On violence, boundaries and the child within us
Reflections on the Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
Today we reflect on the theme of violence. It is a special day – the Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We are excited. Something in us is rising up and we want to be active. It feels a bit like March 8 when we think about the political dimensions of the holiday. And as much as it makes us happy that there is a day like today’s one, it also makes us sad that we need a day like this. Internationally.
We were born and raised in a country that hesitated to ratify the Istanbul Convention, a legal framework that aims to protect the vulnerable – women and children – from violence. We still have much, much work to do. But let us leave the politicians aside. We keep asking ourselves – what is up to us. And we are reflecting on that today.
Violence has many aspects
The topic is so all-encompassing. It all starts with what we even mean by violence. The broader our idea of violence, the better. To fight something, we first need to know what it is. And to recognise it adequately. Narrow definitions lead to us at some point accepting things as normal if they are “not that bad”. But violence for us begins where the slightest personal boundary is crossed. And it can be verbal and mental, not just physical as we are used to thinking of it. But sensing when a boundary of ours has been crossed is as difficult as suddenly swimming without prior training. Once upon a time, we could do it. But experience has taught us not to feel.
Violence persists as we take it for granted
Yet – how is it that we accept violence as normal? It has lived with us, in the memory of our own body, from a very early age on. Or in the quiet life of everything we saw as on filmstrip in our imaginations, when we listened to the stories of the people whose affection we depended on most while growing up. Mom’s story. Auntie’s. Grandma’s. Of her grandmother and great-grandmother. Dad’s story. The one of his father. And his grandfather’s.
Who among us could claim that none of these significant others has experienced violence in their lifetime? And it does not disappear with the death of our loved ones. In some mystical way, it lives on in their children, and then in their… It is as if violence experience is desperately searching for that body and mind that will finally break the vicious cycle. Will break the chains of this inner prison. Will overcome its own aggression that has arisen as a response to its own violated body and soul. Or overcome the victim consciousness and stand up for itself.
Sometimes violence is invisible
Violence is like a shadow. It is also dangerous when it is invisible. Or when we are blind to it. When we are manipulated and show behaviors we don’t want to show but can’t stop ourselves from doing so – out of fear. When we become codependent from others who drag us into their own emotional regulation. Into their own movie where we always owe them something. In which they always depend on our sympathy. On our help. On something of ours that we supposedly owe them. Sadly, sometimes it’s our own grown-up children. Our own spouses. Siblings. Parents. How hard it is to love the truth more, than the desired image, and ourselves – more than anyone else. To be able to help ourselves out when they harms us, be it those closest to us. If only we knew what a chance for growth we‘d give to the others when we cease to play our role in their plot.
Sometimes the bully is ourselves
And this truth is bitter. The biggest war we fight is with ourselves. We direct the strongest hatred in us at our own shortcomings. To the unfinished, the unresolved, the imperfect in us. To our unhealed wounds. And how would we reproach another if they treated someone the way we only treat ourselves.
We also violate the other pole in us. As women, we suppress the masculine in us, and refuse to fully live our strength and power as much as our receptivity and tenderness. As men we suppress the feminine in us, the softness, the openness, and try to compensate for it all with action, with dominance, with reason alone. Instead of allowing them to dance along and allow us to grow – internally and in our relationships with each other.
We also carry violence within us when we twist ourselves – just to be “good”. When, in order to maintain some fictional image of what we must be to deserve to exist, we swallow that clear NO we feel within us and cannot find the strength to speak it. When we let others do with us what they will because we are “good”. No one can be all “good”- sometimes we have to disappoint others in order to stay true to ourselves. We can only be good when we are ourselves. Then love for others remains alive in us. When we break ourselves, we project the betrayer of our own self onto the one for whom we sacrificed, and the hatred towards that person begins living within us, whether we show it or not. It destroys both us and our relationships. Or one day makes our body sick. We are good when we are real. When we can say yes and no. And love ourselves equally in both cases.
We also bring violence into our communication
We grew up with it – we have been compared to others, we have been told what we deserve and what we don’t. We have been qualified – as this, or that. And each person is a universe, an individuality that doesn’t want to be compared to anyone else in this world. Each of us is a dynamic that is different every day, not a static creature. And when we’ve grown up with that kind of language, it’s easy to keep passing that kind of violent communication on – like a virus we can’t shake. Unless we break the chain ourselves.
No one is to blame. We are all responsible
The key is in us. Instead of blaming the other person the next moment when a wave of discontent rises in us, let us ask ourselves quietly, as Marshall Rosenberg advises:
What emotion am I feeling at this moment? Anger? Sadness? Pain? Disappointment?
Where in my body do I feel it?
What need of mine remains unmet?
The very intention to seek answers to these questions calms the nervous system and helps us regulate our emotions. Helping them transform and help us move forward with constructive steps. Not to suppress them. But to use them as a compass to show us what the right direction is. To formulate a request and express it – how would we like to be treated in the future?
And, the hardest but most honorable part of this process – to be willing to accept another’s freedom. He or she may or may not want to, may or may not be able to fulfill our request. And let us be able to allow them that freedom.
If boundaries are endangered – we have to leave
And when the boundaries of our mental skin – or our true bodily limits – are not respected, we should leave or seek help as soon as possible if the situation threatens us or we cannot find it in ourselves to display the behavior we believe is appropriate in a violent situation of any type. We should not harbour hope where it plays a bad joke on us. Hope that in time the person will change. The only good hope is that we will be able to break free. To leave. Despite the love in our hearts – sometimes just for those who don’t respect our boundaries. Despite the insecurities. Despite the fear. With them – with the love, with the insecurity, with the fear inside of us, and with the little scared girl inside of us to take by the hand and to forever lead out of the threat.
If for nothing else, at least because when it first tasted the bitterness of violence, there was no one to take it by the hand and help. It had no one – that time. Today, it has you. And you can rewrite its story, and all of us have that debt to the child we were.