The violence of co-dependence

The violence of co-dependence
In his book Lost in the Shuffle by Robert Sully he makes the point that co-dependence has taken on a new face. From the narrow original definition of one lost in an addictive relationship, doing what one needs to do to make the dysfunctional relationship work, to the much broader definition that probably includes most of the human race. By this newer more encompassing definition we see included any dysfunctional family rules that prove counterproductive in the long term: e.g. the implicit rule not to express emotions, any emotions; the rule to not talk about family difficulties to anyone; the rule that says we smile and tell people “everything’s fine” no matter how much we’re hurting or what we’ve just been through, among many others.
This reminds me of the ending of the book “Code to Joy” where the author bluntly tells us, after reams and reams of lists of family problems and wrong messages that children walk away with into adulthood, he says: wouldn’t it be wonderful if could all raise our children with positive healthy messages that will actually serve them to grow and prosper: like, encouraging them to find what they like to do and encouraging them; brushing over mistakes, underlining achievements, loving them unconditionally, accepting wherever they are, etc.
Otherwise we end up like the co-dependents in Sully’s book or the wide range of ailments addressed in Code to Joy, with messages that we need to at some point address and change, if we want to heal.
I recently took a hypnotherapy program, part of which was to write a paper on your own co-dependent story. I found that a little puzzling as a general assignment until I started looking into the co-dependent literature and found how all-encompassing this category is and how we’re virtually all affected by the dysfunctional rules we grew up with. To think otherwise would be to assert that I alone among all my friends, grew up with perfect parents. I wish!

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The low level violence of accepting given wisdom as final

The low level violence of accepting given wisdom as final

“Faith of our Fathers, living faith….we will be true to you till death.” Pretty sad, I’d say.
It starts off well enough: you’re young, you’re learning the ropes, and you learn from the best. Great! You have a wonderful teacher who tells you “Do it this way, this is how it is!” And you learn, you absorb, you integrate the new information, and you benefit and you grow. You accept it. It’s Gospel. It’s eternal truth.

Then fast forward 50 more years, and you’re nearing the end of your life and you’re still spouting the same items of faith in the same way, telling everyone, that’s just the way it is. What’s being overlooked is the fact that you’re not a stagnant robot – but an organic organism that thrives on being fed new water. Unless you’re able to constantly or even occasionally reach for that new apple on the tree of life, you stop growing, you no longer thrive. The old food you were given no longer suffices to sustain you much less grow you. As a matter of fact if you keep with the same food you had in your youth, the chances are you’re starving yourself spiritually, and impeding your progress.

There’s a tale from the Buddhist literature, which goes: There was a monk who was traveling from one town to another quite a distance away. On the way he had to cross a huge raging river. In order to get across he built a very sturdy raft and got across well. Then because he was so grateful to the raft he put the raft on his back and continued on his journey heading up into the mountains, encumbered the rest of the way by this huge weight he carried and carried and carried. The moral of the story is: Use what you need to for your journey, but then after a certain point, it’s time to put it aside so you can progress properly on your way and continue to grow as your inner life demands.
To let the soul grow. That’s the most important. Let it grow.

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Accepting Prostitution is a low level violence

Accepting Prostitution is a low level violence

Prostitution was recently in the news as the government was deciding on how to frame a new law in this matter, as the old law had been deemed to be unconstitutional. Legislators were leaning towards the “legalize it” option. In her commentary on the situation in the Toronto Star, Margaret Wente made the point that from reviewing the legislative history of the problem in different countries, it was obvious that legalizing prostitution simply didn’t work. Sweden being a case in point. In Sweden, when prostitution was legalized the situation, instead of getting better, got worse. So in 1999 the Swedes did the opposite, they came down hard on the exploiters, and set up many options for the victims to be able to change professions. “The results are persuasive. Street prostitution has been cut in half. Crime and organized trafficking are down.”

Prostitution harms us all. It harms society, it degrades women, it enables crime. It’s a form of slavery where your body is up for sale. Are some prostitutes happy? Possibly. But is this a direction we want humankind to move in? Probably not. Wente mentions the Native Women’s Assoc. of Canada, who work with the worst off women. They don’t support legalizing. Neither should we.

