Daily Herald February 25, 1995
In the story Snow White, the evil witch asks the magic mirror "Who is the most beautiful person in the land?" She doesn't like the answer she gets. Instead of dealing with herself and her feelings, and accepting the reality of the situation, she decides to believe that she can't stand someone else being more beautiful than she is. She then acts on her false belief. She takes out her anger and frustration, aggressively and abusively, on Snow White. This scene from the well-known fairy tale describes accurately the dynamics behind most abusive behavior and in particular, spouse abuse.
The evil witch assumed Snow White was the person she had to control. She picked the wrong person' She needed to have picked herself' She was in charge of her beliefs, feelings, decisions and actions. Only she could be in charge of, or control herself. But she wouldn't accept that. Unless she accepted that responsibility to be in control of and responsible to herself, she would blame Snow White and abuse her.
Most of us react the same way the evil witch did when we hear the real and truthful answer, that we are the only ones we can control and be in charge of. We don't want to accept that answer. We want to avoid that responsibility. So we blame others and punish them. Until you accept that you only control yourself, and learn how to control and manage yourself and your life responsibly and non-abusively, you will behave abusively towards others, and continue to get themselves into mess after mess after mess.
When we think about someone being hard to control, we always think about someone else. We may think of a boss, a fellow worker, a partner, a brother or sister, a mother or father or even one of our children. The last person, we generally look at as being hard to control is ourselves. But, we are powerless to change or control anyone else in the world, except ourselves.
There are effective ways we can learn to control ourselves. Nobody else can do it but us. Because we often have only a brief moment to decide to control ourselves, before we do something abusive or offensive to others, we must practice these skills regularly so they cut in almost automatically.
- Taking a time out. The minute you realize you are upset, say "Excuse me" to whomever you are with. Then go off by yourself and, using notepaper if necessary, get in touch with your feelings and thoughts, as well as the ideas or beliefs of yours that are fueling those feelings.
- Backtrack from your feeling to the incident, which preceded the feeling. Then discover what self-talk, beliefs or ideas triggered those feelings. Recognize and challenge those that aren't sensible or true. By changing your thoughts and beliefs, you will automatically change your feelings.
- Recognize when you're on edge, depressed, irritable or challenged. Find someone you trust who is a patient listener and isn't part of the problem and talk with them.