If you ask most people what violence is, you will probably hear a definition that includes physical force. Physical abuse, assault, and rape may spring to mind. While all of these things are indeed expressions of violence, there are more subtle expressions as well, including behavior that most of us don’t consider to be violent at all. As we ascend in consciousness, we have to look at these other expressions of violence so that we can recognize them, and therefore heal them.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language includes an interesting definition of violence that can help us to understand what it is: “abusive or unjust exercise of power.” Let’s explore this definition in society first.
People in society can do violence to you by trying to deny your voice. This includes trying to suppress your right to free speech, banning your writing or music, or firing you for being a whistleblower. In other words, officials in power can do violence to us by infringing our rights. This is a familiar enough concept. How might this play out on an everyday, personal level?
Do the people in our lives have power over us? Of course they do. We may give them too much power, as in the case of a child who tries to please a domineering parent. Or we may give them a more appropriate level of power, as in the case of a child who, while still hoping to please the parent, has retained enough of their own power to be comfortable making their own decisions. When we love someone, that person has power over our heart: we want them to love us back, unconditionally. When we respect someone, that person has power over our will: we want their good opinion. Finally, when we fear someone, that person has power over our whole being, because we will do anything to avoid what we fear. The kind of power that we allow others to have over us will determine to what extent we are affected by any violence that they might do to us.
Can we do violence to each other even in loving or respectful relationships? Yes—even unconsciously and unintentionally. The people in our lives have power, and, being human, they may abuse that power from time to time. As in the societal example, the people we love may try to muffle our voice, because we are saying things they don’t want to hear. They may try to change things in us that make them uncomfortable. They may attempt to goad or coerce us into doing things that they want us to do, even if it’s not in our best interests, or it’s something we don’t want for ourselves. These are all forms of violence.
Violence occurs when people try to impose their will—their ego—on another. This can manifest as physical (hitting, restraining), emotional (neglect, conditional love), mental (verbal abuse, lack of support, passive/aggressive behavior), and spiritual (repression and denial of true self, attempting to “mold”). In broader society, any group that tries to impose its will or way of thinking on other people—regardless of any good intentions—is inflicting violence on others. Likewise, any loved one who tries to impose their will or way of thinking onto you—by manipulating, being passive/aggressive, threatening to withhold love—is being violent to you.
So, if violence can be defined as imposing your will on others, won’t we have anarchy? Where do you draw the line? What about laws against theft or murder? Are the laws violent because they impose the lawmakers’ will on thieves and murderers?
There is a fine line between doing violence to others and being true to the higher good. Laws that seek to limit or prevent physical violence aren’t necessarily bad. However, when society tries to limit violence by inflicting more violence, it only breeds more of the same. If you want to limit violence in a society or in a relationship, you behave in a non-violent way. Violence is an illness, and we must have compassion for those who are still mired in it.
So, the way to deal with violence in a non-violent way is to practice unconditional love. Unconditional love comes from the Divine and frees us from fear. Conditional love comes from a place of fear. Violence, therefore, is bred of fear.
How do we arrive at unconditional love for others? We start with ourselves. We cannot truly love others until we love all that is perfect and imperfect in ourselves. We have to stop loving ourselves conditionally and start loving ourselves unconditionally.
When we love ourselves conditionally, we do terrible violence to ourselves. Are you a perfectionist, beating yourself up every day for not being able to adhere to an unrealistic ideal? Do you push yourself continually to do things “you have to do” without giving yourself a break? Do you tell yourself that you’re not good enough, unworthy, or bad? Do you think you’re fat, ugly, and unlovable? Are you unable to forgive yourself for an incident that occurred in the past? These are all forms of violence that we do to ourselves, everyday. If we can’t stop being violent with ourselves, how can we possibly stop being violent with others?
Ah, but how do we begin? How do we shed this legacy of violence in our world? We will; we must; it is time. But let’s not be violent to ourselves in the process. Enter into this process with forgiveness for yourself. You are not going to reach a state of unconditional love overnight, or even in a month or a year. It is a process that may last all of your life. The journey is as important as the destination.
If at all possible, find someone to help you reach your goal of self-love. It may be a trusted friend or mentor, a support group, or a counselor. Whoever you pick must be able to be objective with you. You can solicit feedback from loved ones who make you feel safe and who will be honest with you, but they are probably too close to you to guide you through the process.
As you travel the road to self-love, you will learn new ways to talk to yourself and about yourself. You will gradually be able to let go of old, violent patterns. You will learn to forgive yourself. You will learn that you matter. You have a voice. You are a divine spark who is just as important as any other divine spark. When you reach a place of understanding and love for yourself, you will not give your power away to others indiscriminately. You will be able to love, respect, and be open and vulnerable with others, and yet remain safe, because you know and trust your own heart and mind.
Violence is a two-way street. We do it to ourselves and to others; we allow others to do it to us when we give them too much power. But the buck stops here. We can stop the violence, but we must begin with ourselves. As we heal, others will begin to heal, producing an unstoppable chain reaction. We won’t help others to heal through force, but we will help them to heal when we lead by example.