Being Courageous to Stare into the Face of Evil

stare evil courage

We can identify evil in lots of things that humans do willingly, selfishly to each other. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between what is evil and what is cruel.

Pure evil is a frightening thing to behold. The bearer lacks a moral compass and the power with which he lashes out evokes terror. His rage has no restraints. His hatred is most often projected towards others because he cannot tolerate his own experience of himself.

In my work, I am daily confronted with the broken human beings who were victims of some form of cruelty or evil. Their damage, the fear that lives on in them, the rage and shame from being a victim, keeps them from trusting, keeps them from knowing the pleasures of giving and receiving love.

As a trauma and relationship specialist, I am confronted with the pained human beings who do not know those pleasures, who perpetuate unhappiness for themselves through their own behavior, through their inability to love and respect themselves or others. They may have learned survival techniques so they look like the rest of us. Some may enter therapy and with the right therapist actually heal their deep wounds.

Those knowing my bias know how much I value the energy psychologies integrated with all the other ways of doing therapy. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is top on my list, while I teach clients take home skills like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique.) The EMDR along with relationship work does the deep attachment repair that truly heals and creates the space for re-creating one’s life.

What about the perpetrators who get away with inflicting their venom on people around them? Is there any real hope for transformation?

One day a couple came to me for a first session. She was a little, quiet, sweet woman in contrast to his powerful yet shame-based demeanor. They were in my office because he knew that what he had been doing to her over decades was wrong and he feared she would kill herself to escape from him. Even so, it took great courage for him to be willing to face his demons.

When I heard the details my insides revolted. He had visited upon her the worst, most vicious abuse a man can visit upon a woman, and she had reacted with violent physiological symptoms. I was sitting in the presence of pure evil, yet he came disguised as a normal human being, dressed in shirt and slacks.

Having read and appreciated M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie; The Hope for Healing Human Evil”, I questioned my willingness to be in the presence of such toxic energy. Peck said if we are willing to deal with it, we need to be aware of its draining impact on us.

However, almost immediately, I saw the man. I saw him as a pathetic human being who himself was damaged. Perhaps it was his employer who provided the impetus to stop drinking, which resulted in some clarity so that he was able to see the horrific damage he was doing to his wife.

When I heard their story, my theory was confirmed. He had never been loved by his family. He had been beaten, he had been raped, he had been taunted by school mates, and until he met this lovely creature, no one had ever loved him. She did love him. She saw his brokenness and fed his hunger for love. In return, he spewed his self-hatred onto her.

I understood. He believed in his sinews that he didn’t deserve such love. If his own family and everyone he had known hated him, how could this woman possibly love him?

I am choosing to spare the readers the ugly story of their decades together, and the torture she bore with no way to escape. What is significant is that they found their way to my door. My heart opened to both of them. I knew that the kind of commitment I needed to make to be their therapist would require I stay in my heart while I used every piece of life experience and training I ever had.

I set boundaries to protect each of us. We made a contract to work together and they agreed to allow me to use all the tools I have at my disposal. I worked with them, respecting her terror, her rampant PTSD that showed up in small details of normal life such as her response to a loud sound, to the smell of liquor. It was easy to love her good heart. My empathy with the early life he had led, provided me the pathway to heal his overwhelming shame and self-loathing.

Over time, he became a human being he liked. He learned the experience of self respect and the importance and value of respecting others. He developed the capacity for empathy – for himself and for his wife. She let go of her anxiety and pain and went on to be her own intrinsically loving person.

Empathy is dependent upon oxytocyn circuits that develop from being nourished with love and other positive experiences. High stress impairs oxytocyn release, leaving people in survival mode. Their ability to feel for others is dramatically inhibited or totally thwarted.

Healthy loving requires protective boundaries. It provides the safety that allows for growing trust. His learning to accept what was right and what was not – both in relation to his wife and in our work – made it possible for the profound change to which I was witness and catalyst.

Indeed, this work is hard and extracts its toll. It also infuses us healers with a sense of deep privilege. And, in the end, it was the Beatles who knew the key that makes THE difference. “All you need is love.” Good skills help, too.

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About Paula Susan

Paula Susan, MSW, LCSW, Masters in Clinical Social Work & Psychology; specialist in Trauma and Relationships since 1982. In 1991, I integrated the powerfully transformative process of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Research demonstrates that it facilitates life-altering changes more efficiently and effectively than talk therapy alone. I teach skills such as communication and anxiety relief to improve connection with others. Over the decades, I’ve come to respect how much damage even small traumatic experiences inflict on our core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. I consider it a privilege to help my clients understand and change what has undermined their happiness and their relationships. I do it with warmth, integrity, humor, and profound respect for those who care about the quality of this small piece of time we have on

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