Imagine two friends, Aiden and Zeke, sitting together. Aiden points to the wall, exclaiming, “Isn’t that a beautiful shade of blue!” Zeke replies, “It’s white.” Aiden claims that Zeke is wrong and insists that the wall is blue. “If you see white, your eyes are tricking you.” Further Adam aggressively asserts, “If you don’t see that it’s blue, as I do, our friendship is over.”
Aiden has thrust on Zeke a cruel choice. If Zeke adheres to his perceptual truth, i.e. what his own eyes tell him – that the wall is white, he loses a friend. For Zeke the contemplation of losing Aiden is devastating: Zeke has depended and counted on their friendship for years.
If Zeke chooses friendship with Aiden, he must in the same stroke negate the truth of his perceptions – what he sees – the wall is white.
So what does he do? What matters – the friendship or the integrity of his own perceptions? This the Blue Wall dilemma.
In the allegory Zeke’s choices are stark. In real life, the Blue Wall dilemma in relationships plays out on a spectrum from mild to extreme. In this first of three posts I take up the grimmest, most toxic extreme end of the Blue Wall continuum. At that end there are no shortages of horrifying relational patterns – bullying, spousal abuse, #MeToo, work place harassment, human trafficking. Specifically in this post I consider child sexual molestation as the exemplar of the crushing choices at the extreme end of the Blue Wall spectrum.
In the second post I will examine the exercise of power in relationships at the mild to moderate end of the continuum. Unfortunately the less extreme Blue Wall choices are often deeply toxic and harmful, and these play out all-too-frequently in people’s lives.
In the third post I will take up an alternative growth-promoting way of engaging conflict in relationships that I metaphorically label “crossing the street.”
The Dark End of the Blue Wall Spectrum – Child Sexual Molestation
Child sexual molestation darkly afflicts ours and many cultures: it leaves in its wake shattered lives. I consider it here, in part, because it exemplifies the grim but all-too-common choices at the darkest end of the Blue Wall spectrum. I will describe the pattern, comment on the perpetrator’s mind and then reflect on the child’s horrifying Blue Wall dilemma.
An adult (a father, priest, uncle) grooms and sexually molests a child thereby coercing the child into the service of the adult’s boundary violating yearnings and urgencies. The adult manipulates: 1) ours – the child and adult’s – relationship is loving and special; 2) if you disclose, no one will believe you; or 3) if you tell, you will hurt me and I will abandon or hurt you in kind. Children from toddlers, even babies, to teenagers fall victim and the abuses ranges in frequency, duration and the specificities of the encounters.
The Perpetrator’s Mind
At its psychological core, perpetrators who violate a child’s boundaries are blind to the sufferings of their young victims. A child’s feelings are invisible to the violator, because he is incapable of seeing that young person’s mind as anything other than an extension of his own yearnings and imperatives. In his mental process, outside of his conscious awareness, there are no boundaries, no separations between the child’s mind and his own mind. His yearnings are the child’s yearnings.
Despite the widely held revulsion at the perpetrator’s heinous victimization of children, his yearnings are rooted in his own unseen deprivations and often traumatic childhood relational sufferings. While his childhood sufferings may help to explain his assaults and could be explored, the primary focus of this post is on the terrifying Blue Wall choices of his victim.
For a child this extreme relational dilemma is layered with cruelties – the obvious lack of bio-sexual energies and interest, the stark prematurity of the experience, the developmentally determined absence of sexual agency and psychological preparedness.
And in the subjectivity of her response, she experiences this absence of boundaries as invisibility, a crushing annihilation of her separate being. She is made to not exist as a separate person with a different mental life as he imposes his physical will on her young life. As with Zeke in relation the Aiden, her perceptual truth has no value.
A child’s well-being and sense of self, even life itself, rest on adult s’ care and nurturance. Like Zeke in the allegory, a molested child is pressed to choose relationship over truth. Regardless of the magnitude of toxicities, the child’s necessity for emotional and relational connection frequently trump perceptual truth. The child pushes aside and quashes his/her own perceptions and most often buries them in shame. “What happened to me must have been my fault. If I had been a more worthy child, this would not have happened. Somehow I must have invited it.”
Cruelest of all is the disowning and disavowal of a child’s perceptual truth that “that person really did kiss,fondle and penetrate me.” The discounting blows up, annihilates and destroys perceptual truth and is crazy making. Without help, support and working through, the child can never thereafter claim the truth of her own perceptions and mind.
Mental health and well-being depend at their most basic level on the truth of one’s own experiences, the ability to share these and be believed/understood and the freedom to make choices.
Chilling Blue Wall relational interactions are tightly bound to a wide variety of brutalizing relational experiences such as those mentioned above: human trafficking, spousal abuse, #MeToo, bullying, workplace harassment, etc. At these Blue Wall extremes, victims’ lives depend entirely on the other: the victimizer has all the power.
Fortunately for civilization, the dark and graphic ends of the Blue Wall spectrum have captured wider cultural recognition and greater public redress in recent year. However, prosecutory focus and policy/legislative redress continue to fall grievously short of longed for justice and truth.
In the next post I consider the mild-to-moderate end of the Blue Wall spectrum of experiences that can also can cause long-term and harming effects on psychological well-being.