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Nagging as low level violence

Nagging as low level violence

I spent a recent weekend at the cottage with 2 women and a small delightful child of three. Good company, fun times, but there was one thing that bothered me greatly. The two adults around this feisty little girl were constantly trying to correct her, direct her, organize her, do for her – in other words nagging her to abstraction. I tried to picture an adult in the child’s position. Say an elderly person who  had a caregiver beside them at all times. Now some things the elderly person can do for themselves, some they can’t and some things might be downright dangerous to do. But really how would you like it to have someone beside you day and night commenting on what you’re doing, giving you advice, warning you of dangers. No matter how well intentioned, this is still an overwhelming amount of attention. The constant chatter can be downright overwhelming.

What I noticed too was that much of the talking that was done “at” the child, was unconscious. It was so constant that I could only conclude that whatever popped into the caregivers head, she spit out right away, without giving it much thought. Normally when with another adult, we don’t allow ourselves such a luxury, to actually speak everything we’re thinking. That could get downright offensive. And it was. Because much of the chatter was also negative comments on what she child should be doing different. They’d be “shoulding” all over her at an overwhelming rate.

We all bought an ice-cream. For some reason the mother thought it appropriate to  let her choose her own flavour and have her own ice-cream – they had no kiddie cones here, so this was a regular size ice-cream exactly like all the adults around her. Now this is three-year-old, the ice-cream cone was almost as big as she was. OK, so she felt good about making her own decision here. But she paid dearly for that little luxury of choosing her flavour and cone. After that it was all downhill because for the next 20 minutes she was regaled with a constant barrage of instructions and reprimands and warnings as to how not to eat, how to eat, what could happen if the cone got upended, what could happen if she let it drip. What the exercise did was satisfy the mother that she’d allowed the kid her own choice, in the mean- time punishing her for making that choice. It was sad to see, tiresome and anything but enjoyable.

What would have been better would be to do some thinking ahead of time, as to what the child is capable of and to offer her experiences that lead to success as much as possible. What I would have done and what I did with my grandchildren, is to buy only one ice-cream and share it. And gradually give them practice in holding it up straight, in licking from the bottom and all the niceties of ice-cream eating, which is actually not a simple task.

No wonder our children end up with feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, because they’re being constantly criticized.  That’s how the parents were raised and unless they stop and examine the pattern they were raised with, that’s the pattern they repeat. As they say those who don’t know their history and doomed to repeat it.

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Good Friday and Low Level Violence

Good Friday and Low Level Violence

So Toronto hosts a Good Friday parade out of one of the local Catholic churches. Always a big draw. Thousands of people attended they say, even the city’s mayor turned up at this one. And what exactly were they celebrating?

Now I don’t call myself a Christian anymore, and so I’m trying to see the situation from a neutral point of view, if that’s possible. So what does one see ? Women and girls dressed in period costumes carrying palms (wasn’t that from the week before? when the palms were a sign of honor and here they’re a sign of what?), men dressed as soldiers beating a man playing the Christ figure who was carrying the cross and stumbling along, occasionally falling down, looking very forlorn and in pain and feeble.

So 2000 years ago, this was a scene from the story of the life of the God-man Jesus. OK. And its relevance today to a general audience is what? This is after all a public event, the bullying, the public humiliation, the flagellation. A theatre put on for everyone to witness, evidently with some pride. So in 2015 when we’ve outlawed bullying in schools, affirmed the undesirability of violence, we still put on public display a scene with all of the above, and bring children by the droves to come and witness the spectacle.

When the movie of the Passion of Christ was shown in the theatres, they say two people had heart attacks during the performances. Hm!?? Hardly surprising. Here too you can’t tell me the bloody story of the crucifixtion isn’t also going to affect the onlooker’s emotions to some degree. And not for the better. The highest rates of trauma are among the first responders to a scene of horror, it’s the ones who see the horror who are most affected.
They say the parade brought in $10,000 last year – so you can see why the church would want to perpetuate this bloody show. But as for being a vehicle of pedagogy or an instrument of peace in the world – well, maybe not so much.

In some parts of Europe they emphasize Easter Monday over Good Friday. You mean some people believe it’s more noteworthy to rise from the dead than it is to die. Wow!
If we emphasize Easter Monday and the Resurrection it means we’ve gone beyond the theology of suffering and the heaviness of the cross to the Joy of Life, to the commitment to live life fully.

