Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

A Path Will Rise to Meet Us

I once read an account of bullying in rural America in the early 20th century. The narrator said, “If a victim did not stand up to them, there was no limit to how far the bullies would go.” He described them tying another child to the train tracks as a train approached (on the parallel track). There was no appeasing the bullies. Each capitulation only whetted their appetite for new and crueler humiliations.

The psychology of bullies is well understood: compensation for a loss of power, reenactment of trauma with roles reversed, and so forth. Beyond all that, though, the Bully archetype draws from another source. On some unconscious level, what the bully wants is for the victim to cease being a victim and to stand up to him. That is why submission does not appease a bully, but only invites further torment.

There is an initiatory possibility in the abuser-victim relationship. In that relationship and perhaps beyond it, the victim seeks to control the world through submissiveness. If I am submissive enough, pitiable enough, the abuser may finally relent. Other people might step in (the Rescuer archetype). There is nothing intrinsically wrong with submission or what improvisational theater pioneer Keith Johnstone called a low-status play. There are indeed some situations when doing that is necessary to survive. However, when the submissive posture becomes a habit and the victim loses touch with her capability and strength, the initiatory potential of the situation emerges. The bully or abuser intensifies the abuse until the victim reaches a point where the situation is so intolerable that she throws habit and caution to the wind. She discovers a capacity within her that she did not know she had. She becomes someone new and greater than she had been. That is a pretty good definition of an initiation.