Abuse & Personal Mastery LO15201

Benjamin B. Compton (bcompton@enol.com)
Wed, 1 Oct 1997 16:11:38 -0600

If I felt I had the space I would have titled this: "Abuse & Personal
Master & Organizations." This may sound like a strange topic. But it comes
from my heart. Our host, Rick, and I, have had an off-line conversation
about this topic. With his permission I'm positing this message. I'm
grateful to Rick who has allowed me to do this, and for his kind offer to
post it anonymously. I've chosen to keep my name public because I'm not
embarrased by this message.

[Host's Note: In special situations, I will distribute a msg anonymously.
Just indicate that request in the *first* line of your msg and I'll use
reasonable diligence to remove indications author's identity. ...Rick]

Now that I can actually write & post this message I feel sort of strange.
A little nervous maybe. The topic is about child abuse, it's impact on a
persons ability to practice personal mastery, and it's potential impact on

I'm not an expert on any of these topics. I am, however, a person who, as
a child, was abused. There are different forms of abuse: Passive abuse,
which comes in the form of a workaholic parent, or a parent who suffers
from deep depression. And their aggressive abuse, such as sexual abuse or
physical abuse. I suffered both kinds of abuse (although I was never
sexually abused). I write this message because of the number of people I
worked with who have also been abused. I've seen, first hand, how abusive
backgrounds contribute to problems experienced in many organizations.

I'm not looking for sympathy -- although if you have feelings of sympathy
I understand & appreciate it. What I am trying to do is raise our
collective awareness of how child abuse impacts us today: Those who have
been abused, those who work with people who come from abusive backgrounds,
and those who may be married to someone who is abused. I'm not trying to
start a group therapy session. I just want to raise awareness.

Child abuse is a rampant problem. Those who have been abused eventually
leave home and find work. Their past abuse, however, has a significant
impact on the way they interact with others within an organization. Child
abuse, in any form (physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual) pervades a
persons life -- both as a child and as an adult. Over the last year I have
been in therapy dealing with my past. When I began thereapy I was
extremely depressed. A year later I'm not nearly as depressed (although I
still struggle with depression), and I haven't had a single
anti-depressant. I have been through a lot of pain over the last year, and
in the process learned to love myself, nurture myself, and become my own
parent. I'm certain there are people on the list who have had abusive
childhoods. And, like me, I'm sure their past is impacting their behavior
at work -- perhaps even limiting their ability to achieve the results that
matter most. (Think of creative tension, but with a third element pulling
you in another direction: Back to your past, in an attempt to create and
resolve the problems left unresolve.)

But more importantly, I learned how my abusive past had warped my view of
reality. This has a strong impact on my work, and the way I interacted
with people at Novell. In fact, you could say that this was a contributing
factor in Novell's decision to lay me off.

The issues I wrested with at Novell were:

1- Problems with authority
2- Anger (which was vented in numerous ways; often I didn't even know it
was anger that was influencing my behavior)

Other things crept in as well. It is a common thing for people with an
abusive background to attempt to re-create the family of origin in any of
number environments, in an attempt to fix the unresolved problems they
experienced as a child. I was an expert at this, but had no idea that it
was even happening. The result was that my effectiveness was in a constant
down-spiral, despite the fact that I was the top performer. A strange
contradiction, indeed!

I out performed others because of my need to be accepted; to be validated
as a person. But no matter how well I performed, and no matter what I
achieved I still felt empty, lonely, and invalidated.

This only increased the anger I felt inside. The question kept running
through my mind, "Why can't I achieve what I really want? I want to be a
top performer, and achieve it, but I still feel terrible inside." The
whole notion of personal mastery and creative tension nearly became
meaningless. I couldn't figure out why acheiving what I wanted wasn't
producing the type of feelings I anticipated.

Since I've re-subscribed to the list I've noted, with great interest, in
the thread "Compassion and Beauty" the idea of selflessness being strongly
espoused. I can tell you, that, as an abused child, selflessness became my
modus operandi. My whole life I thought that the problems that were
rampant in my family of origin were my fault, and that if I just did
something different the problems would go away. That inspired the
selflessness that decreased my ability to love myself, and in turn, to
love other people. I've learned, from sad experience, that we can only
love others (including God) as much as we love ourselves.

I think of love as a thermometer: On the top is Selfishness (or
narcissism), and at the bottom, is selflessness. True love is in the
middle: A balanced combination of self-love (or selfishness) and
unconditional love (or selflessness). Being at either end is emotionally
unhealthy, leading to results most of us simply don't want.

The struggle to learn to love myself was the greatest of all challenges I
faced. Earlier this summer I shaved my head so I wouldn't have to comb my
harid. . And I stopped shaving regularly. I just couldn't bear the thought
of seeing myself in the mirror. I hated myself, and the sight of myself
reminded me that I existed. There were times, when I was shaving, that I
wanted to punch my fist through the mirror so the image of myself would go
away. These feelings only intensified when I learned that my whole life
had been a lie: That I wasn't the type of person my family had always told
me I was. That left the question: Who am I? I really wrestled with this
question. Basically I had to start from ground-zero, and completely
redefine myself, and in the process, learn to love myself for who I was,
not who my family thought I was.

As I began the healing process the idea of personal mastery became more
and more meaningful. I felt creative tension the way it should be
experienced. The third pull was eliminated. And my view of current
reality had become more clear and accurate.

My ability to love myself is at an all time high, and hence my ability to
love others has increased. The love I feel for my new wife is the most
indescribable thing. It is romantic, but much more -- it has a permanency,
a joy, a wonder to it. In the Bible the story is told of the blind who
were healed by Jesus. I can only wonder how amazed the blind were when
they saw, for the first time, the world in which they lived. In a way I
share that amazement, because I know, for the first time, what it is like
to love and be loved. This experience has changed the way I see the world.
It has changed the way I live my life. Just as my abuse pervaded my life,
so love now pervades my life. The fear, the anger, the resentment, the
turmoil is gone. Donald Kerr is right: Perfect love casts out all fear.
The challenge, then, is to learn to love -- and that always starts with
loving ourselves. For children of abusive families, that is the most
difficult thing to learn.

I don't want to through my dirty laundry out here. But I'm concerned about
those with abusive backgrounds. I want them to know that they can heal
from the past, and learn to live a happy, productive, and love-filled
life. Yes, it will be painful. It will hurt. There will be times when you
think you'll actually die from the pain. But the reward is worth the pain
-- and, in a strange way, the pain becomes part of the happiness.

Personal Mastery -- a wonderful discipline I love very much -- did play a
critical role in my healing process. And I'd be more than happy to answer
any questions -- publicly or privately -- from list participants.

The fact is, there are those with abusive backgrounds in organizations
today. And there are those who have to manage those people -- perhaps even
managers themselves with abusive backgrounds. Being able to recognize the
patterns of behavior that indicate an abusive background can be extremely
beneficial for both managers and those who have been abused, but who
refuse to admit it. This is important because denial usually dominates the
life of those who have been abused.

NOTE: For those interested, I'll be posting further messages about what
I've gone through on my homepage. As soon as I get enough energy to
actually edit my homepage it'll be there. Hopefully before this week is

Benjamin B. Compton

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>