Vironika Tugaleva shares a simple but not easy solution to the cycle of abuse.
I spent much of my life choosing to be a victim, unaware I was making a choice. In that state, I was abused physically, emotionally and sexually. When I’d had enough, I verbally and emotionally abused others.
Then, I had a spiritual awakening—and now I help people on both sides of that dynamic.
When it comes to the cycle of violence, I’ve been all the way around, I know the way out, and it isn’t through imprisoning the bullies or making new policies. The way out is incredibly simple, but of course (like everything simple) it isn’t easy.
Before I got into my life’s work, I’d imagine teaching spirituality and I’d think of soft lighting, burning sage, and whispered, soft tones. I most certainly did not picture raging, spit-in-your-eyeball, insult-filled interactions between my calm, relaxed self and one unbalanced person after another. I didn’t imagine having to be triggered into memories of my worst victim pain in order to heal the pain of others.
And yet, this happens to me much more often than any sage-burning.
Understanding and releasing emotions, I’ve discovered, is essential to healing and happiness. And no one needs to release joy. We only repress that which we deem to be wrong. In our culture (and many others), people are taught to suppress, ignore, or judge anger, while its real message goes unnoticed.
Let’s rewind to our school days and remember what we’ve learned about anger, judgement, and hostility. We did not learn how to identify anger in ourselves, how to understand its source, or how to manage it without hurting ourselves or others.
By the time we’ve reached adulthood, most of us have learned one thing: Anger = bad. Bad = hide.
And so, we hide. We experience frustration, irritation, and angry thoughts. We bottle them and bottle them until, one day, they explode. Or, there are those who refuse to bottle and who explode with anger at any given moment. Ask those people if they believe they’re good or bad, and you’ll see that the learned equivalence stands true.
The idea that anger is bad and something to be hidden keeps many people from the healing and happiness that they so desperately desire.
So, back to me being yelled at. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like it at first, I didn’t choose it, and, no, I don’t have an inner masochistic drive that compels me to seek out abuse.
The more I’ve practiced unconditional love towards myself and others, the more I’ve realized that, from the outside, compassion toward someone who is angry can look a whole lot like allowing abuse. In fact, it looks almost identical. From the inside, however, it’s completely different. The difference between compassion and abuse is mindset.
Let’s say you come up to me and say, “You’re worthless. You’re a piece of crap. You have no idea what you’re talking about and you deserve to die.”
Those are pretty powerful words. I could really get hurt if I wanted to. In fact, for much of my life, I would hear words like that and I would get hurt. I would take every single word at face value. “You” would mean you.
Now, here’s how I hear those words: “I’m worthless. I’m a piece of crap. I have no idea what I’m talking about and I deserve to die.”
“You” means “I.”
Does it mean that whoever is speaking those words is, in fact, worthless and death-deserving? Of course not. It simply means that the insults that a person spouts at me are simply reflections of his own view of himself. There is no “You” that cannot be translated into an “I.”
The one who abuses and erupts with anger is simply projecting her own reality onto another person. If you’ve been the victim of anger, slander, or judgement, it had absolutely nothing to do with you. If you allow your mind to wander to those situations and switch each “You,” “They,” “She,” and “He” with “I,” you’ll certainly see what I’m talking about.
I’m not advocating that you continue to put yourself in the face of someone who’s projecting their own negative self-image. Helping someone heal is very different from helping someone keep their own healing at bay while they blame you. Though, once again, it may look just the same.
In the cycle of violence, it is not only the bully who is projecting. The victim who stays, simply reinforcing the cycles, is projecting as well.
If you listen to someone say “You are worthless” and you hear that pronoun as is, there’s a validation process happening there. If I take “You” to mean “You,” then those insults validate some belief in my head that says I am, in fact, worthless. I stay because I believe it.
So here we come to another interesting concept: the victim and the bully need each other. Neither is better than the other. Both are holding off their own process of healing, because both do not realize their true power.
With spiritual awareness, there is no need to dominate and no need to be dominated. There’s no use in trying to get power or play any power dynamics, because there’s always a bountiful, abundant source of power within.
And, thus, compassion is the process of being in the place of the victim, but with the mindset of a powerful, eternal spirit who cannot be harmed. It is being in the place of the victim, but taking the words and actions of the so-called bully as reflections of his own hatred towards himself.
If I hear “You’re nothing” and I see that what she really means is “I’m nothing,” how can I do anything but embrace her? How can I do anything but show compassion to a person who is clearly in pain?
And yet, the bully inflicts pain so he doesn’t look like he’s in pain.
How many men and women have found themselves in a relationship with a person who hurt them simply because they felt worthless? And how many of those men and women stayed in that relationship because that projected hurt validated their own feelings of worthlessness?
It’s sad and it’s completely fixable. To fix it, we don’t need to punish anyone more. We don’t need to take anyone’s privileges away. We just need to love more. We need to love ourselves and everyone around us even more, even in anger, even in pain.
Instead of playing a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-bad-guy and trying to point the finger towards who’s deserving or undeserving of compassion, I say we take a moment and stop playing the game. Just for a second. I say we take a second to examine the little, tiny belief that’s at the core of the madness.
Anger is not bad. Anger is a natural response to self-judgement. Violence is not bad. Violence is a natural response to overflowing shame. Rudeness is not bad. It is a natural response to self-loathing.
There is no good and bad. There is only hunger and health. I’ve never, ever worked with someone who had a mood disorder, addiction, or anger problem who could answer “Yes” to the simple first question I ask everyone I work with: “Do you love yourself?”
Love is food. Those among us playing bullies as well as those playing victims are hungry, desperately hungry.
I’m not saying that people don’t get hurt. Of course, even with me, there was the first time that I got hit, the first time I got raped, the first time I got insulted. Those, I had no choice over.
But the toughest thing I ever did was look at my life and see how I’d replayed those first times over and over and over, how I believed myself to be so unworthy of love and so deserving of pain that I sought it out everywhere I went. I thought I was a victim. Now, I know I’m a survivor.
I think, too often, we try to find fault, and it’s a useless search. Fault is meaningless. It’s no one’s fault, but it’s everyone’s responsibility.
Most of us are so busy pointing the finger at others that we forget how difficult it is to really love and accept a person, our most precious person, our own self. Do that and, suddenly, there’s no need to be bigger or smaller than anyone. Do that and, suddenly, you can’t ever be anyone’s victim, nor anyone’s villain.
Image: Flickr/Design Demon Diablo