I know, I know. Two MYWOC entries in one day? I fear you will grow tired of me so, I promise you, I will skip tomorrow. But thoughts run ’round my head and I know I will not rest until I get them down on something resembling paper.
You see: I strive to figure out why my teenage client keeps running from her placement provider — where she has a roof, electricity, running water, and where her own child resides — to the streets, her mother’s apartment which rarely has utilities, or friends’ parents’ homes. She doesn’t really truly do anything “bad” when she’s on the run, she just exists in a world different than that which her placement provider gives her. When I meet with her, she engages me fully, does not try to make excuses, she just quietly says, “I don’t belong there. She [her placement provider] doesn’t talk straight, like you do, like Mr. Lee [her counselor] does, like my mom does. I can’t count on what she says.” I ask a hundred questions, and the same questions a hundred different ways. It all comes back to that.
While the placement provider’s home has some issues to which I object, they aren’t the reasons my client runs away. For her, it all boils down to this: She does not feel welcome.
I cast my thoughts to those basic needs we have, the needs that I chide all of my divorce clients for overlooking in their children: The need to feel loved; and the need to feel safe. Inevitably, I turn my mind further back, to my own attempts to understand what love is.
From the Bible:
“1If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,b but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
1 Corinthians 13, New International Version
From science fiction:
“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
— Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
A lawyer recently stated in a brief that a witness found credible by a trial judge “could not possibly be credible on the issue of the alleged domestic violence”. His reasoning: If the lawyer’s client had actually been as violent as the witness testified, that witness would never have stayed with him.
Ah, but that man does not understand the complexity of the human heart. When the one whom we love abuses us, to us, that is what love looks like. The violence becomes the face of love to us — and, worse, to the children who witness it. What else do they know?
My client seeks out the only demonstration of love she understands, and it looks like her mother. I’m not sure her mother actually is a straight-talking woman, but my client perceives her as a straight-talker, and she feels comfortable with that. She feels comfortable with me because I am a straight-talking woman. She knows that whatever I say, I will follow through. She instinctively knows she can trust me. She knows where she stands.
I think she feels the same way with her mother but not her care-provider. She runs because she does not feel loved in her care-provider’s home. It is that simple; and that complex.
One of the tools that I’ve tried to develop to strengthen my complaint-free life-style is non-violent communication. Non-violent communication casts aside the “right or wrong” analysis of human interaction and the “win or lose” lifestyle in favor of a quest to live a wonderful life. Rather than judgment and demands, nonviolent communication focuses on needs and requests which the person of whom they are made is free to decline or honor. It’s difficult to be the only NVC-speaker in a conversation, but as I’ve gotten more adept at it, I realize that I am okay speaking NVC in a room where everyone else judges, blames, and levies shame. I embrace it more and more because I feel good when I truly practice what NVC teaches me. Conversely, when I fall back into my old habits, I inevitably realize that I’ve not attained my goal of meeting my needs and I’ve just alienated the person with whom I am speaking. It does not get my needs met, and certainly not when that need is love, the ultimate request.
Marshall Rosenberg describes the failed attempt at communication which degenerates to blame and judgment as a tragic expression of an unmet need. I grow more and more convinced that the unmet need can always be defined as the need for love. Hungry? Providing me with food meets my need to satisfy the hunger, but it also and more importantly, tells me that I am loved. Cold? Bringing me a sweater warms me but also demonstrates your love for me. When I complain, I am saying: I feel unloved.
Instead of complaining, I should do what Marshall Rosenberg suggests: I should just tell you that I have a need to be held, because I am feeling the need for love. I should ask you to hold me! It would certainly be quicker than complaining, “You never go anywhere with me! You never do anything I want! You never play with me!” It’s just as Dr. Rosenberg said: A tragic expression of an unmet need. And my sixteen-year-old client, when she runs away, is crying out for an unmet need: the need to be loved. And that’s what love has to do with it.