LIST OF PRIZE WINNERS and SUMMARY ARTICLE with LINKS TO THE WINNING ESSAYS — 2015
LIST OF PRIZE WINNERS:
Those winning the prize of Honorable Mention are, in alphabetical order:
C. M., USA
Sarthak Meher, India
Ioana Meșterelu, Romania
Cassie Monae, Trinidad and Tobago
The essays this year can be classified into
1) personal inner reports
2) discussions of Emotional Abuse from an external point of view.
Both have value.
I think some readers might benefit from reading two of the reports from people who have experienced emotional abuse, who, as it were, have been in the eye of the storm.
Curious readers who have never experienced severe emotional abuse may, by reading these essays, have a chance to catch a glimpse of what the experience is like from the inside.
Also, it is a strange psychological phenomenon that we can suffer emotional abuse and never be aware of it. It is hoped that reading these two reports might help those of us who are unaware in this way come to a new awareness of ourselves.
Finally, these two emotionally intense reports can show why it can be so very difficult to become healed from deep emotional abuse. No slogan or A-B-C answer can go deep enough. Psychotherapy itself, even if it can be an answer in some cases, is not easy answer. And, as this first essay shows, if there is an answer through a deep religious experience, it is not necessarily straightforward. (click here for the essay of C. M.)
I think C. M.’s essay and also essay by Cassie Monae (click here) indicate another aspect of what it is to be abused. What I want to say here is true for all suffering, but I am speaking specifically about Emotional Abuse: There can be a positive side. To echo Nietzsche’s thoughts, if we are not destroyed by that which oppresses us, we can become deeper and better and more thoughtful people. The essays by C. M. and Cassie Monae indicate a depth of feeling and thought that is, I think, unusual.
C. M.’s essay can lead to very deep thoughts about religious experiences, as it contains an event that Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli referred to as Synchronicity (Meaningful Coincidence). When people have what feels to them like a very meaningful coincidence, it can shake them up on a profound level and lead to a deepening of their thinking and understanding about the forces at work in determining the course of a life.
The essay by Cassie Monae, on the other hand, points to a widening of ethical feeling beyond the ordinary as well as a broadening of feelings of social responsibility. That essay indicates how a person who is suffering terribly might link with another in the same situation and form a bond of mutual respect and desire to help. This gives a wider meaning to ones own suffering and can lead to a life spent helping others and a life experienced from a more ethical dimension than is usual.
Of course, as we know, pointing out a possible positive side in suffering, does not mean there is no suffering and no pain. And suffering can, for some, have no meaning, and lead only to negatives. (It is probably true to say that each one of has a limit to the suffering we can bear). I think the two essays just presented show more than pain from Emotional Abuse and more than the difficulty of a complete cure. I think they show how persistent the abused mindset can be. In both of the above inner reports, the painful situation occurred in childhood, but we can see that the feelings and thoughts of the child are there, unchanged, in the adult. The abuser can be long gone or even dead, and we can still feel the same expectations we had when they were around.
The External Point of View
This last point is one of those made in the essay by Sarthak Meher although expressed in the form of an external report on the effects of abuse. In his essay, Sarthak points out, among other things, how a person sensitive to being ignored or ridiculed, can enter a classroom and misread the feelings of fellow students.
Those who are Dependent
All this lends more significance to the objective data that emotional abuse is, perhaps, most difficult to deal with in childhood when we are learning in leaps and bounds what to expect in the world.
In addition to other factors, children, especially young children, are all but helpless. Children may be one hundred percent dependent for their survival (food, clothing, shelter) on the very people who are emotionally (and possibly physically) brutal to them. If there is a way out, they can’t see it. Maybe they can imagine it or dream of it, but it isn’t real. This is how things are. Period.
Even when a person is older, if they are financially dependent on another person with no perceived way out, they are all but prisoners at the mercy of the other person. This can be a wife who is dependent on her husband (or a husband dependent on his wife) or a worker dependent on his or her boss (or co-workers) or an elderly person dependent on his or her caregiver or a prisoner in a jail or a citizen dependent on the government. In these cases, if the person is a rational adult with at least a little bit of courage and with some social support, it is often possible to discuss the situation and to help the person figure out a way to escape or handle the difficult situation and to develop enough power to stand on their own two feet within a supportive community that values freedom and dignity. When an abused person feels strong, the abuser often stops abusing.
Since we are all dependent on others, we are all subject to abuse. Even bosses, looked at from one angle, are dependent on their employees.
Blaming the Victim
One point made in the essay by Ioana Meșterelu is that it is very easy for those on the outside to blame the victim. This is a difficult problem to understand and to solve. It is worth taking a moment to try to figure out why.
It seems to me that each of us suffers abuse at least to some extent, probably every day. At the same time, we each differ in our ability to fend it off or successively absorb it. Some of us, for whatever reason, are very sensitive, and some have, what my grandfather called “a thick skin”. If we are sensitive, we might marvel at others who seem never to get upset about anything. And we might feel inferior (which, in turn, can eat at us). On the other hand, if we see someone more sensitive than us respond emotionally to a situation that seems like nothing to us, we can wonder why they are making such a big deal about what amounts to nothing. We can give advice such as, “Why not just forget it?” that can only serve to irritate the other person and make them feel worse, and we can become surprised to find out that the other person has come to see us as an abuser. If we say, “Why are you being so sensitive?”, they see this as heaping abuse on abuse. We don’t see it. We are just being objective and, it seems to us, trying to be helpful.
