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I was reading on a news site one of those pop psychology articles about how to get to an “aha” moment. There was a story about a man who tamed a bird by dropping his hand when the bird tried to leave, so it couldn’t get enough lift to fly away. The article’s author was waxing poetic about some bumper sticker inspirational nonsense about the ability to soar depending on being able to push back against something you don’t want. What bothered me, beyond the fluffy, hallmark-moment type nauseatingly sweet sentiment, was how cruelty played the roll in keeping the bird there where it didn’t want to be or belong.

It reminded me of so many experiences where I’ve wanted either to leave a bad situation or relationship, but when I mustered the courage to do so, the person dropped their hand and wouldn’t let me “soar” (or, more realistically, escape). What’s more dysfunctional about this behavior is that when it happens, the person who is incapable of letting go doesn’t even consciously realize they are doing things to keep you from leaving.

Sure there have also been moments where active manipulations, even violence, were employed to these same ends. These things are more obvious and easy to identify. However, it is the subtle abuse, the covert comments, snooping, gossip and backbiting, all the things that force the bird to sit not because it wants to, but because it is ashamed to do anything else, are the worse yet than the abuse we can see and readily identify.

When I was growing up, it became obvious quickly that we little birds were intended to remain caged. My mother’s intention was to build a menagerie of her own, things to be caged and enjoyed but never allowed to leave, allowed the short leash to fly but always return. I have been in a self-imposed estrangement from her (and subsequently her side of the family) as my eyes began to open to how manipulative and incredibly destructive it was to have her in my life. While it has not always been easy, and there have been several incidents where my patience and resolve had been tested, I have stood strong.

She dropped her hand too many times, each boundary I set which was ignored or disregarded, the aspects of what made me special co-opted so she could garner attention for herself, the very uncomfortable way she treated her grown child as a pet or accessory, irrespective of the fact that I was an autonomous being with my own feelings and thoughts and accomplishments.

To those who may drop their hand to keep someone from leaving, know that even though the bird doesn’t fly away, it doesn’t mean it wants to stay. It just means that now you’ve made it angry and forced the animal to find another way to escape, and this time may involve claws.