“We will not even notice a challenge outside our abilities to meet.” – King Ayles, author
“…his father had noticed some scarring on his arms…”
Abelino was sixteen years of age sporting long dark hair and stylish clothes. He told me he had dyed his hair dark brown because he said it made him look different than his family who were all light skinned and fair-haired.
Abelino had been sent by his parents who were divorced and remarried to new partners with children. He spent alternate weeks with each of them while he finished high school. His future plans were to go to a technical college and work in IT.
Abelino had a friendly, open manner and engaged easily with me. He had a close knit circle of friends at school and did OK academically. He said he didn’t like school much but enjoyed spending time with his friends. He noted he especially liked visiting his friends’ homes and seeing their ‘normal’ families.
His parents had noticed in the last few months he had become more distant. Then, his father had noticed some scarring on his arms and challenged him thinking they were needle marks.
But, Abelino told him he was experimenting with self-tattooing…only later to admit he had been self-mutilating…cutting himself. Confused and alarmed, his father contacted his mother, and soon after, Abelino ended up in my office.
“…I know my parents are all upset about me cutting myself, but it’s really no big deal…it’s not fatal is it!”
I met with Abelino’s parents before his appointment. Abelino’s mother, Abby, was a nervous, chatty woman of forty, who worked as a customer service representative in a call center. Her second husband, Costas, owned and managed a restaurant while co-parenting the two young sons from his previous marriage.
Abelino’s father, Adair, was a quiet, reserved guy who drove a cement truck for a living. His current partner, Caitlin, was a beautician with a teen age daughter the same age as Abelino.
After I collected a brief history from Abelino, I asked him why he had agreed to come to my office…what did he want to achieve that would be useful to him.
He was briefly quiet and thoughtful, staring off into space before he said,
“Ken, I know my parents are all upset about me cutting myself, but it’s really no big deal…it’s not fatal is it?”
“That depends on where you do it and how you do it. Right?”
“Yeah… I know that! But, cutting my forearms a little every now and then…it’s not like I’m going to bleed to death or anything, right?”
“Control, Ken! I have no control over my life, where I live, who I live with…
“Perhaps not Abelino, but, what interests me is why you need to do it. Would you tell me about that?”
“Simply put Ken, I’m a suitcase, a travel bag, moving back and forth between two families every other week…changing houses, bedrooms, breakfasts and people. It’s been going on for almost five years now.”
“What’s the worst part of that for you Abelino…the aspect most annoying for you?” I asked.
“It is all annoying! Don’t get me wrong, I know both families are working hard at life. I can see it. I watch my mom struggling with her new family and dad doing the same thing, just in different ways.”
“What’s missing for you in all of this, Abelino?”
He paused, thoughtful again. Then he replied,
“Control, Ken! I have no control over my life, where I live, who I live with, and who will make time for me!”
“It sounds like you perceive yourself as powerless in an untenable situation…like you have no control at all! Would that be accurate Abelino?”
“That fits pretty well, Ken.”
“…it’s empowering to be able to control the entire experience?”
“So, how is your perception of your living situation connected to your cutting behaviour? How do they go together?”
“That’s an interesting question….I suppose when I’m cutting…at least it is something I can control myself!”
“What do you see that you control when cutting yourself, Abelino?”
“That’s pretty straightforward…when I do it, where I do it, how long I do it, how deep and wide I cut my arm, even how much pain I experience…I control it all, Ken.”
“So, it’s empowering to be able to control the entire experience?”
“Yes, it really is! There is nothing else I can see I control.”
“Would you be interested in broadening your perspective with some hard science, Abelino?”
“What do you mean, Ken?”
“Long term relationships are a combination of an optimist and a pessimist…”
“Would it interest you to discover the only things we actually can control in life are based on what we have learned from biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy and cosmology…the hard sciences?”
“That interests me a lot Ken, because one thing I have noticed is the only thing that does exactly what you tell it, is a machine…like a computer. That’s why I want to study IT when I finish high school. At least machines are predictable!”
“OK! Let’s start with some physics. There is a natural law of physics which says we live in a dualistic world, so every ‘up’ has a ‘down’, every ‘left’ a ‘right’, every ‘in’ an ‘out’, every ‘good’ a ‘bad,’ and so on!”
“It kinda makes sense, but can you give me some more concrete examples, instead of abstract ones?”
