The Arbiter of Your Life

by Annie Kaszina on January 18, 2010

I don’t often work with abused men for various reasons; not
least that the dynamics of the relationship are slightly different.  Exceptionally, in the last month, I
have.  

David, not his real name, presented with different
issues.  Hugely talented as he is, he
was also, as he put it, ‘wading in treacle’. 
He lacked confidence, and had lost his drive.  He was in a dark place and didn’t know how to get out of it.  
 

He admitted to being very unhappy in his home life.  But he felt that all that mattered was
protecting his two young children from the damage of relationship
break-up.  He didn’t feel he could
possibly justify putting an end to his misery.  It was just something he had to deal with, was it not?


 Sound familiar? 
  

The similarities continue, although David, who presents as
a ‘man’s man’, was even more deaf and blind to his own feelings, pain, and
needs, than are abused women. 
  

Still, a relatively unemotional vocabulary was
required.  So we talked about his need
to justify even wishing that he could end the relationship.  I encouraged him to have a dialogue with the
voice in his head that told him it was neither justifiable nor reasonable
– how often have you used that word, I wonder? – to want something better for
himself.
  

The dialogue was slow and painful at first.  David was clearly intimidated by his own,
internalized, critical voice.  However,
he stated his case as best he could. 
The point came when his internal dictator (the voice) demanded: “”Who
are you to want something for yourself?” 
David looked quite crushed.  He
had no reply.
  

“Who are you?” I asked the voice, on his behalf.  The voice, unsurprisingly, was that of his
abusive partner. 
  

David stated what he would like to do.  The voice retaliated: “That’s not fair.”
  

Again David looked absolutely stuck.  Fairness really matters to him.  Doubtless, it matters to you also.


 “Fair to who?”  I
asked.  David knew the answer to that:
fair to the critical voice in his head. 
  

But he had no comeback. 
  

He sat looking puzzled for the longest time.
  

Eventually, I asked him: “Who is the most useful arbiter
of your life?”
  

Bright as David is, he sat there looking blank for several
long minutes.  Then he said: “I need
someone impartial to be the arbiter of my life.”  
  

I repeated my question: 
“Who is the most useful arbiter of your life.”  He still didn’t get it. With an awkward laugh, he finally said:
“I’m being thick, aren’t I?”  (Notice
the characteristic, self-critical remark of the abuse sufferer.) 
  

The silence continued for several minutes more while David
ran through all the possible options. 
Finally in an uncertain tone, he said: “I’m the arbiter of my life,
aren’t I?”
  

I agreed and suggested, that he might like to state the
fact more firmly, since he now knew it to be true. 
  

Awareness was slow in coming for David.  It was for me, and most likely was, or is,
for you, too.


 But here’s a simple rule of thumb: when we arrive on this
earth every one of us gets issued with one life.  That is the one life that we are the arbiter of.  In the free world, at least, nobody gets to
be the arbiter of two, three, or more, lives. 
  

Bad behaviour does not earn an abuser the right to be the
arbiter of your life. 
  

When you are not aware that your one life is truly yours
to take charge of, it’s easy to let someone else stampede in, in hobnail boots,
and occupy your life – in every sense of the word.


Even more than fear, what we don’t know enslaves us. 
  

When were you last the arbiter of your own life? 
  

With
the awareness that you now have, what will you do to become the arbiter of your
own life?  Have you already made the decision
to treat that life with the respect it 
– and you – deserve?

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