Few people enjoy negotiation. Most find it unpleasant, if necessary. But, for abuse victims, negotiation can be immensely painful.
Why is this? After all, most adults have been “bargaining” since they were children. Just one more game. Just one more story, Daddy. Pleeze, Mommy, ple-e-e-eze.
Most people bargain with at least some expectation of obtaining what it is they are after. That expectation is based on past experience, and a degree of prior success. It pre-supposes an opponent can be persuaded to modify his/her position, perhaps even relent.
The experience of abuse victims is entirely different. We were forced to bargain with the devil.
However else the abuser may have appeared to the world, however pleasant or sincere s/he may have seemed, however refined, relative to us s/he was evil incarnate:
- more mature, intellectually;
- erratic and confusing, with motivation outside our comprehension;
- all powerful;
- often brutal; and
- wholly self-centered or, to put it another way, unmoved by compassion for us.
As children, we were powerless. That point was made, again and again.
“My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws…” (Ps. 22: 15).
Negotiation was, by nature, a traumatic event for victims. We may have pleaded with the abuser — quite literally — for our lives, certainly for our sanity. That fact alone makes all subsequent negotiations highly charged.
And negotiation required abject submission on our part. Anything else produced harsh punishment. We could only lay our requests on the altar, hoping to withstand the resulting blast.
Negotiation and PTSD
As adults, we may find it difficult to ask for a raise or promotion; difficult even to contest a utility bill.
The very act of speaking during negotiation can be difficult for us. Our mouths turn dry as cotton. Our tongues stick to the palate. We feel powerless, outmatched.
Buying a new car becomes an ordeal for us, topped off by shame, if we cannot manage to secure a reasonable price.
We prefer not to haggle over contracts like those for home improvement or repairs. It does not occur to us to negotiate credit card fees or the costs for phone, TV, and internet service.
For the same reasons, we do not pursue our rights when defrauded. Rather than confront the swindler, we absorb the loss when cheated of the down payment on a car or the deposit on an apartment. We let it go, when the dry cleaner ruins our favorite blouse.
Oh, we may fume inside; may sputter a little. But, deep down, we either blame ourselves or doubt we would have any chance of prevailing. Again, the experience is one of shame and failure. We berate ourselves; see ourselves as weak, though that is not the case.
We are suffering the after-effects of trauma. Genuine effects of genuine trauma.
In the Present
Identifying the problem helps. So does reminding ourselves that negotiation in the present does not have the same significance that negotiation in the past had. Whether or not we get the raise we deserve or buy the car at a price we want, we will not be physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused or neglected, as a result.
In reality, our abuse was NEVER dependent on our capacity to negotiate. We were going to be abused, whatever we said or did.
The pain negotiation causes us is the pain of that original wound. It is the price of bargaining with the devil.
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