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January 24, 2006

I Am Not Responsible

I currently have a list of sixty-six topics to write about. It's beautiful the way that the list grows, even though items are being knocked off it every day. Each day, there seems to be a topic or a group of topics that call out "my turn", and then it is their time for a day in the sun. I find it beautiful that topics collect on the list and then gradually gravitate towards each other in my mind; sometimes several related topics glob together to form into an article.

Last night, I went to play with Callum at his house. We spent most of the time pushing wooden "chains" around on the track that I'd assembled. I told him fifteen minutes before going that I was going to leave, and then again at five minutes before. The first time, he said "I don't want to play chains any more." He looked around urgently for something else to do. He did this again on the second warning; it was as if he wanted to experience as much play as possible in the time available. We finished our time with rough housing and cuddling.

Before going, I needed to find something on the web. While I was doing that, Callum started crying, and then screaming: "I don't want you to go daddy, stay here ... please." He was tugging on my arm and screaming at me; he was very scared and angry. Izzy had him sit on the stairs with her, and he told her, "Tell daddy not to go. I want him to stay here. When he's finished on the compooter, I don't want him to go." After I'd finished, I went into the hall; Callum grabbed hold of my arm and wouldn't let go. He was sobbing and screaming and pulling me with all of his little weight, "Don't go daddy, stay here and play with me. Please. I don't want you to go." But it was time for me to go, and I told him that I had to go. He was sitting on Izzy's lap as I was about to open the front door, when he said, "Please give me your hand daddy, please." While crying, I replied, "I love you very much Callum, and mummy does too. We'll always love you. I want to live here with you, and mummy wants me to live here with you, but it just can't be that way. And it's nothing to do with you; it's not your fault." I came back and gave him my hand. He then said, "I want mummy to take my hand off your hand." So Izzy took his hand off my hand and I could see him release, close his eyes, and rest his head on her hand. Then he said "Now go, while I'm ignoring you! go, go ... no, stay daddy ... no, go now, before I change my mind." And so I got up to go, but I was so confused and scared by what he had just done; I felt that I had just watched him kill a part of himself and I wanted to save him; but there was nothing I could do, or say. I told him, "It's amazing how you're feeling all of this Callum. It must be really painful for you. I think that you're doing an amazing job of really feeling this." Episodes like this have happened a few times since Izzy and I have been living separately and it's always very painful for all of us.

A while back, I read Families and How to Survive Them by Robin Skynner and John Cleese. This book is a dialog between the famous comedian and actor John Cleese, and his psychotherapist, Robin Skynner; it's a very enlightening book and a compelling read. The book takes us through all the typical childhood developmental stages and explains them; it's sort of psychoanalytical in that sense. From around two-and-a-half to three years old, Skynner says that the child develops their sense of sexual identity: after both the boy and the girl have realized that they and the mother are separate beings, the girl concludes that she is on the same side of the sexual "bridge", while the boy crosses the "bridge", to identify with the father. Then, from three until six years old, the child has a romantic relationship with the opposite sex parent. During this time, the child is learning about their own power of romantic love, within the safe space provided by an adored parent — and hopefully it's an accepting, and reciprocating experience. But it's very important during this developmental stage for the child to see that the parents have their own romantic relationship. It's important for the child to know that even though he adores the opposite sex parent, and that this adoration is reciprocated, nevertheless, the parents have their own special relationship; that they are intimate with each other in their own special way, which excludes the child. In fact, he says that there is a period when the child is small, during which the husband would naturally be reclaiming his wife, after she has been totally enmeshed with the child.

After reading that, I realized how Callum is going through these developmental stages right now. I saw that our actions could affect his development in a very fundamental way; and it was quite frightening to me, and I felt very out of control. Skynner believes that if there is even a hint that the parent's relationship is failing between the ages of three and six, the child will tend to feel responsible. Since the child is learning to love romantically, to adore and to be adored, they will come to be very fearful of this new-found power. In fact, the child will equate success in this area with their greatest fear: that one or both of their parents will abandon them. This experience sets up a fear not only of adoring and being adored, but also a fear of success in any form. There is always an unnamed, looming fear that if the creative energy is really channeled well, and success is achieved, this dreaded abandonment will finally become manifest.

