Thursday, October 22, 2015

On Abuse

(excerpt from “It’s Not All About You,” c. 2015, Trey Casimir L.Ac.

Abuse from a loved one creates scars that maybe never heal. This is not something we do to ourselves, but something that is done to us by others, and its effects don’t stop just because no one is currently trying to physically or emotionally hurt you. With the epidemic of narcissism that seems to be sweeping our civilization, such abuse can only increase, as more and more people look out for themselves first, second and third, without regard for how their actions affect the people around them.

Now, there’s a difficult thing about abuse, and I only offer this controversial and upsetting idea because I myself have been affected by abuse, and have only recently become aware of its continuing reverberations in my spirit. That difficult idea is this: Is it sometimes possible that a person is “asking for it?” I don’t mean that any infant is ever asking to be injured, or that any woman is ever fair game for sexual crime because she is attractively or provocatively dressed. Rather, writing as a person with abuse in my past, one of the painful reverberations in my life has been that I have tended to seek out, or at least to be attracted to, people who turn out to be abusive. Was I therefore “asking for more abuse?” I would say, “Of course not!” and would offer my tears and horror at this self-discovery as proof that I wasn’t consciously looking to be abused. However, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting some sort of correlation.

In my own case, two thoughts present themselves. First of all, I loved my first abuser and looked up to him, no question about it. That’s why his hatred and murderous intent hurt me so much, never mind the concussions, stitches and other physical injuries. I never got his love in return, but that doesn’t mean he was unlovable. That I might seek people out who in some way remind me of my abuser, so I can finally get what I was denied – love – makes a kind of sense to me. That people who remind me of my abuser might turn out to be abusive themselves also makes a kind of sense to me. On an entirely other hand, though, is the unconscious signs an abused person might display. In my case, and in some others who I have treated, the left shoulder is especially likely to be injured, tense or otherwise held in a “cocked” position. Imagine that someone is about to hit you in the ear, and you’ll feel this unconscious defensive posture. It could be the other shoulder or some other body part (people who have suffered sexual abuse sometimes have over-developed and slightly turned in thighs), but our bodies plainly carry residue from past trauma, whether physical, psychological or spiritual. Most energetic medicine is based on this assumption – “body/mind/spirit” is a phrase that articulates this idea, among others.

So there I am, with my cocked shoulder, going into a group of people. Like a pheromone or other unconscious signal, what if the posture of the abused person is understood by the herd? What if abusers are particularly adept at spotting the signs of past abuse? And what if I am still afraid/angry/ashamed/hurt at a very deep level, and am eager to compensate or maybe over-compensate for my past trauma? Like a nerd playing tackle football with the popular jocks, no one has to be at fault – there needn’t be an abusive intent – yet we all know that nerd is going down. And if I target the person who reminds me of my abuser, whose love I still long for, it is that much more likely that I’ll go down hard. In acupuncture terms, this shoulder hunching reflex is associated with warding off the wind or other external pathogens. Although the ancient Chinese weren’t referring to abusive people, but rather to climatic factors, an attacker certainly qualifies as an external pathogen. Many people who have hyper-sensitive or even auto-immune problems turn out to have been previously abused. With no other specific risk factor or clear vector for infection (say, shared needles for HIV), why wouldn’t a person with unconscious hyper-reactivity to a past abuser continue to carry hyper reactive defenses forward in all realms of their existence, including their unconscious immune systems?

More troubling, perhaps, is the combination of Yin and Yang Qiao Mai as an acupuncture treatment. The Yang Qiao Mai addresses weight (obligation, responsibility) that the world puts on your shoulders, while the Yin Qiao Mai addresses weight that you put on your own shoulders. Frequently it happens (especially with mothers, healthcare providers, teachers and caretakers) that the world puts weight on a person and they respond by putting more pressure on themselves ("I thought so – I wasn’t working hard enough”). This dynamic can be very effectively addressed by treating Yang Qiao Mai primarily and Yin Qiao Mai secondarily. However, occasionally it happens (based on various other diagnostic criteria), that the Yin Qiao Mai is primarily affected and the Yang Qiao Mai is secondary. That is, you put too much pressure on yourself and the world responds by putting more pressure on you. The first time I made such a diagnosis I was very apprehensive about explaining the dynamic to my patient, because it sounded like I was saying, “You brought this problem on yourself.” To my surprise, though, she immediately said, “Oh, my god. That’s exactly what I’ve been working on with my therapist for a long time!” As I recall, the treatment was very helpful, which is additional evidence that there was something to this dynamic for this person. One could see, perhaps, that people who are hard on themselves get a lot done, and “if you want to get it done, give it to a busy person,” or the like, but especially where abuse exists it is vital to keep the blame where it belongs – with the abuser and those who didn’t protect against the abuse. So this Yin and Yang Qiao Mai thing makes one very uneasy.

