Emotional abuse is defined as
“An ongoing process in which one individual systematically diminishes and destroys the inner self of another. The essential ideas, feelings, perception, and personality characteristics of the victim are constantly belittled….The most salient identifying characteristics of emotional abuse is its patterned aspect… It is… the ongoing effort to demean and control, that constitutes emotional abuse.”
– Marti Tammm Loringe
Illuminating the Shadow: Emotional Abuse
PENPA DOLMA, CO-FOUNDER OF INNOVATIVE YOGIS
I have been reading The Will To Change – Men, Masculinity, and Love by Bell Hooks. I have to pause at every paragraph in recognition, nodding at how true her findings are, at what she found through her research on patriarchy, feminism and love.
It’s impossible to be free of the influence of patriarchy when our societies have been run by a patriarchal agenda for centuries without intentional resistance, unlearning, and connecting with the deeper truth. She writes about “our collective cultural collusion with patriarchy” by keeping men’s secrets.
“Being ‘vulnerable’ is an emotional state many men seek to avoid. Some men spend a lifetime in a state of avoidance and therefore never experience intimacy. Sadly, we have all colluded with the patriarchy by faking it with men, pretending levels of intimacy and closeness we do not feel. We tell men we love them when we feel we have absolutely no clue as to who they really are. We tell fathers we love them when we are terrified to share our perceptions of them, our fear that if we disagree, we will be cast out, excommunicated. In this way we all collude with patriarchal culture to make men feel they can have it all, that they can embrace patriarchal manhood and still hold their loved ones dear.”
I also observe this same pattern in upkeeping white supremacy by white women. The silence and the defense of white supremacy by white women makes it almost impossible to dismantle this unjust ideology that dehumanizes and costs many lives of black indigenous people of color, but that’s a whole other blog.
Without derailing, Bell Hooks quotes Terry Real, a distinguished therapist and a best selling author:
“When girls are inducted into womanhood, what is it exactly that they have to say that must be silenced. What is the truth women carry that cannot be spoken. The answer is simple and chilling. Girls, women – and also young boys – all share this in common. None may speak truth about men.”
The idea of saving face, to allow the toxicity of patriarchy to be the rule of the house and keeping silent by the maternal figure, is to me, toxic matriarchy. We don’t talk about the violence that our own fathers, brothers, sons, and uncles have inflicted and how the matriarch of the house colluded with the patriarch for the fear of losing her privilege, kept silent and transferred that trauma down the lineage.
In my own story my father was abusive verbally, physically, and emotionally, especially to my mother and my older brother. There were many variables to rationalize his action such as being a refugee, poverty, and feeling worthless, but that’s what patriarchy wants of all of us – to justify its abuse and to stay silent in the face of it. My mother happened to be stronger than I wanted to admit at the time, as she didn’t stay silent, she spoke up, fought for her life and ultimately separated from my father despite the unpopularity of this decision in a conservative Tibetan culture where silence and submission of women is demanded by the patriarchy. Watching my father, I vowed at the age of 13 years old that “I will be different”. I was much closer to him than with my mother in my young tender years but seeing his abuse, especially physical abuse, of my mother broke something in me permanently. I emancipated from their care at 13 years old and disconnected myself from love and trust. I never allowed anyone to get too close to me until I met my husband.
And in my marriage, the insidious patterns of patriarchy and its physical, verbal and emotional abuse component showed up on a daily basis. I could see how both my husband and I were deeply wounded children of patriarchy, how we both acted out in violence. The dynamic of white-privileged-oppressor and under-privileged-person of color, with refugee trauma, showed up whenever we clashed. At first we thought it was personal flaws, yet when we dove deeper – we saw the pattern of systemic conditioning that allowed for the dehumanization of each other. We knew we loved each other, but we both felt unheard and invalidated. At the core of patriarchy is control, self-centeredness and disconnection. By making this the dominant narrative – there is an unearned privilege and entitlement to abusive and exploitative behavior without consequence.
For me, I needed my husband to acknowledge his white male privilege and know how his world and relational view is shaped by this capitalistic imperialist white patriarchy, and make a commitment to dismantle it within himself. For my part, I took the commitment to dismantle this internalized patriarchy from childhood and stop using its weapon of shame, blame and grandiosity against itself in a hope of dismantling it. I know for a true healing to occur, ultimately only love, truth and compassion works. By doing this work we came to a more equanimous place that honors our cultural conditioning while also honoring our inherent humanity and wisdom beyond the enculturation.
Of course it’s a lifetime of daily work.
Bell Hooks points out in The Will To Change – Men, Masculinity, and Love that “Healing does not take place in isolation. Men who love and men who long to love know this. We need to stand by them, with open hearts and open arms”. In my experience this happen to be true.
Terry Real talks about the importance of ‘Fierce Intimacy’ and ‘Relational Reckoning’ as conditions for a transformational and thriving relationship. Fierce Intimacy being this willingness and courage to rock the boat, to tell the truth about how we feel about each other and to fight fairly. Relational Reckoning is facing the truth about whether the good in the relationship is worth fighting for and to stay in it, or is the baggage too great and it’s kinder for both sides to release the grip and move on. So we had our share of volatile fights where we got to see the depth of traumas and wounds in each other.
In a most natural way, we found ourselves asking these questions:
With that thought in mind, I ask
What’s your go to abusive tendency?
I’ll answer first.
In all my relationships, I have been emotionally abusive to my partners and if that fails – I get physically abusive. I go into survival mode, feeling my identity threatened, the silent rage I have not reconciled comes up on the surface and it’s almost impossible to be truthful with myself in those moments. And if my partner falls into the trap and lacks compassion – then it’s a war within and without. In those moments – I pray for compassion and understanding from my partner so I can admit to how scared and scarred I feel from inside. So that I can be truthful and there is a space for healing for both sides. If my partner gets triggered and goes into their trip – I double down. I have a sharp tongue, very emotionally abusive, and the damage is usually severe.
The hardest practice has been to stop hoping, wishing and praying that my partner becomes understanding and compassionate in order for me to be truthful with my shadows. Can I give what I intimately seek from others to myself so that I can release the grip of this neediness to be understood and be free? Can I just understand my own pain and prescribe compassion to all these corners of neglect, rejection and abandonment, shame, guilt, and resentment? From this space of looking inward, I don’t have a mouth to place blame on my partner or the world for triggering the victim and the oppressor within me simultaneously. The witness comes forward – observing this addiction to drama, to shame or to grandiosity.
From this space, how can I not extend this benefit of doubt and compassion to everyone else? That doesn’t mean we excuse and become complacent. Instead, we become truthful and honest. We level up. And this space feels like an initiation on this spiritual path. The dismantling then begins. Purification and purging starts so that a new dawn of rising sun can arrive within. Vision becomes clearer. Vitality comes back. Service and true love becomes possible. In my personal experience there is no spiritual path without honesty and compassion.
Now Ask Yourself and Reply Honestly
Honesty allows us to become aware of our patterns, giving us the opportunity to change them. Writing your answers down can be very helpful, but it’s most important to be honest with yourself. Don’t run from what you find, from what you feel. Experiencing the new awareness can be healing, if we surrender to it.
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