Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It Takes Evil to Know Evil

When I think about evil, if evil actually exists, I think Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and clowns. I don't think of children, not even disturbed teenage children.

Yet, when I was a teenager strung out on drugs and alcohol and generally getting myself into heaps of trouble, I was told I was evil . . . by teachers, administrators, police officers, and even my mother (and especially her church friends). Some people probably feel the label was/is deserved. My mother died believing I would burn in hell not only for my sins against her in my youth, but because I became an unrepentant secular Buddhist.

As near as I can tell, my teenage years, what I remember of them, were hell - there is nowhere else to go but up. I would not wish that degree of angst, that total lack of self-awareness . . . that pure all-consuming despair . . . on anyone.

Those years were hellish because I believed what those people said about me - I knew I was evil. So many people could not all be wrong, right? Plus, I had heaps of the Catholic guilt for all of the things I really had done - nothing horribly serious, but many destructive acts toward myself, other people's property, or worst of all, other people's feelings.

I internalized their disparaging label and adopted it as a core belief for many, many years.

I know how deeply a label can wound, how it undercuts anything and everything we do, we are, we believe we can ever be. The inner critic says, "After all, You are (I am) evil. What hubris in you (me) thinks you (I) ever deserve to be happy, to be successful, to be loved?"

After years of therapy and a lot of Buddhist practice, still there are remnants of that wounding, there are echoes of those old scripts that long since were rewritten and reframed. I do not really even believe in evil, but there are scars where those old beliefs once were festering wounds.

It is this experience from all those years ago that informed my response to a situation yesterday, although I did not get clear on it until I discussed it with a mentor this morning. So often things we (I) think have healed can be triggered - reactivated - by another human being having a similar experience.

This particular situation, for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with objective reality, involved someone who believes s/he is evil because of some of the things s/he has done (all of which the persona was forced to do). But for this person, for that 16-year-old part still lurking inside the adult, the sense of being evil is so overwhelming that death seems the only viable option.

In reality, this could be any one of my clients, any survivor of neglect, childhood abuse, emotional violence, sexual molestation, or a host of other interpersonal traumas. But yesterday, for whatever reason, it was this person.

In the time I spent with this person yesterday, something about the pain and despair touched that old scar within me, left me filled with deep sadness and compassion.

Why that person on that day? I don't know.

Or maybe . . . It takes evil to know evil?

What I do know is that having this new awareness of why that situation followed me home and weighed heavy on my heart allows me to connect with people in a deeper way, to be a better friend, a better partner, and hopefully a better therapist.

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