“Sure. For example, our weather systems are a combination of ‘high’ and ‘low’ pressure systems; our economy is a combination of ‘bear’ and ‘bull’ markets; and the structure of every atom is a combination of ‘positions’ and ‘electrons.’”
Then I added for emphasis,
“Long term relationships are a combination of an optimist and a pessimist;
earthquakes a combination of internal and external pressure systems; and love is a combination of support and challenge.”
“They would suggest you get significant benefits to that perception…”
“So, the two sides of my cutting are that while it scars my body and encourages people to think I’m crazy or stressed out or something…but it also lets me control something in my life, right?”
“You’re starting to see the natural law in action. Nice work! But, I’m curious as to what you see in your life that you don’t control? What is that Abelino?”
“That would be my parents and the crazy lives they lead. They seem so out of control to me…and, they forget I exist most of the time.”
“So, you see them as ignoring you or forgetting you are around?”
“I think I’m just a piece of furniture that is there to be used when they need it and ignored the rest of the time, Ken!” he said, his face reddening and eye glistening with hurt.
“Let’s go back to the natural laws we were talking about earlier. They would suggest you get significant benefits to that perception to counterbalance the pain you perceive.”
“I find that hard to believe, Ken! I don’t see any anywhere.”
“…be in that moment right now. Hear what they are saying to each other!”
“Would you be willing to consider that idea and explore where they might be?”
“I suppose! But, can I be skeptical?”
“I like skeptics, they keep me on my toes! Let’s find another second of strong pain for you when you perceived your parents and their lifestyle was hurting you. When, where and who was involved at that second of your life, Abelino?”
He looked up and to his left, searching for a painful memory. He soon found one.
“When? It was about a year ago near my birthday. Where? In my mother’s car. Who? Mom was driving and Dad was in the passenger seat. She was taking him to his house across town after we had been out to celebrate my birthday. And, they were arguing about his support payments. And, I was in the backseat.”
“Abelino, be in that moment right now. Hear what they are saying to each other!”
“Dad is saying, now that I’m older, he wants to reduce his support payments. And, Mom is saying he can’t do that, and if he does, she will take him back to court…and so on and so on.” the pain growing on his young face.
“I am saying to myself, ‘I don’t deserve this crap!”
“Now, Abelino, freeze that moment! And, remembering the natural law of balance, tell me what are you saying to yourself about you being stuck in the back seat, listening to all this?”
His eyes were staring off into the middle distance as if frozen into that second. Then he said,
“I am saying to myself, ‘I don’t deserve this crap! I have to get away from these two! I may love them, but, I sure as hell don’t like them right now!”
“So, what is the pleasure, the benefit, the value in saying that to yourself?”
He paused before saying,
“Well, it got me through the moment, for sure! But, it also reminded me I am older now, and would soon be able to live my own life as I want, not as they want.”
“That sounds like you were learning and practicing empowering yourself!”
“What was the benefit of those specific thoughts to you at that very second Abelino?”
“I think I got stronger, more determined to live my life my way from now on. Maybe that’s why I cut myself…it reminds me I can do whatever I want and they can’t control me anymore!”
“That sounds like you were learning and practicing empowering yourself! What other ways have you been empowering yourself?” I asked, so he could see there were many other ways to achieve the same result.
“Well, I stopped going to either of their churches. I don’t have their belief systems, I have my own.”
“What else do you do to remind yourself you are an empowered person?”
“I’m more selective about which family gatherings I attend. I only go to the ones I want…usually the ones that involve my grandparents who appreciate me.”
“Anything else you notice your doing?”
“Yeah! My mother wants me to go to university and study business and my father wants me to go to a trades college so I can get a job faster. But, I’m going to do what I want from now on!”
“…it’s like not only is it not so bad…it is kinda good simultaneously.”
“Abelino, it looks to me like you have found several ways to empower yourself that you are doing currently,…and will continue to do. When you look at it from both sides…really more truthfully…do you perceive it the same way, anymore?”
“Actually Ken, no! It seems different…in fact, it feels different!”
I said, wondering if he was starting yet to generalize his learning across the rest of his life.
“What you just did was apply some hard science to your perceptions of your life which occurred at one specific second. Imagine what it would be like if you applied the same hard science to any second of your life you perceived as one sided…as either, just all pain or just all pleasure?”
