Posted by: David M. Hazen | April 23, 2014

Coming home to our homelessness

“Poverty is the worst form of violence”Gandhi 

As I was turning left at corner where there is usually someone flying a “Anything Helps” sign, nobody was there, and I noticed my sense of relief. I began to wonder why I felt so self-centered and lacking in compassion. Several things popped up:

  • I feel guilty for having many luxuries they do not.
  • To see someone who visibly demonstrates the failure and breakdown of this world I live in is a threat to my identity, my sense of belonging. What is my part in this failure?
  • I want to deny my own shadow experiences of being rejected, shamed and bullied as a child by telling myself I am not one of “those people,” so I project my shame onto them.
  • I feel shame to be living in the midst of an overwhelming and complex systemic problem, telling myself that I have neither the knowledge nor capacity to improve the situation. I was so indoctrinated by my culture to always know the right answer to any situation that to take even a small step in the direction of not knowing is like jumping off a cliff.

Even though I live in a house, I am not “at home” with myself, I carry within me a kind of homelessness built on fear. Today I have a new empathy for those who fear and bully the homeless. I don’t condone their behavior. My self-understanding of my own fears leads me to develop a strategy for unraveling them. Perhaps that strategy would be useful for others.

To pretend we are right, strong and powerful seems to be part of the human condition for most of us, not only for those who hold positions of financial success or government authority, but also those who experienced bullying and shaming as children. Yet vulnerability — letting go of demanding certain behaviors from others (and ourselves) because we think we know “what’s right” — is the answer to the divisions of inequality that threaten our social fabric.

The interventions that lubricate this process towards humility, acceptance and compassion for our fellow travelers on this journey are the very things that the homeless people are doing for themselves now and which they could teach to the rest of us “homies.” THEY are the crisis survivors, the resilient ones, the leaders to the next level of human functioning, believe it or not! They know how to build community and family, to stick together in support of each other, create safe spaces for each other to fall apart and normalize their traumatic experiences, communicate with touch and hugs, validate with empathy, and just hold their ground against overwhelming odds. Their heartfelt courage is extraordinary.

I believe we need the crisis stories of homelessness to be adopted as part of our culture because they offer the opportunity for us to identify and bond with a part of our human family and our own personal, human capacities to respond that we all possess and would be extremely gratified to express. When I sit next to a homeless person and engage them in conversation, learn about their history, their hopes and strengths, then suddenly, without any effort on my part, I find my trust in a fellow human being. I find my courage to respond — to be response-able — in a way that is empathic and compassionate. This is not only what the homeless person needs, it’s also what I need, for us to come home to who we truly are, together. To do otherwise would be contemptuous.

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. That principle is contempt prior to investigation.” — Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Ed. p. 570.




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.

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