Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Abuse and the Victim Identity: It Doesn't Belong to Me

Journal writing can be such a meditative and revelatory process. The other morning, I sat down to write about a thought I had noted in my iPhone notes either just before or during our recent trip back East: "Do I believe Mom wanted to be different than what she was?" When I got home and looked at that note, I asked myself what I had meant by that question when that thought came to me. I think what I originally had in mind were the external forces that contributed to Mom being the way she was - a subject for another post. But as I started writing in my journal, different thoughts came to mind, and as a result, I had what I would describe as a revelatory and game-changing experience. 

I certainly don't remember hating Mom when I was a child or even consciously disliking her, i.e., because of her abusive behaviors. Afraid, yes. I was afraid of her, particularly in my younger years, and I did what I could to steer clear of her temper outbursts which all too often led to physical attacks. She was mercurial ... 

As I write this, I am having another insight: I thought back on the time when I was six or seven years old that she grabbed me on either side of my head and repeatedly banged it against the plaster wall in the dining room of our house. It has just occurred to me that perhaps one of the reasons this incident stands out so traumatically in my memory is that it was so unexpected; I didn't see it coming. Life was ok one minute, and the next minute I was being horribly violated. Life could go into a tailspin at any moment.

Anyway, like I said, I don't remember hating her or consciously disliking her. She was the way she was. It was my "normal." 

Shift in thought while writing in my journal: I asked myself whether - to paraphrase the words of John O'Donohue in Anam Cara - I had carried around in my heart the "corpse of a past relationship" and became "addicted to hurt as a confirmation of identity." 

As I continued to reflect and write, I came to clearly see how I did in fact become so addicted. I realized that this addiction is not something I need to exist, to be. My ego had told me that I needed this hurt in order to validate my existence and what happened to me, that I was justified in holding onto it; that I had suffered a grievance and that it was totally normal, acceptable and right to hold onto it. But as I sat there writing in my journal, I realized with laser-like clarity that I do not need to hold onto it. 

I can simply let it go because it is not part of "me," but is, rather, a part of my ego. 

"So," I wrote in my journal, "I choose to let it go, casting out into the river a raft I no longer need. It's not the same thing as 'forgiveness,' as that term is usually thought of, which implies grievance and moral superiority and notions of self-righteousness [i.e., I am the victim, what was done to me was wrong, and I have every right to hold onto the wrong and will 'forgive' when I decide to forgive, recognizing I am in the superior moral position] - all of which are notions that the ego clings to. Letting go, however, is morally neutral. It is a process whereby one simply observes something that belongs to the ego - not 'me' - affirming that 'ownership' and turning and walking away. It simply doesn't belong to me."

"Wow," I concluded, "it feels really good to let go."

I know, however, that I wouldn't have been able to come to these realizations had I not done the work to get to the point where I could let go. This was validated in passages I recently read in a book by Jungian psychotherapist David Richo (Catholic Means Universal) when he wrote, "True compassion and forgiveness follow the anger and remembrance [of abuse] ... Reminiscence means baring the abuse instead of bearing it. It is an admission to ourselves of what happened and what we felt about it ... The result of knowing and grieving will be to shift our focus from how we were victimized to a disidentification with the victim role. The healthy version of dissociation (denial) [a common phenomenon among abused children] is disidentification (freedom from the sense of oneself as victim) …

I also would not have come to these realizations in quite the way I did had I not embarked a few weeks ago on a new spiritual path/journey. I sense very strongly that my spiritual path and my own path of recovery toward emotional and psychological health and wholeness have merged and are one and the same. In this regard, I'll close with another quote by David Richo in Catholic Means Universal:
"Renewal of faith in an adult requires the psychological ingredient of mourning the pain of the past and letting go of it. This brings recovery and moving on. A space opens for us where before there was none [which is precisely what happened to me the other day]. We find the reserves of our own energy and the graces always accessible to us but never fully evoked."
I'm now looking forward to examining and letting go of other "roles," to spaces opening where before there were none, and to finding other reserves of my own energy and graces.

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