Posted by: David M. Hazen | November 18, 2013

Forgiveness for enmeshment

Sometimes — actually, often — life arranges for us the perfect storm of conflict, trouble, and reactive behavior on our part, especially when we are engaged in familial or romantic relationships of attachment and enmeshment.

This is a good definition of enmeshment:

“The term is…applied more generally to engulfing codependent relationships where an unhealthy symbiosis is in existence.

Salvador Minuchin introduced the concept of enmeshment to describe families where personal boundaries were diffuse, …and over-concern for others led to a loss of autonomous development. Enmeshed in parental needs, trapped in a discrepant role function, a child may lose its capacity for self-direction, its own distinctiveness, under the weight of psychic incest; and, if family pressures increase, may end up becoming the identified patient or family scapegoat.”

This “unhealthy symbiosis” in relationships seems to always lead to the partners scapegoating each other. The blame, which is a form of violence, can escalate into physical violence. In the early years of my relationship to my wife, I was the overtly, physically violent one, and she was covertly, verbally violent in the way that she would provoke me by continuing to push for an answer that would satisfy her. Violence begets violence, it takes two to make an argument or fight, and both are responsible, not one or the other. Neither she nor I seemed to understand our equality in this matter. We were both angry and unreasonable at the same time, we were both pouring gasoline on the fire.

Much later, after doing many conversations with mentors, therapists, and support groups, I admitted to myself that I needed to blow up in order to verify my worthlessness. When my wife admitted to herself that she needed to provoke me in order to verify her worthlessness, we were able to “negotiate” an agreement to end the cycle of violence by working on our own issues separately, not playing therapist or coach for each other, but both aiming for the same goal. We went to separate 12-step meetings, had separate counselors and sponsors. Constructive negotiation is neither the extraction of an admission of guilt nor the suppression of anger. It is learning to manage, redirect, and express anger constructively — a very long, tedious, and humbling process — and all parties to the conflict have to be ready to do that work.

Only by understanding the source of our own violence can we forgive and free ourselves from its cyclical repetition. The very first step is to create the time and space for that understanding to emerge. We need to get some help in setting clear boundaries of separation, seek routines and disciplines that reinforce autonomy and self-care, and practice abstinence from all relationship attachments until there is a solid self-awareness of one’s self-destructive, violent patterns of unconscious behavior.

If we don’t enter this recovery path, we know, we wish, we could have done better, been more responsible, but we’re not increasing the probability of new behavior, we’re just feeling guilty. When we carry this self-flagellation for a very long time, it doesn’t help. I never knew that carrying excessive shame and guilt, believing that I was so much worse than others, was a form of arrogance until I saw that in practice what I would do to avoid my own guilt, to preserve my identity in chaotic situations, was to focus on the faults of others, i.e. be arrogant. It was a distraction from what I thought would be my own painful destruction if I ever admitted that I screwed up. It was a defense mechanism of my ego. How often have we heard ourselves say, “I am who I am, and if you don’t like it, get over it?” In this way the probability of new behavior is decreased, and guilt becomes “the gift that keeps on giving” as we create more reasons for it.

This defense of shame, guilt and arrogance actually creates a prison. I am set free by accepting and learning from my mistakes, granting to myself a degree of self-forgiveness. Can you forgive yourself? This is the best gift that life, full of mistakes and errors, can give to us, this opportunity to let go of imperfection. When blame has no place and forgiveness moves in, what follows in the very next moment (as you may have discovered and forgot) is empathy for the mistakes of others. Nobody is especially bad or wrong, we are all equal in that regard. We want this equality and sometimes cannot bring ourselves to it. In fact, all notions of right and wrong-doing simply create barriers to our growth and development as human souls. When we acknowledge and accept our own transgressions with a little bit of tender humility, then others reflect back to us the same love and forgiveness. The equality for which we yearn appears.

We become most strong in the places where we heal our wounds of worthlessness. However, healing requires us to be aware of the pain that we have held in denial for years. Breathe respect into your pain, respect for the generations of wounded parents and children that preceded you and were never healed. Feel the pain completely, and it will begin to fall away. Do for yourself what you would do for your very best life-long friend, because that is who you are, like it or not. You have to live with yourself, so do it with integrity. You will not be happy with yourself all the time, yet you will gradually achieve a kind of deep serenity that is priceless.

