“A benchmark of emotional management and responsibility is the realization that our past can no longer be blamed for our actions in the present.“
Doc Childe and Howard Martin
Every day I work with people who are victims, real or imagined. They grew up in a bad home, someone has rejected them, the white man has dragged them down, people have taken advantage of them, they have been abused, raped, abandoned, the list is endless. There is no shortage of people to blame.
Usually the client or person I am talking to has legitimate issues. They are dealing with things that most people can barely imagine. They are trying, the best they know how, to find some anchor in a life that has been beyond their control. Many patients I have spoken with have gone through horror stories and are endeavouring to move forward. They are the reason I get up in the morning and go to work excited. They are my heroes.
Others are looking for something to pin their pain on. They cannot see any personal responsibility, they will not own their own complicity. They sit and we talk and it is always someone else’s fault. Often they have legitimate complaints but they wear their victimization like a crown and filter everything through with a pre-disposed diagnosis. This week I met with a young man who told me that the reason he could not pass in school was because generations ago people oppressed him. I reminded him that he was not in fact alive a couple hundred years ago and though he has had to suffer historic abuse and that has undoubtedly profoundly affected his life, perhaps the reasons he is failing in school have more to do with the fact that he is skipping and spending his considerable income on crack. He called me a bigot.
I come from generations of alcoholics and the pragmatically poor. My dad was an orphan whose father fell from a skyscraper during his last week of work before going to a new job. His mother died when he was 12. He completed grade 9 in school. He had no social safety net, no social worker looking out for him, no strong family to provide for him, no one to blame. So he didn’t.
Years later my father would stand before the Governor General of Canada and receive the military equivalent of the Order of Canada, our highest civilian honor. He had, in fact, finally finished his high school equivalency in his forties. He had worked his butt off to make something of a shunted life. He is my son’s hero. Wednesday he will be our guest blogger.
Every now and again I will have occasion to feel sorry for myself. Maybe things aren’t going smoothly or my friends have nicer houses or boats. Sometimes I wish I had a family with money and a house on a lake. But then I remember how fortunate I am to come from a heritage that simply would not give up.
As i sit here writing this it just hit me, I have never heard my dad complain about his lot in life. Ever.
“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.”
J. Michael Straczynski
CTV News released the new figures on consumer debt in Canada yesterday. In the report the writer points out that in the past five years, debt loads have increased 400 per cent more than the rate of inflation. “Debt’s outpacing us and continues to outpace us, so at some point in time there’s going to be a reconciliation,” Higgins said.
It is a word we are all familiar with. An epidemic of our own making. At least in North America we have spawned the most coddled generation ever known, and they are demanding Smart Phones and iPads and texting plans. Turn on the television and you can watch twenty-somethings argue that the new house they are contemplating buying does not have granite counter tops or ten-foot ceilings. Couples think nothing of spending thousands in credit on vacations they have not worked for. There is a pervading sense of entitlement, that we have somehow earned a lavish lifestyle built on credit payments.
The deeper issue here may just be an ingrained selfishness, combined with an unrealistic expectation of life. We assume we are going to have money and credit companies keep trying to prove us right. I have patients in their early twenties who are $60-70,000 in debt with little or nothing to show for it. This is consumer debt, usually at 19% interest or worse.
And it is not just the teens who are feeling the need for greed and self-indulgence. It is little wonder that my fifteen year old feels abused by life because he does not have an iPhone. His friend’s parents apparently have unlimited access to funds, in spite of the fact that they are single parents with multiple credit cards. Matt’s buddies have extensive and expensive phone plans with unlimited data. These kids feel hard done by if their parents do not pay for their $50/week paintball addiction or do not give them rides wherever they want and whenever they want. These same teens insist their parents buy them cars and trucks while they are still in their teens… and they usually get them. What the hell is wrong with us? Are we so guilt-laden from our divorce? So afraid of our children missing out? Are we so insecure that we need our child’s approval, or so desperate to be cool that we are willing to sell out a fundamental tenet of good parenting?
We are the problem.
I routinely ask my clients to watch shoes like Til Debt Do Us Part or Princess, both with the same host. While I would never tell a client to watch Dr. Phil or Oprah, I am convinced that Gail helps people deal with the reality of debt and financial bondage. The problem is, however, that the issue is actually a psychological and emotional issue as much as it is a financial one. What is it about us that we believe we are entitled to trips and toys and two hundred-dollar haircuts, handbags worth thousands and weekly trips to the spa?
