The Three Poisons II – The Snake: Aversion

Aversion is the fundamental rejection of what is occurring in our life at the moment. Aversion is a rejection of the situation we are in; rejection of our physical situation, the way someone is acting toward us, the traffic moving too slowly, the home team losing, the computer broken, or a panoply of situations that defy our desire.

Aversion is dominated by the narrative of disappointment, an experience that the world is not operating according to my narcissistic wishes. It’s a feeling of cosmic betrayal by a fickle world. The feelings associated with aversive disappointment are either a variety of anger or depression.

When we are dominated by aversion we are always focused on what is missing. It is the opposite of gratitude, wherein we focus on life’s abundance and joy. The gap between desire and reality open the door to rage or despondency.

I recently re-watched episodes of, The Sopranos. The lead character goes through life constantly focused on what he is not getting, what is aversive to him, and responds almost uniformly with hostility, ranging from annoyance to rage to murder. The reality is that he gets anything he wants, but he is blind to that, consumed as he is with disappointment.

Of course, the show’s hook is that the mobster is in therapy. And under the softening effect of therapy his depressive core comes out. A cold, rejecting, hostile mother, a model father prone to violence for a living, he is on a desperate search for love through a series of shallow relationships, while he has a woman at home who truly loves him.

Freud also hypothesized that depression was anger turned inward. Note that the personality of mass shooters is one of isolation, resentment, and brooding, depressive traits that then build to an explosion.

The avoidant always feels victimized. There is a denial of responsibility, not seeing that it is his subjective coloring of the situation that makes it break. The world is a cruel and ugly place that I destroy or let destroy me.

Clinical syndromes with depression, paranoia, social isolation, dominate the passive pole. Disappointment, aggravation, and annoyance are colorings of the active or aggressive manifestation. Anger is the energized pole and manifests itself in animosity toward others, thoughts of revenge, short frustration tolerance, jealousy, envy and resentment which all fuel acting out disorders.

The Rooster: Confusion and delusion

In the pictographs of The Three Poisons, the three animals shown are connected by their tales, demonstrating that the three poisons are interconnected. However, the fundamental poison is a delusion. Delusions are the underpinning of both aversion and attachment. Delusion refers to our fundamental misunderstanding of reality. Delusions prevent us from seeing the world as it is. Our sensory-based perceptions distort this reality.

The basic delusional beliefs are:

1) Impermanence: Nothing lasts. While we may perceive permanence, change is always occurring. Our senses delude us; a look at the underlying reality informs us that change is the constant.

2) A common delusion is that we can live life without fear and pain. We think that if we take one more step, have one insight, achieve one accomplishment, it will bring us happiness. However, happiness is always fleeting. Fear, pain, and hurt are inherent in living. It’s the way we face these afflictive states that leads to life acceptance. Pain, however, is a given. Pain is mitigated by looking inside ourselves, not focusing on the outside world.

3) Our unwholesome mental states create suffering. Suffering does not come from events, but from our perception and evaluation of events. Happiness is created by life-affirming actions.

The metaphor of Sisyphus best describes our lives. Sisyphus offended the gods, so, as a punishment, he had to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity. When the bolder reached the top, it would fall back to the bottom. Sisyphus then would have to begin the circular process again.

The writer-philosopher Albert Camus wrote a famous essay on Sisyphus. He saw Sisyphus as the common man. Camus defined the problem as man’s belief that “this time the stone will stay.” But if we accept that the rock will always fall, we are free, free of distorted expectations. Once we accept the constant ups and downs of life, we enjoy the good times, suffer during bad times, but learn to accept both with contentment, not aversion or desire.

About the writer: Dr. Michael Abramsky

Michael Abramsky PhD, ABPP is a licensed psychologist with 35 years of experience treating adolescents and adults for anxiety, depression and trauma. He is nationally Board Certified in both Clinical and Forensic psychology. Dr. Abramsky also has an MA in Comparative Religions, and has practiced and taught Buddhist Meditation for 25 years.

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