Posted by: David M. Hazen | October 1, 2013



When I was suicidal, the social worker yanked me out of my self-imposed isolation by placing me into a boarding house with young people my own age where we all sat around the same table for dinner, and my relationship dis-ease began to relax. I had contracted this malaise earlier in my life, terrified of my father’s physical abuse, nuclear bombs, and the selective service board that wanted me to submit to a duty to kill. I had become an angry, alienated, and apathetic young man.

I had a self-righteous belief in the ultimate selfishness and separateness of human beings. I was cynical to the extreme. I became locked into a self-destructive cycle, and eventually I was forced to ask as so many of us have asked, what am I living for? It wasn’t until I had been in recovery for 20 years that I saw my lifestyle decision to abuse those in positions of power and authority such as teachers, police, or the entire federal government because of my history with my father. I would focus on listing their faults and attempt to steal or subvert their power.

Self-isolation, the fear of connection and loss of individuality, a false and temporary kind of strength, is the acting-out of a belief that we are alone, abandoned. We make abandonment real by not talking, not trusting, and not feeling, which are ways of keeping ourselves numb. Those practices lead to the most violent forms of self-abuse and other-abuse we know: suicide on the installment plan.

I regard “global warming” and “nuclear deterrence” as euphemisms for the reality of the human-caused mass extinction event — suicide — that has been in progress for many years already. We are now attempting to re-program an entire operating system that has vast inertia, requiring that we hold down the ON button of the new operating system with all the resources of our care and attention. The homo sapiens who survive will be the ones who overcome their isolation and develop the skills of cooperation and trust.

It’s a paradoxical process, somewhat “irrational,” to become strong by letting go of power, to become decisive by letting go of analysis, to build community by looking at oneself. Yet, as we practice giving away our compassion to each other around the issues that we share in common, we become internally balanced and secure. We find strengths and courage we never knew we had. The fear and depression resulting from isolation are very addictive alterations of our mood and brain chemistry, and once we are free of those cycles, we will see and hear things as they really are. We are not alone. We are part of a much larger flow of evolutionary change that moves at a speed that is relative to our willingness to participate in it.

While acknowledging our anger, frustration, and confusion over why it’s taking so long, let us not demonize anyone in the process. It’s important to arouse both curiosity about and respect for the human beings, just like us, who have different life histories that led them to where they are today, i.e., to hate the inaction and not the in-actor. Always allow for the possibility that what we see as “apathy” is really something else, something very human, such as confusion, isolation, and fear. Think of the times when WE have been apathetic. I’ve felt it. It’s hell. What was underneath that sense of being frozen, not involved, not passionate, not alive? In my own experience, when dealing with corporations and government institutions that appear totally screwed up, if I can get past the automated menus of their answering system to a real person, then quietly, gently press my case patiently and without ceasing, appeal to their higher sense of values without threatening their fragile ego — shazzam! I get the results I was seeking, and I thank them profusely. Our anger is only a signal that we are very much alive, sensitive, and raw like an open wound in need of healing. Feel it… and don’t wound others in the process! The crisis we face together is both dangerous and a beautiful, awesome opportunity to leap the chasm. Breathe deep, and take a run at it. Do that much, and you cannot fail.

The US is like a late-stage alcoholic in denial, who needs to hit bottom in order to find which way is up. When our hearts are broken open repeatedly, they begin to stay open. America does not need to be a superpower/superpoliceman any longer, America does not need to be number one, arrogant beyond belief. America needs humility. Hey, we could become a leader in humility! I suppose that would be a form of popularity, but only because other nations are already there, and America is finally coming around at the tail end of the transformation. It would be a great sense of relief for Iceland and Sweden, that the adolescent delinquent nation has finally decided to grow up and not destroy us all.

However, the response-ability is OURS, the grassroots — not the government — to invent and create the joy, wonder and power of people working together in harmonious community. WE can overcome the obstacles of privilege and power to create an evolutionary, inclusive culture at the fringes of humanity, where cultural mutations are possible and where all true survival strategies originate.

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