You are what your instinct is.
I have multiple visions of myself DEPENDING ON various situations and various people I am surrounded by. Each of them is true, but they vary a bit depending on the context.
We can only learn who we truly are when our AUTOMATION kicks in. Such instinctive automatic reaction shows who we really are – what is our essence about. Obviously, this isn’t something immutable since I’m sure that sometimes as a result of various events our essence can change.
Sometimes in my life I stumble across situations that are very difficult. When it happens, I often think that I won’t make it, that I’m going to break into pieces in a moment. I’m overwhelmed by the number of problems and matters to be handled and the amount of criticism and failures and I think that it’s high time to back down, admit that I’ve been wrong and take a different direction. Sometimes I have the impression that my emotional nature is my weakness and that I’m not tough enough and too delicate for the modern world, which I understand but find it hard to find my way through it. But a situation like the one that took place on the beach tells me that I’m the same person as when I was born.
I always considered myself a warrior as a child and I guess it stuck with me. Maybe I’m a little bruised and sore in a few places, but all my scars made me even more of a warrior than before. I stopped being a victim and pitying myself, although I used to have a tendency for doing that. I HATE being a victim. I had felt like that for many years and that’s where my hate comes from. I wallowed in self-pity and then in shame at doing that. Being a victim takes away your strength and deprives you of your dignity and clarity of perception. You stop being who you are and feel ashamed when looking in the mirror because you are becoming who you’re afraid to be.
In my life I looked my King Kong in the eyes a few times and won link. This shaped me before I even realized that it did. I never give up without a fight, even when it’s unreasonable. When I think that I’m weak – that’s only a thought. When I find myself in a difficult situation I’m also able to find the strength to get out of it. I told my friend that I’m not sure whether I did the right thing. Maybe I should’ve surrendered right away and it would be end of story. Maybe I put myself and others in danger.
“Listen, if nothing bad happened and additionally you managed to keep both your iPhone and dignity, then everything you did was right. Perhaps the reason why there are so many rapes and robberies is that people give up too easily. They don’t fight. They don’t believe that they can and that it makes sense. I can’t be sure of that, and neither can you. End of discussion. Now get some sleep. Just don’t turn off the light – you’ll feel safer.”
2. You know what you really care for when you may lose it.
It’s good news because it means that you don’t have to lose a thing in order to know how much you care about it. In a moment when situation forces you to react, you have no time for sugarcoating your thoughts. They just appear the way they are. There are many reasons why I need my phone while travelling. But when five guys tried to take it from me in a more or even more brutal way, I had only one thought in mind: “I won’t give it. How else am I going to communicate with HIM? They won’t take that away from me.” It was not about my iPhone or about it being new. It wasn’t about the photos that I needed for my blog. And it wasn’t even about WhatsApp where I receive everyday statuses from the company. In situation when you are threated with losing something, you know how much you care about it or about somebody, because there is no censorship then (particularly self-censorship).
3. Psychology is the most important thing.
During the period when I’m writing this, I’m also reading a book about Aleksander Doba, an extraordinary man whose courage simply brought me to my knees. He sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in a kayak – twice!
Someone told him once: “you were lucky!” He answered: “No, I wasn’t lucky (…), I was prepared.”
In my life there was a single decision that was very hard to make and that turned out to be the best that I could’ve made: my choice of studies. I have always loved studying psychology and I still do. During social psychology classes I learned about the phenomenon diffusion of, the knowledge of which often helped me.
During classes of sexual crime (who would’ve thought that this knowledge will come in handy) I learned that you should never show that you’re afraid, because that only fuels the attacker. Your fear is the air he breathes. This is what saved me from many an unpleasant views in parks and when one day – I laughed (not like I really felt like laughing)in the face of an exhibitions, . he covered himself, running away with tears in his eyes, he said: “You’re cruel.” I thought then that it was a godsend that I have this kind of background. When you have knowledge of psychology you never know what parts of it may come in handy in life.
So during all this time – when I was fighting, kicking and screaming – I have never showed that I am scare.
4. Post-traumatic fear comes even to those who know about it and think that it doesn’t concern them.
Frankly speaking, I didn’t expect it to take hold of me. I broke it down into basic pieces, explained everything to myself, had support and provided myself with a safe situation so I was convinced that I took good care of myself. However, no knowledge is going to protect us from ourselves. Psychology is like gravity – it work no matter what.
I started being afraid of murmurs inside the room. Every person that came too close made me anxious. I was waking up at night. I had nightmares. I started avoiding people. Sometimes I think about myself that I’m made of steel and I can handle anything, especially myself. My closest friend helped me a lot in that situation when he said:
“Hey, you went through something really terrible. Everyone would be afraid. Myself included. I’m not sure how I’d handle this situation but I’m pretty sure I’d feel uncomfortable for a while. Let it be and don’t torment yourself. It’s normal that you’re afraid. As you know, it only means that you’re not a psychopath – because it’s only them who are not afraid.”
