Do people distance themselves from you? Are you more isolated over the years? If you are experiencing a mass exodus in your life, you just might be the asshole.
We all are at some times.
Sometimes we have to be. Each of us has that inner jerk that we harness in times of defensiveness. The problem is, if you consistently exist in a state of protection rather than connection, then you are likely to exhibit standoffish behaviors that push people away. This influences your reactions to those who have good intentions that get misread in a state of defensiveness.
Being in a constant state of survival will influence how you react to others.
Ask me how I know.
I have been the asshole too. And I still am, depending on the situation.
My best friend can attest to that. We’ve grown up together and she’s like a sister- more of one than my biological counterpart. This means we have been through the worst and the best. I’ll call her Terry, for privacy. Terry has one view on the topic of vaccines, while I had another. Where she stood vastly differed from mine. And, of course, I approached it with a one-up stance due to my scientific background. I was young and thought I knew everything. We went round and round for months about this. One thing stood out to me: Terry never gave me potshots, while I did lowball character attacks.
No one person can know it all.
Then, finally, during one discussion, she pointed out that there can never be enough evidence. I also never listened to respectfully debate with Terry, rather I didn’t listen and pushed my agenda to be right, rather than be relational.
While the scientific method has thrust us into the modern marvels of today, it is not a failproof method to figure out life. There are many examples where this has failed us on several levels. Just look at the success of phrenology. Stephen Lower from Simon Fraser University cites,
“Due to the need to have completely controlled experiments to test a hypothesis, science can not prove everything. For example, ideas about God and other supernatural beings can never be confirmed or denied, as no experiment exists that could test their presence. Supporters of Intelligent Design attempt to convey their beliefs as scientific, but nonetheless the scientific method can never prove this. Science is meant to give us a better understanding of the mysteries of the natural world, by refuting previous hypotheses, and the existence of supernatural beings lies outside of science altogether. Another limitation of the scientific method is when it comes to making judgments about whether certain scientific phenomenons are “good” or “bad”. For example, the scientific method cannot alone say that global warming is bad or harmful to the world, as it can only study the objective causes and consequences. Furthermore, science cannot answer questions about morality, as scientific results layout of the scope of cultural, religious and social influences.”
On top of that, I’ve conducted research. I’ve witnessed the process directly. I’ve experienced the drive for publication and grants that motivate scientists to alter or dismiss experimental failures. I’ve seen the impacts that paying for research has had on the field. That’s primarily why I’m not a chemist. You can’t get an article for less than $40 if you don’t have a membership. Pay for information leaves many without access, negating the original purpose of publication. So while I wholeheartedly believe in evidenced based practice, I also understand its limits. Ethical scientists know this and push for the publication of failures. Dr. Stephen Porges is one of those.
Come to find out, I was autistic also.
Due to my nature of having really dark humor and telling Terry that I couldn’t deny her viewpoints any longer, I had to be honest with myself. I told her I must be autistic due to the vaccines. We laugh about that now since the irony is debilitating. Maybe so, maybe not. It doesn’t matter now, because I am still me and she her. At heart, we are the same as those first graders that met on that school bus.
I still hold personal beliefs and she hers. However, we now have more respectful debates and I limit my judgment.
I also had to make amendments on several levels for how I treated her then. I get passionate about topics, and sometimes overstep boundaries.
Call it whatever name you want to, but each and every one of us roam this earth with our primitive nervous systems. We constantly unconsciously scan the environment, ready to activate at any detection of threat. There are different presets for each individual in these nervous system states. These are formed based on differing life experiences and physical makeups. Someone who grew up on the streets in a violent environment will have a higher charged nervous system state, for example, than one who lived in a safe home.
The idea of living with a grounded nervous system state and enhanced social connectedness with entire populations involves a higher level of existence. Humans have lived with this conflict for the last thousand years. How do we thrive together and keep from reacting into our natural tendencies to kill eachother? We evolved to judge, stigmatize, and reject. Kill or be killed; the human animal is alive and well today. We’ve just acclimated to modern life.
This problem severely affects people that struggle with PTSD, such as veterans of war, and gang members alike. Veterans go to battle with nervous systems that purposefully formed into constant hyperactive states in preparation to kill. The problem is, you can’t just switch that off when you go back into civilization. So what happens to them? They behave at home like they were trained in the culture of fighting. Then they are stigmatized and outcasted because they can’t just go back to who they were before, nor fit into our rules.
In Psychology Today, Diane Roberts Stoler exclaims that 80% of homeless veterans in the United States suffer from mental health challenges, PTSD, and substance abuse. Coincidence? I think not.
