Reminiscing

Many of us enjoy reminiscing on past events and certain periods of life.  Lately, I’ve found myself reminiscing a lot more.  Places I’ve been and people I’ve been with.  Wondering how differently things would have turned out if I had made better decisions or invested more in some friendships.

It’s crazy to think of where we’ve been and where we are now.  Reconnecting with old friends/classmates makes that contrast even more impressive.  Although I am not proud of every decision I’ve made in life, I do consider myself very blessed with the life I have today.  I am blessed with a beautiful wife and beautiful daughters, I am building a successful career, writing books that I hope to publish (sooner or later), enjoying the support of amazing family and friends, etc.

Can I say that this is all due to my decisions in life?  No way.  I’ve made decisions that drove me further from my goals.  What I am learning from all this is that no matter the nature or number of our mistakes/sins, God’s Goodness can never be outdone.

Any time you feel regret, shame, or guilt, simply admit it to yourself.  Then count your blessings.  Literally.  Look at all the great people you’ve been blessed with during those difficult times, all the great turns of events that helped you along.  See all the good that could not have come about otherwise.  It doesn’t justify our bad decisions, but it shows that we’re being looked after by someone or Someone.  Life isn’t as lonely as we may think it is.

Next time you see someone in a difficult situation, be there.  You may not be able to fix the situation, but you can be present to help that person pull through the current challenges.

Be a light to your world today!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/58782227@N00/2250359151″>Day 39</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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Why I refuse to see the 50 Shades of Grey

I realize that I’m giving this movie more publicity by writing this, but I hope to be able to discourage your curiosity to see it.  Having read several articles about this movie, I feel more and more disgusted by the messages contained.  In a nutshell, it normalizes emotionally abusing women and sexually exploiting them.  It even seems to glorify such behaviour as a romantic fantasy.

As a mental health counselor, I’ve seen my fair share of abusive relationships.  They crush self-esteem, break hearts, tears one’s sense of dignity, etc.  And none of the stories I’ve heard comes even close to the atrocities in this book/movie.

Those of you who’ve been following my blog since the beginning are well aware of my view on bullying (see my early posts).  This movie is about a narcissist and psychopath who victimizes an innocent young woman.  He seduces her in whatever way he can, then responds to her affection with violence and abuse.  He deals psychological blows that leave her paralyzed with confusion and shock, makes her believe that she owes him respect or that she’s responsible for his issues, puts her in a state of constant vigilance against his inconsistent affection/abuse pattern, intimidates her into doing what he wants, and does what he can to cut her off from all support that could potentially lead her to free herself from his abuse.

One of the main questions circulating is why anyone would actually enjoy that as entertainment.  I believe there’s some curiosity involved, maybe some secret hope that there are some hot sex scenes.  Whatever the reason, bullying doesn’t affect victims only.  It also affects bystanders.  Witnessing abuse can be extremely traumatizing.  Even the actors’ account of what it was like to be part of the production call the entire shooting of the movie a “nightmare”.  They describe the experience with words like “shell-shock” and “unclean”.  They had to try to get into the mind of their character in order to play their role and they were not left unscathed.

What does the movie/book’s popularity say about the mental health of all those who apparently enjoy it or the one that wrote it?  That’s something I’d like to know.

So rather than traumatizing yourselves this Valentine’s Day by seeing this abominable excuse for a love story, remember to cherish your significant other in simple and heart-felt ways.  You don’t need to see or have crazy sexual experiences to feel loved.  Love is, simply put, the unconditional gift of self to the other as Our Lord has love us (cf. Jn 13:34).  Spend quality time together, do something sweet for each other, make the other feel special and appreciated.  There are hundreds of ways to communicate our love for each other and they don’t have to be eccentric.

Be a light to your world, especially to your loved one!

What Really Matters

You know, sometimes you just need to go through a rough patch to understand what really matters in life.  If someone asked you, today, to talk about what’s at the top of your priority list, what would you answer?  I think it’s fair to say that most of us would talk about family and loved ones, or maybe even our career or our faith.  However, this week has been one of those weeks that helped me understand where my priorities should be and just how important they all are.  Life’s cares often distract us from what really matters.  It’s when your world feels like it’s crumbling around you that you realize you lost your focus.  In the end, it’s your relationships that will give meaning to all that you do.

Supporting Someone Who’s Depressed

Recently, someone told me about her daughter’s battle with depression and the need she felt for support.  In the mental health field, we do focus more on those who battle the mental illnesses.  I do think that it’s easy to overlook the loved ones of the patients.  Not only do they suffer alongside the person battling depression or another mental health issue, but they are also an important part of the recovery since they are part of the support network.

I find myself wanting to say something uplifting when I see someone struggling with depression, but it seems that words always fall short of making any difference.  As someone who’s battled depression myself, I can give a few pointers on what helped me.

I am very grateful for people’s patience while listening to me talk through my feelings.  It’s not easy to listen to someone who feels like he’s living in the dark and with little hope.  Words of reassurance are always appreciated, but what I appreciated even more was knowing that I had someone to talk to.  Understandably, there’s a limit to how much negativity we can listen to, so we also need to be considerate of our limits and take care of ourselves.

