“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Put another way, there is a wonderful analogy that staying “neutral” is like watching the elephant crush the mouse and not interfering because you are “not taking sides”. To the mouse, you look like you are siding with the elephant.
THE DAMAGE OF NEUTRALITY
This is something that is very prevalent in our society. It ranges from the children and teenagers who stand by while a friend is being bullied to adults who look the other way when another adult is being physically or verbally abused, even when they know the adult.
Being the victim and feeling totally unsupported is a frightening thing. Wired deep into our brains is the need to be supported by the group in order to survive. If you are ignored then you are not valued by the group and not protected. This means you are in serious danger.
Often victims of abuse will report that the lack of support of others was more terrifying than the abuse itself.
NEUTRALITY IS BETRAYAL AND INVALIDATION
Victims will also say they felt betrayed by the person who remained neutral.
People think they have to stay neutral, but as the analogy says, to the mouse being crushed by the elephant you do not appear neutral. To the elephant crushing the mouse you appear to be on their side.
Think about it.
Neutrality is deeply invalidating to the mouse.
Neutrality is betrayal.
Neutrality is a form of trauma.
NEUTRALITY IS TRAUMATISING
It is trauma that challenges a person’s sense of safety in the world and the trust that they are not alone and will be defended when they need it.
Neutrality harms the brain of the victim. It damages connection bonds and destroys trust in those who practice neutrality.
NEUTRALITY DESTROYS RELATIONSHIPS
I see so many couples where trust and commitment have been destroyed by one partner remaining “neutral”.
Trust and commitment are the foundation of sound relationships. Without trust or commitment relationships are destroyed.
NEUTRALITY INCLUDES SUPPORT AFTER THE EVENT
Neutrality is not just practiced when in a situation of conflict. It can also occur when you go to another person for support and validation of your hurt, and they try to rationalise the other person’s behaviour.
This can happen when a child reports bullying at school. It can happen when a friend reports being subjected to nasty comments from people at work. It can happen when your partner’s mother is rude to you and your partner takes her side.
In those situations and many more you feel scared, unsafe and in pain.
NEUTRALITY LEADS TO YOU BEING BLAMED FOR WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU
What if the response to this is “you brought this on yourself?”.
Or you are asked “what did you do to trigger them to behave that way?” In other words, it is your fault.
How many times have you tried to tell another person about a scary situation to be told to stop complaining and get over it. Or to have the other person ignore what you said and change the subject?
The end result of all this neutrality is that you can often feel shamed.
All these are examples of neutrality and its destructive impacts.
INVALIDATION STARTS AS A BABY
Many people were raised under a style of parenting where parents were taught to leave their baby to cry. But babies cry because they have a need. Failure to meet that need invalidates their right to comfort, to be nurtured and cared for. Failure to meet that need changes the baby’s brain.
Then there are the invalidating experiences in childhood. As a child growing up, invalidation occurs every time your needs are not met by a caring parent who is attuned to you.
Parents can’t always meet your needs, but they can communicate their understanding of your situation and their concern and care for you.
So many children spend time in daycare. Culture in daycare centres often treats bullying as the fault of the victim and seeks to teach the child how to avoid being bullied. Becoming neutral is something taught very early in life.
This patterns is repeated in school. Teachers are human being and they can be caught up in the toxic “neutrality” behaviour as well. Many children experience the invalidation of neutrality when faced with bullying in school.
NEUTRALITY CAN BE ABOUT SURVIVAL FROM ABUSE
For some people, being neutral is a survival mechanism. As children they learned to side with their abuser to survive. In later life, when they are in a situation with another person who needs support, they can feel very unsafe if they don’t take the abuser’s side. They think they are being neutral when in fact they are trapped in a childhood survival mechanism.
Other people grew up frightened of the bullies and survived by not intervening. For them intervening was a very dangerous thing. In adulthood they haven’t unlearned that behaviour so keep it up.
So many people think not intervening is the right thing to do because that is what they were taught by neutrality obsessive parents, teachers, peers and society in general.
YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOUR
But that can be changed. All it needs is to learn to push through that fear and intervene anyway.
Pushing through that fear can be hard if you learned it as a survival mechanism in an abusive childhood. In those situations you may need counselling to learn to overcome that fear.
CAN I HELP?
If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you stand up to those who frighten you, or you have been invalidated by neutrality and need help healing, please contact me on 0409396608 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz