Traps and Trauma

     The difference between children who have experienced trauma vs children who have not is the difference between a well-fed dog and a dog caught in a trap. Being bitten by a dog stuck in a trap will be interpreted differently than the same action by the well-fed dog. The pain and fear of the person bit may remain the same in each case, but the reason behind the bite is very different. The knowledge of this difference could lead us to quickly forgive the trapped animal while punishing the well-fed animal. Same behavior, same outcomes, different levels of acceptance.

     The reason it is more acceptable for the trapped dog to bite is because we expect it. We know they are acting out of fear and self-preservation. The rescuer may even fault themselves for not taking extra precautions when approaching a wounded animal. We do not fault the animal because we see the trauma. Some animals may need extra care and services before they are rehabilitated enough to join a family and be adopted. Some dogs that have been trapped are euthanized and deemed impossible to rehabilitate. Most often it could be possible, but the expense, time, and resources estimated to bring that change about are seen as too great in a cost-benefit analysis.

     Unfortunately, even dogs that are well-fed and well cared for can still bite and are often “put down” for reasons citing temperament. As if “temperament” were an unchangeable aspect of the animal existing in isolation from the environment. This is not including elderly dogs who may be suffering from dementia. While there may be some truth to this, most healthy dogs can relearn how to behave appropriately in a family/pack unit.

     So it is with children who have experienced trauma. The scars are not always as visible as they are with dogs. Children can arrive at school or daycare, interact with children every day, and be caught in an invisible trap they have brought with them from their home. It is not clear we should approach them with caution or additional supports. Good intentions are greeted with snarls and threats. Well-meaning people are driven away, confident their loving actions will not be “wasted” on an ungrateful child.

     All the while, the traumatized child and the trapped dog know two things: 1) Someone more powerful than myself has done this to me, and 2) only someone more powerful than myself can help save me. Therein lies the fear that drives the bite. These victims have learned they cannot trust those who are more powerful than they are, yet they know they are dependent on them for safety. It is a dichotomy of terror with no hope. Realizing this, the dog chews off his paw and risks bleeding to death. Coming to a similar realization, the child cuts off their emotions (reactive attachment disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, etc), their connection with reality (schizotypal personality disorder, schizophrenia, etc), both their emotions and reality (Bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, PTSD, etc), or their own self (borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, etc). Ultimately, they may even choose to end their own life as a means of escaping what they perceive to be a world full of traps and void of help.

     There have been instances where people like this have been “put down”. It happens under the guise of justice and death penalties. It happens through social isolation and institutionalization. It happens socially and economically and religiously. Through these processes, humanity is enacting the age-old rite of self-preservation on a social level. “We” are protecting “Us” from “Them” because “They” are threatening. It makes complete sense and, evolutionarily, protects us from threats. However, too often we are in a rush to protect, to diagnose, to define, and to dispense. The onslaught of managed care has taught us to ignore the traumatic traps and treat the paw, the specific injury, and discharge the patient in under seven sessions.

     In the process of being so quick to protect ourselves from the threat, we have become the very thing we thought we were protecting ourselves from: Isolated. Isolation is a social tool of punishment designed to either alter behavior so “they” becomes more like “us” (a part of our pack), or else relegate “they” to alienation and almost certain death. This ensures homogeneity and easy identification of who “we” are. The United States claim not to be savage, to be moral, to be respectable. Yet, if we are judged by how we treat our sick, our young, and our old, we are incredibly cruel, immoral, and lack any modicum of respect. If the sick could heal themselves, we would not need doctors. If the traumatized could free themselves, we would not need therapists. If the elderly were cared for by family, they would not need retirement homes.

     This is not strictly about government policies, universal healthcare, or insurance companies. This is about a society becoming so consumed with living a safe life they have failed to live a life. Convenience, ease of use, and customer satisfaction has replaced effort, attentiveness, and prudence. Somewhere along the line, acquisition of material goods and resources became synonymous with safety and wellness.

     So we abandon the dog that threatens us. We forget the child that scares us. We ignore the parent that cannot remember us. We waste our lives on things, and are surprised when things dominate our lives. To quote Kierkegaard in The Sickness Unto Death:

     “What we call worldliness simply consists of such people who, if one may so express it, pawn themselves to the world… The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.”

     And this is just what has happened. We have become worldly at the expense of our own selves, at the expense of those smaller, weaker, poorer, or sicker than ourselves. This has happened without a sound, with no notice, and it silently continues on, perpetuated by greed, fear, and the unending pursuit of safety. Let me assure you of one thing: a safe life is no life at all. There will be traps and traumas for all of us. Each of us will require the aid of another who is greater than ourselves to free us from these traps through relationship with patience founded on deep love. Just as each of us will encounter a trap, each of us will encounter another in their own trap. Will we risk being bitten?

(C) Nathan D. Croy
Trap

Something Completely Different

     I am working on the fourth post about Love, but life is happening! In the meantime, I wanted to share a couple of things that may interest and benefit you.

     Firstly, I would like to share a free resource for you from Courera.org. They are offering an 8 week course on Kierkegaard and Existentialism. It is free, includes a certificate of completion, and has links to all the reading material for free! You really have no excuse not to take this course. A special shout out to my cousin and blog contributor extraordinaire Paul Haughey for letting me know about this.

     Lastly is a bit of levity from Juston Streby. We had this conversation the other day and I felt it bears repeating.
     From Juston: New topic of discussion: Obesity in The Matrix. The first time Neo enters the construct with Morpheus after being freed from the matrix, Morpheus explains that the way Neo looks in the construct/matrix is his residual self image. As best as I can remember he explains it as Neos mental projection of his digital self. This brings me to what I was thinking about while driving to pick up some lunch. What is the cause of obesity in the matrix? I will have to rewatch the movie to double check but i am pretty sure there are some fat people in there. I have 3 theories.
     Theory 1: People who are still plugged into the matrix have an avatar that the Matrix is able to control. I don’t believe this to be the case as Neo looks exactly the same in the matrix before he is freed as he does after. 
     Theory 2: The matrix regulates the nutrition your body is given in the real world based on how you eat and take care of yourself while living in the matrix. Basically it would be just like the world we live in. If you eat to much and don’t exercise enough, you get fat.
     Theory 3: Obese people in the Matrix see themselves that way because of low self esteem or other mental factors and therefore their residual self image is fat but the body in the real world that is plugged into the matrix receives the same nutrients as everyone else. I tend to lean towards this theory. What I find interesting is that based on this theory, only people with low self esteem would see themselves as ugly. So any fat person you see walking down the street who think they are much hotter than they really are, would actually be hot in the matrix. Just as all those models who starved themselves because they think they are fat at 85lbs would be fat in the matrix. And that is what I wasted a good amount of time thinking about.
    
     From Nathan: I like it! Can I use it as a guest post on my blog? Totally fits with Kierkegaard’s statement that perception is reality. I want to add one thing to the third theory: body dysmorphic disorder. It’s when the body you have is perceived incorrectly. The 85lbs girl actually sees herself as fat. The overweight person in daisy dukes thinks their particular attire is appropriate. Explain the disconnect and provide a resolution i.e., how can we alter perception to match reality? Should we even try?

     Juston asked that I correct his grammar, but I chose to leave it as is because that’s how it was received. So, I wanted to ask this question to the existential community that happens to look at this blog. How do we explain the disconnect between reality and perception? More importantly, how do you explain your disconnects between reality and perception? Johari’s window excellently addresses our blind spots and the inherent lack of ability to address these blind spots without help from others.

