I used to counsel survivors of domestic violence. It was both the most rewarding experience as well as the most painful of my career. On one hand, I was able to see survivors getting better and making decisions that were healthier. On the other hand, I saw the very worst of human behavior and the people willing to endure it because they, for some reason, believed that they deserved it. The survivors would frequently question their decision to leave the abusers citing that they still loved him or her.
When this would come up in a session, I would pull out a children’s toy. The toy had a lid with differently shaped holes. There were blocks that were in corresponding shapes. For children, the idea is to get them to put the blocks in the respective corresponding holes. I, however, had a different purpose in mind.
I would hand the survivors the square block and ask them to put it in the triangular hole. When they would laugh and say it would not fit, I would request that they try loving it a little harder and see if that helps. It never did. No matter how much you love that square block, it will never fit; it will never be what you need.
I recently had an encounter with a square block. And despite all of my training and my usually excellent identification of manipulation, I didn’t see it this time. I realize now that it was because I loved that block and I chose to see the triangle because that is what I had hoped for. I had hoped I could trust and that this block wouldn’t take advantage of my already fragile mind. But I was wrong. Hope and love and even kindness didn’t make a bit of difference. Nothing does to the square block.
In my recent situation, I’ve chosen to allow myself to be angry and using that energy to rebuild walls that I had let fall. Sadly, it was this same person who did the exact same thing to me 20 years ago when I had built the walls initially. So I am plagued with shame, embarrassment, and self-loathing for not seeing it for what it was.
I considered directing my anger at the block but why? It’s always been a square block. Decades haven’t changed it so why would my feelings make any difference now? They certainly haven’t historically. Briefly, there was so much anger that I wanted to lash out. But that’s just not who I am.
My heart is too full to carry hate. I opted to keep loving the way I always have: unconditionally. I don’t need to be loved back in order to love. That’s not how I work. But I have lost all faith in this block. All hope.
I also used to say something else to the survivors about hope. It’ll probably lose something in being written rather than spoken but I’ll give it a shot anyway.
Hope is a double-edged sword; it can be the thing that keeps you hanging on but it can also be the thing that keeps you hanging on.
There’s a Buddhist belief that sums it up nicely as well.