Accepting the Truth about Ourselves
A fearful therapist who relies upon dissociation to avoid being triggered by the client’s material is not a better therapist because she has this ability, she is an impaired therapist, and a therapist impaired by dissociation may have crucial lapses in judgment due to a failure to integrate thoughts, feelings, and experiences. She may feel discomfort or fear while conducting therapy with a particular client and believe it is due to an implicit perception of the client’s inner rage when in reality it is due to an unresolved issue of her own. Under those circumstances, any examination of the client’s behavior toward others is likely to be clouded by the therapist’s own issues which she mistakenly attributes to the client.
An additional factor leading to the failure to examine our own hurtful behavior is the misconception that abused girls become adults who internalize their anger and hurt themselves, and abused boys become externalizing adults who hurt others. While there is some validity to this, it is by no means an absolute truth. Yet this belief is perpetuated by survivors, therapists, and society in general and is often presented as an absolute truth. This is a dangerous practice, because it results in a tendency for female survivors and therapists to believe it is not necessary for us to look at the ways in which our behavior might be hurtful to others, and a tendency also to assume that as females, we are different because we do not identify with our abusers, who are commonly males. It offers us some relief because it absolves us of the anguish and shame associated with identification, and it leads us full circle to our original belief that we are incapable of hurting others due to knowing and experiencing the pain and terror of abuse.
But it may also lead to a serious problem: becoming trapped in the cycle of abuse by adopting the role of perpetual victim. It is not at all uncommon for female survivors of childhood abuse to become revictimized as adults. As children, we were not responsible for the abuse and our
options were extremely limited. As adults, however, we often continue to place ourselves in situations and relationships that hold us hostage to those limitations because we don’t believe we play any role in being abused.
But if we look closely at our own behavior in relationships with the help of a good therapist, and we are willing to be honest with ourselves, we usually discover that we make choices which keep us from getting out of the victim role. These patterns of behavior are frequently played out in most, if not all of our important relationships. Many people, abused or not, fail to recognize that in every relationship, even abusive relationships, two people are responsible for what works and what doesn’t work. Unfortunately, when people hear such a statement, they often interpret it as blaming the victim by making her responsible for someone else’s decision to hurt her, but that’s not what it means. It means that two people make independent decisions that impact each other, and if we don’t understand how and why we came to those decisions, we’re likely to use the same approach in another relationship, thus repeating an unsuccessful and harmful pattern of behavior in relationships unconsciously.
When we combine unconscious patterns of relating in ways that cause us harm, with a firm belief that we are incapable of causing harm to others, we have a disastrous mixture, because we then tend to believe that we are as helpless as we were during our childhood. We fail to recognize or feel our anger and rage because anger feels dangerous and threatening to us, but when we don’t feel it, we can’t use it appropriately to protect us from harm.
Anger is a normal human emotion, and if we fail to accept that being the victim of the worst kind of hurt and pain has made us more, rather than less angry, we run the risk of believing that our experiences made us better people because being abused taught us to be gentle and kind. Certainly there is nothing wrong with being gentle and kind, but if we attribute those qualities to being victimized as children, and we do not recognize the depth of our anger and instead see ourselves as incapable of hurting someone else, we cannot be fully human.
In order to be fully human we have to accept that if we are capable of doing good, we are also capable of causing harm. Some people may cause more good than harm, or the other way around, but we are all born with the capacity for both, which is an evolutionary necessity because any organism that’s unable to inflict harm is destined to die out due to its inability to defend itself. We need the ability to cause harm in order to survive. It doesn’t necessarily mean we have to use that ability but we do need to possess it, and we need to recognize it exists because we won’t be able to use something we don’t know we have.
And if we believe we’re unable to inflict harm, if we believe the ability to cause harm does not exist in us, then we are also likely to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that we can’t defend ourselves against harm. If we harbor a belief that we cannot defend ourselves while continuing to place ourselves in unsafe situations and relationships, we remain trapped in the role of perpetual victim.