Michele Toomey developed liberation psychology and subsequently liberated theology in response to the western world's dependence on dualism's approach to opposites. Dualism assumes that opposites are unequal and antagonistic, thus opposites are expected to relate as enemies and engage in war with each other. Winning or losing is the measure of success or failure, and proving one's worth is based on winning. Liberation psychology, on the other hand, assumes that opposites are just that, opposite, equally legitimate forces that relate with accountability and fairness so each polarity gets its fair turn. Life is seen as a journey not a test, and domination is an abuse of power.

This is particularly relevant to the sexism that permeates our society, where opposite sex means unequal sex in the dualistic world view, and where strength is seen as the ability to dominate and the measure of superiority. Liberation psychology rejects this view and these definitions. Instead, opposites are seen as equally legitimate forces, and power is defined as energy. Desire is seen as the source of our energy and intensity is defined as strength. With this world view, women and men are equally legitimate and equally strong, and sexism has no justification.

Power then becomes energy not dominance, and the ability to choose is the exercising of power not the ability to conquer. Accountability and fairness governed by integrity are the tools that maintain the equality of the self's paradoxical system, and intimacy not conquest is the goal. This revolutionary approach affects every dimension of our lives, and communication within ourselves and between ourselves and others becomes a discovery process for understanding and clarity leading to intimacy and oneness. Communication is key. Integrity is preserved by communicating with honesty and fairness, caring and respect. Discovery and understanding are the purpose for communicating and intimacy is the desired outcome.

Liberation psychology holds that life is a journey, not a test, and words are to be used as tools not weapons. Verbal abuse is considered a violation of the integrity of our system and using words as weapons is abusive. Living guided by integrity, with truth and fairness, we are living at one with ourselves and others. Liberation psychology teaches how to live guided by this integrity, providing a wonderful opportunity for those who choose to learn how to live with fairness, caring and respect both within themselves and with others.

Liberated theology adds the dimension of God as Life Force, the Initiating Force, and Oneness as God, offering that when we are at One we are at God. Integrity not morality is the governing principle for liberated theology, and living with integrity, honesty and wholeness, fairness and respect, is considered living with God.

The Challenge of Care Giving and Care Receivers

The Integrity Challenge Of Caregiving
© 2011 Michele Toomey, PhD

Those of us who find ourselves in the role of caregivers come in various shapes and sizes, ages and gender, as introverts or extroverts. Yet we have many things in common: we find ourselves in the caregiver role, we care about and usually love the person who receives our care, we try to balance their needs with ours but theirs take precedence because they need care. The routine of our life is frequently interrupted by or primarily defined by those who need and receive our care.

If we are not careful, we can become defined by this caregiving role, and feel as though we are at its mercy. This orientation is dangerous because it could do us in. It has all the trappings of "martyrdom", and that is truly a deadly role. Martyrs have no life and life has no meaning other than the sacrifices of martyrdom. So we want to avoid this state at all costs. The best antidote for martyrdom is integrity and fairness. Fortunately, orientation is everything, and if our orientation to caregiving is grounded by integrity and fairness, we are protected from martyrdom and all it inflicts on us and on the receiver of our care.

The wonderful thing about integrity, defined as honesty and truthfulness and wholeness, is that it liberates and never oppresses. A caregiver governed by integrity is a liberated caregiver, and, therefore, the receiver of our care is liberated as well. There is no victim or victimhood when integrity is the governing principle of our life. Fairness is the outgrowth of integrity, and fairness protects both the caregiver and the care receiver.

It is a challenge to be a liberated caregiver governed by integrity. So often society in general and religion in particular offer us the model of selflessness and loving care with no boundaries. I propose to you that that model lacks integrity and never yields fairness, and, therefore, does not free us to be loving care givers without some aspect of martyrdom. A fatal flaw.

A liberated, loving caregiver must find the boundaries that suits who we are and to whom we are giving care. Somewhere between selfish and selfless there is an expanse that holds an imaginary line that we will not cross. A line that extends out from generosity and loving care and stops where selfless and self neglect begin. Each of us must find that line.

The greatest challenge of caregiving is not the many faceted needs of those who receive our care, rather, it is finding the integrity line that provides the boundary for our attentiveness and our care. Without it, we and they will pay a price that oppresses us and them on many different levels. They have less self-worth because they feel like such a burden, and we have less rejuvenating warmth in our heart becase we are so burdened. The loving bond between the caregiver and care receiver is tainted with muted fears and resentment. Shades of a burdened heart are dark and heavy. The bond is colored by this darkness, not a fair price for such an intimately interdependent relationship.

The key to being a liberated caregiver governed by integrity can be found in the very definition of integrity, truthfulness and honesty and wholeness. The vehicle for this honesty is self-expression governed by integrity. Caregivers must honestly reveal when they are near their line of selflessness, and step back. By claiming our fatigue, or feeling at the end of our rope or whatever signals for us we are at our boundary, we alert our care receiver and give them the opportunity to be thoughtful of us and give us the space we need to re-group and recoup our energy. This is liberating for both the care giver and care receiver and it allows our integrity to be sustained and fairness to prevail. No one is oppressed and both are liberated. An intimacy occurs that gives the boundary and image of a golden glow, penetrating the darkened hue of burden from ever giving us a heavy heart. We are together on this difficult but loving journey of care giver and care receiver. We are bleased even as we have been forced to deal with disability.