(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2013
Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Infinite Love: Part C

     Infinite math makes nearly no sense to me. Someone explained it to me like this: if a hotel had an infinite amount of rooms, all of which were booked, and a new person came in, they would still be able to find that person a room. That’s pretty much where my brain breaks. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I have a full grasp of what it means to be infinitely in debt. In spite of this, there are still some lessons I have learned that are applicable. I’ll address this a bit more in the next post, but for now, I want to focus on the infinite debt aspect of Love.
     The debt of Love to another, willingly taken on, is infinite. Luckily, Kierkegaard illustrates infinity by what it is not. There is a lot of confusing language leading up to it, but here’s what I’ve gleaned from it: It’s either Love or envy.
     Envy is the selfish focus on what others have in relation to what “I” lack. It deals with “right now” and instant gratification. It is never truly satisfied or satiated. We can have enough, but someone else will always have more. Envy is a selfishness expressed through comparison to another. Envy requires us to keep score.
     Love requires us not to keep score. The infinity of debt means that we can never do “enough”. Yet, whatever we do in Love, is more than enough. Once again, we have quickly come to the point of brain-breakage.
     Here is the hopeful takeaway: If I become resentful in my relationship, I must discover the origin of the resentment within myself. For instance, I hate washing bottles. I do it anyway. I do not resent my wife for it, and I’m pretty sure I can say I have washed more bottles than her because I stayed home with both the children for the first six months of their lives. There were a LOT of bottles. There was a time when, as I stood, hunched over out kitchen counter, I found myself mentally cursing the existence of bottles. And then, it was if a flip was switched, I realized that as much as I hated washing these bottles (which was a lot), I Loved my wife more. Love allowed me to not keep score, and washing bottles became an act of Love she was unaware of. And that was fine. Eventually, I enjoyed washing the bottles because I hated them. There will never be a time when I look at my wife and say, “I have washed enough bottles. Today is the day that I am done. The rest are yours”. There have certainly been times I have asked her to help with the bottles, or where she has done them without asking me. Even in those moments I asked her not to do the bottles because I wanted to, because I knew how much she hates washing them!
     Does that make sense at all? That our debt must be infinite because it cannot be repaid, it is not a bill to be balanced or a score to be evened. Love requires that, out of Love, we can smile and joyfully shoulder a burden without resent or bitterness. And in those acts of Love, we are reminded of who we Love, and how deeply we Love them.

(C) Nathan D. Croy
Infinite Love

Indebted Love: Part B

“The essential characteristic of love: That the lover by giving infinitely comes into – infinite debt.” Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 2006, p. 172.

     I truly enjoy Star Wars. To clarify, I enjoy the “real” Star Wars (episodes IV-VI). I even read the books and bring my lunch to work in a Star Wars lunchbox. Not even kidding. One of my favorite relationships throughout the series is Han Solo and Chewbacca. The life debt Chewie swears to Han began as the fulfilling of a cultural institution, but grew into a genuine relationship of Love. If I can have a bit of license, I think Chewie’s life debt is a fantastic illustration of healthy Indebted Love.

      When Han prevented Chewie’s clan from being enslaved by the Empire, Chewie took a life debt to Han. Now, this doesn’t mean that Chewie is Han’s slave. Nor does it mean that Chewie’s life debt is fulfilled if he saves Han’s life. What it means is that without Han, Chewie would not have a life, so he willingly (see Intentional Love post) gives his life in service to Han.
     Articles on Star Wars state that the idea of a “life debt” is fictional and does not exist in the real world. I would suggest that it does exist and we call it marriage. Kierkegaard continues to expand on this idea when he writes that “for his own sake the lover wishes to be in debt; he does not wish exemption from sacrifice, far from it” (Ibid, p. 174). For instance, is there anything that can be done, any act that can be committed, that will fulfill the vows of marriage so that one is no longer married? No! That makes no sense and renders marriage useless.
     Any relationship based in Love must be based in a willingly taken on indebtedness. Perhaps, instead of saying indebtedness, it may be more accurate to say selflessness. Selflessness, truly understood, is being joyfully indebted to another whom we Love. This does not mean we sacrifice self to another. If that were to happen, then “we” couldn’t be in the relationship, could we? In fact, a relationship would not exist at that point. Kierkegaard addresses abusive relationships by submitting that staying in them would be tantamount to enabling, which is one of the least loving things we can do. However, we are not to give up on the other.
     One seemingly inescapable conclusion of this line of thought is the inability to remarry after a separation. While I do not have an argument to defend staying single after a separation or divorce, I would offer this: Would people be as quick to rush into Love relationships based on indebtedness if they knew the ending of that relationship limited their access to relationships later? If we were obliged to suffer the consequences of our relational choices until death, would we act any differently? Would we be more free to love? More free to make mistakes? What if, as Kierkegaard wrote, we were to live relationships of Love “imprisoned in freedom and life” (Ibid, p. 176)?

