PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE IN RELATIONSHIPS STARTS WITH COERCION
The term ‘Abuse’ is marked by the 'prolonged and repeated' use of fear, control and coercion to get an 'egoic' need met. An egoic need, it is something ‘we think we need’ and often results in a strategy of defending an ideology or belief; putting up walls of judgement and defence, instead of connecting to ourselves or others with empathy. For instance, the simple belief that ‘I am right’ might close the mind to hearing other perspectives and opinions. Or a belief that ‘I am trapped’ for example, might lead one to trap others as a form of feeling less trapped themselves - particularly in their relationships. Addressing and changing these types of beliefs and behaviours is part of why we engage in relationships and. Growth within healthy relating, happens through skillful communication. If behaviours of coercion or control persist, without consent one could label it as abuse.
MINDFUL AWARENESS - WE DO IT TO OURSELVES
Some internal beliefs get stuck through being unaware of them. Mindfulness invites us to recognise the mind/body and gradually increase our awareness of the Sensations, Emotions, Impulses and Thoughts (SITE). This can help us to recognise our internal beliefs and respond to them - to reshape them without violence. With this level of awareness any internal stress reaction or external coercive behaviour can be more easily recognised early. By positive I mean one that generates an outcome that is beneficial to all, like a kind and honest conversation.
COERCION VS CONSENT + COMMUNICATIION
The opposite of coercion is respectful consent - the voluntary giving of one's time, energy and attention. I often say that my acronym for L.O.V.E is to ‘Let One Voluntarily Express’. It starts within each of us, to notice and allow own internal mind stuff to be there, without knee-jerk reaction of suppression or projection. We can then more effectively investigate it, understand it and either 'let it be' or change it gradually, without violence.
This makes it easier to allow other people to express themselves and creates space for both people to 'be' (themselves) and see any coercive behaviour early. Skillful communication comes with honest 'yes's' & ‘no's’ (boundaries) A 'no ' needn't mean complete rejection and can still make it likely for a win-win situation to occur, because it is honest. Real intimacy happens through sensitive and courageous honesty; allowing relationships to become even more beautiful because of the flaws and vulnerability involved in letting go of control. It can see very scary to do these things, at first.
"One had to cram all this stuff into one's mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year."
WE ARE ALL ABUSED AND ABUSERS
All of us have been too under-resourced (of time/energy/awareness) at times, to deal with the internal stress responses and be aware of deeper feelings. There might be a feeling of insecurity. In this state we sometimes forget that we don’t need external validation to be 'ok' and we might begin to use coercion to get it, even on those close to us. On the receiving end, if we then do things that the body doesn’t want it can cause pain and damages our own self-trust, as well as the relationship trust. Sometimes one might then blame the other as ‘abusive’ or label ourselves as ‘a victim of abuse’. It is important that we ARE allowed to do that, so that we can seek help and/or retreat and protect ourselves in the first instance and gain perspective. The danger comes in dwelling in a place of stress reactions, including blame and shame, without noticing our belief patterns and the truth of them, thereby developing internal patterns of abuse, such as these:
1. Initially one shuts down emotions and disconnects from bodily senses. Numbing the pain ‘seems’ better - but of course pain is your body’s way of telling you ‘no’. We let fear and expectations rule our responses more often than listening to the body and responding with respect.
2. With repetition gradual conditioning occurs, rewiring the brain for external validation. We do this to ourselves and each other by repeatedly overriding the body without taking time to understand the true source, One might get a misunderstanding that the source of pain is external, and seek to rescue ourselves by trying to appease an abuser or get approval externally.
3. One develops craving and addiction (or co-dependence) to the role or the ways of relating/thinking, or even to a abusive person. When this role/relationship is threatened life can suddenly feel terrifying. Feelings of fear, anxiety, abandonment and hopelessness can occur - this pain and confusion is because one’s safety has become associated with the role and relationship.
4. One becomes a passive ‘doormat’ and unconsciously feeds the abusive pattern. Eventually the addiction becomes normal and familiar. We seek out relationships that supply similar behaviour. The neurological pathway of that pattern is well used, and becomes like a slide back to the negative behaviour. Humans like ease, familiarity and certainty, because it takes less energy and helps them feel safe.
5. Fatigue sets in, through holding unconscious resentment and fear/distrust. Without awareness of the true source of pain hopeless beliefs emerge and these sap vital energy. The fear underneath is held as tension in the body and anger in the mind and will eventually emerge, often violently, if not dealt with as early as possible. This is the body’s way of defending itself, but it’s a risky strategy for physical and mental health for everyone involved. Long term tension is destructive.
