Confronting the Petty Tyrant


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
while searching on petty tryant , I found this article and find it interesting in practical sense , not too much spiritual. I don't know any thing about the author


Confronting the Petty Tyrant
by Mariana Caplan

EVERYBODY WHO LIVES IN COMMUNITY - WHETHER A COHOUSING group or an ashram - has met a petty tyrant. In The Fire from Within (Pocket Books, 1991) Carlos Castaneda defines the petty tyrant as: "a tormentor, someone who either holds the power of life and death over warriors, or simply annoys them to distraction." Whenever the petty tyrant walks into the room your inner artillery is instantly alert and ready for combat. Everything she says - or doesn't say - gets to you. The petty tyrant is that person in community whom you either go to great lengths to avoid - at times missing meals or staying away from certain events in order to avoid encounter with her, or whom you have decided to confront head-on, making it your personal mission to change her for the benefit of all.

While we rarely directly address the issue of petty tyrants in community, we tend to gossip about them endlessly. We give ourselves full liberty to complain about how so-and-so did this, or how irresponsibly so-and-so handled that. Yet, we are rarely willing to recognize that the petty tyrant exists as a part of every community, and to discover what it means to be consciously  in relationship with him.

Petty tyrants come in many forms. Castaneda divides the tyrant into three subclasses. The first, "petty tyrants," or pinches tiranos, are fearsome, terror-inspiring individuals, often physically or emotionally abusive, who wreak havoc on our lives simply by existing. The second class of tyrants, pinches tiranitos, or "little petty tyrants," persecute and inflict misery on the lives of others, but generally don't cause irreparable damage. They may storm out of the room now and then, or deliberately create problems, but they don't threaten the overall safety of the community. The third class Castaneda calls repinches tiranitos - "small-fry petty tyrants," or pinches tiranitos chiquititos - "teensy-weensy petty tyrants." A number of this type of petty tyrant generally exists in any community. Whereas the presence of "small-fry petty tyrants" is disturbing, even highly irritating sometimes, they cause problems only by disturbing our peace of mind, or interrupting the flow of communion between community members. It is the latter two types (not the seriously abusive ones) that we will deal with here.

Whereas commonly one or two people in a community serve as petty tyrants for the majority of members, individual community members often have different petty tyrants. The man who grates on your nerves like no other may also be your best friend's husband - whom she loves despite his eccentricities. And your personal petty tyrant may change from time to time. The woman who tormented you to no end when you first joined your community may have later become your close friend.

Reactions to the petty tyrant vary. Some people treat him as sub-human, no longer able to find characteristics resembling a human being's. Others befriend him, either for their own self-interests (to fend off his wrath), or out of compassion. I tried making friends with the petty tyrant in my community for a long time. I was warned about X when I first arrived, but had decided that I would stand by him; I would be immune to his tirades; I  would be the martyr who single-handedly confronted the force of evil in the community.

I was fooling myself. I did befriend him, for a time, but I was not being kind out of the fullness of my heart, or from a place of compassion for the pain that gave rise to his antics. Instead, I was doing backbends around him - walking on eggshells in order to appease him and stay out of his way. Terrified of his rage, I codependently catered to his needs to avoid his fury. Although my actions appeared righteous, they were no better than those who engaged him and fought him tooth and nail - it was just the other side of the coin.

One day it became clear that I had been supporting him as an act of self-defense - not because I was compassionate. Recognizing this, I had no choice but to stop relating to him codependently, and to instead take full responsibility for my relationship with him. Our relationship changed dramatically - and not necessarily for the better in terms of my personal comfort. The petty tyrant stopped being kind to me; I became yet another community member whom he perceived was trying to persecute him; I became the target of the very wrath I had tried so hard to evade.

On the flip side, I now have a working, adult relationship with him. Our relationship is not "working" in the conventional sense of the word, and everything is not always nice between us, but I  am working. I am working to not let him drain me, to not obsess on my difficulties with him, to treat him kindly but not falsely, and to stay out of his way when I'm feeling sensitive and vulnerable. Furthermore, from time to time we share good moments together. And if I succeed in my work with him, it is I who will benefit the most.

We have two choices in terms of how we handle our petty tyrant: either we work with her, or we don't work with her. If we work with her, we grow, and the whole community benefits from our work. If we don't work with her, at best, we stagnate; at worst, we spiral downward in our dynamic with her until the situation becomes so unbearable that either we, or the petty tyrant, gets ejected from the situation, or the relationship shuts down entirely.

When we don't remain conscious in our relationship with our petty tyrant, instead of relating to her we "react." The type of reaction we have largely depends upon our personality and tendencies. If we are anger-based, we fight with her. If we are fear-based, we try to avoid her. If we tend to feel victimized by life, we blame our personal problems on her.