All of us can be placed somewhere on this Scale of Sensitivity: Some are more and some are less sensitive than us. Sensitivity is a relative concept. But it’s not so simple, because we can be sensitive to one thing and not another, and our individual sensitivities as well as our overall sensitivity can change over our lives. But, still, the Scale of Sensitivity can be a useful concept. It can, for one thing, help us see that we are less sensitive than some and more sensitive than others. We can feel and be upset by the relative insensitivity of others to us, just as we can be, at the same time, insensitive to the sensitivities of others.
We can even be insensitive to ourselves. We can, right or wrong, agree with our adversary’s view of us. We can see ourselves as lazy or untidy or stupid and beat ourselves up. As pointed out in many of the essays, this can immobilize us. We may feel we will never be able to find a better relation, because everyone will see how bad we are. We can get locked into a hopeless goal of trying to please the one who is judging us. We are now our own unforgiving enemy.
The Abuser (from the Inner and the Outer Points of View)
Abusing is the other side of the relationship that is Emotional Abuse. We have talked about the victim. It is time to say a little about the abuser.
One of the things pointed out by both of the objective essays (as well as many of the essays that were not given a prize), is that the abuser is often unconscious of being an abuser.
I already said that many who are abused aren’t aware of it. It may be connected to whether or not the person has enough knowledge of life to know there are other ways of being together.
But it can be deeper, I think. Remember back to the first two essays and the feeling of being abused. Imagine being an adult and still feeling the same way. Then image someone being mean to you. Now you are an adult. You don’t have to take it. In fact, you may have vowed not to take anything from anybody anymore. So you stand up to the other person. You get angry. Even if you don’t strike out physically, you strike out with words. You feel good when you see the other person upset and crumbling. You feel strong and brave. You are proud of yourself. What you don’t realize is that you are an adult now and that the person you just yelled at was, in the situation we are imagining, vulnerable and looked up to you. You have just become an abuser! And at the very moment you thought you were being a hero! Say the other person is your son or daughter and is six. We all know that little kids can say the craziest and meanest things, partly because they heard it from others (maybe from you) or that they are trying out new behavior or because they don’t yet know right from wrong, but to batter them down and to yell at and to lecture them and try to control and punish may not be the best approach, both from the point of your own feelings of love and self-respect and from the point of view of teaching an open and vulnerable child.
If we are tired or feeling overwhelmed or both and are trying to concentrate and deal with one of many problems facing us in order to escape from failure, and someone interrupts with something not on point, we may lash out and feel justified. “How can they not see how important this is?!” “How can they be so disrespectful to my time and space and to my project?!” “How trivial are their concerns compared to mine?!” “Why can’t they see what I’m going through?!” And again we can feel proud of ourselves for sticking to our purpose and not being pushed around or seduced away from our critically important goals by those who can’t understand us and who probably don’t want to. But do we care about them? Do we see their vulnerability and how our words and thoughts and feelings are affecting them within their inner life? What if we are physically bigger than them, and they are dependent on us? Maybe they are our child, maybe our spouse, or maybe they work for us. Or maybe we are in the police force or a soldier or a governmental figure or a judge. And we can’t forget that bosses and soldiers and judges are people top who can and do feel abused as much as any of us.
There is something to be said for being a loner and going our own ways, but there is also something to be said for trying to get along with others, develop friends, and even to have a group of friends, a circle of friends. We all know what it can feel like to be outside a group, especially an “in” group, but, what we tend not to see, is how our own attitudes and actions can prevent us from getting into some groups. Of course there are groups that exclude us because of our religion or because of our race or nationality, and this is a different story, but many groups would accept us if we weren’t so unpleasant towards them. And maybe we just don’t want to give in and change and work at changing and going along with the crowd. But, let’s say we go the extra yard and work at fitting in to some group, and let’s say we succeed, and then we turn back and look at someone outside the group who wouldn’t change, we can look down on them. Especially if we think they are secretly feeling superior to us or are blaming us for not including them. They are angry and feeling superior, and we feel abused, and so we laugh at them or appear snobby. This type of abuse is cured by awareness.
Or, in trying to fit in, we may cement our attempt by putting down others, so we will appear to be fitting in and to convince ourselves and others we have turned our back on our old ways. Perhaps this is natural and a stage we go through, but it doesn’t seem good. It can be cured by awareness and time and the desire not to be like this.
