Ode to the Petty Tyrant - Part Two

Posted by A.C. Ping
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"Nobody grows old by living a number of years
we grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may
wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm
wrinkles the soul.”
Samuel Ullman, poet.

A little while ago I wrote an article called ‘Ode to the Petty Tyrant’ which discussed the process of dealing with a Petty Tyrant – someone who usually has some unbreakable connection to you which they use against you – e.g. the other parent of your child, your boss, or even a relative.

Well it seems that Petty Tyrants are alive and active in the world because since that article was written many people have contacted me and shared their petty tyrant stories and many of them have asked what to do about it.

It’s easy to write, as I did, “Do you have enough trust and faith to let go of the fear that the truth will not prevail? If you can rise to that challenge then you can give thanks for the gift that the petty tyrant has brought to you.”

But words are cheap – many have relayed stories about being on the edge and not knowing what to do – so in practical terms here are some ideas.

Step 1 – and this is often the hardest one – Take Responsibility…

“I have an existential map, it has ‘You are here’ written all over it.”
Steven Wright

Oh yes I know it’s much more tempting to fall into victim mode and say “Oh poor me” but where does that leave you? Completely disempowered and unable to move forwards that’s where.

Taking responsibility simply means accepting that you played a role in creating this situation. As abhorrent as that may be – given the distress you may be feeling now – failure to accept your part will only trap you in an endless loop of “Why me?”.

Step 2 – Stop Beating Yourself Up

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”
Carl Bard

Now, taking responsibility also doesn’t mean beating yourself up for what you have done. Questions like “Why did I do this?” and self-deprecating statements like “I’m such an idiot” aren’t going to be useful.

Likewise, self-harming type behaviours like trying to drink yourself to oblivion, picking fights with others much bigger than you, and other peculiarities of the human condition, won’t help either. But note that if you do have a bender please resist the temptation to get up in the morning and beat yourself up about it.

Stopping beating yourself up goes hand in hand with unconditional love of self. Whatever has happened in the past can’t be changed – saying to yourself “Even though xxx has happened and I’m really disappointed in myself I choose to love and forgive myself anyway” may help.

Step 3 – Move

Martin Luther King made a great statement about the “paralysis of analysis” and it’s relevant here. Saying ‘take responsibility’ and ‘stop beating yourself up’ is easy but doing it can be much more difficult so MOVE.

If you’re in a Petty Tyrant type situation there’s probably a lot of emotional energy flowing around – you need to shift it and no amount of thinking about this will help – so MOVE.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed by what’s happening – MOVE.

Bilateral therapy is what happens when you talk about stuff as you are walking. Because you are going left foot, right foot, left foot etc. – your brain is switching back and forth between the left and right hemispheres so if you are talking about something at the same time it is shifting back and forth and giving you some different perspectives – so MOVE.

Step 4 – Strengthen Your Daily Practice

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”
Vincent Van Gogh

Petty Tyrants play power games and power games revolve around getting someone to RE-ACT.

Your task – if you choose to accept it – is to strengthen your will so that you do not react. Your task is to find ways to access your power though the freedom to choose.

“All of us, whether or not we are warriors, have a cubic centimetre of chance that pops out in front of our eyes from time to time. The difference between an average man and a warrior is that the warrior is aware of this, and one of his tasks is to be alert, deliberately waiting, so that when his cubic centimetre pops out he has the necessary speed, the prowess, to pick it up.”
Carlos Castaneda

Your daily practice is your opportunity to look after yourself and strengthen your will. At a minimum your daily practice should include three things:-
1. Setting Intention in the morning
- How do I want to be today? – this gives you the chance to be proactive
2. Monitoring Internal Dialogue
- observing the story that you are telling yourself during the course of the day – checking whether this is aligned to your intention and making sure you aren’t beating yourself up
3. Managing Focus and Being Grateful
- at the end of the day ask ‘What did I do right today?’, ‘What went well today?’, and ‘What am I grateful for?’

Petty Tyrants give us the opportunity to test our will and strengthen ourselves – saying thanks to them or for them is an amazingly empowering thing to do.

Step 5 – Be Impeccable

“It’s easy for the impotent man to take a vow of chastity and for the poor to renounce wealth.”

If you’ve ever read any of the Toltec teachings or Castaneda’s work you will recognise the need to be impeccable.

Impeccability means walking your talk – and specifically it means living and acting on your values. This raises the question of what your values are in the first place and again here you have an opportunity to say thanks to the petty tyrant for forcing you to clarify your values and ask what it is you cherish most dearly in life. Key universal values include freedom, truth, empathy, equality, impartiality and love. Upon identifying what’s most important in your life the critical question is ‘What does this look like in practice?’.

Petty Tyrants want you to RE-ACT remember, so they will taunt and provoke you to try and get you to do things that will violate your values and make you the villain. They of course will claim that any questionable actions they take are entirely justifiable. The key justification they will use is called ‘Condemning the condemner’ – which put simply says “You think I’m bad but you should see them”.

Their key strategy then is to make you reactive and angry so you do something which violates your values so they can say “See, I told you you’re bad – look what you’ve done now” – and of course be able to repeat this accusation to others to reinforce their position as the victim.

Step 6 – Manage Your Breakdowns

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling down but in rising every time we fall.”
Nelson Mandela (in reference to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky)

If you think you’re going to deal with a really good petty tyrant and not lose it occasionally then frankly you’re delusional…

Have a breakdown process ready to go for such an occasion. The two key words to remember are Acknowledge and Redirect.

Acknowledge that you are having a breakdown – in the form of being reactive and acting out of alignment with your stated intention – make sure it is just an acknowledgement – not a self-berating monologue such as “You bloody idiot…”

Then when you’ve acknowledged you’re out of alignment the next step is Redirect – redirect here means redirecting your attention by asking “What do I want?” or more specifically “What do I want to create?” in terms of the values you’ve identified and what these values look like in reality?

We are endlessly creating our world in every moment of every single day. The eternal truth that is taught over and over again in spiritual teachings is that everything changes all the time. Petty tyrants can needle and prod and provoke us in extremely uncomfortable ways. They can also make us do things that with the benefit of hindsight we regret. But they can also teach us lessons about ourselves and provide us with opportunities for growth that we could never have created without them. These six steps are some suggestions for helping you as you move forwards. They are by no means a cure all or an exhaustive list but they will help you as you go through the process.


“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2


In peace and love always.

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