“What I notice right now is I’m starting to appreciate that second in a new way…it’s like not only is it not so bad…it is kinda good simultaneously. And, I resolved some of the frustration and hurt I’ve been carrying toward my parents.”
“…because I had been having some suicidal thoughts…”
“You’re really getting this Abelino! As you apply hard science to other seconds in your life, your gratitude grows even more.” I added.
“Does that mean it can be applied to any second in my life…without exception, Ken?”
“Yes! Yes, it does Abelino! Any second…without any exceptions! Why do you ask? Is there a specific second where you think it might not apply?”
Abelino looked away for a minute before returning to my gaze.
“I started cutting myself because I had been having some suicidal thoughts when I felt very hurt and alone shuffling between my parents houses.”
“Abelino, the same natural laws always apply at every second. But, let’s check it out so you can see how it worked. Go to the second when you perceived your life wasn’t worth living. When, where and who was involved at that very second?”
“It was one Friday night about six months ago and we were having a snow storm. I was at mom’s house but was supposed to be going to dad’s for the weekend. But the weather was so bad mom wouldn’t drive me over. And, dad agreed with her…which he rarely does!”
“…who are younger than me, and who I actually like…”
To assist him in being in that specific second of his life, I asked,
“Where were you in your mother’s house specifically and what time of the day was it? And, was there anyone there with you?”
“It was just after supper and I had stormed off to my room when my mom told me what dad had said.”
“So you went to your room angry. Be in that moment right now and tell me what happened next?”
“I’m laying on my bed thinking about whether I should try to walk to dad’s in the storm. I’m thinking about calling a taxi but I know I’d have to wait a long time and I’d need to ask mom for the money.”
“Then, I remember thinking since it was about a 5k trek, if I didn’t make it that would still solve my problem…in fact it would solve a lot of my problems…my frustration and my loneliness!”
“But, you’re here now, Abelino. So, where did your mind go next? How did you cope at that second?” I asked, getting closer to the seminal point of his learning.
“Ken, I had a flash of my mom and dad trying to explain to their kids, my three step-siblings, who are younger than me, and who I actually like, why I would go out in the storm and end up freezing to death!”
“Are you saying you realized you care about your two families even if you feel ignored at times, Abelino?”
“…how are you stronger and smarter, in a way that makes those thoughts priceless…”
He looked surprised by his own revelation,
“Yes, I guess I really do, don’t I?”
“What happened next?”
“My thoughts were to my friend, Arseno, who had asked me at school to play video games tonight. I had put him off because I was expecting to go to dad’s. I realized I could do that and so I did!”
“So, in your seconds of pain filled suicidal thoughts, you coped well because you are here telling me about it. But, I’m wondering how are you stronger and smarter, in a way that makes those thoughts priceless to you?”
“Ken, looking back now…that’s when I was reminded I care about my three step siblings a lot more than I realized. And, even though I get pissed at my parents, I know they love me…they just get overwhelmed at times.” he said, a wise maturity in his voice and on his face.
“So, you’re saying thinking about it is not the same as acting on it.”
“So, the upside to that experience is you were reminded that your love, and are loved, by your two families. Is that a fair trade for you? Is that valuable enough for you to balance the experience and have no regrets about it?”
“When I look at it that way…the scientific way…it really makes sense!”
“Abelino, it is not uncommon when we feel hopelessness, helplessness or uselessness, which is powerlessness…to empower ourselves by considering getting out of life. But, acting on it goes against our biological will to live.”
“So, you’re saying thinking about it is not the same as acting on it.”
“Exactly! Our mind thinks all kinds of thought we never act upon. They come from our imagination, our creative system, which is striving to help us evolve.”
“You now know, self-destructive thoughts always offer us priceless opportunities to grow and value ourselves and others.”
“That would mean then, since the natural law of balance always applies, if and when, I ever had any other suicidal thoughts, I could go find the other side, the other part of that second I’m not noticing…because it has to be there, doesn’t it?”
“That’s correct! You have just immunized yourself for your future. You now know, self-destructive thoughts always offer us priceless opportunities to grow and value ourselves and others.”
“Very cool, Ken!”
So, Abelino’s journey to empowerment began. He had several other experiences he also needed to understand. As he completed this work, his self-mutilation resolved itself and his connection to his families grew.
I appreciate your thoughts and comments.
“Perceived powerlessness can create suicidal thoughts to test our resolve to empower ourselves!”
– King Ayles, author