To be or not to be… abused
We have all been victims of some form of abuse in our lives. Throughout our lives, we come into contact with various social organizations (family, school, sports clubs, university, work, the state). These organizations are the ones we have relationships with. If these relationships are healthy, we can develop satisfactorily. But if our experience is traumatic, it will have an impact on our lives.
The abuse of power comes as no surprise: According to the World Health Organization:
“It is estimated that up to 1 billion children aged 2 to 17 years worldwide have been victims of physical, sexual, emotional, or neglectful violence in the past year” (1).
“Violence suffered in childhood affects health and well-being throughout life.”
Definition of maltreatment:
Maltreatment: Maltreatment is the mistreatment (occasional, prolonged, or repeated) of a person (or a group) who is treated with violence, contempt, or indignity.
Maltreatment involves a power or dominance relationship between the aggressor and the victim, who is often dependent and defenseless.
Linked to the abuse of power, maltreatment often has lasting consequences on the health of victims, not only physiological but also psychological, due to moral trauma.
Social organizations: The game board of our lives
As we grow, we join different social organizations. First the family, then the school, university, sports clubs, companies, political parties, and many others.
Some of these organizations have vertical structures, while others have more horizontal structures.
We speak of a vertical structure when there is a hierarchy from the top down, for example, in a company where the CEO is the most important decision-maker, followed by sector directors, assistant directors, and finally, employees.
In a more horizontal structure, processes are more autonomous and allow employees much more freedom.
In more vertical organizations, where power rests with one person, the abuse of power is more likely to occur.
The abuse of power is defined as the excessive use of authority conferred by a certain status on a person.
The different types of abuse of power may be:
- Emotional abuse: it involves the use of psychological games to control or emotionally hurt (humiliation, intimidation, bullying, harassment, fear, etc.). It often includes verbal abuse.
- Physical abuse: it involves the use of body parts or weapons to threaten, punish, dominate, restrain, control, or harm another person.
- Sexual abuse: it involves the use of forced sexual actions that can dominate, harm, threaten, corrupt, manipulate, or control another person.
- Social abuse: it involves forms of domination and control of another person’s social relationships.
- Financial abuse: it involves the use of money and other financial methods to dominate, threaten, or control someone’s finances.
- Spiritual abuse: it involves controlling another person’s religious interests or practices.
When we combine these forms of abuse and list the possible harms, we see that many human sufferings and problems are caused by the abuse of power.
Why do we allow ourselves to be abused?
We want to be part of a group; we need approval, acceptance, attention, and identification with the aggressor.
The reasons can be manifold. But there is a theory that could explain it.
“It is an eternal experience that every man who has power is inclined to abuse it; he goes on until he finds limits.”
Charles de Montesquieu
The theory of learned helplessness
Learned helplessness, also known as acquired helplessness by some specialists, is a term used in psychology to refer to human beings who have “learned” to behave passively in the face of all kinds of problems.
Want to know more about this theory? Find out more here.
A very singular experiment
I was attacked by a Sensei
I recently had an experience that made me reflect on the abuse of power that can exist in groups we are a part of.
I have been practicing and teaching Aikido for twenty-four years. Aikido is a Japanese martial art based on the harmony of energy; there is no competition.
When my family and I moved to France, I wanted to continue teaching and training. I had difficulty finding a Dojo (training place) that met my requirements and needs.
My Japanese master has a very particular way of teaching. His approach is one of connection and energetic exchange between practitioners. I was surprised when I realized that Aikido in France had a more physical and technical approach.
After trying several Dojos, I finally found one in Paris that met my expectations. The practice was gentle and fluid, and my wife and I (we share this passion) could continue training in a way that was close to what we knew.
As in any new group, there is always an adaptation process. This group of practitioners was very close-knit, and their Sensei had a unique personality.
His technique was gentle, but there were gestures of violence in him. I could see how, sometimes, during classes, he would humiliate or publicly strike his students. And he justified his behavior with a discourse based on the fact that he came from the streets and that no one dared to challenge him.
It wasn’t easy to integrate at first. As time passed, however, we stopped being the “aliens” and began to appreciate our practice more and more. With trust established, we started receiving the same violent gestures as the other students.
After a few months, my wife told me one day that she would no longer continue training in this Dojo. She had had one of those experiences with the Sensei and did not wish to continue. I shared this feeling as well, but my desire to continue practicing a style of Aikido close to ours motivated me to continue. I was already getting to know the Sensei better and could adapt my practice to avoid being hit as often.
As I felt more confident, I could put more intensity into my attacks. Aikido practice is characterized by the exchange of roles (the one who attacks versus the one who executes the technique). With the intensity of my attacks increasing, I could see how, many times, under pressure, the Sensei resolved the situation with violence. On several occasions, he ended up pushing me off the mat.
After these confrontations, I had the courage to approach him and tell him that I did not like his violent gestures. They did not align with the philosophy of Aikido.
Aikido is a non-violent martial art that seeks to resolve conflicts harmoniously without causing harm to others.
After this conversation, the practice changed. He stopped kicking me when I performed Ukemi (a fall made to escape and cushion the received technique), and I felt that at least he was being more careful with me. But he continued to do what he used to do with his students.
It was just an illusion… Shortly after, the same gestures, humiliating comments, and violence returned. The martial aspect of any combat art teaches us to take care of ourselves, to keep our distance, to be attentive, to sensitize ourselves.
I can understand the pedagogical purpose behind it. But his gestures went beyond that; they were a form of denigration, control, a way of constantly saying to me, “You are not safe; I can harm you.”
During my last training session, we started training intensely. I could see how tension gradually built up in each of my attacks. And as I began to receive more and more blows. In one of those movements, I managed to dodge his violent gesture and maintain control of the situation. I had touched his ego, and he was not going to take it lying down.
I had pressed the button that would make him lose control…
He lunged at me, pushed me to the ground off the mat, got on my back, grabbed my throat, and started choking me. I didn’t play along. I knew that in front of all his students, I was relatively safe. In short, I got on my stomach and waited for him to calm down without reacting. Everyone stopped training; they were all watching us.
I got up and said, “What did you just do? I will not come back to this Dojo!”
I grabbed my things, went to the changing rooms, and left.
I never came back…
To Be or To Have
When we talk about violence or abuse, there is always an aggressor and a victim.
By giving all the power to the aggressor, we do not take responsibility for what happens to us; we are at the mercy of fate and powerless.
I’m not saying that victims are responsible for their abuse. Rather, I’m saying that in every situation, every problem life presents to us, we can choose to be or to have.
We often prioritize “having” over “being.” We define ourselves by what we have, not by who we are. Our possessions rather than our values.
And so, we let ourselves:
- Be beaten and abused by someone to have a place to practice Aikido.
- Be forced to take an experimental vaccine to continue enjoying a restaurant or going to the cinema.
- Allow our boss to mistreat us in exchange for our monthly salary.
- Tolerate mistreatment from our partner but keep our lifestyle, our home, our car, our status.
I understand that each of these issues has many dimensions, and I am simplifying them very briefly. But let’s get to the heart of what I’m trying to say.
We live in a society that prioritizes the material over the spiritual. We try to find happiness through the acquisition of goods rather than through what will truly make us happy. “Being consistent with who I am as a person, my values, my dreams, what is deep within us.”
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