If a Wookie gives you a Valentine, you take it!
(C) Nathan D. Croy

 

Intentional Love: Part A

     I only know of one way to write about love: personally. Everything in my life, from my personal philosophy to my professional practice, hinges upon my understanding and definition of love. So much so, that when I refer to love throughout the rest of this blog and in my other writings, it will be capitalized. This is to set it apart from the general population’s use of the word “love” to describe how they feel about everything from their family to various carbonated beverages. “love” has become a shadow of its former self and if I can restore the concept of Love to its former glory for just a few people, I will consider my life a success.
     I was sitting with a friend at restaurant and we were discussing Kierkegaard’s book, Works of Love (aka Ethics of Love). The server walked over, saw the book on the table, and asked what it was about. We both froze for just a moment because the book is such an intensely in-depth study of the concept of Love as it applies to various settings; it was difficult to say what the book was precisely about. In a moment of panic I did the best I could do and said, “It’s a book that tells you how to know if you’re really in Love”. That seemed good enough for her, probably because she wasn’t that interested in the first place, but for me the answer seemed very hollow. I decided that, right then and there, I would have an answer the next time someone asked me about Love.
     Love, as defined by Kierkegaard, is an infinite debt to another, willingly taken on (Works of Love, 2009, p. 172-173). When asking ourselves, “What is the most Loving action in in this situation?”, there are three basic facets of Kierkegaard’s definition that must be considered: (1) Intent, (2) Infinity, & (3) Indebtedness. This post will address the Intentionality necessary for true Love. The next two will address its Indebtedness and Infiniteness.
     Part of Kierkegaard’s definition is that the infinite debt of love must be “willingly” taken on. In order for this to be the case, we must Love others on purpose. This may sound like a trivial point, but it is most certainly not. How often in popular dialogue do people talk of “falling in love”? People do not fall on purpose. Falling implies a lack of intent or awareness; as if love was something they happened into or was sprung on them by surprise. While attraction and the emotions result may in fact happen unexpectedly, that is not Love. It is more likely that is hormones. Or beer goggles. Or both.
     Love, true Love, requires an intentionality of commitment that regardless of what the other person does, who they become, or how horribly they fail, we will continue to be in relationship with them. Please do not take this to mean that people should stay in relationships that are abusive. There will be another post about why staying in an abusive relationship is the least Loving action possible. For now, it should suffice to say that it is almost never acceptable or Loving to remain in abusive relationship.
     The point that must be adhered to is this: once I enter into a relationship of Love, I cannot truly leave. Therefore, entering into Love relationships must be done with the utmost Intentionality and forethought possible. The initial condition for Love is a commitment, made willfully and intentionally, to the best of our ability. Anything less will inherently doom the relationship to temporality; even if there is no separation.
There is a great deal more to be said on this particular topic, but it’s not within the scope of this blog. Please click this link to be redirected to a Forum topic titled “Love”, as I would like to encourage more dialogue on this. Also, leave a comment on your thoughts about intentionality as it relates to Love.