Promises, Promises!

Even when we know otherwise we still tend to think about big picture problems (i.e. The Fed’s money printing, out of control US Government debt, student loan bubble/defaults, corporate/governmental corruption etc) as if they are being rained down upon us and not as if we are in any way responsible for the problems or the solutions. In other words we tend to see the world and its troubles from the point of view of a victim rather than a participant, let alone a partially responsible party.

There is no doubt that the sociopaths are now running the insane asylum and that we are entering the parabolic blow off phase of social and financial dysfunction. And I would also agree that sociopaths in general are an opportunistic lot and will actively seek out and exploit strife, stress and social dysfunction wherever they can find or foment it. Simply put they strike while the iron is hot and light fires when it is not.

But there are always sociopaths lurking in the shadows of society waiting to pounce whenever there is an opening. Even during the best of times they are salted throughout business, academia, government and politics, always working people and situations to their advantage. That’s just who they are and what they do. So why do we seem to have a bumper crop growing amongst us at this point in time?

It is said that power abhors a vacuum, that in the absence of an expressed or perceived form of ‘leadership’ (it doesn’t matter in what structure it presents, albeit monarchy, republic, dictatorship etc) one will quickly form or appear to fill the void. The same might be said for sociopaths filling the (increasing) void, but what exactly is this so called ‘void’ and how does it form?


Codependent dysfunction

Several weeks back I returned to the Northern Virginia/DC area on business and stopped to visit an elderly family friend who was recovering in a rehabilitation center after falling and severely injuring herself. For the sake of clarity and flow let’s call my friend Diane.

When I visited Diane she was three weeks removed from her accident and rehabbing well……or at least as well as can be expected from someone in her mid 80’s with a multitude of chronic health issues. But she was in good spirits and her only real complaint was with the food and a few less than attentive nurses.

However she was quite concerned about her daughter (let’s call her Sue) who has been visibly and openly angry with Diane over the circumstances of her fall. Without going into details while Sue might be factually correct regarding her mother’s fall and fading cognitive facilities, Sue’s continuing angry response appeared a bit irrational and misdirected. After talking to my friend for a while and reading between the lines I felt I better understood the underlying issue behind Sue’s anger.

It seems that well over twenty years ago Sue made a solemn promise to her mother, one that was repeated often both publically and privately. Sue promised she would never allow her mother to be sent to a nursing home to live out her remaining days and that she would always take care of her mother. Of course, Sue’s promise was made when Sue and Diane were both in good health, totally independent and self sufficient.

But times and circumstances have changed dramatically for mother and daughter, in particular because Diane and Sue are both struggling with health and financial issues. With it now clear that Diane can no longer safely live alone it is time for Sue to keep her promise and take her mother under her wing. And to her credit Sue was already taken steps to do precisely that when her mom is released from rehab in a few weeks. But it seems the tension between the two is thick and unsettling.

In my opinion the issue was obvious though neither really wanted to talk about it to the other. And the solution, or at least the only solution they could see, was unthinkable to both parties. Since neither could go there, both were triggered by what neither wanted to talk about. To be fair Diane was fairly coherent in her thinking, at least when she was discussing this with me. As well, I was not able to speak privately with Sue to sound her out. But I suspect that given the chance Sue would also unburden herself and speak plainly and frankly with me. Of course I wasn’t the one she needed to talk to.

Elderly Mother and Daughter

The End Game

From my point of view the dysfunctional energy was coming from both sides. While Sue was sincere when her promise was made (and constantly reaffirmed) all those years ago, and her intention to honor it now is equally sincere, the strain to do so is at times psychologically and emotionally overwhelming. While she believes she wants to keep her promise (because that’s what you do when you make a solemn oath, especially to a loved one) in truth she doesn’t really desire to do so because of her own serious personal issues.

Worse, the amount of the ‘due bill’ has been building for years as her mom’s health steadily declined and the need for Sue to ‘pay off’ on her promise became ever more apparent. Simultaneously with Diane’s increasing ‘need’ Sue’s ability to ‘pay’ declined as the years progressed. And both parties recognized this, both on a conscious and subconscious level.

