Archive for the loving people Category

The Social Network reminds us of our need to feel connected

Posted in emotions, Facebook, loving people, psychopathology, self-acceptance with tags , on November 26, 2010 by Steve

I just saw The Social Network and was blown away by how compelling it was and how it ‘worked’ at so many levels, especially at a psychological level.

I think there are two reasons why this movie is so interesting and engaging. First, the topic of the movie – Facebook’s ascendancy to fame (as well as its founder’s notoriety) – touches everyone who uses or knows about Facebook. We relate to the movie because Facebook pervades our modern lives: ‘Are you on Facebook?’, ‘Facebook me when you get home’, etc. Yet it is baffling to think that this online social connection tool actually had to be thought up, designed and be made popular. Just as we can’t imagine meeting someone without using our mobile phone, so Facebook seems to have become an essential aspect to communication and friendships. So, in a way, all of us who have used Facebook have contributed to its success. We are part of the Facebook story. Thus, we each have an individual connection to the movie.

Second, the themes of the movie reflect common, everyday experiences which we can all relate to. Ultimately, the movie is about what drives us as human beings: ambition, jealousy and the yearning for friendship. The main character, portraying programming nerd and founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is socially awkward and lacks the ability to communicate warmth to those closest to him. Yet his lack of empathy seems to result more from apathy than from a narcissistic intent to hurt others, and so we pity him. However his intellectual brilliance also makes him arrogant. We thus simultaneously marvel at and despise him. He is the typification of the autistic savant whose hyper-intelligence and social awkwardness leave him misunderstood and emotionally vulnerable.

Fittingly, an interesting  sub-theme which develops is that of the powerful influence of the charismatic personality. Played by Justin Timberlake, the extroverted and suave Sean Parker is the embodiment of persuasion by enchantment. Through his crafty story-telling, apt one-liners, and hypnotic authoritativeness, Parker plays on Zuckerberg’s psychological woundedness, to his own advantage. In meeting Parker, Zuckerberg is changed: his aspirations for grandiosity and absurd wealth are activated, and he enters into Parker’s world of pleasure and madness. Yet, at a deeper level, Zuckerberg remains unchanged; he stands outside Parker’s world looking in: a stranger, confused. It isn’t wealth or parties he desires. It’s a deeper sense of connectedness that he desires. He is still lonely.

Most notably, The Social Network captures brilliantly some of the different motives which people have for their behaviour. In Zuckerberg’s case, money and worldwide fame are not the motives, although he does compete vehemently with those who desire the prestige of success and wealth. Rather Zuckerberg seems to be driven by a need for self-validation and the sense of self-worth derived from how significant others think about him. By the end of the movie, it has become clear that Zuckerberg’s deepest desire is to be reassured that he’s not “a bad guy”. In the final scene of the movie, this longing for acceptance and friendship is powerfully brought home. It is a fitting end to a movie which so perceptively mirrors and critiques what drives us.

Tragically, and ironically, the founder of Facebook just wants someone to be his friend.

Evil, suffering and the original psychopath

Posted in evil, loving people, loving your neighbour, psychopathology, Satan on April 15, 2009 by Steve

We know about the destruction and hurt inflicted by those who are cruel, cold and deeply hurt. Psychologists describe psychopathy or sociopathy – an existence which seeks self-gratification at the expense of others’ comfort, exhibited in behaviours such as remorseless cruelty, violence or rape. Sadly, those who have been cruelly treated as children often become the ones to inflict cruelty onto others. The humiliated seek to gain power over others. The abused become abusers. Thus, the cycle of abuse continues generation after generation, seemingly impossible to break. Whole family and cultural patterns may be responsible for the continuation of such pain-filled existence.

On one level, such behaviour seems motivated by a ‘pay-back’ mentally: “If I can’t have what I should’ve had when I was a child (love, kindness, warmth), then I will won’t let anyone have it. Instead, I’ll treat them how I was treated (cruelly, coldly, un-humanly), because that’s fair.” Of course, there are much deeper psychological realities operating, but it seems that, on one level, these people believe they are justified to hurt and mistreat others.

This sort of behaviour (cold-blooded murder, programmed torture and genocide, calculated repeated rape) is often described as ‘evil’, since no other language seems to quite do justice to the horrors of it. Furthermore, such a label seems appropriate since many would believe this type of behaviour is beyond explanation: it must be of another world, of the devil. Such postulations may well be true, since it is so difficult to understand what motivates the rapist, murderer, etc. Yet, out of love for neighbour, we must strive to understand, for the sake of the offender, the victim and for the prevention of future crimes of the same type. Inconceivable as it is, psychopathy and sociopathy seems to make sense; it is the product of a cruel and emotionless upbringing…

All this now leads me to pose some questions: “Is there a  place for interpreting spiritual forces of evil psychologically? If so, how do the spiritual realities of the devil and evil spirits intersect with the findings of psychological disturbance? What is Satan’s psychological state? Is Satan is the original psychopath? Is he purely evil, or has he somehow been deeply hurt? Lastly, if psychopathically disturbed people are simply hurt, not evil, then what happens to the concepts of guilt and culpability? How does God judge those who have sought to re-pay the cruelty they suffer as children?” I do not intend to try to answer these questions, but more so I want to dare to ask them.

