(Concluded from Part 1.)
Reflect, Recognize, Rejuvenate
So, in light of such a bleak picture of the human condition – where do we go from here?
It’s important to remember that, despite the overwhelming exposure to social abuse, we still have free will and, therefore, a choice of how we wish to live our lives. Naturally, it’s perfectly normal to harbor feelings of resistance, resentment and revenge. But these feelings to do NOT define who we are. In order to turn the tables in a more positive direction, we must do three things: reflect, recognize and rejuvenate.
As painful as it may be, the first step is to reflect on the abuses you have experienced in your life and allow yourself to feel the full measure of their impact. Pull those skeletons out of the closet and lay them out before you – making them transparent in the full light of day. Feel their pain and suffering – your pain and suffering. Cry, meditate, pray, scream – whatever it takes. But know that without facing your inner demons, they will continue to grow in strength, magnitude and power over your lives.
The word “recognition” is worth examining. The word “cognition” refers to :”thought” – so to re-cognize is to “re-think” the notions you’ve adopted about yourself and the world.
Recognize that the “Great Powerful Oz” – who has been such an intimidating presence in your life – is really nothing more than a little man behind a curtain pulling switches and leavers.
Pull back the curtain on the illusion of power and control that you’ve been led to believe tethers you to victimization. Recognize that you are not the person that your abuser has insisted you are. Recognize the spiritual aspect of your existence – why you are here – who you really are. Recognize that the abusers (whoever they are) are probably victims themselves and struggling, no matter how destructively, to cope with their own inherent fears.
Recognize that it’s not your fault. The blame, shame and accusations perpetuated by the abuser’s lack of accountability was their mechanism to control you and avoid themselves, not a reflection of who you are. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, recognize that power is not something people “hold” over you. It is something that is “given” to them by us. Once you recognize that, you are in the driver seat of your own destiny. You can then begin to chart your course to the destination you choose.
One of the beautiful bi-products of abuse (yes, I said beautiful), is that abuse has the power to manifest empathy. We can define empathy as our ability to recognize and experience what others are feeling. When we live a secure and sheltered life, we may fail to understand the abuses that others are undergoing. We lack a concrete awareness of what it’s like to be victimized.
When we’ve experienced abuse, we can say that “we’ve been there and done that.” It fosters greater sensitivity, compassion and understanding, attributes that are the breeding ground of peace and social justice.
I lost my father to suicide as a young and only child. I was raised by an abusive, alcoholic mother and left home at 15 to get away from her. I entered a relationship with a man whom I believed would be my “knight in shining armor” only to find that, he too, was an abusive alcoholic who proceeded to beat me for the next 5 years of my life. My extended family was murdered in Nazi concentration camps, and the story goes on and on.
Once into adulthood, I realized that I had a choice. I could wallow in self-pity, lick my wounds and curse a cruel world – or – I could reconstruct my perceptions of self and others and turn my life’s trauma into a beautiful thing – rejuvenation!
I could use my experiences to teach and empower others. I could become fully “self-disclosing” and tell my stories to others so that they too, could rise like the Phoenix from the ashes of despair and go on to “pay it forward.”
I went from a terribly injured and traumatized high-school drop-out to a Ph.D. in Applied Social Psychology and educator. I give seminars on domestic violence and present my research on social justice.
And why? Because of empathy. Because I know how it feels. Because I don’t want others to go through what I had to. Because I was able to empathize with the victims of injustice in terms of racism, violence against women, hatred and the abuse of power and control. Because I care.
So when you are in the process of rejuvenating yourself – consider the Native American fable about the two wolves which reads:
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.
“One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
The choice is yours…. Which one will you feed?