When the promise was made to Diane all those years back, while she was grateful and a bit relieved since she was single with no plans to remarry, she still had many years ahead of her and didn’t seriously consider the gravity of the promise made. However as the years progressed she began to count on Sue being there when she needed her.

In fact, knowing that her daughter’s safety net was there allowed Diane to splurge quite a bit more beyond her original plans during her late 60’s and 70’s and travel around the USA and several foreign countries. I suspect she spent more money than she would have if Sue’s safety net had never been offered.

So here we are at the end game. Diane is now at that point in her life where she needs ever increasing assistance with several aspects of daily living. While she informed me that it would be OK if she did not move in with her daughter she did not have all the financial resources to pay for the care she needed. She didn’t wish to be a burden, but either she moved in with another family member or friend or she required additional financial assistance to purchase the care she needed from professionals.

The bottom line was that Diane really did want her daughter to keep her promise since Diane had counted on it being kept. Sue was facing the pressure created by her promise and the added stress from this predicament was enormous when added to her ‘normal’ daily issues. These cognitive disconnects were creating a growing neurosis within both of them which if not settled now, would only grow and fester until it blew up and out.

Promises Promises

Truth and Reconciliation

Earlier I mentioned that power abhors a vacuum. In the case of Diane and Sue the term vacuum or void is better conceptualized if we see it as an unbalanced equation or energy level. If Diane did not need ‘help’, starting from this point right up to when she eventually died, there would be no ‘need’ for Sue (or anyone else for that matter) to fill, no vacuum or void to equalize. It is Diane’s ‘need’ that creates the imbalance in the present status quo, in the level of power, in the equation. That giant sucking neurosis was air rushing into the vacuum to equalize the pressure.

It is this powerful imbalance that is creating (or more accurately fanning the flames of) the cognitive dissonance in both of them, this desire both to do and not to do what each feels compelled by conflicting desires to follow. This in turn is fostering the neurosis that presents as anger and psychological discord. Left to fester in this state for too long, serious dysfunctional behavior eventually expresses. What is rarely discussed is how this core cognitive dissonance affects in ways large and small nearly all aspects of a person’s ability to live a happy and healthy life.

We cannot ‘make’ another person ‘willingly’ change (the only type of change that is transformative and lasting) without their consent. We can force their body and condition their mind, but a true metamorphosis only occurs when we willing participate for our own inner reasons. However, we can be a catalyst for another person’s change, especially if we are part of the problem. But this requires that first we transform ourselves and most importantly our transformation cannot be initiated for others or with the intent to influence others.

What Diane and Sue are unable to see is that they are both locked into a narrow behavioral range; their choices are limited by the promise. Since neither can ‘change’ the other, the only way out is to make the decision to break out of the box and face what they are both avoiding. Neither can fundamentally change the fact that Diane is elderly and unable to fully care for herself. The only thing they can ‘change’ is how they perceive and then react to this reality.

Once they cease pounding on the locked door directly in front of them and look around they will find dozens of others doors unlocked and available…..including the formerly locked door they were just pounding on. These alternatives have been there all along; it is our narrow range of perceptual vision that blinds us to the blatantly obvious and sorely needed.

Crossing Train Tracks

Free Yourself

After Diane had finished unburdening herself to me she fell silent for a moment, and then quietly asked what I thought she should do. Instantly I knew what to say, but hesitated for a moment because I did not expect my answer to be welcomed. “You must release your daughter from her promise. Only you can do this. I know it’s difficult and unfair, but Sue is unable to find the courage to ask to be released and the burden of the promise is too great for her and you to carry.”

I paused and waited for Diane to protest, but she remained silent, seemingly willing to hear more. “It will be extremely difficult for both of you. Sue will insist that she keep her promise; you must insist that the promise has already been discharged so there is nothing to keep. Most likely Sue will not accept your release and that’s OK, since the real purpose of your release is not to free Sue, but to free yourself from the burden of the false hope that what was promised can and will still be delivered.”