If all this therapist lingo about feeling your feelings seems like fluff, you can research the countless stories, such as this from Peter Levine:
My point is demonstrated at 19:00. So many of my sessions model similar developments in some form.
Ray describes this process in this segment, from toxic masculinity, repression, to the exhibition of negative feeling states through anger.
While people go out in search of the answers in all the wrong places, we continue to treat the problems with ineffective methods. You can’t CBT your way out of the damage from trauma or take a pill to make it all go away. That’s how addiction develops. Medication is certainly part of the healing process for many, but not the complete solution.
I absolutely love Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and use it daily. It gets entwined with several different modalities in most therapists’ practice. The feeling states are stored into our body in the form of feelings memories. If left unprocessed, they will continuously be triggered and cause negative reactions and the reoccurrence of these intense feeling states.
People who engage in antisocial behavior remain unconscious of their nervous system state shifts, and how much of their lives are run by it.
Unless you have seen a therapist or are a therapist, you likely aren’t aware. Societal norms tell us we should hold our feelings back and never express them unless they are in certain forms.
So what does this have to do with your inner asshole? It’s a part of you. You have several parts, and this is merely one- according to Richard Schwartz.
It’s the protective part of you that drives this behavior. Your projections of your beliefs onto others who are nothing like you affect how you react to and behave towards them. They’re not you, and you don’t hold the same beliefs or values. And, that’s okay. No one person can dictate what is the right way to live.
He or she responds to perceived mistreatment from others based on your own beliefs and experiences. If you are raised in an environment where you are told you can do no wrong nor make mistakes, and that only losers and idiots mess up, people who make errors will be seen as weak and worthless. Then, when somebody comes along and tells you that you made a mistake, you will likely become defensive.
Everyone makes mistakes.
Individuals have inner power imbalances that drive these behaviors. If you feel one down internally, as Pia Mellody would term, then you might present as one up to everyone else, and put others in the one-down position to maintain that power balance.
If this seems like a foreign concept, Susan Lessley explains it wonderfully in her writeup about such topics in Understanding Extreme Relationships: Love Addiction & Love Avoidance. We are all equal. We come into this world, naked and screaming, and leave much the same way. The difference is what we choose to do with the time we have.
So what you decide to do with your strong feeling states matters. You can continue to act on every impulse to relieve that anxiety temporarily and avoid processing onto those awful feelings, or, you may begin to awaken to the instinct that nature has bestowed upon us.
Being aware does not mean you should be ashamed of yourself, repress these urges, dismiss or deny them. It simply means know they are there, recognize them for what they are, and choose to give them healthy outlets. Actions that encourage connection can be funneled from negative feeling states. Anger, for example, is an empowering emotion that if used positively, can drive great change. Advocation for rights, sticking up for others, and refusing to tolerate hateful behaviors are some ways that one can funnel anger in useful ways.
Get better at finding a place and time for those defenses. If you want more people in your life, and you find yourself primarily in the state of protection, then learn different ways to interact with others.
This also does not mean tear all your walls down and let everyone take advantage of you. The process entails learning new ways to build healthier boundary systems and communication with others. perspectives drive new relationships with the world. Rather than call that slow cashier at the store an idiot or utter passive aggressive comments, try asking how their day is going. Call them by their first name.
There are times and places to harness your inner jerk. People will continue to impose on your boundaries in one way or another. You might be outright assaulted emotionally (or physically), and you certainly have the right to protect yourself. But if you find this is switched on permanently, you may want to revevaluate how you handle such events.
Repression is your enemy.
Finding out that you’re the asshole isn’t the end of it all. You’re not permanently affixed to this behavior. The challenge of correcting and healing from intergenerational trauma involves identifying your own harmful behaviors and ensuring they don’t get passed on. I am hyperaware of this. I talk to my children. They tell me what they experience whether it is negative or positive. If needed, I make amends, then move forward with an intention to do better. People from dysfunctional family dynamics will unconsciously copy those behaviors at some level. I acknoweldge this and address it head-on.
Life is one big learning laboratory where we experience opportunities to do better on a daily basis. We evolve, adapt, and persist to the ever-changing world. Embrace it. Because change is the fourth constant in life, aside from death, taxes, and laundry.
Stoler, D.R. “Homeless Veterans Deserve More.” Psychology Today. Accessed 1/5/2023 from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-resilient-brain/201911/homeless-veterans-deserve-more
Susan Lessley. “Understanding Extremem Relationships: Love Addiction & Love Avoidance.” Accessed 1/5/23 from: https://info.theretreat.org/hubfs/LALA%20Class%20Manual4.pdf.
Levine, P. and Frederick, A. Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 1997.
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