What Inside Us Calls Forth Nastiness?

Via Kara-Leah Grant
on Jun 1, 2012
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Photo: nicora

What Makes Us Mean? Why do We Abuse the Other?

I feel shaky, yet grounded and clear.

I just walked away from an abusive encounter, feeling untouched by the insults that were hurled at me. The words had no power to hurt, and nothing to hook into, not anymore.

It’s taken a long time, but I’ve come into a place of power where I know that what another person says, thinks or does has nothing to do with me.

That abuse, it’s not personal. It’s not about me. If it was, everyone I met would be saying the same nasty things. No, the abuse coming from that person is about them. I’m triggering whatever it is that lives inside of them.

Walking away, untouched, unhurt, unfeeling, I felt like I’d been given a gift. Life was showing me how far I’d come and how much I’ve changed. I was grateful. Even to the person abusing me.

Later, a few minutes after driving away, I parked my car and sat. Now I was shaken, now I was feeling, now I was upset. The words themselves hadn’t affected me, but what the abuse revealed about the ongoing nature of the relating between this person and I—that affected me.

So I sat. I watched my mind. I breathed into my feelings. I allowed myself to be. In the sitting, I felt into the fullness of the experience and questioned into the ideal response (is there such a thing? Or is there only the actual response?).

This sitting is important.

If I wasn’t to sit and feel into my experience, instead pushing it away and going about my day, the energy of the unexpressed feelings and thoughts would manifest in other ways. Energy has to go somewhere. It can’t disappear. It’s always transmuted.

Sitting and feeling into my experience doesn’t mean that I react to what I’m feeling or thinking, only that I stay present to it, observing it as it arises.

This is my practice, integrated into my life.

This is meditation, taken into my day.

This is how I’m incrementally learning to master my mind, and master my emotions. Not by controlling either of them, but by giving them the attention they need. By seeing them. Hearing them. Feeling them. Acknowledging that they’re there, and that they’re okay.

I had planned to come to the library and write the workbook I’m creating for a yoga workshop I’m delivering next weekend. I want to do this. I don’t want to let the events of the morning derail me because it feels like I’m letting the abusive person control my life, and control me.

I notice that wanting. I notice the desire to stay clear and grounded in my life. But I also check in and see what it is that I need. The events of the morning have shifted my energetic, emotional and mental state. My needs have changed.

First I text a friend and make arrangements so I don’t need to see this person again today. I need to protect myself. Second, I take time to be where I am. I’m sitting in my car still, and watch a parking meter man chalk my car. Two hours. Time enough to go into the library and just see what arises. Maybe I’ll work. Maybe I won’t.

In the library my eye is drawn to the religious section. Last time I was here, I couldn’t find that section of the library, this time it’s the only section I can see. A quick browse reveals four books worth taking off the shelf, books that are piled up beside me now. One or two might even help with my workbook.

As I browsed through the many books written on spirituality, oneness and God, I could feel the need for expression. For writing. There is something in making manifest my internal experience that helps me to be with it. It’s all grist for the mill. Maybe this is what calls the artist—that need to express what is experienced, the need to share it with others and so reveal the reality experienced within, widening others’ experience of what it means to be alive.

So I do.

I sit. And I write. In the writing, I feel relief. A sense of:

Ah, yes, here I am. It’s all okay. I’m okay. This is okay. Just another experience. Not a big deal.

And I wonder… what inside us calls forth nastiness? What makes us mean? Why do we abuse the other?

What was this person hoping to achieve? What did they want to create? Or are they being run entirely by unconscious desires and unconscious needs? Are they playing their part in a drama, of which I have a role to play too?

It doesn’t really matter, why they do what they do. Oh, I can feel into their experience, I can call up that part of me which could be abusive and nasty and mean and see what it feels like from the inside out so that I may understand them better. But what they do? It doesn’t matter.

All that matters is how I respond.

This is the difference between trying to control the world outside of us, which paradoxically turns us into its victim.

And responding to the world outside of us, which calls forth our empowerment.

He is who he is.

I am who I choose to be.

Therein lies my power.

And perhaps that is where his rage comes from, his anger too. He feels no choice in his circumstances, in his relating to me. He feels my power and has yet to feel his own. He feels a victim to me and all that I have done, and in that powerless, helpless state, needs to call forth his anger and his rage so he can feel strong again.


‘Tis only a musing of my mind.

I could be wrong.

It might be something completely different.

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Editor: Lynn Hasselberger


About Kara-Leah Grant

Kara-Leah Grant is an internationally renowned retreat leader, yoga teacher and writer. Along with fellow Elephant Journal writer, Ben Ralston, she runs Heart of Tribe, pouring her love into growing a world-wide tribe of courageous, committed, and empowered individuals through leading retreats in New Zealand, Mexico and Sri Lanka. Kara-Leah is also the founder of New Zealand’s own awesome yoga website, The Yoga Lunchbox, and author of Forty Days of Yoga—Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice and The No-More-Excuses Guide to Yoga. A born & bred Kiwi who spent her twenties wandering the world and living large, Kara-Leah has spent time in Canada, the USA, France, England, Mexico, and a handful of other luscious locations. She now lives and travels internationally with her son, a ninja-in-training. You can find Kara-Leah on her website, or on Facebook.


11 Responses to “What Inside Us Calls Forth Nastiness?”

  1. MamasteNJ says:

    Just intro's on FB to; Spirituality & Health & Wellness

  2. yogasamurai says:

    "He is who he is.
    I am who I choose to be.
    Therein lies my power."

    I think it all depends on the content and the context. There's a great tendency in so-called Eastern meditative settings to think that when people are directing their discontent with me that it's all their projection – and NOT about me.

