The anger that has resulted from the invasion of Indian country has been festering in our communities for many years and its mismanagement has caused enormous suffering. This suffering is even more devastating when we take into consideration that the ones who are afflicted by it – and the ones who have died from it – are our own people. Our mismanaged anger has become poisonous, and this poison is destroying our community. It is urgent that we understand how this emotional poison works and find ways to purge it from our hearts and our communities. With this vision of wellbeing in mind I share these reflections born out of my work in Indian country.
Emotional hurt, the equivalent of a physical injury, can become an emotional wound. Like a physical injury, emotional wounds can become infected. Then, we pollute ourselves with toxic emotions that jeopardize our health and our relation with the world.
The victim of abuse, who remains in denial, tends to develop a double block. On one side, they block their inner-sensation of distress. On the other, they block their relation with the external world. They tend to exist in an “emotional limbo.”
In some extreme cases, victims of sexual or physical abuse tend to experience themselves “outside of their bodies.” They tend to take refuge in their role as an “observer” and they experience distance within themselves, as if they are viewing another person. They view themselves primarily as a “mind” and incidentally as a “body.”
Denied pain tends to adopt the form of protection (overweight, protective body-posture), emotional distance or blocking, or a lack of boundaries.
Unresolved pain tends to block the relation of the self with the world. Individuals in this predicament are distancing themselves from an overwhelming pain. This pain can be a product of a loss of a loved one or loss of a relation. Then, when new relations tend to unfold, the previous unresolved pain gets in the way and blocks their way into a new bonding.
Emotionally they are still stuck and unable to let go. Still, they are not effectively in touch with their pain, but have turned their pain into a frozen emotion that acts as a coffin between them and others.
Emotional isolation tends to be the trend of their existence, and it will continue to be so as long as the pain is denied. They have done a regression. They have gone way back into their development and live in the uterus world. But they are not in the womb of their mother. They have made a womb out of the pain that surrounds them, and in such state they go through life like an unborn-creature, like a creature that has not yet taken the challenge of life to be present and work their way back through their pain into the world.
The person that has suffered abuse and has not overcome it tends to become abusive. This abuse can be directed toward him or herself, others, or both. When this abuse is directed toward oneself, then the person tends to become and play the role of a victim. When the abuse is directed toward others, then the aggressor becomes a physical or emotional batterer, and tends to victimize others. In both cases, a dysfunctional environment of abuse becomes “normal.” This is the paradox: As long as deep seated pain remains unattended, the individual who has not dealt effectively with his or her pain, will cling to this system, because this individual has developed the psychological aberration to either suffer or to inflict pain. If an individual exposed to abuse has not developed a healthy functional life, then all of his or her skills have to do with coping with pain either by taking it all in or by inflicting it on others. This coping mechanism tends to become second nature, and if we refuse to work with this pain and “grow-up,” then we will continue using the skills that we have developed in order to cope with it, we will continue with the frozen character that we built for ourselves in order to survive, and we will continue to be trapped in this dynamic of abuse.
Unmanaged anger tends to accumulate within us and, eventually it has to go somewhere. Once it reaches our psychological level of containment it spills. Some individuals have learned to manage the overflow of anger by releasing it to their environment. This accumulation of anger gives the individual a low tolerance for frustration, and little room for empathy and compassion. Compassion is the ability of the individual to empathize with others suffering. When we are not in touch with our own suffering, we are trapped in the vicious cycle of tension-accumulation of anger-release, then we become inflexible and merciless with others. We let them have our anger, and we seek their moments of vulnerability to unleash on them the demons that grow within us. Once we have developed this coping mechanism, then we tend to focus on the negative aspects of others, then we need to find a target for our anger.
Unmanaged anger becomes floating hostility, a psychological arrow in search of a target. This target can very well be in the present, but, just in case that it is not there, then we make use of the past, and we relive it in the present as long as it provides us with an outlet for our accumulated anger.
Under the influence of floating hostility, people tend to bring up their shields and become defensive. A closed-character becomes the “social character” that is, the common character of our community.
With the prevalence of floating hostility, mild forms of hostility become the rule in the way people interact with each other.
Children are the most vulnerable members of the community. This vulnerability makes them easy targets for the abuse of others, particularly the adults in their immediate environment.
Trust, an essential need in the development of the child, is greatly determined by the behavior of the adults in the life of the child. Children interact with the wider world through their parents or mentors. When adults abuse a child, then the whole phenomena of “trust” is affected and filters all subsequent relations.
Neglect, deprivation of attention or affection, can induce severe deformities in the character of a child. A child who has undergone extreme experiences of physical or emotional abuse tends to have difficulties in processing attention and affection. The harshness that they have built around them can lead them to experience anxiety and feelings of inadequacy while dealing with appreciation.
(Continued in Part Two)
Roberto Dansie is a clinical psychologist. In 1997 he received the golden medallion from the National Indian Health Board for his contributions to health in Indian country. He lives in northern California.