At some point during the course of the support group the women in the group became angry. They had spent a few weeks walking around the territory of the abusive relationship and looked at it from several angles. Cognitively they now understood the ways in which they were being broken down and diminished. They had been listening to the stories of the other women and now they were not alone, no longer being called “mad and bad” and now they were angry!!It was an understandable and justifiable anger that was leaking into their everyday lives. They liked being angry – it made them bullish and confident. It made me very worried. That anger will take you into the ring with a heavyweight champion. I was worried for their safety.
That anger needed to be put down – not because they were wrong or it was not justifiable but because it would fail to serve them well. We needed to replace anger with something more constructive. We began to work on the idea of “cultivated indifference”. The aim was not to become an indifferent person but to be able to be indifferent to a situation or even that was designed to hurt or embarrass. One of the biggest challenges was to persuade the group to embrace the idea of indifference and then to learn the art of selective indifference.
Philippa raises an insightful and relevant comment about the intention and therefore the authenticity of the indifference. Indifference has to be authentic before it can heal you substantially; failing which it becomes part of the abusive dance routine.
“Indifferent? I never wanted to become indifferent. If I became indifferent it meant that all my hard work was for nothing. I was far too invested to give it up. Indifference meant that it was over. Over is like death to an abused woman. Who would I be without him? Nothing. When I first started cultivating indifference it was just another ploy in the game. I didn’t really mean it. All he had to do was give a look, flirt, or deliver a line in a seductive way and I fell at his feet, grateful that he still wanted me. This was part of the game of who wins. We don’t even know we’re playing it. All I wanted was to make him love me, acknowledge me and not abandon me.
When I first considered the option of indifference it was excruciating because it meant the end was near. I could not imagine what or who I would be without him. I often pretended that I had mastered indifference but it was just false bravado. THIS time I meant it. Ha ha, I never did. I only meant it long enough for him to think I had so he would capitulate and want me back. It’s part of the dance of abuse – who wins, who can hold out the longest, who blinks first. You know how much satisfaction that gives an abused woman? That’s a feast for a co-dependent.
I could only value indifference for myself when my self loathing was such that I could no longer stand myself. Finally, it had value for me. When my false, pretend indifference failed me I needed to save myself because even I could no longer stomach what was going on.”
Indifference is an acquired skill. Authentic, cultivated indifference is powerful if used selectively and elegantly.
The manual Abuse Ends When you Love Yourself will guide you through the pitfalls and skills required to cultivate indifference.