I was in bed, lost in a haze of anger. At the surface level I was upset about something Mike had done. I was angry and blaming him for my emotional state. At the deeper levels, of course it was not about what Mike had said or done. Something from my childhood was triggered. A very old anger and sense of powerlessness. But as it happens so often, when we’re in it, we’re in it! I was not ready to admit that he wasn’t to blame for my distress. I wanted him to apologize, and I got more and more angry as I didn’t feel that was happening. I was spinning in a downwards spiral. What started as a meaningless miscommunication was spreading into destructive aggression.
Cain & Abel
Suddenly I remembered a YouTube video I’d been watching earlier with Jordan Peterson, a Canadian professor of psychology, an extremely sharp mind who deciphers the deeper psychological meaning behind universal mythology. This time he was lecturing about the Old Testament story about Cain & Abel. My Christian religion suspicion aside, this was interesting:
The envious Cain kills his brother, Abel, who is making all the sacrifices to God, and therefore having a prosperous life while Cain is struggling. God does not punish Cain for the killing, but declares that if anyone ever kills Cain’s (yes, bad-boy Cain’s) children, God will kill 7 of his family members. And if anyone ever kills any of Cain’s children’s children, God will kill 7×7 of them. Endlessly. A chain reaction of aggression.
Cain had not made the sacrifices to God because he was refusing to admit to his human vulnerability. In Peterson’s version, a sacrifice is to give up something in the now, for the sake of a benefit in the future. It’s surrendering the ego (that tells you NOT to show your vulnerability) to the fact that we a dependent on connection. Connection – the opposite of aggression.
I was laying there, fuming with anger. I didn’t want to sacrifice my ego and surrender to the vulnerability the misunderstanding with Mike had caused me. Instead I was sending out aggression, in an endless downwards spin. The connection that my vulnerable self was longing for, became more and more impossible.
In a moment of Eureka! I realized that this was exactly what Peterson had been talking about. When we disown our vulnerability aggression fosters aggression. Only when we sacrifice the smallness of our ego is connection possible.
This is not an easy task. Laying our vulnerability on the altar is so painfully exposing. We might have to give up the quest for proving a point: the need to psychologically eradicate our enemy. To ‘kill our self-righteous brother’. That’s making a sacrifice in the now, for the sake of a better future.
And once you’ve seen it, it’s too late. It’s impossible to stay in integrity while you keep doing something that’s clearly destructive. So here’s the breaking point: if you want to keep your self-respect, they way to get it is the opposite of what your ego thinks. It’s by bringing your vulnerability to the altar. It’s creating connection instead of destruction. It is making the choice, moment-to-moment, to ban destruction from your consciousness. Simply stop feeding it.
I turned around in bed, softened my body, looked Mike in the eye and told him why I was hurting. Not what ‘he had done to evoke my anger’, but the vulnerability the situation had exposed in me. I fell asleep with his arms around me. Peterson would say I’d made my sacrifice to God…
Jordan Peterson’s lecture: https://youtu.be/44f3mxcsI50