Lois asked how she could escape a narcissistic sociopath and his passive aggressive ally. The first was her boss, the second the boss' right-hand man. I don't know the two, so I can't say whether she was exaggerating or not. However, Lois was miserable enough at work to want to escape. Another person asked the same question about a verbally abusive family member. He was suffering from low self-esteem and stress from being continuously criticized and subjected to verbal abuse for small "infractions" by his partner.
These issues brought to mind Don Juan's petty tyrant teaching. Don Juan was a Yaqui Indian teacher to Carlos Castaneda. Carlos described Don Juan in a series of books that chronicled his teachings over several years.
The petty tyrant teachings are adaptable to the situations many people find themselves in at work or at home where they experience a petty tyrant - a person in authority who pushes their buttons and makes them feel angry, frustrated, fearful and otherwise uncomfortable. "A petty tyrant is a tormentor," ... Someone who either holds the power of life and death over warriors or simply annoys them to distraction."
Lois was caught in a frightening situation. She was being "mobbed." She was suffering potentially severe symptoms - panic attacks, loss of sleep, and more. Mobbing is a form bullying. It is psychological harassment or emotional abuse. This type of abuse can cause post-traumatic stress syndrome, low self-esteem and other symptoms. It has resulted in suicide and violence against the abusers.
A Fierce Approach
To address this type of situation, there are standard approaches, including counseling and psychotherapy, escalation to a human resources department, legal action, getting a new job or partner, etc. You can get tons of advice on these on the web.
In this article, the focus is on a fierce and radical warrior's approach. Warriors are those who aspire and commit to freeing themselves and being able to handle the unknown and unknowable.
The approach promotes a transition from reactivity to responsiveness. It involves self-reflection and the application of mindfulness, wisdom and a sense of compassion that includes oneself and the abuser. It is the same approach recommended for managing any emotional state.
It is a "fierce" approach because it requires the courage to look at one's own responsibility (while not getting lost in self-blaming), to consider difficult options and withstand the abuse until it can be ended. It requires being responsive rather than reactive; kind and compassionate rather than angry and revengeful.
Emotional abuse, with potentially severe and long-lasting effects on the target and the abuser, can be handled in a more gradual way than physical abuse which requires a more immediate response.
The fierce approach is based on the idea that
"nothing can temper the spirit of a warrior as much as the challenge of dealing with impossible people in positions of power. Only under those conditions can warriors acquire the sobriety and serenity to stand the pressure of the unknowable."
Facing Petty Tyrants
Don Juan taught that it is the task of warriors to face these petty tyrants.
To be defeated meant to act in anger, and potentially join the ranks of the Petty Tyrants or to be perpetually in the role of victim.
o prevail Don Juan said
one must give up self-importance and to apply control, discipline, forbearing and timing. Giving up self-importance as a first step is threatening to many. Don Juan taught that
"Self-importance is our greatest enemy. Think about it - what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone."
He "... recommended that every effort should be made to eradicate self-importance from the lives of warriors. ... without self-importance we are invulnerable."
Other wisdom teaching traditions offer the same advice. They say, do not identify with a solid sense of self and with the desires and fears that drive reactive feelings and behavior. Self-importance wastes energy. Without being burdened with self-importance there can be objectivity and choice.
Choice requires the control, discipline and timing to think, plan and act. Forbearance is the ability to withstand the painful environment the petty tyrant creates. It is patience powered by equanimity. Equanimity is the direct result of giving up self importance.
To the warrior, being confronted with a petty tyrant is an opportunity to overcome her own obstacles.
What are tyrants there to teach? Can the warrior cultivate the patience to take the heat without reacting in fear and anger while at the same time finding the right way and time to expose the tyrant for what they are and to escape from their grasp?
The warrior's approach combines mindfully stepping back to overcome self-importance and cultivating unconditional compassion and loving kindness for self and others
Stepping back enables assessing one's part in the harassment - "what am I doing (or not doing) to trigger or perpetuate the abuse?"
Stepping back makes room for two things - first it takes the personal sting out of the situation. Not that it makes the situation more pleasant. It makes the situation bearable and doesn't make it worse than it is. The warrior sees the situation as a sociological/psychological phenomenon rather than a personal threat. From that perspective he can identify and assess options - stay and accept, stay and fight, leave, leave and fight, or any other practical option, for example:
- firing your boss - quitting, asking for a transfer (including the clear statement of why and specific examples)
- confronting the tyrants and telling them you will not take their abuse anymore
- collaborating with your peers to confront the boss and his ally
- staying with it, with a different attitude
- publicly exposing the tyrant.
Discipline is needed to make sure the issues are clearly stated and that there are concrete examples of the abuse. It enables a plan and the resolve to act on it.
The petty tyrant experience becomes an opportunity for self-growth. As Don Juan says "
Only under those conditions can warriors acquire the sobriety and serenity to stand the pressure of the unknowable."
The pressure of the unknowable is like being in free fall, out of control. As long as the one falling is self-important and as long as there is the need to somehow be in control and get out of the situation, there is fear.
Fear becomes fight - anger, revenge, etc. - or flight - ignoring the abuse or running away before the situation
is fully resolved. The fire of the confrontation is what removes impurities and strengthens the warrior. The pressure to be in control, fueled by self-importance, is relieved and there is just the unknowable.
Your ability to handle petty tyrants relies on mindfulness, a sense of unconditional compassion and the wisdom to know that everything is in continuous change; that ultimately you are not in control and that your own self-importance is getting in your way.
This is a fierce, warrior's approach that is not about finding solace. Instead, it is about finding freedom, happiness and peace.