As I continue to blog about the body and what embodied spirituality means, it is an important and necessary stop along this journey to talk about physical abuse and physical violence. There are so many kinds that I won’t attempt to list them all, and many of them are actually encouraged and glorified in Western Society. Particularly for men, enduring pain and being able to inflict pain on others has often been considered a praise-worthy attribute. Consider all the big summer blockbuster movies; the superheroes aren’t inviting the villains to a peace negotiation process.
Clearly, using violence to create peace is a very deluded idea of how peace is created in the world. Violence only perpetuates more violence. Look at the raging violence in the Middle East and consider how many wars have been fought there. Do you think that killing or maiming someone’s brother ever makes that other person feel like befriending the killer? No. It does not, and it is deep medicine to heal those types of schisms. A missile can’t do this.
But while these are bigger examples of violence, there are tons of little instances that build themselves up until people are thoroughly bullied, beaten, and abused. From that pain, people often want to inflict pain on others as if they can get rid of their own pain that way. Furthermore, when we are mired in deep physical pain, it is much easier to ignore the physical suffering of others.
There is a way out of this pain, however, and this is what I’d like to talk to you about today.
Diagramming the Many Areas of Physical Violence
I think there’s a lot of confusion that somehow only women feel the brunt of physical abuse. They do not, but I am glad that people document the various abuses women have endured. It should also be noted that women also inflict physical violence on other women. I’ve had more than a few stories shared with me about mothers who have beaten their daughters. But for too long, the abuse of men has been considered a form of manliness. Yes, we have to toughen up our boys, or so the thinking goes. So if punishments in family households came down, a lot of times boys got the heavier hand. I’m sure that’s not always the case, but let’s be honest with ourselves about how our society views these things. Women aren’t generally expected to endure lots of physical pain. While it happens, the social belief is that hitting women is wrong. With boys, it can be quite the reverse.
As such, if boys get into fights, a lot of parents aren’t thinking about resolving the issues by helping the boys get better stress and coping skills or teaching them how to compromise and negotiate. Some of you are probably laughing because the above ideas sounds too silly. This is what social conditioning does to us, people. No, instead, we enroll our boys in karate and martial arts classes so they can fight back. We seem to believe that fighting is the ultimate conclusion to resolving many of our difficulties. Just look at how the U.S. handles international terrorism with its own kind of terrorism (detaining people without charges at Guantanamo Bay, torture, bombing areas with drones, invading countries like Afghanistan, and so on). Has this made people happier with the U.S.? Of course not. Do you think more people would like to someday send drones over the U.S. to bomb this country? You bet.
Violence does not work. It only creates more violence.
Sports and Violence
It seems like each year sports become a little more violent. Or perhaps the sports being promoted most are more violent. The UFC and ultimate fighting stuff seems to have caught on in the last decade, and American football is super popular here in the U.S. The highlights from those events are not high fives and hugs between the two opposing teams. No, people are shown giving or taking grueling hits, and the person who inflicts the worst hits are cheered for as someone else is knocked down or knocked out. This is not healthy, yet early on, our young boys are being brought up to play these types of sports. There’s some confusion about having testosterone and naturally wanting to fight or something. But regardless of how naturally aggressive this hormone (which women also have) makes anyone, much more of aggression is socially taught, especially through sports.
And not only is it taught, but it’s rewarded. If you give the huge knock out blow, you may see yourself on TV, and that kind of adulation and validation from other people can be quite addictive. Financial rewards tend to come with it too. Look no further than a lot of college sports and the athletic scholarships and rewards handed out legally and illegally (yes, I know not all sports are like that; I’m simply calling into question some of the ways that violence is rewarded).
It’s a quick downhill slide into more and more pain as boys grow into men. Physical pain stays in the body, and men’s bodies become more and more broken. The truth of the matter is that the person inflicting pain is still receiving it. Hitting another has an impact on your body as well as the other person, and so the two people become one in shared pain even though it seems like there is the giver and the receiver. Your body remembers all of this. If something is hurt too badly, that part of the body may never be the same the rest of a person’s life. Especially at the joints, many people are going to have all kinds of chronic knee, shoulder, ankle, and other pains their rest of their lives from all of this “recreational” violence.
Family Physical Abuse and Punishment
But as we drill down into this issue, we have to end up at the family and how children are raised. It’s not that long ago in the U.S. where it was widely considered okay to beat your kinds into obedience. Every now and then, I even hear a joke about a dad going to get his belt… It’s not funny.
Can you think about that? Can you think about how horrible it is to be a full grown adult beating a helpless child? Even if they are now teenagers, that’s terrible. It’s terrible at every step of the way. There is no time to take off your belt and whip a child. Yet this example and many others (spanking) have been done as a way to form “good habits?” Oh my goodness, this is sick thinking.
And of course, the old saying of, “Well, this is how my parents raised me” holds no water at all. Doing something wrong once doesn’t make it right with repetition. But this is often the nature of suffering. It is cyclical. It is learned. It is passed on one punch, kick, slap, and belt hit at a time, and this has created so many beaten and angry people who want to pass this pain on because it is all that they know.
Breaking Cycles With Education
In terms of childrearing, discipline, and setting appropriate boundaries, there are so many resources online and in books that you don’t have an excuse for not finding new behaviors to help your children grow up well. This is the power of education, and yes, it does take effort to learn new things and implement them. There is a lot of trial and error, but that is just how it goes. Part of the problem with this issue is like with many other issues–it is a familiar pattern. We tend to fall back into familiar patterns, and so it can seem like a great deal of effort to step out of an old issue. But this is an effort that is imminently worth making, so get to it.
