately provoke a response and then try to use the response to discredit their target, this is why our response to dysfunction can be very important.
We learn it is good to fight back or defend ourselves and it is. It is just that when facing some form of attack or criticism or challenge you have to be thoughtful about the best way to overcome what you are needing to face for the best solution. Is self-reflection needed? Is defence needed, or challenge? That is strength of spirit. For me, I am luckily getting older and wiser and learning that if someone wants conflict, the quickest way to stop them from crossing a boundary, is to not give them what they want and avoid them if necessary.
Often people hurt us and feel they are right to do so, they feel they have good reason for behaving as they do. The same principle applies, if someone hurts you and is not capable of compassion, and the communication skills to discuss what has hurt you or them, then you may need to think about what kind of standards do you allow from others?
When I practised Wing Chun Kung Fu, it really taught me about strength of spirit. It was devised by a female, and was made famous by Bruce Lee mastering the style. It is a very effective style of kung fu and takes years to master. Basically you are trained to defend and use your opponents weight and strength against them. For example, if a large man came to attack a small woman, if she had mastered Wing Chun, his arm would be grabbed forward if he went to hit her, using his force and her elbow, fist, knee etc would be waiting for one of his pressure points, to take him down swiftly, using no strength, just skill and the energy of his strength. If a woman needs to defend herself physically against the strength of a man, then it takes some skill and discipline to master effective ways.
Anyone can ‘fight’, but strength of spirit can keep you going if you would prefer to avoid conflict. If we participate in every conflict we come across, it could be exhausting and rather manic for some. Conflict can often be futile, it certainly is if it is not necessary. Sometimes it is better to have distance than to face conflicts. It has taken me a long time to learn that. If however you have no choice and do have to deal with someone who is determined to have conflict, or hurt you then remember this story and think about this, do you want to give them what they want and let that hurt you? Or do you want to turn your back and leave them carrying their own issues? Nothing frustrates an abuser more. Nothing feels better than a clear conscience and the power to remain toxic free around toxic individuals. That is their ‘gift’ that they choose, leave it with them.
If you do react to conflict, then are you any better and will you give power to others to discredit your character (the lowest form of attack in my mind).
We all consist of energy, do you want to give it up to every confrontation, or do you want to save it for all those special people in your life?
Exhaust those who try to break your spirit by keeping your power; so they can learn to take responsibility for their own issues, rather than keep dumping their issues on others. Help them and help yourself by avoiding those dynamics at all costs. Abusive people are often hurt people, we can not allow any damage to spread. People can get help and change their negative behaviours, but unless they have already done that, my advice is stay well away, do not walk on their path of destruction with them, if people are hurting themselves, will they have control over the possibility of hurting others? If you are drawn to help or tolerate that type of dynamic in a personal capacity, I strongly advise you to research co dependency.
Thoughts and opinions are my own, to offer a general sense of personal development topics and insights into available support.
For support in the Uk:
If you feel in crisis, please contact the Police