Depression impacts our intimate relationship.  Speaking for myself, I’ve been blessed with a spouse who’s been ever so patient and understanding through my low moods, which has helped me recover quickly.  Getting angry and guilt-tripping make patient feel worse and generally don’t help.  A good dose of TLC can go a long way to lighten the weight of the depression.

In my case, as in many, professional help was necessary to help me find my way out of the rut I was in.  A friend went out of his way to get me the professional help I needed.  Depression cripples our energy and motivation, and so having someone who gets and who’s able to help where you need it is an excellent way to be supported.

Breaking the Bullying Cycle

So far, we’ve covered what bullying is, what it does, where it stems from, how it works its way in our life, and why it’s so hard to walk away from the bully.  The time has come for us to look at the process of breaking the bullying cycle.  Even though the process will vary according to each situation, there are a few principles to guide us.

Those that choose to fight to break the cycle find themselves feeling strengthened by their decision and perhaps even determined to follow through, but they also have a frail mental state similar to someone who just woke up from a bad dream. The willingness is present, but the already established codependent relationship won’t break easily, as we have seen. By this point, the bully is already in tune with his victim’s weaknesses and triggers. In order to manage breaking out of this toxic relationship, the victim needs to become empowered and either set the terms of the relationship or put an end to it.  At this point, whatever resilience is left will be put to the test.

The Process of Breaking Out of the Bullying Relationship

  1. Acknowledge the Bullying for What It Is: As we wake up from the daze of being pummeled by constant abuse, we open our eyes to see a very different world from the one we used to know or made ourselves believe existed. It’s like our world got hit by a massive earthquake or a hurricane. The difference from a natural phenomenon of mass destruction is that you have a culprit responsible for it. This wasn’t natural. It was an injustice. As you begin to put it all in perspective, you begin to see the damage done to you and to those around you more clearly and you turn your attention toward the one primarily responsible for it.
  2. Assess Your Opponent and His Strategies: As you begin to understand how you were manipulated and used, you will likely become upset and angry with the bully. It’s OK to feel indignant and sad. However, it’s crucial that you do not let that anger reverse your roles where you become a bully. This is often how bullies are made. You have a right to be angry, to be respected, and to speak up when you feel violated in any way. Those rights have been downplayed and denied to you while under the bully’s influence.
  3. New Strategies: Set boundaries, with the intention of opening up communication, breaking the isolation, and protecting yourself from falling prey to the bully’s paralyzing traps that aim at forcing you into your former victim role. Like a narcissist, the bully feels like he’s entitled to overstep boundaries and take what he wants, without giving so much as a single thought to the fact that he’s violating your rights.
  4. Stand Your Ground: On an emotional level, bullies are like little children who will throw a tantrum if they don’t get what they want, when they want it.  Once you decide to stand by your boundaries, brace yourself for impact. If you ever give in to a tantrum, you’re back to square one; it’s reinforced that if they stick to their guns, they’ll win and you’ll relent.” (Brown, 2014) Expect tantrums to test how far you will go before one of you gives up. This tantrum doesn’t have to be physical (throwing or breaking something). A good dose of passive aggression and guilt-trip is as good as any tantrum. If you decide to go down the path of giving an ultimatum, you have to mean it and stand by it. If you waiver, he wins.
  5. Free Yourself: Learning to resist the bully is all fine and dandy, but no one wants to put up with a relationship that’s under constant strain. The relationship dynamic has to end in order for the victim to become truly free. When you feel the urge to lash out at your bully, be the bigger person. Validate where validation is due, but do not condone the abusive treatment in any way. Thus you provide some healing to that narcissistic injury through your validation and, through your boundaries, protect yourself and educate the wounded inner child that’s acting out to become a bigger person.

As a now empowered person, you no longer play the victim and you show others to do the same through your own example. The bully is just another victim who is attempting to break out of victim role by victimizing instead of empowering himself.

As I finish writing this blog post, I realize that in these seven posts I have shared a lot of key information from my manuscript.  Even though a part of me wanted to keep most of it for its future publication, I chose to share the information for the sake of those currently struggling under the yoke of bullying.  For many of these, time is of the essence and they need to find a way out NOW.  In return, all I ask is that each and everyone of you stand up for each other.  Don’t allow any tolerance to bullying.  It is an injustice that should never be condoned.  Standing up for yourself or someone else may sometimes come with a price, but the price you’ll pay for allowing the bullying to happen is far greater.

On my next post, we will broaden our scope of bullying to the spiritual level.

Codependence

Before addressing the issue of breaking out of the bullying relationship, it is important to note that there’s an underlying dynamic that makes the process of ending the abuse so much more difficult: codependence. We’ve all had the experience of knowing someone in an obviously bad relationship, be it intimate or professional, and wonder why he or she insists in staying in that relationship. The answer seems simple: just get out. In reality, it’s not that simple. Both parties have come to depend on one another to meet certain needs; hence, they are co-dependents.

