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The imperial mindset

I endured and witnessed much abuse as a child.

I learned a lot from it.

One of the most important lessons I learned was that there are, roughly, two sorts of people: one who will hear you, whether or not it benefits them, and another who will only hear you when it suits them. The former are great friend material; the latter, who hold what I call “the imperial mindset,” are best kept at a distance.

If I ask you not to do something that hurts me, especially with little to no benefit to you from doing it, and you do it anyway, you’ve indicated with your action the probability you hold an imperial mindset.

If I ask you again, and explain why, and you do it again, you have confirmed my initial impression. Unless you later adopt a cooperative mindset, we will not be friends.  Not ever.

If I ask you again and provide another explanation for my request, and then another, and still another, and you just keep doing it, I will cut you out of my life completely, if possible.

If I can’t cut you out, for whatever reason, I will acknowledge your imperial mindset, understand you will not change, and stop asking. Instead, I will do my best to remain cordial face to face while utterly shutting you out of my heart.

We won’t talk feelings, or go out on adventures, or do anything but exchange perfunctory greetings.

It’ll look to you like a choice I made, but really?

It was a choice you made: to not hear, because it didn’t suit you.

There are many people in this world who will hear and respect your wishes, whether or not they understand. They implicitly understand that their opinion, or total understanding, is unimportant to your requests to withhold hurtful-to-you acts.

I am so grateful to call many of these people friends. Because of them and childhood abuse, I know the difference between imperial and cooperative mindsets, and know that life is sweeter the less empire one lets in.

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Categories: Communication, Health, Safety Tags: ,

(how to save) a life

A few weeks ago, one of my sisters sent me a string of loving texts. We share such strings often just because, but these particular texts were inspired by a Facebook memory. 

Facebook had just reminded her of a post she wrote for my blog four years ago. In one post, “The Gift of Fear,” I wrote about how the book The Gift of Fear might have saved her life. A few weeks later, in “Her Escape, Her Words,” she wrote about the journey as she’d taken it.

I reread both posts after she texted. Her post filled me with joy; she not only escaped, but has come to flourish here in SoCal. I am so freakin’ proud of her and how she makes choices to protect herself and enable herself to thrive.

My own post, though, left a pit in my stomach. When I’d written it, I’d almost completely failed to grasp how deeply systemic features–which I’d call “flaws,” were they not parts of systems designed to protect some few at the expense of many others–conspire against abused partners. I’d said, “You deserve better!” as a strictly individual initiative, without understanding just how much U.S. systems neither broadly support nor encourage that. To escape successfully requires not only defiance but faith (which can’t come easy when you live your life in fear, an island surrounded by thousands of people who don’t appear to notice your suffering) and–here’s where it really falls apart–resources, be they time, money, or social.

When she came over and sat on the stinky old couch that had served for six weeks as her bed, I explained my remorse. I told her I was so damn glad she’d escaped, but that I also feel such deep remorse how few women have resources to successfully make the escape. How miserable it is that life-or-death matters should come down to who you know, and who you know will have your back no matter what.

A system that “works” like that is a terrible, no-good system.

And yet, I explained, it doesn’t mean I’m not enduringly grateful for The Gift of Fear. Far from it! The fact there’s a book that can help guide some women to escape, and to understand it’s even possible, is a book well worth keeping spare copies to hand out (as I do). Better still, the fact that the same book helps inform other women–and men–how to avoid creeps who only seem charming makes it priceless. 

With all this joy and outrage still churning in my heart over the weekend, I searched for podcasts including Gift‘s author, Gavin de Becker. I was delighted to find a two-parter.

If you’d like to get better at trusting your instincts and making them trustworthy, these are for you. Thanks to this podcast, you needn’t read the book to learn some of its most important lessons. 

You can find part one here. Part two is here.

Such lessons might have saved my sister’s life. Sure, they might not be enough to save everyone, everywhere, given American systemic biases for the strong and against the struggling … but I’m here to tell you how beautiful it is, from the outside, to watch that one life grow.