6. Eventually one loses / forgets one's deeper identity as a beautiful and inherently valuable being. When we are conditioned to identify as hopeless we may think we ‘deserve’ the abuse / pain. This is deep shame; humiliation or distress at one's own condition or existence. Toxic beliefs of ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m a liability’ can become normal. This can lead to depression, chronic anxiety, panic attacks and even homicide or suicide.
IT TAKES COURAGE TO LET GO OF BLAME AND CHANGE SOMETHING
I’ve seen people emerge from the depths of this shame-blame cycle to recover and become resilient, happy individuals with healthy relationships. This article is not concerned with ‘who’ is at fault, but is interested in helping each of us recognise our potential to help ourselves and one another. We can trace the origins of abuse back thousands of years and never get to the source at fault, because the source is always ourselves. Alan Watt’s calls this “The Birth of Responsibility” - seeing that hurt people, without mindfulness and love, always hurt other people, and we can only change that by working on ourselves first. I’ve laid out some ways to do that here:
1. Gradually raise awareness of emotions through regular check-ins and diary entries.
Regular Guided Meditation is a great way of tuning in, especially if you are out of practice. It also may help you realise your current needs (like rest) and then you can plan to meet them. Once you are aware of needs and emotions, expressing them is the next step - releasing tension is important. Find healthy catharsis for the emotions. Eg, for anger try a ‘hand scream’ or a ‘fuck-this’ meditation. To promote calm try conscious breathing and create some space for perspective in your day, even if that is only 1 minute, to FLIT between tasks - take a mindful moment to breathe and listen in. Writing things down has helped me and many others understand themselves. It may be painful and messy at first, as we become more aware of the pain. With time and acceptance we can change.
2. Reaffirm to yourself that you’re enough and you’re OK. Silence can sometimes make the negative voices and beliefs even louder and stronger, at first. Find ways to give yourself affirmation - ways where you really feel it, without the need of another. Imaginative Meditations like Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness) is one method. The STOP technique can help you find a balanced truth and the NOD technique may help you reconnect to an image of yourself/your future that feels positive and helpful.
3. Educate yourself of the drama triangle roles you play. Simply ask yourself 'what role am I playing right now?' and then continue to play it, whilst observing with humour and interest. Awareness and allowing is enough to relax one’s hold of the masks one wears and projects onto others. Gradually this will help us let go of the game of ‘name, blame & shame’ and the pattern of ‘hurt people hurting people’. It will create beauty and stop us feeding the drama of victim-critic-rescuer roles. I learned this from Fooling - the recognition that we are all fools and that’s OK. Let’s make the pretence conscious and be interested in our mind’s coping mechanisms.
4. Notice addictions/patterns, and yield to them mindfully, whilst processing them. Instead of shutting them down (which is very tiring, because it takes willpower), experiment with them - go into them consciously to really feel what it is like to experience them. Take your time. Afterwards feel the aftermath, ask yourself if this pattern of behaviour and underlying beliefs serve you. Use the NOW process to then resolve a new way forward. Feel this fully too. By recognising the triggers of the TRAP we can then use other tools like ‘Mental Contrasting’ and ‘RE-ANCHORing’ to overcome addictions mentally, with loving repetition.
5. Enforce one's boundaries. Say no often! A vital skill that can only be learned by experience. Saying no will allow you to get space and perspective, to distinguish your feelings from your judgements and projections. If this feels terrifying try practicing outside of your normal relationships first, as detailed in rejectiontherapy.com. Ask for things from friends or strangers. See what it's like to receive honest answers, including rejections. Getting and giving a ‘no’ is often not as bad as one thinks it is - try it! This will help you give healthy boundaries within your relationships. You can always change your mind. And finally, perhaps most importantly...
6. Share yourself - ask for help or talk to a trusted friend. If you feel deeply lost in shame then using these tools with another person’s help greatly increase their effectiveness. When we are lost in confusion it often helps to have an outside perspective. When our pain is witnessed, with openness and kindness, it often helps us to accept ourselves and let go of it. Seeking professional help is always an act of self-love. At the very least seeking a trusted friend to confide in, because pain shared is pain halved and happiness shared is happiness squared! Abuse resource - if you need urgent help.
The psycology of abuse from Psychology-Today states:
“Here's the thing. It all comes back to us, to our responsibility and accountability. But, in this case, it comes back to responsibility to ourselves and accountability to ourselves. Instead of just riding the wave, if we choose to mindfully examine the nature of our relationships and make a determination of what is acceptable and not acceptable to us, of what feeds us, rather than bleeds us, then we are living, and loving, authentically and with mindful awareness.”