The heaviness of the Theology of the Cross has been a burden on the world for centuries. Poor me, the sinner, the wretch, guilty as charged and even before he’s charged, always behind the eight-ball, striving for the perfection of a Jesus Christ he can never achieve. Living life from a deficit.

Let’s leave aside the depressing worldview that we’re here to suffer and the more suffering you do the holier you are. As the Dalai Lama says, only a sick person would deliberately choose to suffer.

Instead start to enjoy and teach our children to enjoy this wonderful experiment called life on earth and leave aside the historical emphasis on pain and suffering.

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Happiness is…

Happiness is…

The Secretary General of the UN offered up the song “Signed, Sealed Delivered” by Stevie Wonder. No he hadn’t gone around the bend, he was suggesting a song that makes him happy! March 20th the UN declared to be Happiness Day! I’m all for it. They even asked people from around the world to send in their favourite songs – not just any song, but a special song that makes them happy – in honour of Happiness Day, of course.

Happiness has had a bad rap lately. If something is very sweet, it’s often put down as sacharine. If a play is very optimistic and makes you feel good, it’s described as “pollyanish” and dismissed. I recently went to the theatre to see a new production of the musical “Mary Poppins”. I was rather disappointed to see they’d added in several more songs inserting a whole dimension of darkness and evil into the plot. How sad! When I was in graduate school, I saw a lot of academics who thought it the height of intelligence to be able to see the dark side of everything.To approach anything new with criticism and disdain and see how quickly they could find fault with it and bring it down.

The world sorely needs more days of happiness. Those who live in Joy have a powerful influence on others. Smiles are contagious, just like the measels, just a lot more fun.

Let’s do happiness!

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Low level violence: littering and Cigarette butts blooming

Low level violence: littering and Cigarette butts blooming

The topic came up recently as a city news item because as the snow on the sidewalks is melting we see an amazing amount of garbage there, leftovers of colder days. There actually is a littering bylaw on the books, though you wouldn’t know it from the mounds of trash we’re beginning to see everywhere. So a CBC interview with an anti- litter activist yielded some interesting tid-bits. Not only were there no tickets issued for littering last year, neither were there any issued the year before that. Hmmm!

That would sound like this low level violence is being allowed to blossom. If no one is ever stopped from dropping litter on our streets, the message clearly is that no one cares. So why not? In another major world city in the West there’s been a very effective campaign to stop litterbugs from littering and that’s by ordinary citizens taking pictures of the offending act and posting it on-line. Ouch! Clearly people start to get the message, and it becomes socially unacceptable. Better for us all!

Another point that was made in that interview is, surprisingly, that cigarette butts are actually recyclable. Who would have guessed? Now that would indeed be a real blessing, if we had a system for gathering those up into containers to dispose of them properly.
The humanity in the human being really does like order and there’s something easy on the soul looking at a clean street that a littered street just doesn’t have. Let’s all do our part!

You know, every little butt helps!

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Police & first responders with mental health issues

Police & first responders with mental health issues
The low level violence of reacting to traumatic events.

The stats are rather alarming, the number of suicides among first responders in the last year: police, firemen, ambulance drivers, etc. On a recent panel discussion on CBC Anna Maria Tremonti, was reviewing this issues with several people in this position, some of whom had tried to commit suicide, most were now in a different job, unable to work in their original position, many of them having to battle the very slow bureaucracy which failed to recognize or acknowledge PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) symptoms. Altogether a sad picture.

At least we’re talking about it openly. Fifty years ago PTSD was not even on the table. There was the expression “shell shock” that came out of WWI, but it was generally accepted that these were rare exceptions and probably only because those involved were “weak” somehow and unable to take it.
It’s a similar argument, I would say, as the argument against exposing small children to deliberately frightening images/ events. Not many people believe it’s a big deal either. It’s only recently that as a culture we’ve begun to realize that traumas can affect anyone. And once exposed the aftereffects can be equally traumatic, even life-threatening.

