How We Rise Above Abuse

How We Rise Above Abuse

How it starts

I just finished listening to a memoir about a young girl, Tara, who grew up in a large religious family, and wasn’t given a formal education at school or at home.  She had a brother who was 5 yrs older, and took her under his wing.  He was kind and nurturing at first, but once he gained her trust, the abuse began.  It was subtle at first, and it continued and worsened until she complied with his every demand.  Their relationship alternated between moments of tenderness, abuse, and sometimes terror.   As a reader and outside observer, I could see how dangerous it was for her to be in his presence.   I wanted to scream into the book, shake her and say, “Your brother really is dangerous.  People like that barely ever change!    Get out of there!   You could get killed! ”  And yet over and over and over, even after finding a way out to go to school, she kept going back.   Why?  Because for so long, he and the family were a part of her roots.  They were home.  And when she and her sister finally tried to tell their parents about the abuse, they refused to acknowledge it.

Patterns of abuse in communities

While I see these patterns of denial, gas lighting, and revising the story to hide abuse in families, I also see these patterns at workplaces, churches and even with governments.

I’ve been seeing this pattern in our country.    The abuse started with blacks.  There was nothing subtle however about slavery.  Taking people from their families, and using them exclusively for a slave owner’s profit, and taking away all their rights to determine their own future were just some of the atrocities of slavery.   But slavery was abolished over 150 years ago.  And since then, the abuse has been more subtle and hidden.   And while there was the civil rights movement in the 60’s and laws changed to allow blacks the right to vote, racists in power found other ways to continue the abuse.

While African Americans have been slowly expressing their outrage at police brutality and other forms of discrimination, too many of us have stayed silent.  And the abuse festered.

The first step is becoming aware

Tara had to step outside of her family to understand that what she was experiencing wasn’t normal or ok.  She had to grapple with the difficult notion that evil is rarely ever pure.  While her abuser could be incredibly kind, he also could be sociopathic.   African Americans had to do the same.   And when a victim finally decides to step away from the abuse, it is not enough.  She often needs a tribe that validates her truth in order for things to change.   Otherwise as Tara did, she questions her own reality, and thinks she is the crazy one.  Women are often dismissed as being overly emotional or dramatic, and so we feel crazy when we are grappling with a truth we don’t want to see.  Similarly our stereotypes about Blacks kept us from hearing what was really happening.  So we found ways to believe that they were somehow deserving of this abuse.

me too movementFinally, Tara received a validation of her own reality from 2 brothers who had also left home, and from relatives who had never subscribed to her parent’s version of reality.  Blacks have needed to extend their tribe and invite the rest of us to join them.  And importantly, we in turn, had to be willing to see their reality and to accept its painful truth.

The process of recognizing abuse and coming to terms with its existence is a form of raising our consciousness.  Sometimes we are so desperate to believe in the inherent goodness of humans, and especially people like us, we don’t allow ourselves to see the evil.

We have to accept that evil exists

And unfortunately, we haven’t been trained to see the evil.  In fairytales and movies, people are either good or evil, and if they are evil, they are ugly, or they “look like a criminal”.   In the media and movies, it’s simple.  It’s black or white.   But in reality, evil is far more complex.   It fools us all the time.    It hides under the cover of pro-social jobs, like ministry, psychologists, teachers, government and more.   We aren’t trained to recognize or understand where evil typically starts.  We aren’t trained to understand sociopathy.

Our inability to see the truth may also be too painful.  We may avoid it with alcohol, drugs, overwork or other addictions.   Sometimes the avoidance can take the form of spiritual bypassing.

see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evilWe also don’t appreciate that idea that much of how we behave is based on what is deemed socially acceptable by our peers.  Group think, as demonstrated by the powers of cults, can be dangerous.   Because of this, if a person isn’t fully conscious, we can easily become complicit in another’s harm when we refuse to see the truth.

From awareness to action

I’ve never been one to deny the existence of our capacity for evil.  But I was never interested in the fairytale versions.  I wanted to understand how societies could allow horrific atrocities to happen.   I read Roots in the 6th grade.  I’ve studied the internment of Japanese in WWII, the Holocaust, Apartheid, and the Rwandan Genocide.  As person of mixed race, I didn’t understand the tribal loyalty that could allow the majority to turn away from extreme cruelty.  I studied these periods in history to understand patterns and driving forces.  With the awareness of the cruelty societies are capable of, I wanted to make sure it never happened again.

