When is it useful to address a situation directly, and when would a direct approach cause more problems? To discover the best strategy for every unique situation you may encounter, Opposum suggests you take note of how much fear is involved in your decision making process.
When we are afraid we will most likely retreat and hide. But that retreat does not mean we will stop trying to get what we want. We will simply try to get what we want indirectly, i.e. vaguely or secretly. The challenge occurs when we are actually not fully aware that we are in fact afraid and that fear propels secretive, indirect behavior. Reactions based in fear can often be so subtle a person can be shocked to discover someone feels begrudged.
Opossum’s primary skill set for survival is to play dead. His skill is NOT the ability to die and come back to life. His is the ability to seem as though he’s died and thus persuade a threatening situation to lose interest in him. More specifically, he persuades a potential attacker that he would be harmful to eat. His musk suggests a certain spoiled quality that would surely make the pursuer sick.
This brilliant performance has its consequences. To do it right, Opossum may align so closely with the conditions of being dead that for a time he may actually believe he is dead. Then he has to find his way out of his self-made illusion.
A fascinating instinct.
When would it be useful and when would it cause more problems to employ?
This Medicine is very useful when dealing with overwhelming odds or when you are outnumbered. It is not at all useful when dealing with one-on-one dynamics where both parties are evenly matched.
In the great outdoors, Opossum uses this tactic in literal life or death circumstances against threats that are much larger than him and he recommends you do the same. This Medicine is useful for people navigating overt oppression who need to get out of actual danger. Example: Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, North Korea, etc. In overt oppressive environments where you are out numbered it would be a bad decision to address the situation directly. When powers are stacked against you, a head on approach will likely result in harm. Sideways tactics are the way to go.
Because we do not currently live in a war zone, most encounters are of a psychological threat, not a physical one. Our brains will never stop being on the look-out for mortal danger. Our brains are the most amazing, relentless, and loyal watch dogs we could ever ask for. We don’t want our brains to decrease vigilance. But we do want to also develop the more complex ability of determining when a perceived danger is a mortal one or just a threat to our psychological understanding of life. Getting shut down by psychological threat can limit our life and hamper our ability to enjoy achieving goals.
Using Opossum tactics for psychological challenges can quickly lead to an imbalanced Medicine. Because this Medicine involves such a specific and unique behavior of retreat which is in most cases unnecessary- (most situations we encounter are not life-threatening) it may be helpful to view this living symbol as a reminder to be more direct.
Opossum is the master in the art of being indirect. When we are indirect too often, we develop a passive aggressive approach to problem solving. It may seem problems “go away” when we adopt passive behavior, but the more accurate truth is- the problem has not gone away… we have. Removing oneself from a problem is not the same as traveling through it and resolving it.
Passive aggressive behavior can become quite cruel when a person is not aware of how their actions (or lack of action) is actually causing more pain and tension. Have you ever gotten stuck behind someone driving slow on the highway? Sometimes we can get caught in generalized false beliefs which may provide us with a psychological comfort but which are in fact dangerous. The belief that driving slowly is always safe is one example. Sometimes driving slowly is quite dangerous.
The reason we might settle on a generalized false belief about life is because we are tired of uncertainty or because the strain of constant evaluation has become too much for our nervous systems and we just need a break. To give us that break, our brains create platforms of beliefs for us to rest and walk around on for a while. But like scaffolding, those thoughts are just a temporary tool in the greater construction of understanding life.
Don’t always believe what you think.
Your thoughts are not correct just because you happen to think them. For a more accurate understanding of reality we want to question the contents of our thoughts.
It is our thoughts which cause us anxiety and depression. Makes sense, right? Since anxiety, anger, frustration, and depression are all mental experiences and the mind deals with thoughts it is only logical to conclude that if we want to dissolve anger or anxiety, the best place to start would be to have a look at what we are thinking.
Very likely you are thinking something irrational and unfounded. Something like…
If I don’t respond it will go away.
If I act nice the other person will be compelled to like me.
Our culture has become so saturated with passive aggressive behavior that we now have an inherent distrust of someone’s nice, generous behavior. What do they want from me? Is always the question that comes to mind. This dynamic of distrust is how passive aggressive behavior can be a slow, degenerative affliction.
When someone is acting in a way counter to how they really feel, it becomes impossible for either party to feel understood. Smiles and promises become torture devices because under them sits a very different reality that people can sense but not prove directly. Because the passive aggressive person hides how they really feel even from themselves, true connection can be illusive.