However, one of the physical attributes that accompanies Yin Qiao Mai dysfunction is that the arms and legs turn in – in other words, the thighs turn in (as has been noted after sexual abuse), and the shoulders hunch (as has been noted in other forms of physical abuse). Maybe these unconscious, physical/postural signs read like a red blossom to a hummingbird for abusers. Again, we have an external influence (the original abuse) causing an internal response (fear/anger/shame/hurt). Furthermore, this internal response results in an external posture that may act to attract abusers! Makes one wonder about the evolutionary advantage of such an interplay, but in any event, abuse offers another clear window through which to see the impact an external influence can have on the internal workings of a person, to such an extent that the internal workings percolate through to become manifest on the exterior of the abused person.

To be clear, this is pathological, and is not role-playing or S & M game-playing. I feel the need
to add this because I have had abusive people tell me, “You must be a masochist,” or even, “You must like it,” in regard to my history with abuse and abusers. But this is not the simple story of a cute molecule settling into the right-shaped receptor – rather, it is the story of a cute molecule that has been brutally altered to fit into a shape that is recognized by other brutes.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Letting go

The Chinese say that Fall is the season of grief, but it's also the season of letting go. As I have previously confessed, I don't do so well with this season, and a lot has to do with the difficulty of letting go. It means such different things in different settings, and it's hard to tell from the inside if one is making a fair and reasonable decision or just being selfish. Case in point: I resigned from the last of my volunteer positions in local government a couple weeks ago. On one hand, I feel bad about leaving my friends (and the trees and the fire company) in the lurch. On the other hand, I have donated ten years to working for the Borough through being an elected official and participating in various committees, study groups, etc. I am confident that I have done some good, and I continue to be vitally interested in the goings-on in my hometown. However, there's a bottom line. After practicing acupuncture for 15 years and exercise therapy for more than 25, I am still having a hard time making a living. I don't feel like a failure, but I do need to do something different to supplement the income I make as an acupuncturist. Therefore, I've had to let go of my cherished volunteer work so I can re-direct my focus on making my family more financially secure. Everyone understands, but there are still people who are disappointed in me or who have hurt feelings. So it's hard -- we don't live in a vacuum, and when I let go of something that may require someone else to pick it up. At the end of the day, all one can say is, "Sorry, It's someone else's turn."

On still another hand, letting go is necessary to move on, including to grow and mature. I have always had a hard time with this -- supposedly this is part of being a baby-boomer, but I have frequently needed to be "kicked upstairs" in my personal and professional life. I wish I was smoother at this life skill, because I hate being kicked and others hate kicking me, but it seems to be part of my karma. I am very loyal, and I have a great ability to endure when others would pack it in. Those are strengths, but it is a weakness to not let go until my survival is threatened. As a result, there are a few sinking ships in my wake, with angry people saying I abandoned them. Well, I WAS born in the Year of the Rat!

Short of survival, though, other things should motivate us to let go, and this seems to be one of the great life lessons I must learn. Among other things, sometimes one ends up in situations that are simply inappropriate, and that reflect poorly on one's sense of self-worth or self-esteem. I'm not talking about having a nice car to drive or fancy boots, but feeling like ones life has a purpose and like one is contributing something by doing his best. I love what I do, and I think I'm pretty good at it. I'm also proud of the practice I have been able to build in this small town, and I am grateful to the people who trusted me with even a part of their health care. But something has to give. In struggling with this over the years and especially as the summer of 2015 has come to a close, I have realized that my strength to endure and my inclination to loyalty sometimes makes me appear unambitious or insecure. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, my first life lesson was to overcome the surplus of over-confidence that I was born with by dedicating myself to serving others. But I tend to go overboard in all things -- well, I WAS born in the State of Texas!

Professionally, I realized that I have been generous to a fault with my practice. I have always given discounts to seniors, students and some other groups of patients, and will continue to do so. However, I have pretty consistently given away 20% of my fees over the past fifteen years, and I can't afford that. When I first started, I was very reasonably concerned about my ability to attract and keep patients. Being unwilling to manipulate the desperate people who came to see me for more visits and more fees, I instead tried to attract as many people as possible to my practice, and discounted service was one way to do that. However, I've been doing this for fifteen years now -- I'm pretty good at it and my reputation is excellent. At this point in my career, the extent of the discounts I offer doesn't only leave my bank account thin, but also under-values the service that I provide to my patients. For both of these reasons, I am going to be more judicious in offering discounts going forward. I will continue to honor the specific discounts I have negotiated with individual, long-time patients, but I won't be offering standard discounts with my newsletter, and I may trim some of the other policies I have followed for the last fifteen years. Like my volunteer service, I'm going to have let go of some of that. Otherwise, I'll have to find another job. I don't want to do that, and I don't think my patients want me to do that.

In any event, difficult, scary and unpleasant as it is, I'm letting go of some of my generous impulse in professional situations. I want to be here for a long time, providing first-rate acupuncture and exercise therapy to the community. I don't want to become one of those places that people sigh about and say, "Remember when..? I wonder why he went out of business..." I'm letting go of one thing (my insecurity about bringing acupuncture and yoga-based exercise therapy to Central PA) so that I can hold more tightly to the more important thing (supporting my family by providing first-rate acupuncture and exercise therapy to the community for the rest of my career).

Strange how "letting go" works out sometimes.