But we have another option. We can respond to our petty tyrant consciously and deliberately. We can respond on the personal level, the political or community level, and the spiritual level. Working with the petty tyrant on any one level will affect all three, even if we are unaware of it.

On the personal level, we work with the petty tyrant for the sake of our own sanity. If we refuse to work with him, we suffer. If we work with him, we've got a chance. The personal level means working with our own emotional patterns, noticing patterns in the people whom we attract, and realizing that something in us  makes us react so strongly to the petty tyrant, no matter how tyrannical.

On the community level, the level of politics, working with the petty tyrant means confronting the forces of aggression. Unconscious aggression (as compared to simple anger) generates the competitive, me-centered, "dog-eats-dog" attitude that's so common in our culture. Many of us gravitate to community as an alternative to the pervasive aggression in mainstream life. Yet we often perpetuate the same forms of aggression on a subtler level when we live in community.

If we really support nonviolence, we can take a radical stand for it by eliminating the aggression in our own lives - and there is no better opportunity for this than in the presence of a petty tyrant. A common response to the petty tyrant is to fight back (consciously or unconsciously) with aggression - even indirect, passive aggression. If we believe we're trying to live in harmony, as long as we remain in conflict with the petty tyrant we're kidding ourselves. Generally speaking, we see ourselves as non-aggressors--except  for when we think aggression is justified. However, if we want to be truly nonviolent we must practice non-aggression always - not just when it suits us! To react with hostility to the petty tyrant is to perpetuate the cycle of animosity and dominance in the world, whereas to choose to work consciously with the petty tyrant is an opportunity, in our own small way, to help reduce the amount of aggression rampant in the world.

On the spiritual level, the petty tyrant affords us the opportunity to confront the workings of our own minds, and the possibility to transcend our own  pettiness. Castaneda goes so far as to say that if we are trying to grow spiritually, and we don't  have a petty tyrant, we should seek one out! The petty tyrant provides an opportunity like none other - he allows us to face and come to terms with ourselves. Working with the petty tyrant on a spiritual level does not mean that our reactivity and difficulties with him ever go away. Instead, it means that we  learn to be steady in the face of our own reactivity; we  learn to live in a way that we are not dominated by or at the effect of harsh external forces.

My friend J. is one of the most reliable, dependable, trustworthy and caring people you could ever meet. He is a pillar of our community, and loved by all. How he got to be that way was by marrying the community petty tyrant, by staying with her, and by loving her through it all. J. has used the petty tyrant aspect of his wife to strengthen himself, and at the same time unceasingly loved her for who she is. He has earned the integrity that characterizes his life.

Now that I have, hopefully, convinced you how necessary it is to work with the petty tyrant, let me suggest some ways to work with her. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, just experiments you can try, wisdom you can access, and advice you can attempt to follow. However, it is mostly a process of trial and error. Every situation will have a different optimal response. Sometimes you will hit the mark, sometimes you'll miss.

Keep Your Problems to Yourself

A great deal of violence and aggression happens under the guise of honesty and truthfulness. New Age philosophy encourages us to express our feelings, to communicate honestly, to say what is on our minds. Sometimes that works just fine ... and sometimes it doesn't! I used to be a real martyr when it came to truth telling. My northern California education taught me to "own" my feelings and express them. I thought it my moral obligation to tell all petty tyrants in my life exactly how I felt about everything they did. It not only got me into trouble, but caused them unnecessary hurt as well.

Consider the distinction between catharsis  and cathexis. Catharsis  is when you let it all out. You scream at somebody, or pound pillows, or call a meeting to express how angry you are with somebody. Sometimes this is necessary (the talking, not the yelling). Sometimes the tension between two individuals is too great and needs to be worked out externally.

However, another option is cathexis - the process of containing emotional tension within yourself. Cathexis is not  repression; you don't deny the existence of difficult emotions and feelings. You simply let them be there and allow yourself to feel them. Initially, the feelings may become magnified; but if you let them be, neither acting them out nor trying to change them, they will eventually lose their charge. Cathexis is a powerful and practical tool that I didn't even know about until I joined a community and needed a more responsible way to deal with my feelings.
Do Something Radical in the Face of Your Pain

Try this experiment: In the face of the intensity of your reactions, say something genuinely kind to your petty tyrant. The only trick to this is that your words must be sincere and come from the heart, not from a place of antagonism. This will not be easy, because it directly confronts your own pride.

As I was complaining to a friend about my latest peeve with my petty tyrant, he suggested I try this exercise. Believe me, it took all my courage and will to say something nice to my petty assailant, but it broke the tension between us. She was in so much shock by my kindness that she couldn't even think of an angry retort.

