On a scale, from most obviously harmful to most subtle, we have violent murder to quiet, implacable disapproval. In between we have, in random order, punching, kicking, slapping, shoving, handling roughly, verbally abusing, threatening, glaring at, mocking, humiliating, ignoring, demeaning, belittling, emotionally and physically withdrawing and many other techniques. Sarcasm and silence can both be deployed effectively to express displeasure, as can an uncompromising refusal to engage with the other person’s feelings, including the ever popular dead fish expression in response to the other person’s attempts to be funny. Silence might be the king of all of them, with its wonderful feature of complete deniability (as compared to, say, bashing somebody in the face in public no matter how much they may have seemed to deserve it).
My father, in most ways a wonderful human being, had been repeatedly physically abused and emotionally brutalized as a young child, by his own mother. He was a master at showing anger, employing numerous techniques from the in-your-face to the demonically subtle. As he was dying, literally on the last night of his life, he lamented, for the first time (after a lifetime of denying that childhood has anything to do with your adult life) that his life was effectively “over” by the time he was two years old. The next seventy-eight years was a determined exercise never again to experience the trauma of being humiliated, powerless, viciously treated. In his case a tiny, violent, ill-tempered religious fanatic mother had convinced herself, somehow, that whipping her first born in the face from the time he could stand was what God wanted. We all know that the Old Testament God is a vengeful diety, He told us so Himself, but fuck…
Anything that awakens a childhood trauma hurts well beyond the event that activated it. It is unsettling to find yourself, as an adult of many years’ experience, suddenly as vulnerable as a baby about to be mistreated again by an insane caretaker. It makes us feel coldly abandoned, particularly if done to us by somebody we love and trust. There is no end to the cycle of hurt and anger this provokes in us, unless we constantly strive to do the goddamned difficult work not to become enraged, intransigent, capable of doing things to others that we ourselves would suffer terribly if done to us.
On the other hand, of course, much easier to simply join an angry mob, under incoherent banners, to scream, pump your fist in unison, and let the fucking chips fucking fall where they may.
Easier is not always better, though.