Learning from Suffering

Christmas was even more special with a black eye

Christmas was even more special with a black eye

I grew up with both violence and denial. Denial aggravated me far more than violence.

Violence came and went. It happened because it happened. Parents were sometimes cruel, and then the kids they violated often learned to be cruel, too.

Denial, on the other hand, screamed, “I have the luxury of pretending what happened to you could not happen to me! Therefore, it happened because there was something uniquely terrible and deserving about you!”

Yeah. Sure.

The violence I endured as a child taught me to trust my instincts.

When a “charming” acquaintance made my skin crawl, I told my friends. They said I didn’t give him enough credit.

They were shocked when he committed murder-suicide. I was shocked, but not surprised. I’d lived with violence long enough to identify the subtle indicators others could simply choose to ignore. The little red flags he displayed didn’t even register for 99% of the people around me, none of whom–otherwise–themselves presented a single red flag.

When one of my sisters was at risk, I knew it because of how her communication changed. She didn’t have to tell me much for some part of me to cry out, “Alert! Alert! Alert!” even before she first told me he’d attacked her. I identified the risk before I could express it well.

When she called me about a later attack, I’d just finished reading security expert Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear. I had vocabulary to show her the risk I saw. From the book, I read her a list of danger signs displayed by a partner. She told me her boyfriend had “done at least 25 of those things” and, thank God, packed up and drove more than a thousand miles south to begin a new life here in SoCal.

Had she stayed, she might not have survived.

When a neighbor told my son what to do, speaking over me to command Li’l D against my wishes, I trusted my instincts … and Gavin de Becker’s Protecting the Gift. I said no and ended the conversation. My neighbor’s aggressive reaction to this affirmed how right I am not only to trust my instincts, but to teach my sons to trust theirs.

Many times before now, I’ve told you I will not perpetuate violence by my denial.

All the same, I wanted to shove my intuition aside in 2016 when it screamed, “Your representatives don’t represent you!” Instead, because I committed to never perpetuate denial at others’ expense, I researched. Once again, I discovered my instincts had guided me well. They uncovered truths logic alone would’ve kept concealed.

Despite everything I’d learned in youth, I’d been taken. I’d had no idea that the predatory tactics of pedophiles could be adopted en masse by politicians. I’d never have even had cause to suspect, had I not grown up in such mayhem.

Read more…

We Grew Up in Violence

Is this who I want to be?

July 30, 2016 Comments off

My siblings and I endured insult, assault, and predation throughout our impoverished childhood. While many around us judged our mom vocally, barely any offered any support.

We each took enormous loans while working our way through college and grad school. The loans were heinous, to be sure, but not nearly as heinous as poverty that steals all pretense of power.

Now, between my younger sister, my brother, and the brother-in-law who’s endured so much with us that I sometimes forget he didn’t begin with us, we have four advanced degrees and a fifth on the way.

When you call Sanders supporters “ignorant,” “uninformed,” or “privileged,” that’s what you’re calling us.

You sound like our dad.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Read my sister’s aching post on the matter.

And then, the next time you’re poised to type such a slight as if it’s objective truth, please pause and ask yourself:

Is this who I want to be?

I dream the world for you

Oh, sweet child born into poverty and abuse,

I have a story to tell you.

It’s a story about me, but it’s also a story about you.

My mom was twenty years old when her then-future husband–my dad–tried giving her away before their wedding.

She stuck with it. She stuck with him. Back then, she believed she had the power to change him. She would win him over with her love, her cooking, and her tender, joyous care for the children she would bring him. Read more…

on finding “for”

Scene:
A husband and wife
sit in near darkness and
discuss history and politics
over unfolded laundry
heaped between
them on their
dinner table

Husband:
Why are you so angry
right now? The past is the past,
and now–now is what it is.

Wife:
I am angry
because I thought
my suffering in childhood
was anomalous; to see now
that it was widespread,
systemic, is crushing.
It should never
have been
like that.

Totally true.
But that was true even
before you understood it. Read more…

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