Keep a Sense of Humor

As difficult as it may be, try to make a joke - both for your own sake and that of your petty tyrant. If he starts berating you about leaving your shoes in the middle of the floor, say, "But didn't you see the leaks in the ceiling? My shoes were the only things I had to catch the water with!" Then move your shoes. He may be further annoyed that you made a joke, but at least it will help you  lighten up in the face of his attack (and it might even lighten him up, too).

"Be That Which Nothing Can Take Root In"

A poisonous plant cannot grow if there is no soil in which to grow roots. Similarly, the success of the petty tyrant's antics depends on your willingness to allow those antics to take "root" in yourself.

"Being that which nothing can take root in" involves not only stopping the game of revolving aggression, but never agreeing to play in the first place. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the petty tyrant wants  to get a rise out of you, wants  to get to you, wants  your energy, attention, and life blood - even if her words and actions are essentially saying, "Stay away from me." If no one supports her tirade, the tyrant can not sustain her game. If the petty tyrant goes around throwing things, or doesn't show up to help with the dishes, or interrupts meetings with inappropriate comments, and you  don't react to her, but instead proceed with whatever needs to be done, you have disrupted her game.
Realize That Your Petty Tyrant Contains Both Darkness and Light

Anybody who has ever fallen in love probably knows the initial rush of feeling that you have found your own personal God, only to later recognize that he or she is just a human being complete with positive and negative qualities. If you have ever liked your petty tyrant, even for an instant, strive to remember that this same person who makes your cells contract with distaste is also  the person whom you once found kind and attractive. He hasn't changed. You may have learned a little bit more about him, but he is essentially the same person.

Take note of the times when you feel love or appreciation for your petty tyrant. Acknowledging these times can be difficult. It is easier to think of your petty tyrant as evil, thus hardening yourself to him. Yet when you acknowledge that within your petty tyrant there also exist qualities of caring, kindness, and love, then you can allow yourself to open to his humanness. Don't open to it naively, believing that he will never hurt you again, but open to the fact of his pain and suffering.

When you feel empathetic space within yourself, be spacious with your petty tyrant. Say hello, offer to help with a project he's working on, or deliberately choose to sit next to him. When you aren't feeling spacious, do your best to acknowledge his good qualities, and stay patient until your mood changes.

... And Whose Petty Tyrant Are You?

A friend of mine says: "If you're in a community and you don't think it has a petty tyrant, you're probably it!"

We tend to forget that most of us - at some point - are somebody else's petty tyrant. We can often see in someone's face, or hear in his response to us, the times when we are grinding on his nerves. When we see that we are causing this reaction in somebody else, we tend to feel hurt. "He doesn't understand me." "He doesn't know why I did what I did, or why I acted the way I acted." "He doesn't know the amount of stress I'm under." On the other hand, when the petty tyrant is getting on our  nerves, we think that we understand him entirely. We think we've got his number. We believe we know what's going on. We don't consider that he feels as misunderstood by us as we do when someone else has a similar reaction to us.
Constructive Feedback Can Be Helpful

There is a time and a place for giving constructive feedback to your petty tyrant. The time, however, is not in the midst of a heated argument, but when the intensity of your own reactivity and emotions have passed, and your perspective is more objective. Similarly, the "place" is not at the scene of the petty tyrant's most recent tirade, but instead in a quiet setting, when support is nearby.

Constructive feedback is valuable because the petty tyrant is only acting out because he is in pain. Feedback and encouragement to change, when provided in a helpful way, can assist the petty tyrant in changing those behaviors that ultimately serve only to alienate him further from community.

Strive to Be Compassionate

This leads us to the subject of compassion, which is easy to talk about, but hard to enact. We become compassionate when we realize that the petty tyrant is acting in the way that she acts because she is in pain. Period. Her harsh words and actions are stemming directly from her own suffering, and whether it comes out in the form of anger, self-pity, or trouble-making, its source is personal pain. When somebody behaves aggressively and hurtfully towards us, that person suffers the greatest pain. That is why  she behaves as she does.

Again, this is not an excuse to pity someone, nor to assert ourselves as less wounded or "more together" than her. Pity and compassion are very different things. Pity comes from a place of self-importance and superiority; compassion comes from the humility of having seen objectively and clearly the shared human predicament we're all in together.

LASTLY, always keep in mind that your petty tyrant is your opportunity. While you can't change this person, you can certainly use his or her looming presence as grist for the mill - for learning to empower yourself and live a life of greater richness.

Mariana Caplan is an author, lecturer, and counselor. She has written  When Sons and Daughters Choose Alternative Lifestyles (Hohm Press, 1996) and the forthcoming  Untouched: The Need for Genuine Affection in an Impersonal World (Hohm Press, 1998). She lives in community in Arizona
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