This month, for our book club selection, I read Bonds that Make Us Free: Healing Relationships, Coming to Ourselves, by C. Terry Warner. This book is a life-changer.
Because I was reading a copy that belonged to Kathleen (my friend in the club who chose this book), I was not able to mark or highlight the pages the way I was itching to. Instead I jotted down what I felt were the most important points in the book; most of it verbatim. And it turned into quite a long post! I will probably just end up purchasing this book, as I think everyone in the world should.
At any rate, for anyone who has every quarreled, been hurt or offended, held a grudge, or felt they should be happier, (in other words, everyone) here's what this book is all about.
Self-betrayal occurs when we go against our personal sense of how we ought to be and act. (e.g., You notice that the car is almost out of gas. You instinctively feel you should fill the tank so your spouse won't have to tomorrow. But you don't.). It's less about right vs. wrong (because we can twist those concepts to work in our favor), and more about listening to the light that is inside of us, and the personal obligations we feel towards each other, soul to soul. "Sin is anything you cannot do wholeheartedly."(Baal-Shem)
Self-betrayal puts us "in the box." Living in the box means being convinced that other people and our circumstances are responsible for our feelings and our helplessness to overcome them. This leads us to start blaming and making excuses in order to rid ourselves of responsibility. We become self-absorbed.
When we betray ourselves, we undergo a transformation. By seeing others suspiciously, accusingly, or fearfully, we ourselves become suspicious, accusing, or fearful. By no longer seeing them with care, delight, and generosity, we cease to become caring, delighted, and generous. The kind of people we are cannot be separated from how we interpret the world around us.
After self-betrayal, we act in an I-It manner towards others--seeing them as objects who exist for our use/our own agenda. They can be obstacles, vehicles, or irrelevant. The term I-It is one word because the way we see others is inseparable from how we, ourselves, are. If we are thinking of others as real persons, with genuine concern for who they are, we are in an I-You manner. (This concept comes from Martin Buber)
Three aspects of the self-betrayer's conduct:
- accusing others
- excusing oneself
- displaying oneself as a victim
We can't feel justified in withholding kindness from others (kindness which we know, deep down we should be giving, hence the self-betrayal) unless we find, or invent, some reason why they deserve it.
When we are in the box, our behavior will put others on the defensive, and they will be in their own box. Both of us will view words and actions in a skewed way, and the offenses and self-defenses will go around and around (which the author calls collusion).
Once we betray ourselves, accuse others, and box ourselves into the victim's role, we no longer see things the way they really are. In self-betrayal, our moral sense or conscience becomes untrustworthy. In the darkness of our self-absorbed, suspicious thoughts and feelings, we cannot discern the way forward. Our conscience then serves to support the lie we're living.
Some styles of self-betrayal:
- Self-Assertiveness ("I need to look out for myself")
- Childishness (loudly complaining)
- Perfectionism (to convince self of worth)
- Self-Disparagement (This one is the most difficult to recognize; the person says "I'm just not any good," using it an excuse, a strategy for evading responsibility)
When self-betrayers accuse others and make themselves miserable, they don't do it maliciously. A real fear motivates them--a real fear of something that is not real (e.g., fear of being a monster, or fear of being condemned by others). If we understand how threatening the world seems to them, we will set ourselves free of our accusing, judgmental attitude. Understanding self-betrayal and self-victimization can soften our accusations of others, open us to acceptance of their efforts, and enable us to let go of our accusing attitudes and emotions.
As long as our hearts are wrong, we can't do right. Going through the "right" motions while we still have self-betrayal in our hearts will fool no one. Other people are not taken in by our self-deceived, counterfeit actions.
How to get out of the box
We must let ourselves be affected by light coming from others, or in other words, by the truth concerning what they are feeling (rather than our skewed assumptions about their motives). In order to do this, we have to be in an I-You mentality, because once we stop thinking about ourselves, we open ourselves to be touched and humbled by the truth and reality around us. We need to:
- Be open and searching, and allow ourselves to be influenced.
- Ask ourselves, "Might I be in the wrong?" Simply by asking this question truthfully, we have already taken the first step out of the box. If we do not suspect ourselves of having been wrong, our search for what is right won't be completely sincere. The discovery that we are responsible for our troubles does not condemn us, but opens up a way of escape.
- Waive our demand for justice (we excuse them because once we focus on ourselves and our own faults, we no longer think they owe us anything)
- Live truthfully and considerately
- Let go of blame. Blame is the lie by which we convince ourselves that we are victims. It is the lie that robs us of our serenity, our generosity, our confidence, and our delight in life.
- Do the right thing. Not doing right when we know what's right is doing wrong. We should do the right thing in response to another's need with concern, compassion, or love. If we lack concern, compassion, and love, we should still do the right thing because it is right.
- Abstain from whatever ails you (criticism, anger, self-pity, self-disparagement). Treat those actions as addictions you must free yourself from.
Past relationships with others who were also inside the box (collusive relationships), can continue to influence us, sometimes without us being aware. We must trace our long-running emotional and attitudinal habits to their source, and root them out ("unfinished business"). Unless we do, we shall never fully get rid of current collusive relationships that afflict us. Our current emotional problems are the accusations we make of others now. They are not scars from the past, but actions in the present--actions of portraying ourselves as having been scarred in the past.
We cannot alter past events. We cannot take responsibility for things that happened to us. But we are responsible for the effect they have upon us--for the meaning we assign to them and the way we remember them. And we can learn and grow from them. Whether past pain blesses or crushes us is ours to decide. Tragic events in life can be extremely hard, bringing with them the worst human suffering. But they are not excuses. Blaming "the way we are" on events in our past is self-betrayal.
With this new view of what causes our hurt or offended feelings, we take a new approach to the concept of forgiveness.
- Forgiveness concerns our wrongdoing, not theirs (our failure to treat them as we ought, finding fault, or refusing to forgive them).
- Our act of forgiving consists of repenting of this wrongdoing of ours (ceasing to accuse)
- When we cease to accuse them, we cease to feel there's anything on their part that needs to be forgiven.
Instead of seeking the "good life," seek a "life of goodness." Our quality of life depends on the the choices we make, moment by moment, to do exactly what we sense is right toward all living things, including God. The most valuable personal characteristic we need to cultivate is a constant readiness to yield to the truth in all circumstances, no matter what the cost.