July 5, 2017
There is a simple rule of the universe and that is “cause and effect”. If a pendulum is pushed in one direction, you can assume that it will swing back to a height equal to the height it was pushed to, There are all sorts of mathematical calculations of how this happens, but when a force goes in one direction, and is met with another force, (in this case gravity) there is an equal force that shifts it back in the opposite direction.
The human condition and behavior can also be explained in these terms, when a person feels pushed too far in one direction, they will often push back hard in the opposing direction in order to regain a feeling of balance.
There is a ride commonly seen in amusement parks, which is in the shape of a ship. It swings high into the air in one direction, and everyone holds their breath, because they know what it coming once it reaches its apex, a drop and ride fast into the next direction. We can feel this level of unbalance in our lives if we feel someone has disrespected us. We feel like we are holding are breath and that we must do something to regain our balance- we cannot stay suspended in the state of discomfort, just hanging in the air, we must push back. Unfortunately, this push can bring us to the opposite extreme.
Think about that pendulum, it does not find its balance when you let it go and just stop in the middle, it moves quickly into the opposite direction and must make this shift a few times, until other forces such as friction and gravity slow it down enough to settle and find equilibrium. When we react in this swing from being disrespected, the extremes in our behavior can elicit extreme results.
Consider the main character, Walter White, of the hit television show, Breaking Bad. In the opening season Walter was a mild mannered, and submissive chemistry teacher. Everything about him was placating and defeated; his eyes, his voice, and even his posture. In the first few episodes it was revealed that his passiveness wasn’t new- he was once a promising chemist who caved in to a business partner and lost a fortune. He was further humiliated when his wife ran off with the guy who milked him. As he plodded along as a teacher he received a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and realized that his family would be left with nothing when he dies. He feels shame, as though he had given his whole life and had become a doormat, a victim of society for his trouble.
These are the circumstances that transform him into a dominant aggressor. The pendulum of his life swings from one extreme to another, and on the other he found himself in a situation in which he had to thwart anyone who interferes with his drug dealing. It is impossible to turn away from the mesmerizing formation of a ruthless monster as he grows from a roving meth lab to monopolize and become a kingpin in the drug trade. Even the name of the series does not bode well for White- to ‘break bad’ is to defy authority and/or the law especially for personal gain. By rejecting social and moral norms he follows this path, regardless of the ethics and uses it to shift from perceived inferiority to fabricated superiority.
This shift of extremes was described by psychiatrist and author, James Gilligan who worked in the American prison system in order to study the causes behind violent behavior. For 35 years he used prisons and prison mental hospitals as ‘laboratories’ to gather information. Gillian describes how he routinely received the same answer when he asked inmates or patients, why they resorted to violent behavior- "because he disrespected me" or "he disrespected my….(wife, mother, sister, girl-friend, daughter, etc.)" That phrase was used so often it was abbreviated into a slang phrase, "He dis'ed me."
People who believe that they have been ‘dis’ed’ are likely to assuage their feelings of insufficiency by leaping to an attack. In doing so, they hope to leave behind any feelings of being a victim and feel superior again. It was exemplified by Walter White in Breaking Bad, and could also be the motivation to why so many men support Trump. Many of those that voted for him and support him are hardworking people sometimes barely scraping by to support their families. To them, they are facing some very frightening challenges-women’s rights are on the rise, jobs traditionally held by men are being handled by robots and potential work opportunities are in health or care-giving fields which require skills considered to be ‘feminine’.
No one knows what masculinity means anymore and the best way to deal with that inadequacy is to follow a leader who is a ‘man’s man’. These men responded to being pushed and when the pendulum shifted the person they voted for was the extreme example of masculine energy- a man who takes what he wants sexually, encourages police brutality and is unconcerned with boy scout political correctness.
In Breaking Bad, Walter’s character began as a loving husband, father and teacher, but he lived in an extreme feminine energy state to the point of being used and abused by others. Had he stood up for himself first with his business partner and later within the school system, he could have found balance and avoided swinging from one extreme to the other.
In Gillian’s studies he concluded that, “People resort to violence when they feel that they can wipe out shame only by shaming those who they feel shamed them”. This ‘one upmanship’ has been the cause of many personal catastrophes and even wars amongst countries. There is no need to over-react and revert to these extremes. Each of us can make baby step changes to find balance. It is just like learning to ride a bike. If we lean too far in one direction we’ll fall down and hit the dirt. We must make tiny adjustments and switch our weight slightly from one side to another to keep moving forward.
Making an adjustment to find balance without overcompensating and going too far takes practice. Think of it like a meal you are trying for the first time. Your perception of this meal is that it will be too bland, and so you accidently over-salt it, and the result is not very pleasant. The next time that you order the meal, you will remember your mistake from the previous experience and add just a pinch. Not surprisingly, it will be much more enjoyable. Success seldom comes from one big move- it comes instead from minor, yet regular actions over time.
Begin by recognizing when you are in an extreme situation, and take time to think about your next action, rather than resorting to a knee jerk reaction, as this often sends us straight to extreme. While we cannot control these extreme situations in our lives, and we all experience them, we can take responsibility to monitor and control our reactions.
The greatest predictor of our future is our past- and so if we shift from one extreme to the other, we are likely to repeat that behavior. Change your future by not letting the mistakes you made yesterday pattern how you act today.