    Frankly, I think it depends on what you might have done or not done, and whether any real breach of trust and responsibility occurred. It depends on the issue that's actually at stake?

    Men who are pricks doing stupid and selfish things sometimes get called on the carpet for it – for good reason, and there's anger expressed by those who may not only be disappointed but who have to deal with the fall-out or damage that might have occurred. Women who act like selfish bitches get called out, too.

    It's called holding people accountable – or trying to.

    Are there more or better ways to try to hold other people accountable? There could be, depends on who they are and what your level of communication is, and whether the person is capable of listening.

    With some some people, frankly, the only way to get their attention is to hit them over the head with a two-by-four – figuratively (hopefully).

    Does it work? Actually, sometimes it does – stubborn donkeys only move when you hit them. But sometimes, and perhaps often, it doesn't.

    Again, I think it depends on the context. It's not the angry reaction per se that's the problem. It's whether it's appropriate to the actual situation and what's actually occurred.

    Am I saying that anger is appropriate? Absolutely, sometimes it is – and in those cases, it's up to the recipient to deal with it, not try to Namaste it away.

    It sounds like something specific happened here between you and someone else. No idea what that is, but what's yours and someone else's really depends on what actually occurred?

    Unless, as you imply, it's actually just a power struggle. As in, fuck you, I don't care what you think or how upset you are – I'll do whatever I want, thank you.

    That's one version of "empowerment," I suppose. If you're being shamed or unduly blamed, it might well be.

    Meditation, though, shouldn't become an excuse for becoming so self-focused that you actually detach from social and inter-personal responsibility. Although I think that's becoming increasingly popular!

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Hey Yoga Samurai,

    Yes, much does depend on context and content. And anger most certainly has it's place as an appropriate response in some situations.

    Without providing more specific content and context, it is difficult for the reader to know exactly what's going on.

    And who I choose to be might include being appropriately angry in the right way at the right time. The key is that it's a chosen response rather than an unconscious reaction.

    Other people's discontent may have much to do with us – how they chose to express it has everything to do with them. While one person may be able to communicate their discontent in a way that is respectful, another may express their discontent in a mean, nasty and abusive way. The way the message is communicated makes it difficult to then deal with the underlying issue or discontent.

    Thanks for the reminder of the danger of using meditation to detach, and also that anger is sometimes appropriate. Your comment has added depth and balance to my original article.

  4. indigocraft says:

    Hi K-L, I continue following your writing with great interest and pleasure since reconnecting in a small way.

    I'm constantly surprised by the parallels in our lives and having had a very similar experience to this last week I just wanted to say thanks for your article as it has helped me clarify and confirm my feelings about my own situation, and perhaps have a bit more peace with it.

    Much love,

  5. Hey Yoga Samurai,

    Bugger it! I wrote a long reply to your comment and it seems to have disappeared. Weirdness indeed.

    Suffice to say – thanks for adding depth and clarity to my article. Yes, context and content is important to be able to evaluate a particular situation. Anger is appropriate at times too. When I choose how to be, sometimes that choice may be anger, as that's what is required. However, that anger then becomes a choice, and a response, rather than an unconscious, knee-jerk reaction.

    And yes, using meditation to detach from responsibility is a slippery slope.

    In cases of emotional and verbal abuse, how am I responsible for the way this person is reacting to me? And maybe I'm not. One person can communicate their discontent in an abusive manner, another person may be able to communicate that same discontent in a respectful and articulate manner. The discontent remains the same, the communication and the impact it has, starkly different.

    And what is the responsible way to respond to abuse? I don't have any answers to this. Still working on it 🙂 Mostly, it confuses me – that someone who proclaims to love one speaks in such a nasty and mean way. I don't get it.

  6. Hey K,

    Thanks for the feedback – always interesting to hear how other people are encountered similar situations at the same time.


  7. JacquiJ says:

    How very timely this was for me to read – I am up at 3 in the morning after a nasty bout of unnecessarily unkind words being exchanged with my other half. Can't sleep. Your words are helpful to me, so I am now going to hit the pillow. I am sure some higher being guided me to read your article. thanks!

  8. Hey Jacqui,

    Glad to be of help. Hope the sleep also helped!

  9. […] then, I can use this awareness to understand where these unconscious reactions are coming from and how to move through […]

  10. […] If the offensive person doesn’t deserve to be treated with understanding, you do. Take time to assess the underlying why behind this person’s aggression. […]

  11. Kat says:

    We cannot learn to respect others unless we learn to respect ourselves. And we cannot learn to respect ourselves if the people in our lives keep trying to tell us, either in words or actions, how to talk or behave, just to please society, or family, at the very least. And not knowing how to respect ourselves comes from early childhood "programming" for lack of a better word. Is this the root of the abuse and nastiness? Maybe. If we are abused at all in anyway, and we don't come across any mitigating circumstances or people to correct our thinking, we end up with festering angry wounds, and we take it out on those we say we love. Some people are abusive because they literally learned what they lived. Some are just downright selfish and never had any correction of any kind, and are narcissistically unaware of their faults and faulty notions. This last sentence describes my late grandmother. It's taken over ten years of therapy for my dad to work through a lot of the verbal BS he got from his mother. And he is still not done yet. I've mastered some of my own fallout issues related to my grandmother as well as my dad (who is really a good guy–just a mite pedantic and a bit controlling in his attitudes sometimes). But it has not been an easy road, and I think it would have been a much longer road had it not been for the mitigating force of my favorite musician, showing me what I need to do for myself to grow into the kind of emotionally balanced human I want to be.