I have a dear friend who grew up in a house with a raging alcoholic mother. While the normal response to such information is shock, pity, and empathy, you should understand that to her, the insanity was just another day at the office. Kids are survivors, and if your mother is crazy, you just adjust and cope. I am fond of saying of this person, if I had to parachute in behind enemy lines, she is the person I would choose to take with me. She knows how to handle adversity.
Since I had a somewhat similarly crazy set of parents, she and I had a lot in common. We would sit and have brunch and try to top each other with the most outrageous happenings from our respective childhoods.
We did share one other important common experience though. We had learned early on not to tell these stories in general public spaces to people who had grown up in somewhat normal functioning families. People who grow up in relatively normal homes, where at least one parent had a steady job, and there was generally heat and hot water and food, are simply not equipped to deal with stories of extreme emotional abuse and general neglect. Whenever either one of us made the mistake of going too far over the line and telling a story that was beyond the capability of our listeners, we would get what my friend called . . . “the look.”
“The look” was a moment when someone has simply been exposed to an idea of negative human interaction that was beyond their capability to handle.
Thus, for much of my life I have kept many of these wacky survival stories to myself, but lately I have discovered that my strange and wild childhood has rather magnificently equipped me to deal with the vicissitudes of modern American life. All the poverty and drug abuse and sexual abuse in our society has grown too large to be kept in the dark corners any more, and people who suffer from this kind of trauma have risen to high office. And now, far from being thrown off kilter, I feel like B’rer Rabbit in the briar patch.
Unfortunately, the average journalist sent out to cover and report on such people are, all too often, people with loving parents, and they try to use that template/ world view to comprehend something they can’t quite grasp, which is a person who in power is mentally disjointed. In this case, “the look” is a reaction of non-comprehension of this other person’s behavior. To deal with it, they will use entirely inappropriate tools, such as logic and requests for empathy. They will list the transgressions and the many flaws in this crazy person’s logic . . . and it is assumed this will serve to alter their bad behavior, when in fact such bad behavior is designed to override and confuse, and it does so with great success.
So as a public service, and I want to thank Alice Miller for most of this, for those of you whose parents were not insane, here is a quick primer in how to deal with crazy people in power:
1) First of all, before you try to make any sort of change or argument, bear in mind that until this crazy person sits down and consciously faces the truth of all the trauma that was visited upon them, nothing, and I do mean nothing, will change. You have 3 choices: you can become/remain a victim, you can become a similar perpetrator, or you can become a healer. Bear in mind, systems cannot be changed from within; you have no power to change your relationship with them unless you first leave that relationship.
2) Understand that loyalty to the parents who did the abuse is an overwhelming force here, and the victim of the trauma will protect their grandiose cover story myth of the abusers with extreme passion.
3) Be aware of what Alice Miller called the Re-enactment Syndrome. The idea here is, if someone suffered some sort of abuse, they will, as adults, re-enact what happened to them, either as victims or as the perpetrator. Remember all those priests who abused little boys? It is thought that 90% of them had all been molested as children. They were not being randomly cruel and perverse by conscious choice; they were trying to find their way back to their true self re enacting the trauma. Only if you view their behavior in this way can you find logic in it. And head-on logical arguments are useless against it. Instead, the damaged soul must be found and healed.
4) Again, recalling Alice Miller, people who suffer from such extreme trauma often get taken up in what she called grandiosity. Rather than accepting the reality of where they are, they seek to put on an act of grandiose glamour or status.
5) Understand the basic elements of shame states. Our preferred healthy way of being is to feel strong bonds of connection with other people. If this is lost, the result is a “shame state.” People who find themselves in shame states seek a kind of substitute form of connection by achieving higher rank than others, mainly by achieving power. And part of the deal is making people with less power suffer, to remind all others that this power is possessed. The sadism is a replacement for contact and intimacy.
5) And this last is my own contribution, I call it “Justin’s Rule of Opposites.” This means, when a person has escaped from their inner reality, most of their denial consists of the exact opposite of reality. For example, if they are stealing money, they will exclaim that everyone else but them is stealing money. If they are incompetent, they will claim that they are the only one who is competent.
In conclusion, I certainly laud and admire people who protect their children from crazy people, and I am of course endlessly envious of people who had loving parents who fed them and supported them and provided mature emotionally stable role models. But at the same time, the children of such people have never had to develop skills in coping with traumatized people, and in the first meeting, the traumatized people always overwhelm . . . sort of like Hitler and the French army.
I hope this guide helps your decision making.
© Justin Locke