And let’s be honest, reality television is not helping – rich, arrogant, young and beautiful people who have been surgically enhanced flaunting their money and low IQ’s so that our children can learn that they deserve the best and should dedicate their lives to things that do not matter.
Christmas is coming and the urge to spend what we do not have to impress our children and friends can be overwhelming. Commercials push and prod with amazing tenacity and we are all tempted to spend more than we budget. What are we hoping to accomplish? Do we realize the message we continue to send to our family when we indulge in such technological hedonism with little regard to the psychological ramifications of what we are preaching?
The issue is not neutral, but profound and important. I cannot help but feeling that we have sold our souls for a stupid phone.
- Debt loads grow at fastest pace in 2 years (cbc.ca)
- Canadian debt load grew at fastest pace in two years: report (metronews.ca)
- Guest Blogger – “Living With A Narcissist” (scott-williams.ca)
Growing up in Canada has many advantages. Canadians really are the most polite people you will ever meet. It is somehow hardwired into our DNA to say “excuse me” and “thank you”. Traveling to other countries it is always a bit of a culture shock until I realize that waiter who has no manners and is talking so gruffly is not actually upset or rude. We are a very sensitive people.
When I lived and worked in the United States I found the people to be wonderful, even if I never did come to understand the appeal of biscuits and gravy. I mean seriously, that is disgusting. The Americans I knew were quite convinced that they lived in the greatest country in the world and were proud to tell me. This is a very un-Canadian way of thinking. In Canada we believe we are from the greatest country on earth, unless you might find that offensive. And actually, when I think about it, even saying this is quite pushy and if I have offended you, please forgive me. I’m sorry.
Growing up I was taught that self promotion was arrogance and a humble person never brags. Humble people, we believed, made fun of themselves and were self-deprecating. We are not flag wavers. Telling someone else that your country is better than theirs is considered the height of bad form. Psychologically Americans and Canadians are very different animals. Canadians have grown up in the shadow of the giant. We tend to define ourselves by what we are not, as opposed to what we are.
As a Canadian it is very difficult for me to admit that I believe Americans raise their children with a much healthier sense of self and self-esteem. Canada is a country of 35+ million people who don’t like themselves. In all my years of counseling in Canada I have yet to meet more than a handful of people who actually like themselves and would describe themselves as having good self-image. That is at least in part to my contention that to even say you have healthy self-esteem in Canada is extremely difficult. If I tell a group or an individual that I like myself I somehow feel dirty, conceited. I usually follow this up with a joke that makes fun of myself. This is a very Canadian experience.
Obviously people from other countries have issues with self-esteem as well. The purpose of this article is not to elevate or minimize another culture. I am simply implying that the Canadian experience is, on some level, very twisted and unhealthy. I have struggled my entire life to come to grips with my feelings of worth and am only now, well into my forties, willing to admit (with a little Canadian trepidation) that I am coming to like who I am. Just writing those words remain difficult for me, however. Stating publicly that I like myself is fighting against generations of self recrimination and sociology.
Religion has also had a hand in making it difficult for people to have a healthy self-image. I did not grow up in a very religious home but every summer at bible camp I was reminded that “everything good is from God” and the intended converse, “everything bad is Scott.” My Baptist camp counselor told me that, “Without God I could do nothing and there is nothing good in me.” I was “born in sin”. I have since grown up to understand those statements in perspective but I distinctly remember feeling like a dirty wretch every summer at the altar call.
I am Canadian.
I am trying to like myself but feel bad telling you this.
I have secretly always believed I was ugly although I wondered if I was good-looking.
I am paranoid about people thinking I may be arrogant.
My parents told me I was a winner but I thought that it would be conceited to believe them.
I have spent my entire life struggling with self-esteem.
If you tell me I am a loser I am prone to believe you.
I am Canadian.
It’s time to let ourselves love ourselves. You are amazing. You are beautiful in spite of what you see in the mirror. You are fine just the way you are. Amazing. More brilliant than you know.
“Something inside you emerges….an innate, indwelling peace, stillness, aliveness. It is the unconditioned, who you are in your essence. It is what you had been looking for in the love object. It is yourself.”
– Eckhart Tolle
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
– Edmund Hillary