I hope you enjoy these tools and if you are noticing that you are falling into the trap of coercion or abuse come and see me for 1-1 guidance and get yourself out of the negative pattern, with love. Neil@positively-mindful.com
"Truth resides in every human heart,
I work with many varied clients, some who experience abuse. My personal and professional relationships have been varied and often involved low level coercion. This has all helped me grow in wisdom. Some of this growth has been painful. I have sometimes misunderstood the pain in relationships and become confused and stressed, reacting with blame and I've learned from those experiences, to communicate better and become more aware of what's happening in me.
I propose that our primary relationship and source of wisdom is actually within ourselves and we become most reactive at our own stress-induced thoughts. The base reactions are known as ‘Fight, Flight, Freeze’ and Appease. One tactic of these stress-reactive states is ‘coercion’ (from Latin coercere ‘restrain’, from co- ‘together’ + arcere ‘restrain’).
A stressed mind that fails to meet a need through coercion may escalate to more violent forms of defence and control (like physical abuse) which is not discussed here. This article seeks to raise awareness, so that early stages of internal and external coercion can be resolved and transformed away from stress, blame and shame and into awareness, wisdom and intimacy.
ATTACHMENTS - THE HIDDEN TIES
The Buddha said “The root of suffering is attachment.” What did he mean by this and how can it help us to understand how we can live differently? This blog is all about how to live life with a better relationship to suffering. Like I’ve said in many other blogs you can’t avoid suffering it’s part of love, but you can 'enjoy' the process, rather than just suffer it. This elaborates on my blog about owning your shit.
So, first of all, by attachment I think the Buddha was referring to ‘need’, ‘craving’ and ‘identification with a fixed idea’. The best expression I know for this is 'Limiting-Self-Beliefs'. For example, the elephant in the picture believes it cannot break the chain, because it was chained from birth. After trying so many times it gave up, even though as an adult it probably could break them it believes the story of 'I can't move further than my TIES allow'. My theory of this is devised to help me remember how us humans generally become attached to:
SO, TAKE A SEAT
When we view them in this order they form TIES, which I find is a useful reminder that they bind me to a rigid and painful way of being - a complex web of TIES requires gradual and persistent loosening and here is my main method - it’s called taking a SEAT (flipping the priority of our awareness). This is a simple process of meditation, where we allow ourselves to slow down and connect with the senses first and see:
When we look at it, sit with it, in non reaction, we naturally reduce the fuel that is energising the story. We also reduce the adrenaline and cortisol in the bloodstream, released as a mind-body connection that is created by psychological stress. So let’s take a deeper look at the TIES so that we can understand and recognise them. Only then can we begin to loosen them.
TIES TO THOUGHTS
Firstly we often identify with our thoughts, as roles and stories, naturally. As the author of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, describes:
“Our massive brains have a vivid imagination. Human beings are the only animals that can see and feel complex things that don’t exist - like the idea of a heaven, or the collective idea and agreement of money. This ability has helped human beings thrive, by working together in millions, unified by common stories of accepted truth. Humans live double lives - one in the reality of natural law (like the animals) and one in the stories we tell ourselves - our collective social laws, etiquette and conditioned behaviour. Stories give us a sense of purpose and drama, which can seem more important than reality, which seems mundane and unimportant, in comparison. The more we get involved in the stories and rigidly ‘believe’ the more we fight against others or the reality that challenge them. These ’beliefs’ lead us to wars and sacrifice of our own lives and create immense suffering.”
But of course Shakespeare said it best:
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”.
THOUGHTS AS ROLES
So perhaps you see yourself a certain way - you have undertaken a role that is so important to you that the values of that role become the driving force in your life. That’s what we ALL do. Examples could be that you see yourself as:
The list goes on - there is no problem in having these roles with some awareness, but most of the time we don’t even notice because we are reacting impulsively to thoughts - these are the invisible TIES. We cannot be enlightened (free, easy-going, open) if we are bound to our roles tightly. Notice if you present your ‘image’ a certain way. If someone challenges you by saying “you are not a very nice person”) do you launch you into defense mode? If we didn’t hold onto these strong beliefs then we wouldn’t react to the challenges so much - they wouldn’t really touch us. And then we can respond as we wish, in an enlightened way. This might be defensive, but it would have a light touch and energy, because it is not needy.
EGO - WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE
Ego is part of nature - it helps us navigate social structures. Too much ego identification prevents us from remembering our true nature and from remembering that we are lucky to simply be alive, to have the gift of life. We might feel burdened by our roles so much, trapped by the compulsive thoughts and beliefs that we feel disconnected from our truth and from other beings. So this is what happens when we become identified with thought.