I think it is worth considering the psychological make-up of the powerful spiritual forces around us.  Indeed, Biblically it appears to me that Satan may display some psychopathic motivation: “[T]he devil has gone down to [the earth]. He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12), “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Perhaps Satan feels that it is unfair that he should suffer, but not others with him. Biblically, it does not appear that Satan has ‘suffered as a child’, something which might have explained his behaviour. Perhaps he simply belongs to the category of “evil” by himself, having nothing which has caused his behaviour (psychopathically woundedness) such that we can understand him as we try to understand those who suffer cruelly in this world.

Indeed, those who struggle with the desire to “repay” others with suffering do need to be desperately understood and loved for all the ways in which they themselves have suffered. But it is also right to perceive the evilness of such behaviour and to lovingly to hold each other accountable for our actions, as much as our knowledge of this allows. I think it is appropriate to apply the following verse in a psychological way: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48) Some will have been abused so greatly, that a godly life for these people will consist of simply struggling to not hurt others, to such a degree perhaps that others may not even be able to perceive it. But we know God does.

So now we live in a world which has the potential for much cruelty and suffering, which is most probably one of the prime activities of Satan. In Satan’s final short moments, he is wanting to take down as many people with him as he can. He is angry because he knows he has been conquered and will soon be eternally condemned and punished. At Jesus Christ’s  return, all suffering and evil will finally be put an end.

So, whatever the exact relationship of evil, suffering and responsibility, we all are in need of a Powerful Rescuer and Righteous Judge who has promised us vindication and justice against our humiliators, as well as psychological wholeness and emotional vitality; the experience of overflowing fullness of joy and pleasures of the God’s presence (see Psalm 16). We all have the offer of forgiveness, renewal and hope, knowing that “His mercies begin afresh each morning”.

1 I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.

2 He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light;

3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones.

5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.

6 He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.

7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains.

8 Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.

9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help.

12 He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver.

14 I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long.

15 He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.

17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.

18 So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.

20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Lamentations 3:1-26

The hideousness (and healing) of being a parent

Posted in loving people, parenting, self-acceptance on October 23, 2008 by Steve

Becoming a parent brings with it some of life’s most intense emotions, experiences, and revelations. The highs and lows are manifold: joyous expectation, anxious (pain-filled) labour, wonder in beholding newborn life, total readjustment of daily routines, the testing of sleep deprivation, the lowliness of changing pooey nappies, to name but a few.

What I have been realising lately is that becoming a parent is also a profound way of revealing to us some of our deepest, core-most realities, in painful, yet therapeutic ways. In a way, I believe this is God’s design, a gracious depth of insight into our own hearts and minds, and into the heart of God, our heavenly Father, Himself. In this blog, I will discuss what I mean by the hideousness of being a parent.

First of all, my assumption is that in our parenthood we are most likely to display some of the least attractive aspects of ourselves, as well as some of our best. This is because as a parent in relation to our child we are most tempted and most permitted to show our true colours, whether in love or in anger, in our acceptance or in our disapproval of the child. Where else do we have the authority to rule another’s life, to impress our reality onto another? Where else are we able to be most authentic, and get away with it?

The hideousness of parenthood lies in the fact that parents are both expected and allowed to express the depths of their hearts to their kids. Though often the most tender expressions of respect, dignity and affirmation, it can also be expressions of heartless criticalness, proud judging, or smothering neediness.

Imagine this situation: An energetic 4-year-old boy is jumping noisily and calling out around the house. At first the parent, though irritated, ignores the noise, telling himself that it is normal for kids to be like this. The child continues to shout, sprouting out loud nonsense words and sentences. The parent’s sense of annoyance at his son’s “immature” behaviour rising and intensifying inside him. The threshold is reached, and the parent snaps in anger at the child’s “bad behaviour”. The parent shouts abusively, shocking the child in his shell for something the child had no idea was wrong to do. The child is now nervous, on edge. He will have to tread carefully around Dad, lest he displeases him again.

Here we have an example of the hideouesness that a parent is capable of. In a sense it seems fairly harmless, innocent, justifiable. The father was probably tired, worn out after a long week at work. The child had probably made these noises in an effort to upset Dad. It hardly seems all that ‘hideous’. Or perhaps the hideousness of it was hidden.