I received tremendous support – to be honest, more than I could give myself on my own. I felt guilty (I shouldn’t have been taking pictures with iPhone, I shouldn’t have been walking alone, I shouldn’t have been fighting, and so on). When I said I need to be more careful I heard: “So what exactly are you going to do? You did nothing wrong. You weren’t reckless, you were on a beach in bright daylight with other people. You can’t be any MORE cautious. You had bad luck because you encountered wrong people. No caution can help with bad luck. Only your peace of mind can help with it, because, from what I heard, bad luck is afraid of happy and content people :).”
I’m very grateful to all the people who supported me without giving me advice, blaming me, telling me to go back to Poland or scaring me. I was very anxious that it would be like that. Perhaps because I was telling this to myself. In psychology they call it projection :).
5. Helplessness in a crowd is more terrifying than active aggression
When Aleksander Doba broke the rudder of his kayak during his voyage, while being very close to the destination, he said: “If I could get there using only the strength of my muscles, I surely would.” Unfortunately sometimes we have to depend on others. When I had bad dreams for a few days I didn’t dream of those who assaulted me but those who didn’t help me. I’m still in the phase when I feel shock rather than anger. For a while I’ve been tormenting myself: maybe I did something wrong, maybe I should’ve behaved differently, maybe those people did not understand. But the truth is that they DECIDED not to help. For many reasons. Maybe they were afraid too. One has to accept the reality that it’s their right. Everyone makes a decision on their own and each of those several hundred people made a decision that was not favourable to me. My Professor Jarymowicz who taught Emotions and Motivations classes (the title sounds light and pleasant, but don’t be fooled) always said: “You ALWAYS have the right to ask, as long as you ALWAYS give people the right to say no.”
Lesson for me: people can either help or not. You must be prepared for handling things on your own.
6. A policeman is also a man. too bad that he is not man enough to be a good person
A word can rape.
Caipirinha – this word raped me a few times when I was at the police station after the whole event. Yes, nothing bad happened to me. A few marks, a couple bruises, stolen jewelers – that’s really a small cost. But it’s not every day that 5 men beat me up and threaten me with a weapon. I felt very weak and lost. I understand that policemen, similarly to physicians, have to build in themselves a certain toughness in order to cope with the amount of evil that they see every day. But there was something disgusting in the fact that each of them, instead of helping me, tried to have a date with me.
No one asked me for my name, documents or description of how the attackers looked. None one of them told me to go to a hospital to be checked by a doctor and no one offered, at least officially, to take me back to the hotel. At the same time, almost every male police officer offered me a date or at least a drink later. I don’t want to dramatize, normally I wouldn’t even notice it, but when all the parts of your body, starting with brain and heart, behave like a ferret and you have no idea who you can trust, you definitely consider such behaviour disgusting. It was at the police station that I felt attacked for the second time. I thought about all those people who experienced some tragedy and depend on help from people such as these policemen. It is not enough to wear a uniform to be one. You need to behave like a policeman too. Not like a dressed-up douchebag.
7. Fight back – the first reflex
When you are coming back from the bathroom and accidentally hit your foot on your bed, what do you want to do? Kick the bed – let it get what it deserves. When you’re kicked, you want to kick back. In such case this is the worst reflex – it’s a mental reflex. GENERALIZATION – this is the kind of kicking that happens in such situations. People would understand. Even my Brazilian friends would understand. Everyone knows how dangerous Brazil is. Especially THAT part of Brazil where I stay. However, when the policemen showed me some pictures of black men asking me whether it had been them, a red light flashed in my mind. The policemen assumed that the attackers were black. “Blacks steal to get drugs.” “Yeah, except that those who assaulted me were not black, and those who eventually helped me were not white.”
When I got back to the hotel and opened Facebook- I was hit but the amount of “French” profiles full of hate towards Islam and Muslims. I disagree with that! I’m also terrified by the situation and don’t understand this religion – but I don’t agree for everything to be generalized. I have been living for 5 months in the most Muslim country in the world – Indonesia – and I found beautiful things, a lot of hospitality, attention, love and care there.
I don’t believe it’s because of religion.
I believe that it’s because of fanaticism, lack of education, poverty and lack of good values during upbringing. So if I take advantage of that reflex – I will be the same as those people who generalize. Fear is a bad counsellor. And a bad judge too. Just like you shouldn’t go shopping for groceries when hungry, you also shouldn’t let your opinions be shaped under fear. Generalization and retribution are reflexes. But you can control them. Just wait for a moment. Give your brain some time to restart.
I took as much of a lesson from this event as I could – I guess I needed that. I learned something. Maybe I got seriously scared during the process – but I didn’t miss the opportunity.
A moment before my lesson