LOOSEN THE TIES TO THOUGHTS; TAKE A SEAT
So an invitation - sit down, take a few longer breaths, feeling into the body and watching the busy mind, then ask yourself these questions:
TIES TO IMPULSES
We often live on autopilot and sometimes we become reactive - you’ve been there, right? Itching every itch, nervously, feeling agitated and needing release? Or, on a more subtle level, you may notice a background tension of craving - wanting experiences, like needing to eat, or needing a cigarette or even needing to orgasm. You sense that without it you’ll become grumpy or frustrated - the emotional reaction tells us it is more than just a desire (want), it is a craving (a sense of need). I think of this as a ‘want----need’ spectrum.
Craving creates tension in the body, a sense of disempowerment and, if indulged regularly, it will create an identification with a small, separate sense of self that always needs something more. Chemically we can attribute this to the dopamine cycle - which means that hormones in the brain feed the pleasure sensors (release of tension) and then raise our threshold for more tension, meaning that if we want the same dopamine feeling again we have to take it to the next level. This could be based on work, shopping, computer games, sex, sport - anything! Building this pattern we become impulsive sensation-seekers - fixated on getting gratification, or to the next level but missing the scenery of the moment, the beauty of the process. We are focused on the fear of missing out (something I am very familiar with). This means we temporarily lose the ability to enjoy anything we do.
This needy pattern TIES us to the momentum of our greed or ambition and we will get dragged along until we are damaged enough to let go. The delaying of gratification (through getting on with our work, for instance) seems irritating and unpleasant. So we want to develop patience again. My method? Taking a SEAT, breathing well and witnessing it all play out. By doing this we challenge the mind’s assumption that you ‘need’ the experience and that not having it will be ‘unpleasant’. This way we slowly develop trust that we are ok without it and we can trust ourselves to handle difficult experiences. You can also use an exposure tool to experience reality - like cold-shower therapy, for example.
LOOSEN THE TIES TO IMPULSES; TAKE A SEAT
So an invitation - Imagine yourself in the midst of this wanting self..... exaggerate it... what's your body like? Feel it? Restless tension? Heart and emotions? Nervous and fearful of angry? Then ask yourself these questions:
Then.., come back to the body - take a SEAT and meditate. This process of meditation and self-enquiry will naturally loosen the TIES. Trust that the insights will come.
TIES TO EMOTIONS
When we are in our reactive self, tied to thoughts and impulses it is inevitable that emotions will overwhelm us. Think of it like being in the sea, tied to a heavy weight. It’s hard to swim and so when the energy of the sea picks up and we get waves we will be battered around - overwhelmed and engulfed. By now you are getting the method I use - I take a SEAT and reflect where my emotions have become overwhelming - where am I reactive? Ask yourself:
In these areas we are not facing the truth - it seems too big of a ‘problem’. That is until we loosen the TIES - and again the way to do this is by taking a SEAT - stop struggling and watch the waves of emotion, connecting to the very thing you are avoiding connecting to:
Sensations can be intense. We then label them as pain or problematic, but look closer and you’ll see that all sensations are simply different intensity of movements, or vibrations. When you relax the labels and start to just breathe with them, experience them and accept them then you change your relationship with them, gradually and naturally. The old story loosens - they are no longer ‘awful’ or ‘frustrating’ or ‘unbearable’ but they might become ‘interesting’, ‘fascinating’ or ‘wonderful’ and then sometimes… just ‘sensation’. No label required - they just are. This is what we are cultivating in mindfulness; objective seeing.
In order to get into this temporary perspective we must first open up to the sensations, without reaction, or even with a gentle and passive welcoming - we then reverse engineer the whole thing and start to accept the whole lot from the root of sensations. This frees us from the TIES and we start to take a SEAT and ride out the waves of emotions, with consciously chosen actions and focused thoughts - positive thoughts - that create what we want. We can be in it and choose how much we get involved in emotions, impulses and thoughts.
ASK QUESTIONS, DO NOT CRAVE ANSWERS
When we take a SEAT we realise how much the mind compulsively judges, reacts and anylises and we are invited to let it be, not resist, but also not add fuel. We allow it to play out and in doing this we use the breath and we use an attitude of calm, loving kindness. We can pose some questions as we do this:
Don't rush to answers, ask these question internally and stay with the curiosity for a few minutes. In this way we feel the depths of our SEA (Sensations, Emotions and Actions) without engaging too much with thoughts. This is you - the feeling, experiencing you, that is deeper than all the analysis and opinions and stories. Those things are simply the tip of the iceberg - the consciousness.