This hiding of ones feelings is not conscious. People are not inherently pathological by choice. Hiding feelings is rooted in a mortal fear. As children we depended on adults liking us and providing for us in order to survive. We were very aware of our mortal danger if we did not harmonize or agree with the person in charge. This dependence led us to learning how to disconnect from what we feel when it conflicted with what our life support wanted from us. Childhood is a study in Opossum Medicine. It is not possible for a child to ‘take on’ an adult even if that adult is in the wrong. The child must evade and play dead until the opportunity to get away arises.
Once away and physically safe, that child can learn how to stop playing dead- can learn how to be direct and communicative of his or her feelings- This involves learning how to determine when we are safe and when we are in danger.
How do you know if you are passive aggressive and how do you know if someone else is?
Everyone behaves passive aggressively at some point. Some people have adopted it as a strategy through life and may not be aware of its limiting effects. Signs that you may be passive aggressive include experiencing people being frustrated with you a lot. If you find people around you seem to have anger issues, it may very well be that you are doing something that causes irritation.
One of the seductive qualities about passive aggressive behavior is the sense of moral high ground it offers the person who employs it. Remember our slow driver on the highway? If an accident happens, she will likely feel quite certain it is not her fault, or that she was even involved at all in any way because she has settled on the belief that she was behaving correctly. Breaking this illusion can be challenging.
Another scenario might be- “if I do not show I am upset, I will be in the right.”
This tactic was absolutely true for Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Right’s movement. But what Dr. King understood, and what enabled him to employ that tactic so well is that he did not tell himself he was not upset. He did not hide from his own feelings. He shared his feelings with people he trusted and they shared theirs with him. He did not employ Opossum tactics in his intimate relationships and instead built a support system based on the ability to be direct in discovering one’s feelings.
Opossum Medicine is rarely, if ever useful in intimate friendships. Employ with caution only in matters of small consequence.
To discover if someone else is behaving passive aggressively, observe if you experience verbal outbursts at this person often and then feel guilty about it. Guilt about expressing feelings often means the other party is not reciprocating honestly and directly to what you are sharing with them.
Here is a useful fact about the physics of emotions.
Emotions do not- can not- occur spontaneously and independently out of the blue for no reason. Emotions are RE-actions to something real. That real thing MAY be invisible- like someone lying about how they feel- but just because it is not apparent doesn’t make it not real. Feelings of frustration are a red flag that someone is being evasive.
Here is where an understanding of Opossum medicine may be helpful. If someone is being indirect, how likely will it be that they will respond positively to being addressed directly? Anticipating some snarl and showing of sharp teeth will reduce the element of surprise and keep you grounded.
If you’ve diagnosed what may be causing a dynamic to spiral down, KNOW that you have struck on something true but don’t assume your understanding will be well-received right away. By all means, bring that understanding forward. But do so with a slow, gentle, wide curve approach. Knowing that the person is causing you to trigger in to anger will help you not trigger because you will not feel 100% responsible for controling yourself. A relationship is 50/50. The quality of your communication equals the quality of your connection. Learn how to stop triggering by identifying the silent, invisible tactics causing you to trigger. You will then be able to remain calm enough to help them see how their passive behavior is causing problems for you.
Passive aggression is a silent killer of relationships. Identifying its existence and investigating its properties can save two hearts who deeply long to love each other. If you are stumped as to why communication isn’t flowing, consider beginning your studies on the nature of passive aggression. How does it work? How do you feel it? Know that it is there even if you can’t see it. And know that, like Opossum, it is not what it seems. Make room for the other person’s impulse to hide or flee or avoid. Stay calm. Believe they DO have the ability to learn how to address themselves and you more directly. They may just need help learning how, which would involve feeling safe to express feelings. Passive aggression is based in fear. Confronting fear with aggression will only cause more fear. To really untrained a passive aggressive tendency, take lots of deep breaths, slow your actions down, reduce your intensity, but do not stop addressing things directly. Eventually trust in direct communication will develop.
Opossum Medicine is easy to throw off balance but also easy to return to balance. She is not a heavy medicine since her teachings are based in the element of illusions. Illusions are within our power to create and break when we employ a direct approach from within and commit to knowing the truth about ourselves. Sometimes the truth we discover may not be noble or impressive, but ultimately it will have those qualities if we acknowledge that as humans we are never a single, definitive quality. We experience cowardice and bravery alike and we let these feelings fade as we travel on to the next. We are not who we think we are. We are as we are and we are always changing.