In my mind, the reason why a parent would respond in this way is because he cannot come to accept such behaviour in himself. There is an intolerance of the child’s behaviour because it was never acceptable for the parent to behave in this way when he was a child. As a child, this parent probably had to vie for mum and dad’s attention, shoved aside or beaten down for his energetic need for their attention. This parent was not loved to the extent he longed for, instead his clammerings for attentive acceptance were squashed or disciplined out of him. Exasperated and empty, his only way of coping was to suppress his longings, cutting off part of his deepest, truest being. Having been denied the completeness of his emotional self, this child could no longer access those parts of him which allowed him to stretch out to others in selfless, abounding love and acceptance. “I can’t have it, so I’m not going to give it to others,” became his ethic.

Furthermore, naked and shamed, this individual no longer desired to appreciate others’ differences and accept them for who they were, but now sought to expose, ridicule and criticise others, just as had been done to him as a child.

What is the hideousness of being a parent? It is the total and absolute license for a parent to inflict on his own child the horrific and emotionally destrcutive abuses that were inflicted on him as a child. It is the cycle of abuse which too often goes unbroken. It is a hideous crime against humanity, yet it is perfectly legal. Parenting can be hideous because we each were once parented.

The privilege of parenting is accompanied by a huge liability: the care of a human being is entrusted to us as parents. There are many ways to butch it up. There are also powerful factors at work in us in our parenting which we may, more often than not, be unaware of. Our own first years of life are generally unavailable to explicit memory. These may have formed us in ways that we are not aware of.

It may take becoming a parent to realise what we are, deep down inside. This is the hideousness as well as the graciousness of God to us in parenting: a chance to know the depths of brokenness and of our need for restoration. It is humbling to know the extent to which we cannot control ourselves, just how infused with fallenness our lives are.

The depths of our hideousness in our being parents leads us to the depths of healing that parenthood brings.

Awkward love a means to deeper self-understanding

Posted in loving people, loving your neighbour, self-acceptance on October 8, 2008 by Steve

What do you do when you’ve offended someone but they’re not making it easy for you to approach them about it? How do you express love to someone who wants to shut down an avenue for further communication?

This situation has been on my mind a lot these past weeks. More than once have I recently done the wrong thing by someone simply out of carelessness or absent-mindedness. Am I more careless and absent-minded than I have been previously? I’m not sure, but I am critically aware of the hurt I have caused another when they alert me to it. And I kick myself as soon as I realise I have caused offense.

I suppose it does no good to simply dwell on my past err in the hope that I might somehow find a way of not having to take action about resolving it. It is very tempting to want to justify myself by blaming the other, or explaining away the reason for my careless behaviour. I feel a rage against injustice welling up inside me, wanting to cry out in my defence, getting me off the hook, allowing me to avoid confrontation.

All this seems to be an excuse for my own awkward fear over confrontation and having to say sorry. I think I dislike saying sorry since it is so debasing. It makes me feel like I am grovelling, pathetic and worm-like as I plead for restoration – a second chance at making the relationship work again. I suppose it is pride to not want to have to admit to what I did, mainly out of preoccupation with other things, things which I could justify as worthy distractions from the thing that I neglected to do right. Is it perhaps that in apologising for my poor behaviour I am opening up the possibility for the other person to reject me more, to not reopen the door to restored friendship, thus making me feel even more worthless? This risk is frightening, the source of my crippling dilemma.

What I do want to say is that reaching out to others in this world is always going to be messy. Authentic love is awkward because it involves our whole personalities, including all our quirks, and playing on our many insecurities. Living and loving as whole persons in relationship with others is so fraught with pitfalls that it is no wonder that so many give up, retreat, close themselves off and shut themselves away as hermits and drop-outs.

Loving my neighbour as myself is not going to be easy, since it is me that so often and easily causes offense that upsets my neighbour. If living with others at work, in homes, suburbs and families so often brings out my worst, I can see why there is such a temptation to recoil and hide from others, rather than extend myself in the vulnerabilities of humble, sensitive love. I am very tempted to run emotionally from those who I don’t click with, who don’t quite understand me, or who don’t give me the benefit of the doubt.

While anger, grumbling, bitterness and a sense of injustice are all legitimate feelings as we rub shoulders with each other in this messy world, I sense that there is more to it than these initial feelings want us to know about. I would say that such feelings are an indicator of deeper aspects of ourselves that we might not necessarily want to allow to come to our attention, memories about parts of us that we have squashed down in the hope that we wouldn’t have to face them. It is at the very moment we wish to gloss over such things that such a discovery is invaluable to us.

I conclude that it is worth the risk of digging beneath gut reactions to find within ourselves the deeper causes of malcontent. I resolve now to turn my mistake and pride into an opportunity for better understanding of what is at work within me, seeking to find how I might relate with deeper maturity into the future. In this way my neighbour’s grief at my annoyance will not have been in vain, nor will my initial awkwardness over how to respond to this grief have been. Thus, my own struggle in loving my neighbour will become the means for deeper self-acceptance as it provides an opportunity to grow in ways that wouldn’t have been otherwise possible.