In my work with the fright-free material and in interviewing people about the topic of trauma in childhood, I was impressed at the number of those who confessed to being very frightened about something in their childhood, often revealing it for the first time even: scenes from Snow White where the girl is being chased through the woods, the bad guy in Raiders of the Lost Arc, scenes from a fairy tale where the head is cut off, the list goes on and on. The amount of silence around these fears is a common theme – “I never told anyone”.

What needs to happen now is, along with more understanding, is the recognition of how delicate we are as humans and the realization that traumas are indeed a great violence and should be avoided where possible. And for those who are in a position of having to face traumas as a matter of course, there needs to be not only a post-session set of expected de-programming, but also a pre-trauma preparation, which has not even been mentioned yet.

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Police facing mental health issues 1

Police facing mental health issues 1

Two fronts. One is the increasing incidents of police actions against mentally ill people that’s been in the news lately. The police are being asked to cope with a very special part of our population with little training as to how best de-escalate these situations. In a Toronto Star article Jly 13’14, on this issue, the increased numbers of incidents was accounted for “because institutional facilities have closed their doors.” If I recall correctly it was in Mike’s Harris’s time when more and more homeless people began to appear on our streets, and fewer and fewer beds were available for the mentally ill in the province. So social workers are now being trained in some urban jurisdictions to ride along with the police to try to cover some of that territory, and police are slowly being trained to deal with some of the vast array of mental disablities that they could encounter.

This beginning response is a game of catch-up addressing an area that has huge implications. It’s a well-known fact that the poor and the homeless account for a large proportion of the emergency visits and a large proportion of the prison population, and are disproportionally a drain on the health care system and the legal system. Far cheaper it would be to deal with the mental issues these people have up front – rather than deal with them way down the line when they’ve committed a crime or land in the hospital.
The solution to this huge problem is all but simple and I’m always amazed at the differing answers that are proposed. There seems to be no consensus on this issue. However as a former teacher I would humbly suggest that our model for building good human beings is all wrong and consequently our model for fixing them is faulty as well.

In the Maxwell Gladwell book The Outliers, he describes the huge difference between children nurtured in a good supportive intelligent middle class home and those raised in poverty, with poorly educated parents and a weak support system. He shows how despite having superior intellect, even genius level capabilities, unless wisely nurtured, the child has little chance of fulfilling his/her full potential -not to mention take care of mental issues that might arise on the way. A study done at a University in Montreal a few years ago found they could successfully deal with potentially violent children by removing them from the program and having both the child and parents “retrained” to less dysfunctional patterns of behaviour. Mental illness, like violence can indeed be dealt with, especially if caught early.

We’ve long been working with a dysfunctional model of what it means to be healthy – notice it only when it’s extreme, feed it a pill, placate it or institutionalize it and it’s solved – or at least it’s out of sight, out of mind. This model will not a healthy human being make. We can do better than that.

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I’m not religious I’m spiritual

I’m not religious I’m spiritual

The topic comes up often. It s now even a new category on some forms. Ones’ religious persuasion used to be a standard question, at a time when people still identified with one or other of the religious traditions. Even if you weren’t particularly enamoured of the tradition you came from, you would still allow that that was indeed your background. Not any more. People are more and more likely to specify that they are spiritual, but not religious. Hallelujah! I think more and more people are thinking for themselves, and less and less likely to accept what they were told as children – which is after all a good thing.

An older friend of mine in the last few years of his life dreamt that he saw himself sitting at the edge of the universe dressed in a little jacket that he would have worn as a child, while out herding sheep on his family farm. In the dream he felt a little uncomfortable, because the jacket was way too small. The dream was addressing this man’s religious beliefs, which now, at the end of his life ( at the end of the universe) still continued to be the same as when he’d been taught these concepts as a child. And the set of concepts, like the jacket, no longer fit who he was an an adult, nor his circumstances.

We do ourselves harm if we don’t reexamine the ideas we were handed as children. Because surprise, surprise, we could have outgrown them. Sometimes the discrepancy may only appear as a uncomfortable feeling in some situations, sometimes it could cause a real problem. But the act of reexamination needs to be a deliberate one.

There’s a wealth of spiritual information that really is perfectly valid out there, that can help you grow and prosper and open you up to the real enjoyment of life, but unless we let go of clinging to the faith we were handed as children and allow that maybe, just maybe there is more to life than what we’d been led to believe.

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