Sunday, February 7, 2010

Barriers: Strings

There's a supposition in this society with its gap-worn social safety net that the people who need assistance can and will access the services they need for everyday survival. However, there are barriers beyond the obvious that can prevent people from applying for help. For a subset of those in poverty, the reason lies far in their childhood, as was demonstrated in the WISE project.

It's about being beholden. If you've a background of longterm childhood abuse, particularly by a full-time parent or guardian, then you've learned never to ask for help, to fear asking for help, and never to accept gifts. You've learned that if you do, there are always strings attached. You've learned that if you tell other people and ask for their help, they won't believe you and things will only get worse.

Just raising your voice can be difficult. For my first 16 years, barely a word passed my lips.

You also work hard not to need. If you fail in that, then you may be tempted to ask for help. And if you need, then you are somehow deficient and therefore unworthy of help anyway. This is another lesson you have learned.

Leaving those years behind is rarely possible when the abuse was sustained over your developmental years. You absorb that lesson so deep that it reaches into your DNA, and no matter how hard you try later to tell yourself it's OK, even attempting to accept help causes severe reactions. I can go catatonic and at other times have lashed out at and dissociated from people who tried to help me.

You will do just about anything to avoid situations in which people have hands reaching out; even if it's to your own health's detriment. It's why the availability of paid work, or fair exchange, can be so critical to a life, the money being the least reason why someone may need to work.

In the WISE project, childhood trauma was shown to be the number one longterm predictor for future poverty for women.

Think about what that means in the context of the people you may know who are desperately poor and who you may want to help. If they say "I'd rather be homeless than on the system" or "I don't want to go to a shelter" or "Leave me alone," believe them and honour what they say. Despite all your good intentions you could do harm if you push. Instead, respect that such people know what's best for them, even if you don't agree. Their autonomy can be a greater need for personal survival than shelter or food or clothing. If you are fortunate and are the real deal, they may allow you time to become their friend and to gain their trust.

We can relate this issue to certain policy to address poverty.

If Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, Liberal Senator Art Eggleton, the former members of WISE, and other advocates for policy reform, were to have their way, Canadians would be guaranteed a basic annual income, obtained through a negative income tax. Such a pro-active program would replace our present, punitive, gap-worn welfare and other needs-based systems, and the people I describe would not be confronted with a situation for which they have no tools to cope.

No comments: