Sunday, February 19, 2023

It's not about being a doormat

    Hello, readers ... I'm back! I know, I haven't posted for a month and a half, since Epiphany. Well, in that time, I moved from Spain to France, and am still very far from settled in here. And I have a big, wide, deep blog post in progress, which will be out soon, I promise. But in the meantime, I was struck by something during Mass today, as I was zoning out on only halfway understanding the homily (because I only halfway understand French!). So I thought I'd sketch the idea out here without over-complicating it, so it can come out today, since it's related to today's Mass readings. 

    The readings are here (link). They are about loving your neighbor as yourself, even when they've hurt you; turning the other cheek; non-retaliation; loving your enemies. Turn the other cheek. It's a high bar. 

    Jesus says, in Matthew 5:39, "I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well." 

    And this can be really triggering, to someone who has been abused or victimized. It sounds like we're supposed to just roll over and take it, and, you know, we'll get our reward in the next life. 

    But I want to offer another way to think about this, that I think reflects Jesus's meaning more deeply. What, I think, we are meant to do when we are attacked or threatened, is to maintain our integrity. We're not meant to fight ... but also, we're not meant to react with any of those trauma responses, fight or flight, freeze or fawn.

    And why do I draw that conclusion? Because of the example of Jesus himself. He didn't fight back, and he prevented his disciples from fighting on his behalf when he was being arrested. He didn't flee: his disciples begged him not to go to Jerusalem at Passover, but he went anyway, because that was an important thing to do, and it's what he would have done if there hadn't been a bounty on his head. He didn't freeze: he stayed present and responsive all through the horrible situation. And he didn't fawn, refusing to play along with the authorities' efforts to frame the whole sordid scene in a way that would have twisted his message and example. 

    And yes, he was killed for it. And so were Gandhi and King, who followed the same principles and were likewise assassinated for it. But even though Indians and African-Americans still face oppression and injustice, I don't think very many people today would argue that their non-violent movements were quixotic or unfruitful. And nobody would call either of them a "doormat," even if they were martyrs.

    We're not all called to martyrdom (thank God!). But surely, we are all called to radical integrity? And sometimes, it can be really, really hard. Sometimes it can actually hurt.

    One of the things that's common among neurodivergent people is that we are very sensitive, very reactive. Also, especially with ADHD, we simply struggle a lot more with impulse control than do neurotypical people. And PTSD, whether the classic acute kind or the complex kind, likewise intensifies reactions to triggers related to the trauma, while weakening the ability to refrain from one or more of those four-f trauma responses. 

    Healing and growth for people like us, then, isn't about letting ourselves be pushed around or excusing the abusive behavior of others. It's about standing in integrity, no matter what comes at us. It's about responding to evil without letting it alter our goodness. 

    And, especially for those of us whose triggers are tripped really easily, and who don't have really great built-in impulse control, this means that we are called to make a serious effort to work through our trauma, and to practice mindfulness every day, and to set healthy boundaries ahead of time. Also, to take full responsibility for our side of every relationship, of every interaction, instead of justifying our bad behavior by pointing to how much worse the other guy is acting towards us, even when it's true.

    If we have great integrity in the abstract, but in actual triggering situations it tends to go out the window, then we are called to really, conscientiously, work on that. We're called to humility, acknowledging how we fall short, and not just blow it off with "yeah well, I'm wired that way -- it's not me, it's my [autism ... ADHD ... PTSD ... etc.]." I'm wired that way, but there are things I can do to improve. Hard things, and I'll still fail a lot, but I still have to keep working on it. 

    We're also called to accept, consciously, that sometimes we're not going to like the way things go when we stand in our integrity. Sometimes, it's going to hurt. But you know what? Fight, flight, freeze, and fawn all hurt deeper. Deeper, I believe -- Jesus, Gandhi, and King believed -- even than actual martyrdom.

    That's what today's readings mean to me. What do they mean to you?

~~~ PEACE ~~~

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