Three years ago, I experienced the most intense/acute psychological pain that I have ever felt in my life. The Sandy Hook massacre had just occurred and I was deep in my work as a therapist for children, most of whom had been horribly abused. It started with the question that always tends to lead me down the rabbit hole, “Why do people do bad things?” I found myself staring into the eyes of photos of Adam Lanza (The Sandy Hook shooter) and asking “How?” over and over again.
In my work as a therapist, children would often act out their experiences of abuse, whether it was by flinching, freezing, hitting/biting or being seductive towards me during our sessions. They looked at me as if I was the one who hurt them — and in the light of current events, these projections all of the sudden felt overwhelming. I began to question even more intensely, “How could someone do this?” and more painfully, “Am I capable of such atrocious behaviors?” I wondered if their projections and acting out towards me meant anything about me and who I really am. Was there something wrong about me deep down inside? I am sure that my identity as Queer did not help, as these identities have been on the receiving end of judgment and projections of deviance.
During the holidays, I distanced myself from family, particularly my niece and nephew. In light of my work and what I was seeing on TV, their innocence and vulnerability freaked me out. I lost 10 pounds and felt as though I was in an internal battle with good and evil, trying to see which one I was. I was making a check list, “This means I’m good, but this might mean I’m bad.” The more I fought my brain, the more entrenched I became and the more pain I felt. In a moment of opening, when I surrendered to my emotions and found myself crying and alone, I felt an internal voice say, “Addie they do it because they are caught in a repeating dream. They are not awake.”
I spontaneously understood there are no “bad” people or behaviors, only unconscious repetitions and recapitulations of the pain that others have experienced that then transfer onto another.
The wrong place
What I have come to realize is that I was looking in the wrong place for my answer. In fact, I was looking for answers in a false reality. I was looking for the answer through the paradigm of “good” and “bad,” “right ” and “wrong.” In this paradigm I could only interpret Adam Lanza’s eyes as evil, which then locked me into the painful process of bifurcating parts of myself as either “good” or “bad” to assure and reassure myself that I was “safe.” This process had my brain going in so many different directions that I felt that I was losing my mind.
And, I was losing my mind, which is exactly what I needed to lose in order to gain my answers.
The answer I received came only after I surrendered to my pain and my emotions. This moment of letting go cracked my rigidity into a thousand pieces so that the light could finally reach my heart. Like when light hits a prism, I was able to see into a new paradigm. In this paradigm there was no duality, only the light. There was only the process of dimming or getting brighter based on how conscious one was to their own beautiful and precious divinity. So when I looked into Adam Lanza’s eyes, what I now saw was a person in unacknowledged, unconscious pain, to the point where he forgot who he was. He lived in the paradigm of duality so rigid, it allowed him to embody the character of “evil.”
I would like to say that this was my ultimate awakening, but since this time the struggle has continued. My ego feels a pressure to conform to societal beliefs around “good” and “bad.” It is far more difficult to sit with the belief that the people who do the most unspeakable things are in the most amount of pain. My ego does not want to extend compassion to the people who do atrocious things. I’d rather say, “They are just bad” and cut them off from anything that has to do with me. However, every time I do this I enter back into duality and start cutting myself off from the parts in me that need the most love. When I go down this path, I place myself at more risk of hurting another person, because I am denying pain and making it unconscious. Anytime I have ever hurt another person was because I was in a state of unconsciousness and denying the recognition and validation of pain, in myself and others.
What if we all just sat with the statement, “Human beings, a group that I am a part of, hurt one another terribly.” Let that sink in. Think about people who have committed awful offenses on other humans or animals. Notice when you think of these people how much you want to run into the comfort of “good” and “evil.” The running makes sense. The pain feels too big to bear. I know because I tried to bear it and reason it and fight until there was no other option but to surrender to it.
As painful as it was, I am grateful because it led me into a new reality. In this new paradigm the lines between perpetrator and victim blur into a continuum. Without judgment, I can see that I have been on many spots of this continuum.
The same light
Currently, I am engaging in a practice where I find memories of feeling the most victimized and instances where I have been the perpetrator of hurt — and I hold them in the same light. The victimized part of me never wants to feel the anguish of weakness again, which feeds the perpetrator inside, who preemptively attacks, but when I unleash anger on another, I end up feeling weak again. Around and around we go. The unacknowledged pain of each of these characters feeds the other. They are two shadows from the same light, which need more love and compassion then ever.
So I say to the part of me that has had the experience of victimization, “Yes, it is scary to feel weak. My love, what you are now experiencing as weakness started out as your precious innocence. If you allow yourself to feel the pain of weakness, you will inevitably reclaim your innocence.” I speak to the perpetrator inside, “Yes, you are really angry and protective. Tell me more about the pain you have felt which makes you feel like you need to protect. How wonderful it is that you are so protective of your precious heart. I am so proud of you for waking up in this moment and stopping the cycle of abuse, right here and now.”
This practice is what I would like to call, “Loving the hell out of yourself.”
If you have been on the receiving end of some of the most painful abuses of which humans are capable, I acknowledge and feel your pain. I do not want this writing to convey that you should be experiencing anything else but the true and raw emotions that arise. If all you can access is anger, then invite that anger in and love the hell out of it. I mean, literally love the “hell” out of your anger experience. The only times the experience of anger is hellish is either because someone, including ourselves, tells us we should not be feeling it, so it calcifies and is turned inward and/or we unleash it on someone else. If the anger experience is becoming cyclical in nature, affecting your relationships and leading you towards behaviors that make you unhappy, this may be a sign that there is more hell to be loved out of it.
A very simple way to practice this is by talking to the angry part of you as if it is a small child in pain, because that is exactly what it is. Any emotion after an abusive experience requires validation and deserves a voice. Furthermore, it deserves to be responded to with the most compassion that the world has ever known.
It is my belief, that in this place and time, everyone experiences some level of trauma or abuse in their lifetimes. I also believe that everyone has acted in the role of perpetrator at one time or another. Racism, sexism, heterosexism and xenophobia are all forms of abuse, often enacted unconsciously. The abuse brings to light the places where our species is still evolving. In this evolution process, it is our karmic duty to allow the painful emotions rendered through abusive experiences a full and loud voice. When we do this, we make the pain conscious and end the cycle of abuse. We end the “hell” experience of abuse.
May we all learn to “love the hell” out of ourselves, both victim and perpetrator, so that duality and the hell experience shatters into a million pieces. The pieces will then be absorbed back into the light, the place from which all things came and will return. Amen.