There is a beautiful poem hints a bit deeper at the truth at which I write about here. Ultimately it must be experienced and poetry allows a taste of experience by stimulating emotion.
The One Deep Inside Your Chest
Life is a play, a game, of sorts. In this blog we look at a concept called the Drama Triangle - a game which we all play - and I see this as kind of like 'Level 1' of the game of life. Here I'll explain that and also my ideas on changing the game to Level 2, with Playfulness and Presence!
This short video explains it well, and looks at the level 2 game, Presence:
The drama triangle is a social model of human interaction – the triangle maps a type of destructive interaction that can occur between people in conflict. It was first created by Stephen Karpman, M.D., a student studying under Eric Berne, M.D., the father of transactional analysis. It was later revised with the addition of ‘The Winner's Triangle’ by Acey Choy in 1990 and then by David Emerald (2009).in his book ‘The Power of TED (The Empowerment Dynamic).
Basically it’s the idea that when we are acting out in life - when we are in drama - we all choose roles, and we switch roles rapidly. These 'scripts' are encouraged in modern society, which is based on 'justice'. These are the roles of:
We can imagine it a bit like in a courtroom - where the drama is played out and everyone has the intention of claiming they are the hardest done (right) by and that others are wrong. Hence it is a victim-blame-game. Ultimately we all claim to be the victim.
So I’ve been using Choy and Emerald's models, but with my own twist, to help people raise awareness of these roles and then figure out ways to move away from the Drama triangle, without completely disengaging with people or problems. I call it the 'Presence Triangle' - a game of connection! That name was inspired by the fantastic video at the top. My diagram below shows how it works:
Moving to Level 2
In the same way that you can’t fight emotions with thinking, you can’t fight drama with diagnosis, defence, or distrust - it all starts with stopping the reactivity and doing one (or more) of these things:
These shift you away from the negative thoughts and into the body. Into Presence. We can then move towards these roles, in which we all take personal responsibility for the choice:
But all of that will be for nothing if the intention behind it is resentment, trying to change, educate, fix or disprove - then there is no natural compassion and we will slip back into Drama. My belief about the intentions required to ‘really’ connect fit nicely into the acronym: LET GO & BE, which is also what we are doing! We are letting go of the results and allowing people to be, exactly as they are, including ourself. We can practice these intentions to cultivate natural connection. I know this ‘allowing’ seems counter-productive at first, but as Nathaniel Branden said:
“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
Are you able to LET GO & BE?
You may notice I also put 'parent 1 and 2'. That's because this is a lot like being in a parental role, where one is often rescuing and the other putting the child down. When we think of healthy ways to raise children and make human connections we want to have the intentions of:
Love – love, in my opinion is both a feeling and a verb. Love is ‘acceptance’ and a ‘willingness to experience’ - to act in accordance with internal motivation, but not based in fear. Can you love your enemies and yourself?
Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy comes from understanding that we are all interconnected beings and that what I do to you I eventually do to myself. Therefore empathy is feeling for and with someone else.
Trust – Confidence that people are whole, growing beings, not needing fixing - a belief that we are all unique creators.This breeds confidence and empowerment. I also trust that everything is working out as it should. It's okay, I'm okay, you're okay.
Gratitude – Instead of wanting and needing that which I don't have, I remain thankful for everything I have been given and received. This feels amazing and enables me to act positively; understanding that honesty in relationships is a gift that helps you to grow.
Ownership – I understand that only I am responsible for my thoughts, feelings and actions. I understand this may have an influence on the world and so with great power comes great responsibility. I own my own power and use it wisely not seeking to blame others, be a victim, or rescue others unnecessarily.
Boundaries – Your ‘yes’ and ‘no’s. What you decide you want or don’t want for yourself, or to be a part of. Without boundaries we burn out in empathy or violate one another. I understand my physical boundaries and set my own emotional boundaries. I take time to feel into what is a yes and a no for me and communicate them clearly and honestly.
Expression - The last part is to express yourself, honestly and sensitively, without attachment to the outcome, but with care and consideration of feelings and needs - both yours and the other persons, yet also expressing honestly. This is not possible without practice and first taking the time to 'feel into it'.
That’s a lot of information, which is why it is much easier, after finishing this Blog (well done for getting this far) to just remember to LET GO & BE - if you find yourself sucked into the Drama triangle, try having a jiggle, taking a breath, gently asking a question and then listening! I think you’ll find a lot more connection and end up playing a different game - where everyone wins! Because there is another option, beyond right and wrong. It's called being (human).
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com