“Rest Assured. We’ve planned for every eventuality!”
“Well, There was no way to predict that!”
“Let’s not get carried away and throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
This process repeats itself all around us. The attitudes embodied in this progression – a cycle actually, the next line reverts back to the first – epitomize what I call our linked Crises of Expertise and Leadership.
Anyone who’s had any familiarity with abusive relationships will catch the echoes of a similar, incredulous, magical circularity that first offers protection, then excuses, then rationalizations, to be followed by another offer of protection. All this is carried out without the slightest hint of an awareness of what is going on as the process takes everyone involved on a precipitous ride to the bottom.
Our failure to respond to this in ways that break the cycle hold us to it. Our acceptance of the authority behind the pathology of our abusers blinds us to their sheer incompetence and leaves us open to their gibing attacks on any attempts we make to feel our own strengths.
How does anyone break out of such a cycle?
The first step is to arrive at a profound sense of alienation from those who we trusted and who we’ve discovered have repeatedly broken our trust. This is the most painful step, one that leaves us feeling even more vulnerable than before, when at least we had the illusion someone was looking out for us.
There are two illusions at work here. The illusion of the abuser’s care, and another illusion that holds us to this one. That is the illusion that there is an escape from vulnerability.
As I’ve said, vulnerability is our primary condition. It cannot be circumvented. The attempt always leads to an escape into fantasy and the toxic consequences this opens us up to.
There’s a point of confusion here. When we are told that our vulnerability is inescapable, we tend to hear that we have no way to affect how our lives will proceed. That we are being told we have no power and will be reduced to our primal fear of abandonment to an uncaring cruel Fate. We cringe at the thought and crawl back to our abusers since they offer to support us in the denial of what we most fear. This holds us to the process of abuse and all of its mechanisms reinforce each other as they destroy our capacity to resist. Since an abusive relationship is still a relationship, all of us – abused and abusers – are linked in a mutual dance where the roles may reverse at any time and the only thing that is certain is that everyone will be destroyed unless a way out can be found.
Is that second illusion true?
At its heart a conflation and a projection give this illusion its power. We equate vulnerability with incapacity, and we also secretly hold out in the wish that it can be circumvented. If it were to mean our incapacity was as total as our vulnerability there would be little reason to even try to break out of our “doom.” This is where the laments over an intractable human condition usually lead. This is where we get heaven/hell, utopia/dystopia as comforting/disturbing dualities of limited possibilities that channel our awareness into the inevitability of an absolutist choice.
What is the relationship between vulnerability and capability? This is a crucial question. It is tied in with our continued gullibility regarding our abusers – at least the underlying premise behind abuse, if not our continued allegiance to our current abusers. In the face of their repeated failures; in the face of the ridiculous shambles they lead us into as reality continues to intrude and is continually put off in our compulsive allegiance to this dance of death; we maintain an unexamined conditioning that “they” – anyone, really! Anyone else willing to claim authority – has the power to deliver us and dissolve our fears, allay our anxieties. With this panicked insistence driving us to seek compensations for conditioned responses; we are unable, and unwilling, to look beyond acting out our roles. Once again, our feelings of anxiety, brought on by this sense of being trapped, only heighten our sense of urgency and hold us tighter to the process we suspect is killing us. This motivates us to be susceptible to any excuse to go on believing. This drives our “double-down” mentality as abuser and abused.
What if the relationship between vulnerability and capacity were actually reversed? If this were a case of a “switched control-line” that led us to do the opposite of what we intended we would get exactly what we now have. The more we try to escape, the more we command the very conditions that make our trap stronger. This kind of dynamic results either from crossed-controls or the sensation that we are commanding the reverse of what we are actually doing. If the elevator cables on our plane are wired backwards we will steepen our dive the more we try to pull up. If we have confused the brake and accelerator peddles in our car we will accelerate faster and faster the more we think we’re braking. In either case the result is an increasing panic that makes it harder and harder to break out of a faulty response.
Effectiveness is coupled with having a workable set of controls. We can even be effective if we are saddled with cross-wired controls – so long as we compensate for them and learn how they actually work.
This is what we need to do in relation to the mechanisms holding us within an abusive pattern. Vulnerability is our condition. There can not be any effective action that does not take this fact to heart. Instead of leading us into greater despair, a working knowledge of our vulnerability is the only way to arrive at a position in which there is any opening for hope. Instead of stripping us of our capacities, this realization opens us to discover what is actually possible and to develop practices that keep us in an optimal relationship to our surroundings.
Of course, someone caught up in these traps will take that last statement to mean, “My every wish will come true!” That urge is in all of us and it takes practice, part of some practice, to see through it and hold such nonsense at bay.
Our oppressors, leaders and experts alike, are incompetent because they are incapable of seeing and acting out of an effective relationship with what is. We keep them in power over us – or replace them with a new crop – when we submit to the illusions they offer as an out. We will continue to take our roles, now as victims, now as abusers – nearly always as both, if we widen our viewpoint to include the destruction we are bringing to the world at large – unless we do the work required to chip away at the mechanisms that hold us in this relation, not only to each other, but to the world, to existence itself.
“I am invulnerable! Rally around me!” : A liar and a fool. An incompetent and dangerous abuser to be avoided at all costs.
“I am vulnerable, but we share this condition and together we can perhaps abide.” : Maybe someone worth joining in relationship with. A precondition of potential effectiveness.
The first is always true. The second has some chance of sometimes being true.
How does this relate to the way we respond to these assertions?
The answer has a great effect on whether we stay trapped or begin to move beyond this horrible cycle.