If we have had an experience or an insight that has changed our lives, it is almost humanly impossible to resist trying to show it to others. But it is one thing to share the experience or insight with someone who is interested and wants to hear it, and another thing to try to force it on someone who has no interest. This attempt to convince can start out as badgering but can turn into other forms of forcing a person to behave and think the way we think is good for them. We can get very angry if they don’t go along. We can find ourselves feeling superior and seeing them as lower and as unworthy. Some find it useful in this sort of situation to ask ourselves 1) Are we as really as much changed as we think we are, that is, don’t we still have doubt about this Absolute Truth we are forcing on others? 2) Are we acting out of a true ethical feeling and desire to help or are we just angry and weak and disrespected at not being recognized as the authority we think we are? and 3) Are we really happy being aloof and superior and outside the group? Wouldn’t we, perhaps, welcome the warmth and friendless of the human family and is this bad?
As many essayists pointed out, emotional abuse may be a conscious way of controlling someone else. Cases such as these are the best argument for laws against emotional abuse.
This is not a complete list of how we might become an abuser. There are probably as many reasons as there are people. The interested reader will do his or her own research.
Abusers becoming Abusers
Both objective essays given above (and others that were submitted but that were not given a prize) discussed how abusers tend to, at times, become abusers. In cases where this may be true, it may be partly due to our tendency to imitate. Some families are rougher than others. They let out anger more to each other, both physically and verbally. Other families are more polite and don’t hit or yell and have other ways of handling anger. If we are raised in one type of family it is hard to even imagine that there are other types in the world. We are born into our family, and it never occurs to us that there is another way to act. And, if we have limited perspectives, we may simply continue the practices we learned when we start a new family.
And some cultures seem to be more violent than others. Everyone feels angry at times, and how we deal with it is partly determined by what we have learned.
The Genetic Factor
And, as pointed out by Ioana Meșterelu, our genetic makeup probably pushes us in one direction or the other. Some people get more angry and quicker than others: They are more explosive and have shorter fuses. Controlling oneself may be more difficult for those of us in this category. Here again though, it is all a matter of degree.
Another possibility that every psychologist has seen is if you are not happy with something you are feeling, instead of becoming aware of and accepting who you are and dealing with it, you strike out at others. (Seeing in others what you can’t see in your self = Projection). A man is attracted to a woman and can’t accept this and strikes out at the woman and criticizes her way of dressing and her flirtatiousness and tries to control her. In this way he tries to control himself. Another man has homosexual feelings and laughs at homosexuals and/or tries to punish them in some way. Self-abuse expresses itself as abuse of others. This does not seem like the best way of dealing with such situations.
How Widespread is Emotional Abuse?
I introduced the concept of a Scale of Sensitivity. It turns out that we are all sensitive at times and insensitive at times. Probably every day each of us is abused and each of us is an abuser, at least to some extent and to someone. We can be reacting out of a feeling of being abused and, at the exact same time, be abusing. And this helps us understand why statistics the say that ninety percent of children are abused may seem jarring and overstated. It depends on how we define abuse. It can be everywhere, all the time, or fairly rare, depending on how we define it.
Many feel that state intervention (or perhaps the intervention of the United Nations) can help prevent Emotional Abuse (and other forms of abuse). No doubt there is something to this, but it also seems true that trying to force someone not to abuse is not necessarily that easy, especially if they are not aware they are abusing or have a different definition of abuse than we do. And there is a danger of the big organization itself becoming an abuser, always watching and interfering in the lives of both the guilty and the innocent. In addition, the kind of attention needed to monitor and enforce can be very time consuming and costly. But this solution, I think, needs to be explored.
I mentioned how hard it is to come to a deep and complete cure for Emotional Abuse, but the situation is a little more complex than this. We can feel abused by parents, government, children, caregivers, teachers, corporations, and even by nature itself or by a god (if we believe in a god). And we are probably, at least to some extent. None of us are accepted completely for who we are. (Even nature doesn’t tolerate all our behaviors.) If it is too great an oppression, we will buckle and collapse and even die, (and even the strongest of us has a limit). But, if it is not enough, we can become spoiled and go around the world thinking we own it. For those of us who have survived this long and are thriving to some extent, we have to proceed, it seems to me in the following manner:
First, we have to become and to be willing to become conscious of just how sensitive we are and when and to what, and we also have to become conscious of how we respond to our sensitivities.
Second, we have to be willing to try to deal with situations that are difficult for us in a rational and ethical manner, and we must, if possible, take the time to give these matters serious thought. We need time to think and to discuss this with others in a similar boat and even with those who aren’t, unless this will get us in deeper trouble.
Third, we must strive for independence in so far as we are capable of it and to help others strive for their independence.
And finally, we do have to be aware that solutions can come from the outside, not only from other people but also from within but from outside our own limited perspective and ego. It is possible that experiences can come to us that cast new light on our problems and lift us into another dimension, at least for a moment. When we return from this “journey” we see things a little differently, our pain may be a little less, we may behave more sensibly and more completely and competently in our world. For most of us, this is not a one time, once and for all, thing, and it can feel horrible to lose the feeling and to have to start all over again at what feels like square one. But, it seems to me, and it has seemed to other psychologists, that progress can be made, on a personal level, and, perhaps, with humanity as a whole. Here, as elsewhere, it may be a case of having to fall back one step to move ahead two.
To all who submitted an essay: Thank you!
The Judges would like again to thank everyone who submitted an essay and the sincerity and thought we found in them.