Yes, I’ve done it! I’ve FINALLY done it. I have discovered THE ABSOLUTE WORST parent in the world! Ta da! I know, it’s great (except for the kid she’s raising, of course).
But its also has shed some light for me on a VERY common thing heard everyday around the world – something 99% true for this poor boy, but 100% false for real…
“I feel helpless. Life is hopeless. I can’t change.”
I came across the story this weekend as I browsed for cool pictures of monkeys (yeah, random, but whatever). I’ve read some messed up stuff before, as we all have. I know there are stories of rape and murder. I know there are accounts of slavery and trafficking. I know there are even parents out there raising their kids as Red Sox fans.
(It’s just disgusting the evil there is in the world.)
But for whatever reason this story in particular had me thinking for days. This parent was so absolutely thorough in her abuse.
What she did just seemed so totally messed up. So…evil.
The “kid” is 28 years old. For the entirety of his life he has been physically abused by his mother, until only recently actually, when he finally mustered the courage to defend himself. He says, that while the physical abuse was awful, inflicted randomly and with whatever instrument she could find, what was far worse was the verbal abuse. The verbal abuse was constant. Everyday, at every opportunity, she belittled him, called him stupid and fat, useless and worthless. She reminded him frequently that he was a mistake, that she never wanted him, that the only reason she even birthed him at all was to keep his father from divorcing her. That, of course, didn’t work, because (let’s be serious) who could stay with a person like that?
In school, the man achieved far more than ANY would have expected under the circumstances. He was smart. And despite EVERYTHING at home, despite all manner of negative things his mother polluted his mind with, he actually got straight A’s throughout middle school, and was offered a full scholarship to a private high school some distance away.
His mother refused, though. She forced him to reject the offer because she didn’t want him leaving her. She sent him, instead, to the local public school. When he did too well THERE she pulled him out of school altogether, again fearing that he would leave her for college.
Where is he now?
Well now he’s a high school dropout, because she made him one. He works at a convenient store near their home for little more than $6 an hour. All his money goes to his mother. He wants desperately to earn his GED but his mother takes him to and from work, and allows him nowhere else. She refuses him any friends. He has no family. She never even taught him to drive, because she feared he would drive right out of her life.
He’s barely more than a slave.
And all-the-while the abuse continues.
She has literally stripped him of any opportunity. She has purposely made him as worthless to society as he is to her. Yet for whatever reason she’s done EVERYTHING within her power to keep him there, to keep him within range of her insults and beatings, to keep him dependent on her abuse. She has created this poor man’s world; one where she is God and judgment. He wants to die but won’t do it. What he really wants is a way out.
“I feel helpless.”
“I feel hopeless.”
“I can’t change.”
Finding the Emotional Leverage to Change
Normally, my immediate mental response to such pleas of helplessness is simply: “Get over yourself. Outside of chains on your ankles, there’s always a way out. Find it.” But in a case such as this, I truly had to pause.
Imagine this poor man’s life. Imagine what he’s endured everyday for 28 years. Imagine the kind of thoughts that run through his mind, the inferiority and negativity, the lack of any worth or opportunity. Imagine now that you are him, that it’s you who’s lived that life.
When he says he is helpless, he means it. She has left him nothing. Even the idea that there’s something better, that he has ANY chance of surviving alone in the world is completely foreign to his mind. Her abuse did that. She did it on purpose.
I could not tell this man what I would tell another in a lesser circumstance, because while the truth is always the same, how we explain that truth often requires empathy and consideration.
I would say simply this:
There exists within us all the leverage to change whatever in our lives we determine requires it.
There is a point where the pain of continuing whatever life we live, in whatever circumstance we live it, becomes simply too much to bear; where waking ANOTHER day as we have woken EVERY day becomes the LAST thing we will EVER accept again.
There comes a point where we say “No more” – to the crappy job, to the crappy relationship, to the abusive parent.
When we reach this point we are presented with a choice. For many, it is the first choice they will ever make consciously. Like the man in the story, they have been jerked around and abused, manipulated and taken advantage of. They had no choices. Whether through fear, ignorance, or coercion they came to accept their lot in life, that they were too stupid or fat, lazy or worthless; that they could find no other spouse or no better job, that the power and influence of those who’ve hurt them was too strong to overcome. Their life was not their own. For some it never was, and because of it the choice seems difficult.
Most choose, then, what is familiar. They choose to keep the life they know, however terrible, rather than face they future they fear, however promising. If that’s the case, then the problem never did reach its boiling point. The scales never reached a tipping point. They accept their problems willingly now, and are as participatory in their suffering as whatever it is which afflicts them.
But for those who’ve reached that point of “no more”, of total helplessness, the only acceptable solution is the end of the problem, or the end of them. We know what many choose when presented with this choice.
They end their life, and thus their suffering.
I understand the desire. That man, living in that home with that woman, knows pain and worthlessness I will never know. He feels utterly helpless, and totally weak. Death is little to him who has never lived, who seemingly dies everyday he rises.
But when we’ve reached the point of “no more” – when what has been our ONLY option becomes a NON option – realize then that ALL possibilities are now open to us, because all possibilities are preferable to what we now have.
That’s emotional leverage. That’s realizing that helplessness ends where choice begins.
If I were that man, I would be gone tonight. Screw that I had no money. Screw that I had no friends. Screw that I had nowhere to sleep. A roof over your head is of no value, when what’s under that roof is killing you.
I have life yet to live, and I will live it, and I will do anything to see it better.
Because I deserve it.
Because that demon others call my “parent” – who’s abused me, and hurt me, and taken me out of school – doesn’t deserve my death. Or because the fat I thought I couldn’t shed doesn’t deserve my defeat, or the spouse I thought I couldn’t leave doesn’t deserve my presence. Or whatever it is I can take no longer.
The Difficult Choice Becomes Easy
Take a single step – ANY step – towards change. Each step from the present you now hate is a step towards the future you now desire.
When the problem is bad enough, when the situation is unbearable enough, when what was once unfathomable becomes reasonable, and what was once scary becomes necessary, the most difficult choice becomes easy.
“I won’t take this anymore.”
And leverage makes it possible, because leverage overcomes helplessness, because every scale has a tipping point. And when that point is reached, when you reject, completely and forever, what you now endure, then all that scared you previously – all the obstacles, all the hindrances, all the problems that lay between you and the future you want – become as ant hills next to mountains.
Nothing has been more difficult than what you’ve dealt with already…but nothing would be more difficult than staying that course. So change course instead, cause feeling helpless created the problem, and it won’t soon fix it.
And the helplessness ends, and the change begins.
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