Once again I paused and this time Diane replied. “But I’ve told her several times that she doesn’t have to take me in, that I could find somewhere else to live.”

Her facial expression was almost childlike, hoping that her answer was enough to satisfy me while at the same time knowing it would not. It was a response I was expecting. False hope binds us to impossible situations and accepting that we are not being, and have not been, truthful with our ‘self’ often dies a hard and painful death.

I slowly took a deep breath, gathered up my own courage and pressed on. No one wants to tell anyone what they don’t want to hear. “Was it a sincere offer? Were you ready and willing to find another place if she accepted or were you simply saying it to help both of you feel better about the burden you believe you’re placing on her?” Diane winced when I said that and I immediately wished I had been gentler. Honesty was needed, but bluntness was not and being so can at times be cruel.

Before you say anything to Sue you must be completely settled with yourself on this matter and be willing to accept any and all consequences of your actions, even if that means moving into a state paid nursing home or seriously damaging the relationship with your daughter. I paused to gauge her response, and then continued on when she said nothing.

If you cannot find peace with this before speaking with her you will not be able to fully and completely release yourself, and by extension her, from the damaging hold the promise has on both of you. You must become willing and able to do what at this moment you are unwilling to do. Consider how much power this has over you if you can’t bring yourself to release its grip. Then consider how free you will be once you have dismissed the promise that binds you to your distress.”

After a few moments of silence I gently changed the subject. Diane will have plenty of time to wrestle with her demons after I am gone. No sense forcing the issue anymore. Truth is instantly recognizable for its self evident nature. The difficulty isn’t in knowing what to do; the difficulty lay in doing what needs to be done.

Broken Promises

Self Betrayal

During my six hour drive home I had plenty of time to mull over my visit and what I had said. I was struck by the parallels between Diane and Sue and the promises made by society to society, oftentimes hidden in the guise of public government or private corporation’s promises to “We the People”.

Regardless of whether the promises come in the form of financial, governmental, regulatory, judicial or political, they have not and will not be fully kept from this point on. We cannot force those who have no intention to keep them or can’t keep them to perform even if they actually wanted to do so. Nor would shaking awake the slumbering majority to the approaching crisis force the promises to be kept. If anything that would just accelerate the crisis since the entire system operates as a confidence game. Shake confidence and you break the game board.

The exponentially increasing Federal government’s (and private corporation’s) spying on its own citizens, public and corporate corruption and crony capitalism, glaring judicial injustice, blatant police state tactics and escalating social safety net breakdowns are the symptom, not the disease. ‘We the People’ have known for decades, or should have known if we had not outsourced our own personal responsibility to know what was being done (or not done) in our name, that promises were being made that could not be kept.

Rather than step forward and demand accountability from our so called ‘leadership’, something that also demands accountability from ourselves for believing the lies of the sociopaths that it will all work out if we just leave it to them (when obviously it would not), ‘We the People’ pursued a policy of don’t ask, don’t tell and narcissistic naval gazing while growing fat and increasingly unhappy. The neurosis feeds upon itself in a positive feedback loop until it reaches the blow off phase and the social organism collapses. This is the disease.

The runaway train has now reached the terminal fascism phase and the collective and individual courage to step onto the tracks and meet the problem head on is lost and nowhere to be found. The general public, including you and me (I do not exclude myself from blame) have resigned ourselves to our lot in life and are hunkering down (or exploiting the final frenzy for personal gain) to wait out the explosive destruction with the hope of surviving to live another day. Once again it is selfish pursuits that stand in the way of solutions.

In the face of mass self betrayal, all you and I can hope to do is work towards releasing ourselves from ourselves. We must release ‘them’ from the false promises they have made so that we may release ourselves from the anger, resentment and false hope that currently has us all tied up in neurotic knots and dysfunctional depression. We must release ourselves from the past in order to move each other forward into the future.

It all begins within.



Cognitive Dissonance

Balancing Stones

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