Monday, October 19, 2009

Freeing Sisyphus

Freeing Sisyphus

How do you say goodbye to the person who held you in her arms, whose breast quieted your hunger pangs whose eyes and face were the mirror you looked into to define and know yourself? How do you let go of the person who gave you life and then for some unfathomable reason made it unbearable?

I have been asked this question so many times by so many patients. Souls divided between love and hate searching for understanding, comfort, absolution, peace.

Their personal agony tags on my professional responsibility to make sense out the whirlpool of their emotions. After all, am I not the Psychologist, the doctor who is supposed to know the workings of the human mind?

Like Ariadne I am asked to lead them deep into the heart of the Labyrinth where understanding and forgiveness are waiting to be mustered. But understanding more often than not does not fill the emotional void while anger becomes the final bond that ties us to the abuser in an insouciant search for both love and revenge.

Understanding abuse demands of us to transcend the childhood illusion that our parents are all- knowing, all- powerful, paragons of emotional health punishing us only for our own good and only because we are intrinsically and hopelessly “bad and stupid”. It requires that we put our pain aside and search for theirs. It asks us to do something that we often resist with every fiber of our being: seeing the abuser as damaged, tortured, herself a victim of abuse, emotionally retarded and pathetic. Forgiveness requires a level and kind of empathy (understanding a person’s emotional limitations) that our anger and the yearning for acknowledgement and retribution often do not allow.

Do you see how maddening this vicious circle is? We want an emotionally retarded, morally bereft person to acknowledge and understand the wrong of her actions, but if she was capable of this kind of understanding she would not have done them to begin with. The fault is not with the victim’s ability to explain how she was hurt, but with the abuser’s ability to comprehend. It is like expecting someone who never learned Greek to read the Odyssey in its original.

But isn’t understanding and accepting the abuser’s pathology and limitations letting her off the hook?
Letting go of the yearning to be validated, which feeds and multiplies the rage of the original abuse and abandoning the demand to be loved in the way you understand love is not saying to the perpetrator that what she did is ok. It does not even mean that you will ever have to talk to her again if this is not what is best for you.

What it does mean is that you will not let the anger corrode your soul. That you will not be tied to an abuser with the chains of an illusion: for ever seeking love and acknowledgement, incessantly explaining, placating, ingratiating or as a last resort threatening and forever been crashed.

Put down the boulder Sisyphus. This is an impossible task.