After years of volunteering with Amnesty International, I felt like it would never be enough.   We had to get at the driver’s of cruelty.

I’ve been very disturbed that racism has become emboldened in the last few years.

But now, for the first time in my life, I’m seeing a massive number of people awakening to the injustices inflicted upon our African Americans.  More and more White Americans are asking for the curtains to be peeled back, and they are finding the courage to face the truth.   In this moment, people who’ve been shying away from politics because of how ugly it has gotten, are uniting to stand up against the powerful to fight for a more humane world!

Our consciousness is being raised, and as hard as it is, it is worth celebrating!

Activism works!

And our support of our Black brothers and sisters is paying off!  I’ve been impressed by how much is changing in response to all the protests!    Thousands are showing solidarity around the world!  Racist statues are toppling.  Companies, individuals, the media, the government and the media are being more mindful of their own part.   Congress has proposed legislation to reform the police, and a bunch of police forces are revising their policies.  And surprisingly, both Minneapolis and LA are redirecting police funds to support social programs!

Banksy proposal to replace confederate statue

Banksy’s proposal to replace confederate statue

I’m also heartened that after almost 3.5 yrs of racist policies and ethnocentric policies that Americans are effectively saying no more.   I’ve been very worried about the rhetoric and the direction we are headed in, and this movement gives a strong message to our government that we will not stand idly by.   I hope the examinations of police, extend to prisons and immigrant detention centers as well.   Not just Black Americans, but people of all racial groups are saying the abuse needs to end!

The power of our collective power

This movement also gives me hope that with this new found consciousness, that we are realizing that what we do matters.   The Coronavirus is also a great reminder that our actions can have profound consequences on the lives of others.

I think we are discovering that our needs, our wants and our fears are not just our own.  They are a part of a collective brewing, that has been driven not just by what’s happened in our personal lives, but by the increasing injustice served by our government, our institutions, large corporations and the billionaire class.  Our lives are deeply intertwined with others regardless of whether we know them or not.  We breathe the same air, we drink the same water, we have access to the same content on the news and social media.

Our power comes with understanding that we are not alone.  Cruelty and indifference is contagious.  But so is compassion and kindness.

What kind of world do we want?

We get to choose what kind of world we’d like to live in.  Do we want to live in a world of indifference to cruelty and to the evils of the world?  Or do we want to live in a world where we stand up and unite against abuse?

It doesn’t matter whether we are black, brown, green or purple.  It doesn’t matter whether we are rich or poor, ugly or drop dead gorgeous, large or small, or whether we’ve been abused or treated well, we all deserve an environment where we can thrive.

Tara had to find the courage to step away from a toxic family structure that would only accept her if she remained the child she once was.  Going back kept her confined in a struggle that would either keep her in an endless fight, or at worse, it could kill the essence of who she was.

We have to keep fightingThe Black Lives Matter movement, and the title force of passion and energy it has created in the last weeks is showing me that we as a country, and as fellow citizens, are ready to stand up against abuse.  I hope we don’t forget this power.  I hope we don’t give up this fight, because whether its fighting for human rights, for our financial security, for our health, our peace, or for our environment, our future depends on it.

Tara was able to let go of the chains of her past.  Thanks to her hard work, her brilliance and getting the attention and support she needed, she is thriving.  Her future looks bright!

We must keep fighting for what matters!

I hope we remember to continue to fight to be the America we want to be, and not the America that is defined by a White male patriarchical system that currently mostly benefits the ultra-wealthy and powerful.

Thanks to the wisdom of our founding fathers, our country has been able to thrive economically.  But the eroding of our democracy has hindered and reversed our progress.  It’s time to evolve into a country that is rich in other ways that are important.  One that values community, celebrates our diversity, and strengthens us all physically and emotionally.

Like Tara, it’s time to let go of the chains and abuse of our past, and fight for the life and future we believe in for everyone.  We personally, and as a nation, deserve that chance to thrive!

Together we are stronger



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow by Email