How Self-Negativity Gets Inflicted
When a person has a deep wound of self-negativity, sometimes they will try to “shield” their wound by constantly unloading their negativity onto the people around them.
The logic behind this is that “if I am the one doing the attacking, then at least others will not be attacking me”.
This gives you a sense of how desperately in pain this person must be, living in fear of further wounding, where he is like a drowning man, pushing others under, in a desperate effort to stay afloat himself. He needs to learn how to float on his own. He needs to learn how to swim.
The Buddhist Thích Nhất Hạnh has a wonderful quote on this:
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help.”
For the person doing the attacking, it is also an extremely expensive form of shield to deploy, because it corrodes one’s relationships, impoverishes their spirit and sinks them even deeper into the venom that they are trying to escape.
In this note, I would like to list a number of these attacking tactics, in the hopes that:
- If others try to do these to you (at home, at school or in the workplace), you can “see it coming” more clearly and deflect the attacks a little better.
- If you find yourself actually inflicting these on another person, you can maybe pause and find a better way of expressing and soothing your pain. Or even better, to step beyond the pain itself to healing the wound at its deepest source.
Blame is a powerful method of unloading self-negativity. This is the practice of taking a “bad thing”, no matter how trivial (“who forgot to unplug the toaster!?!?”), and assigning blame to someone, so that they are “pushed under” a little more.
The hallmark of this is when nothing can ever have “just happened randomly” — there always must be someone who did it, and the fault is always taken as a mark that there is something “wrong” with the person (“she’s always doing things like that — she’ll burn the house down someday!!!”)
Comparison-making is the act of taking one person and comparing them unfavorably to someone else, and pushing them under in the process.
“Why can’t you be more like _____?”
“Why don’t you take up a more prestigious career like _____?”
“Why aren’t you as tall as ______?”
The most vicious comparisons are the ones where (like your height, gender or ethnicity) you can’t actually do anything to change. They are inherent to who you are, and comparisons work to put you in state of identity shame.
Perhaps even worse are those comparisons which lead you to think you can do something to change them, but actually… you cannot. For instance, if you love music and the arts, then it just is what it is — it’s in you, it’s real, and it’s not going to just disappear as a matter of convenience. You may think, under extreme outside pressure, that you can go into the prestige and lucre of the law, suppress music, and still be fulfilled over the long-term, but this deception will only cost you time, suffering, and the loss of your true path.
Ridicule and Sarcasm
The person who is a font of harsh sarcasm has himself been the deep recipient of this same kind of attack, for a sustained part of his life — this is a very specialized kind of “self-negativity dialect” that is not natural, and so if you have it, you absolutely learned it from somewhere, typically in childhood.
The sarcasm attack presumes that “everyone else knows something that you do not (…you dumbass)”, and this is the extra edge of the pushing-under. There are a million other ways to say the same thing without sarcasm, even still with gentle humor and wit, but the ridiculer takes extra care to add the extra edge of sarcasm to push others under and keep himself afloat.
Control — excessive control — is often practiced by self-negative people in positions of authority — parents, teachers, managers, executives and the like.
Excessive control is a subtle way of expressing the inadequacy of the person being controlled: “I must control you to this extreme Nth degree, because there is obviously something wrong with you. And I am actually doing you a favor by controlling you so rigidly.”
It’s bad enough when this kind of demeaning control is inflicted by a person in formal authority over you — a manager at work for instance — in this case they are indeed a bad manager but… it’s nothing worse than that, and you can always quit.
But an excessive, wounding control is even worse when it is inflicted by a person who is supposed to be your equal and intimate, like a spouse or lover, or a close and trusted friend. Unlike the bad manager, this is not just a badly performed professional role, it is a deeper violation of a personal bond of intimacy and trust.
Physical abuse is the last resort of the self-negative person who feels all the pain and vulnerability of his wound, but who, on top of everything else, lacks the competence to unload his negativity onto another person, using any other method than brute, physical force.
This is why it is so uncomfortable to even be in the same room with a person who is committing this kind of abuse, even if it is toward someone other than yourself — you get the feeling in your gut that you are in the presence of a person so desperate, and so deeply incompetent, that humanity itself is offended — such that the entire room — and everyone in it — is put into a kind of collective shame.
Image enforcement is the idea that a person must conform to a rigid outer image, or else be put into shame.
For instance, certain subcultures of men will enforce a certain way of “being a man” amongst themselves, and ridicule and belittle those who violate the template.
Conforming to a certain kind of image will also be a kind of collective shield against further shaming. There will be a kind of unspoken agreement that “as long as you conform and are ‘like us’, you will be a little safer from shaming.” This can happen on sports teams, in the workplace, within social groups and even within families.
Silence enforcement is a kind of control where there is a taboo topic deemed shameful to the entire group, and silence is enforced around its discussion. This is another kind of unspoken agreement that “as long as you never discuss this topic, you will be a little safer from shaming.”
This is most common at the family level, where there is often some “family secret” that is deemed shameful, and around which absolute silence is harshly and desperately enforced, both inside and outside the family. It could be around a family member’s alcoholism or drug addiction, deceptive or even criminal behavior, or the truth about a past humiliation or financial loss.
This kind of silence enforcement drives the family further towards being a “rules-driven” family, where there are harsh rules around avoiding taboo topics — but where the rules themselves can never be explained openly (because of the enforced silence), and which are never even openly declared, so that kids will feel intense tension and shame around a certain topic, but never even realize why. They will also discover, very quickly, that they are shamed and punished for even asking about it.
Contempt is the phenomenon of attempting to unload one’s own deep-seated self-negativity, in the form of hostility and disgust, onto not just an individual person, but an entire classification of person, as a whole.
Racism, sexism and homophobia are all examples of contempt as a method of this kind of unloading of negativity off of oneself and onto a perceived “other”.
This kind of attack, like the others, emerges from a place of deep suffering and desperate inner weakness on the part of the attacker. This particular form is especially repulsive, however, because it completely dismisses the unique merits of any individual person, and lumps all people of a given category into one dehumanized whole.
Contempt of this kind is an offense against the uniqueness and individual value of all people, regardless of “kind”, and is one of the most crippling manifestations of a deep inner wound of shame and self-negativity.
Thank you for reading this far, I hope this summary has been helpful and I’m sure by now you are ready for some happier reading. :)
The good news is that the inner wounds that cause these kinds of attacks can be powerfully self-healed, with the right collection of tools and insight. I will start to describe some of these in a separate note.
I’d also love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this note. You can comment and reply here, or email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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