Like many, I watched the accounts coming in from Ukraine, feeling horrified, outraged, anxious, and just sad. Contrary to Putin’s propaganda, the self-indulgent rhetoric looks less like a “special military operation” and more like a war of suppression on the humble, but proud. The Ukrainians are fighting with valor as they aggressively defend their right to self-determination.
On a macro level, Putin obviously has the national resources to export his character values onto an ostensibly weaker, smaller, and accessible nation-state In taking notes from the bully’s playbook, it is a ritual of a goon to find a host for their own pain, despair, and uncreative “power.” I watch the unfolding humanitarian crisis on the evening news and wonder what the ending will look like. Putin’s drama has been met with unyielding defiance: a predictable reaction of those who’ve had enough of people trying to make their world smaller through acts of dominance and control. The resistance has been inspiring. Who wouldn’t want to identify with this heroic, sacrificial, and resourceful brand of Hollywood-scale patriotism?
When I survey my past actions prior to my reformed attitude, I search for signs of valor, courage, and sacrifice. Can I relate to the Ukrainians’ unflinching dignity, the conviction to stand for something inherently meaningful? Would I put it all on the line in deference to the needs of others; hold life as a precious gift? I know the answer would’ve been a resounding no.
Truthfully, I share more characteristics with the tyrant. I recall the primal need to appear dominant, the need to maintain the image that I had it going on, the inappropriate overcompensating, the goofy swagger. I’d cross boundaries, grabbing more and more of my partner’s agency, colonizing their territory of self-esteem. I wasn’t the sovereign of a superpower, but my self-concept is relative, as I ruled my domestic environment like an autocrat. I rationalized my jerky entitlements; disregarding the sovereignty of my partners for the sake of my malevolent privilege. From the Kremlin to the living room in a home, how many aspirations, hopes, and dreams are overruled and ruined by insubordination toward fragile egos?
I created collateral damage materially, psychologically, financially, and emotionally. I created false-flag operations demanding a standard I didn’t observe for myself, accusing them of straying while all along I was the disingenuous actor, for those I claimed as my possession. I sought to isolate them, cutting them off from more respectful, compassionate support networks that might embolden their voice. This dark logic isn’t as complicated as one may think. There are three basic dynamics of intimate partner violence. It has a repetitive cycle; the nature of this dynamic creates a connection where the abuser and the victim are bonded, not despite the violence; the violence and harassment escalate dangerously when the victim tries to leave and/or escape the relationship. I see my old self in these descriptions. But I also see tyranny and this helps me to interpret Putin’s mentality. Ukraine was getting too close to incorruptible democracy, Western values, and NATO. The jilted tyrant’s self-talk would include “you’re cheating on me…You’re about to leave me and we can’t have that.”
As the stereotypical ‘strongman’ dictator, from Central casting l, I postured not from a position of creative inner power, but brittle insecurities. Known outside influences were a challenge to my superpower of maximum governance. I differed from a caricature like Putin in one aspect: he is short in stature, yet manipulates the optics to present himself as a BIG MAN. I’m a physically big guy, but I can acknowledge the wounded inner child who still feared the next blow. I demanded respect without giving it a fool’s errand destined to come home to roost. Now I sit isolated in this prison cell shaped by my choices. Deposed by irony. I’m on the wrong side of redemption. Sanctioned by criminal overreach. Sanctioned by life. Sanctioned by arrogance. The shelf life of a tyrant turns spoiled as reality exacts its dues.
I often imagine how my arc would’ve bent if I had made a connection to authentic power. What if I didn’t coerce loyalty, or love, but cultivated a personality worthy of love?