Additionally, when we are still carrying physical abuse within us, we are still in a place where we want to act that out. You see, every punch you gave or received is living in your physical body memory. It is trapped energy that is also wound up with your emotional body. So there is probably a lot of sadness, fear, and anger (sadness that it happened, fear that it could happen again, and anger that you have all this pain) just trying to burst out of you. People don’t like dealing with all this inner upset, which leads people to all kinds of distracting and deadening methodologies. For many people, alcohol is that outlet. Drugs can be popular too. Anyway to numb out the pain that wants to come up, people can and have done it. As such, there’s going to be a learning phase that people have to go through to learn better coping mechanisms and to heal themselves.
Because when we don’t we keep passing that pain on to our children. We can’t keep fighting with others and going to war. The cycles of physical pain and suffering need to stop.
Hidden Physical Violence and Forgotten Memories
Sometimes, a person (often a child, but it could be a soldier or prisoner of war) is so badly beaten or wounded that the mind shuts down. They survive, but all the physical pain is trapped inside. The mind couldn’t handle what was happening, and even after the event is over, the whole of the scenario is blacked out from memory. It may be blacked out for years or a whole lifetime. Most people aren’t taught to heal pain and face severe physical trauma. It’s sad that anyone should have to face this kind of horrible trauma, but it happens…too much.
Because there is no way to access the memories, healing this kind of pain is exceedingly difficult. A lot of doubt and perhaps shame masks the memory, so the person won’t even look at it or believe the feelings that occasionally come up. On some level, a part of the person’s mind has made an unconscious decision to repress all aspects of this pain. Because of how severe it is, it’s my opinion that this can lead a person to more unhealthy forms of repression such as alcoholism. But the good news is that the body wants to heal. It wants all this darkness and dis-ease to come up. As such, helping someone to have the tools and build the confidence to handle the upset pain that will come boiling to the surface is key. If the person you were wasn’t ready and didn’t have the tools during the trauma, part of being able to bring back these forgotten events involves developing the tools and inner tenacity to face this inner horror.
It’s not fun. It is, however, rewarding and immensely freeing.
Turning Off to Violence
Interestingly enough, I was a big fan of American football for some time, but obviously, my viewpoint has changed. All I see now are people inflicting pain on each other. Whatever the benefit of organized sports, there are plenty of other sports that can be played that don’t so deeply damage the body. As such, I don’t watch that kind of violence. And this is part of the way I encourage you to help re-shape society. Don’t watch “entertainment” that focuses on violence. Don’t support conversations about how someone really “f’ed up” some other person or in any glorify violence. In general, pay attention to where you inflict or support violence.
This includes self-inflicted violence. People regularly hurt themselves in a whole variety of ways such as avoiding dealing with chronic pain, eating disorders, over-eating, and even how we exercise, inflicting pain on our bodies to achieve certain body ideals. There’s a lot of violence going on, and it’s time to turn off to those ideas and the media that support them.
New Kinds of Engagement With Conflict
To engage successfully with external conflict, we have to engage with our internal conflict. The subtle violence of the unconscious ego sows the seeds for physical violence. The more unhappy we are with ourselves, the more we are willing to participate in or allow physical violence around us. We have been immersed in a sea of pain. But since the external world will not change until we all change, we have to start with ourselves. It is the only sane thing to do, and I want you to consider the violence we inflict on ourselves as emanating from a lot of poor ideas. Being strong in the face of difficult emotions doesn’t mean shutting down. That is not being tough. That is being stupid. Yes, that sounds like a judgment, but if you want to enjoy life and stay in a space of love, shutting down will keep you in pain. “Tough it out.” “Man up.” “Don’t be a sissy.” All these sayings come from ideas that we have to endure pain. It, of course, is aimed at men, but let’s be honest: a lot of women have adopted this mentality too. As such, we have created a whole host of hard-hearted people, and that callousness makes it extremely difficult to deal with external conflict because in truth we are so deeply at war with ourselves.
These wars do not stay confined to ourselves, and for those who do go to war as soldiers, inner pain and trauma already within someone gets compounded upon during those tours of duty. However, healing from combat is profoundly important work, and it can’t just be medicated away. All this inner pain about things someone saw or had to do need to be addressed. Otherwise, people descend further and further into pain (such as PTSD) and then very likely into alcoholism, drug abuse, and other distracting and numbing activities.
The Way Out of Physical Pain Is the Way Through
Much like all healing, the way out is the way through. We learn to relax into physical pain as we experience it coming up. This is different than breaking a bone. We know to go to the doctor to get the bone set. But when the body starts to release pain that has been stuck in shoulders, hips, or wherever, we have to learn how to breathe through it. If we tense up, avoid it, or try to think it away, the issue remains. We continue to limp on through our lives. But if we have the courage to breathe into it and allow it its full expression, it can and does release. And the releasing of physical issues is an extraordinary and wonderful thing.
I don’t expect the physical bullying, beating, and abusing of others to stop overnight. I’d love it if it did. But I do know that we need more people who know how to release this trapped energy and pain. That’s where all of you come in. The deeper you can release whatever overt or subtle level of physical pain that may be trapped in you, the more you become an example to others. Which is badly needed. Until others see a way out of pain and other ways to resolve issues rather than inflicting more pain on others, we’re not going to get out of this mess. We’re going to continue to behave like monsters and commit atrocities on one another. But it doesn’t have to go that way. You don’t have to go that way, but it’s up to you to face your own inner demons and physical pains. If you do, then we’ve all just taken one more important step towards a healthier world community.