Most of us remember Silly Putty from childhood. A silicone-based toy, Silly Putty (trademarked by Crayola) could stretch, bounce, and replicate print images like those found in newspapers or comic books (today’s “graphic novels”).
Once removed from its protective shell, Silly Putty could be twisted and folded into a variety of shapes, and the images captured on it comically distorted. These properties still astound and delight children.
But to abuse victims, Silly Putty offers a caution.
All human beings – abuse victims included – need validation, confirmation that their thoughts and feelings are appropriate, and in line with reality. The need is part of what makes us human. However stoic we may imagine ourselves, we were engineered for connection to others.
When we are denied connection through abuse, our need for validation does not disappear. It intensifies.
Anxious to please, we may become putty in the hands of friends and family – willing to conform to their standards, to turn ourselves inside out, even if not asked to do that. It can become difficult for us to remember what we might have preferred, if our loved ones had not expressed a preference first.
The quality of our loved ones will be tested, in the process .
Most of us seek to comply with the desires of friends and family. Maintaining harmony in our relationships is a laudable goal.
Generally, it is not a great deal to ask that we pursue the same course of action our loved ones do. Affection will often sway us, especially if the choice is not of any great significance.
There should, however, be two major exceptions to this: the first regarding ethics and morality; the second regarding self-esteem.
A. Ethics and Morality
When our choices have an ethical or moral dimension, it is not sufficient to point to a loved one as the author of our actions. We are each accountable for the choices we make between right and wrong. No one can take the responsibility for those choices off our shoulders, even if our choices are influenced by affection .
Put another way, in the area of ethics and morality it is not wise to be too malleable, too pliable and easily molded.
We are all individuals. As such, we have the right to preferences. You may loathe modern art, while your best friend adores it.
Matters of preference and taste are less likely to cause harm than issues of ethics and morality. Out of affection, you may accompany your friend to a modern art exhibit. She, in turn, may go with you to a concert you have been anticipating, even if classical music does not interest her.
We compromise, share, and take turns. This is the nature of friendship. It is, or should be, a safe setting in which to reveal our true selves without fear of rejection or reprisal. Admittedly, abuse victims take a long time to reach this point.
Here, unfortunately, is the rub. There are some people undeserving of our trust, and unworthy of our friendship. The heightened need abuse victims have for validation makes us vulnerable to such people.
Those with narcissistic tendencies – vanity, selfishness, and self-absorption – may be flattered by our willingness to submit to their influence. This is not good for them or us. It enlarges their egos and deflates ours.
Those with sadistic tendencies (rare though they may be) actively enjoy hurting others. They wield power for its own sake, making unreasonable demands on the few people around them willing to comply.
Hiding alone and lonely in our shells is not a viable option. We can best protect ourselves against exploitation by paying close attention to how we feel about the choices we are being asked to make.
Whether you choose chocolate or vanilla ice cream may not have earth shattering consequences. But if you feel compelled (or “guilted”) into choosing the flavor you would prefer to avoid, there is something wrong with the choice.
Silly Putty may be a toy we recall fondly. It should not be a model for our behavior. At best, the image Silly Putty takes on is the reverse of the original. At worst, that image is warped and deformed.
Christians are to be conformed to the image of Christ, and that image only (Rom. 8: 29). We need not, in other words, twist ourselves beyond all recognition for the approval of others. Doing that is, well, silly.
“Be imitators of me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11: 1).
 As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Friends and relatives who discover our willingness to accede to their wishes may be tempted to take advantage of us. Those who resist the temptation are likely to be frustrated by our difficulty making a choice or taking an independent stand.
 Many Nazis, for instance, sought to claim they were “only following orders”. In the absence of threat or coercion, this was not a defense.
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