Among Dan Brown's many accomplishments is bringing the cilice belt to popular attention. Silas, Brown's tonsured hit man in "The Da Vinci Code", wears one and also flagellates himself with The Discipline, a knotted rope. The image of this tall, albino monk performing 'corporal mortification' is a shocking one that stays with the reader.
Curiously, it was the image that sprang to mind yesterday when I was talking with a woman about the issues she is facing right now. Yvette (not her real name) is not, fortunately, at risk physically, but the situation in which she lives is spiralling out of control.
Her emotional world is becoming increasingly tortured and intolerable. And because she objects to various behaviours of her partner's that she senses to be fundamentally wrong, she is being blamed. She is constantly being told that her attitude, rather than the behaviours, are the source of the problem.
Yvette is desperate to manage a dysfunctional situation and remain in control of her life. Her dilemma is this: if her partner's behaviours are unacceptable then she is vindicated… but powerless. Because they are not going to change. If her attitude is to blame, then she is, clearly, losing her grip on the situation but, theoretically at least, she has the power to improve things.
Maybe this strikes a chord with you?
Reassurance doesn't work terribly well in a situation like this, because if Yvette is right, then the situation must be worse even than she likes to think. (Actually, it's a perfect no win situation for her, because if the opposite is true and the behaviours are ok, to her that signifies she must be spiralling into mental illness.)
And so it was that I suggested to her that she get a cilice belt and a Discipline and ritually flagellate herself. I said this not because I don't care about her situation and would wish any more pain on her. I care very much and would dearly love her to be spared any further pain.
Precisely because I care, I wanted to give her a response she could work with. Reassurance wasn't going to do that for more than about 5 minutes.
She met my suggestion with stunned silence. Then she started to laugh. The image was so grotesque that it was funny. And as she laughed she translated it into terms that were meaningful to her. Suddenly she could visualise what she had been doing, unintentionally, and it became repellent to her.
Words are tremendously powerful. Words have the power to shackle and enslave you. The right words also have the power to set you on the path back to freedom and wholeness.
C) 2005 Annie Kaszina