Sunday, 8 July 2012

Victimhood, acceptance, and forgiveness

Someone said, "I'm surrounded by all of these controlling, manipulative people. I'm sick of it being me that has to change and practise acceptance."

If I am bothered, it is axiomatic that it is something in me that has to change for me to be OK.

I've certainly suffered from the illusion, particularly in relation to insufferable, controlling, and manipulative people, that my emotional disturbance has come from them, not from me.

When I unpack such a situation, it is clear that, except in situations of genuine power (e.g. employment or familial relationships involving minors), I cannot be controlled or manipulated without my full approval (and even then there may be structural acquiescence).

When I say that someone is controlling or manipulative I am really saying that they are expressing demands either overtly or covertly, usually with some promise of reward or threat of punishment.

If I am in a relationship with such a person as an adult, I am free to leave the relationship. If I am staying in the relationship, I have somehow calculated it is in my interest to remain in it. The apparently insufferable nature of the person in question must actually be more sufferable than my perceived alternative. So I have chosen this.

Secondly, I either acquiesce, in which case I must perceive a reward of greater value than the alternative, or I don't. The choice is entirely up to me.

The anger I can feel in such situations is often anger at my own hypocrisy of blaming another person for a situation I have co-designed. The horns in their head neatly match the holes in mine. And blame is a jolly good way of avoiding responsibility and concealing my own schemes.

So, let's say I have made some progress, have decided to remain in a situation with such a person for work or other reasons, have learned to navigate the tricky situations, and have decided that I will not acquiesce to their demands just to gain their approval or avoid their angry outbursts or attempts to impose guilt. My behaviour is now impeccable and I have escaped the acquiescence trap, am ostensibly free, but am still upset. What then?

Firstly, I am the one who has gained the enormous benefits of changing and desisting from the games, and this requires far less real effort than acquiescence, so no self-pity is due there.

Secondly, however, I may be trapped in the 'acceptance fallacy'. This involves spiritual advancement to the point of not engaging in damaging behaviour and the folly of trying to change people but with retention of the victimhood. The script is something like this: "I accept that this person is frightful and will continue to be frightful and that I must tolerate suffering at his hands, as trying to change people is wrong."

Acceptance can be used as a way of solidifying victimhood into a pseudo-spiritual permafrost of misery.

If I am upset, I have a demand. It is that that must be dropped. An idol that I must cease to worship.

What is the idol? Their approval or respect.

As soon as I become indifferent to whether or not they approve of or respect me, I am free.

I need not even be with them. If I am, I need not acquiesce to the demands. If I do not, I need not even resent their raging or whining response to my refusal, because I am no longer making the demand of them.

The realisation then dawns that I was just as manipulative and controlling: I wanted their approval and respect and was willing to compromise my integrity to get it.

Then forgiveness arises and I am free. The person can no longer control me because I am no longer handing them the keys to my soul. I was the gaoler and prisoner the whole time, and it was never about them.

QED: my troubles are of my own making (page 62, 'Alcoholics Anonymous').

1 comment:

Kyczy said...

This is a really powerful statement : "The person can no longer control me because I am no longer handing them the keys to my soul.". It has been a challenge to learn that anger is normal - holding on to it isn't healthy for me, to acknowledge the feeling of being manipulated is normal - responding in counter manipulation or silent withdrawal is not. And do on - you wrote about this so well - thank you