From the point of view of the bully, we’ve already pointed out his dependence: he wants his scapegoat and source of narcissistic supply. But what is the victim trying to get out of that relationship? Usually, for the bully to change the situation: an apology, a change of heart, an awareness of the pain he’s inflicting, validation, etc…  Perhaps the victimized one is secretly hoping that his abuser will become a rescuer, since there is no one else who seems to be able to save him, due to his isolation from all support. When all hope of rescue is gone, it is then that the victim either throws in the towel to accept moral death (sometimes leads to suicide) or snaps and attempts to take control and fight off the bully.

Neither one ends up happy as a result of the abuse.  The bully will never be fulfilled in the abuse because the source of his problem is his own insecurities that won’t get resolved until he faces them. The victim can’t wait for a superhero to come and offer him redemption from his woes of life. The only way the victim will attain or regain his happiness is if he starts standing up for himself and breaking the cycle of abuse.

For those of you who have had the experience of breaking the cycle of abuse, what did it take and what was the cost?  Breaking free of the relationship came with a price that was far outweighed by the benefits that followed, but probably not obvious in the moment when you had to make that decision.

Our next post will deal with the process of breaking the bullying relationship.

 

Reworked and published on CCPA’s Counselling Connect Blog: https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/adult-bullying-codependence/

Under the Bully’s Mask

Ever wonder why bullies bully?  What’s their problem?  That’s exactly the point… they are struggling with a problem.  Bullying is an act of violence, and violence is an expression of anger.  Bullies have an anger problem.  What is it that underlies the bully’s anger? In my opinion, it’s a sense of insecurity towards themselves and anger towards those responsible for bringing about the insecurity. This anger is often channelled towards anyone and anything that triggers that sense of insecurity (confidence, success, good looks, etc) as if the trigger is responsible for the insecurity’s existence.

Following Karyn Hall PhD’s thoughts (2012), the bully’s anger serves a few possible purposes: to protect himself, to control, and to connect:

  • Emotional Shield: Bullies fight hard to protect themselves from feeling powerless. As former victims themselves, they’ve had their share of feeling powerless. Anger is an empowering feeling that pushes them to break that all-too-familiar barrier of paralyzing fear. They find comfort in it.
  • Source of Control: Bullies fear to lose their victim as a scapegoat, which they desperately hold on to. Through anger, they can intimidate and manipulate others into submission to play the game by their rules.
  • Safer Connection: Dr. Hall paraphrases Steven Stosny’s words on core hurts from his book Treating Attachment Abuse (1995): “He identifies core hurts, some of which are feeling ignored, unimportant, accused, guilty, untrustworthy, devalued, rejected, powerless, and unlovable”. These core hurts are the result of serious narcissistic injuries. The core hurts give rise to difficult emotions, such as fear, sadness, depression, vulnerability, etc. Anger then becomes a way of connecting with other people without having to deal with those difficult emotions.

Dr. Hall argues further that the anger can sometimes stem from entitlement and not insecurity: “exhibiting a narcissistic anger – she does not feel insecure, she feels entitled” (Hall, 2012). The sense of entitlement is a strong trait of a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). On that point, I would argue that the bully’s sense of entitlement itself may stem from insecurity as well. The insecurity gets triggered when people don’t respect the narcissist’s sense of entitlement, thus bursting his narcissistic bubble whose sole purpose is to protect him from feeling vulnerable and inferior. The narcissistic anger is unleashed as a result of the narcissistic bubble bursting (or threatening to burst).

Since bullies tend to have a sense of entitlement in varying degrees, they also have varying degrees of narcissistic rage even though they may not qualify for an NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) diagnosis.

In his book Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited (2008), Sam Vaknin explains the nature of narcissistic anger. He says that “narcissists are in a CONSTANT state of rage” (Vaknin, #10, 2008), often controlled with explosions here and there when their poor self-perception is triggered by internal or external sources.

He explains that this untamed anger essentially has two layers: “The first layer, of superficial ire, is indeed directed at an identified target, the alleged cause of the eruption. The second layer, however, incorporates the narcissist’s self-aimed wrath” (Vaknin, #10, 2008). The narcissist targets those who trigger his injury in any way. Thus he uses his victim as a scapegoat on whom to vent his anger and to project his loathed insecurities in a powerful, yet subconscious, attempt to rid himself of that injury. Dealing directly with the injury is his key to healing, but it is what he fears the most. Rather, he chooses to run from it by projecting himself in his victim’s strengths, which he both hates and loves. He hates them because they expose his insecurities and he loves them because they are what he longs to possess himself.

The narcissistic injury is a trait that narcissists and bullies share that explain the underlying anger to their abusive relationships. The anger is sometimes open and explosive but more often passive-aggressive, which makes it more difficult to identify and deal with.

What makes this shift from anger to victimizing seems to be envy. Envy is the subjective and sometimes delirious perception that others enjoy happiness that we are unable to attain. It is the engine that drives the bully to target and attack, all in the hope of depriving his victim of happiness. Since he can’t assimilate that happiness, he would rather see the coveted happiness destroyed (cfr. Hirigoyen, 1998, p.159). If he can’t be happy, he can’t let others be happy.