I realized that I have this fear of adoring and of being adored and that I also sometimes have a fear of succeeding. Just recently, I was tackling a difficult problem at the work, when I suddenly felt a massive amount of anxiety about it. I wondered what that could be about and I was blessed with the presence to stop what I was doing, and to go for a walk. I just walked, felt the anxiety, and breathed into it. When I returned to my desk, I knew what to do, and I totally changed my tack: instead of trying to bang away at the problem on my own, feeling isolated, I called my colleague, who was also working on the same problem. We talked for about ten minutes and then it was done, it was solved. So it turns out that I had been on the cusp of success, and that's when I got anxious.

I asked my mum about what was happening in her relationship with my dad between the ages of three and six; I found that, though they were already having big problems, their marriage had started to really go down hill when I was three; then they divorced when I was six. So I guess it was perfectly wrong for me; and in that, perhaps it was perfectly right. I can see how this affects me in intimate relationships: I have a tendency to fear being adored and adoring, and in the past with Izzy, I have emotionally distanced myself from her.

So I can see how this might be affecting Callum and I can see how it affected me. I truly wish that Callum does not have to go through what I did. At same time, since I can clearly see what is happening, I am in a good position to support Callum through it: I can tell him that it's not his fault, and perhaps that will help him somewhat.

But this article is about so much more than the childhood phase from three to six. I wrote an article a while ago called I Am Responsible; this article complements that one. In order for me to be truly response-able as a fully developed adult, I need to be very conscious about what I am responsible for and what I am not responsible for. The confusion I have around this has been all-pervading for me. A month or so ago, I realized in a session with my therapist, Barry Vissell, that I am very angry with myself. In fact all anger, in the final analysis, is directed at ourselves. For me, this anger manifests as endless critical, belittling, and dissatisfied self-talk. And where does this anger come from? It comes from being a little ego-centric child and naturally thinking that everything was about me. When my mum was busy dealing with endless complexities when I was baby, I thought that her lack of emotional presence was my fault. When my parent's marriage broke down and they divorced, I thought that it was my fault, that there was something wrong with me. When I was beaten, I thought it was my fault. When my mum was abused, and when I was abused, I thought it was my fault.

I took on the responsibility for what happened when I was a child as a defense mechanism, so that I could believe that my parents were not going to abandon me; that they were really going to be able to take care of me. I've been coming to realize that I'm an adult now and I can take care of myself; I don't have to believe those half-truths that I told myself before; I can look deeply into the truth and know that I'll be taken care of by my higher self. By realizing that I have held these false beliefs for all those years, they are starting to let go of me. The result is that I am starting to feel responsible in a much more response-able way. When someone declines my invitation to dinner, I know it's not about me: I'm not fundamentally flawed. When my wife wants to divorce me, it's not really about me, I'm not a "bad" man: I'm just not what she needs in a partner. When some stranger is hostile to me, it's not that I'm a nasty person: they're just having a bad day. At the same time, life asks things of me. At a very practical level, there are people who depend on me and on what I do, or don't do. At a grander scale, there are services that I can provide to the world, which I have a responsibility — to my brothers and sisters, as well as to myself — to let fully blossom.

As human being, when my intention is good and what I do hurts you, I am responsible for my action, but not for your hurt. That doesn't mean that I don't feel for you, or want to make amends, it just means that it is unreasonable for me to feel responsible for everything that happens in the world. On some level, this human being has been walking around with the world on his shoulders, thinking of himself as omnipotent, and feeling responsible for every last thing that happened. It is okay to put that on God, who can handle it, but to try to take on infinite responsibility, without also taking on the infinite joy that the position of Godhead carries, is pure insanity. Let me feel the joy, and with it I can also handle the responsibility: that's the deal.

Related article: I Am Responsible


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