We have a choice as to how we deal with it, and I invite you to choose the integrity and fairness of liberation, for your own protection and the protection of your care receiver. By being honest with ourselves and with them, we can be governed by both integrity and fairness. This will yield a chance for both to have a life where each one's needs and desires have a turn, and no one need be martyred in the process of care giving. Let us join hands and hearts as liberated caregivers and receivers. Even though our path is difficult, our hearts are one, and that makes all the difference.


The Importance Of Integrity For Care Receivers
© 2011 Michele Toomey, PhD

Integrity as it is used here means "honesty, truthfulness and wholeness." It is your protection and your way to wholeness, if it is your guiding principle in your life. The sadness and loss that you as a care receiver experience is compounded by the demands your disability places on your care givers. Physically you are limited by your particular disability. Psychologically you are impacted not only by your physical limitations, but by your emotional distress that follows not only from the devastating loss, but by your forced dependence on others. Honesty and wholeness are essential for you to handle these complex feelings. Care receivers are not "less than" because they need care. Care givers are not "better than" care receivers because they give care. They are just luckier.

A feeling of entrapment often flows through your being and the price you pay for the loss of choice that you encounter becomes an undercurrent of heaviness of heart. Just as care givers must confront the possibility of "martydom" you must confront the possibility of "victimhood". It is so understandable that the relentlessness of your disability wears you down and can easily lead to hopelessness and even despair. Such bleakness is a breeding ground for victimhood, so it is important to reflect on the destructive effects that victimhood exacts, and how integrity will provide you with the necessary protection from becoming a victim.

If you act out of the orientation of victim, your integrity is compromised. We are both physical and spiritual beings, however, and the orientation of victimhood focusses only on your physical dimension and disregards your spiritual dimension. Physically, there is more often than not, no hope for a "cure" or a significant change in your condition. Obviously, acceptance of that fact is very devastating and requires that you live with hopelessness for physical recovery for the rest of your life. Those of us who are more fortunate, can only imagine the pain of such a realization.

However, if you become a victim, victimhood increases the cost you and your care giver pay. Often, a victim response is to give in to the hopelessness, and therefore, the victim becomes depressed. Depression is a very black and bleak state that covers everything and everyone in its sphere. A care giver is usually a loved one who is deeply saddened by your disability and wants to provide you with opportunities that bring some moments of happiness into your life. When you are depressed, nothing can bring you happiness, so both you and your care giver are deprived of any uplifting experience and life is much darker and more difficult. What is already a sad and hard condition is exacerbated and often a cycle of depression and victimhood have become a pattern. In the worst case scenario, the pattern becomes a rut. Victimhood and despair are not the desired responses to disability.

Victim care recivers can also become very self indulgent. Demanding attention, never seeming to take into account their caregiver. They have a certain resentment that their care givers have freedom and no disability that confines them to dependence and /or immobility, so resentment can creep into a victim care receiver’s perspective. One power a care receiver has, is to demand attention and victims often become very selfcentered, never letting themselves think about the price they are exacting of the care giver. It’s as if they need the care giver to feel some sense of the deprivation and entrapment the care receiver feels. Unfortunately, intimacy and closeness do not occur as a result of such an orientation. Rather resentment tends to feed off itself, as each resents the other. Not a condition we want to cultivate, and certainly, not to perpetuate. We have seen that victimhood that is formed around only one dimension of disability, the physical limitation, takes a terrible toll on the victim/care receiver, and the care giver.

If we move to the integrity of including your spiritual as well as your physical
dimension, there is immediately a possibility for hope. Emotionally, you are able to
move freely about, and the potential for intimacy with yourself and others is available
to you. You can be aware of how those around you are being attentive to and loving
toward you. The feelings that this loving care triggers in you can warm your heart and
bring a feeling of being loved that lifts your spirits and gives meaning to your life. It is a
precious experience.

Such a shift illustrates the importance of integrity in your life. You have choices, and they involve being aware of your ability to love and be loved, to care and to be cared for, giving you a sense of well being and of hope. Yours is the choice of using your capacity to feel and to reflect on what you are feeling, and to express what you feel and think with integrity and care. You must learn to dare to confront yourself and those around you when you feel strongly about something. Your capacity to express yourself might be limited by your disability, but if you maximize what you have, you will prevent victimhood from rearing its ugly head.

If you feel hurt or disregarded by others, you need to express those feelings and describe those needs. If you feel you have been too demanding or cranky, apologize and express what was going on for you that triggered those feelings. Self revealing is a primary tool for preserving your integrity and for yielding intimacy. Intimacy with yourself and those you love, is still the greatest gift in life, and this gift is still within your reach, if you will only choose to do the necessary work it takes to make it happen.

Your life can never be the same as it was before your disability, but your capacity to care, to love, to be cared for and to be loved, is still yours to choose and to treasure. Bitterness and resentment, depression and despair, may very well visit you once in a while, and that is understandable, but they do not need to be where you take up permanent residence. The choice is yours. Integrity is yours. Choosing to live with integrity will allow you to live with intimacy and with love. Your hope is in yourself and the choices you make. Let your integrity guide and protect you from becoming a victim of your disability. Hold your head high and live freely from your spiritual mobility.

Running Commentaries

Running commentaries allow Michele to apply the world view of liberation psychology to current topics. They appear regularly each month and are archived for reading at any time.

Latest Commentary:

How to to Stop Bullying in Our Schools: Change the Culture of Communication : Teach Confrontation with Accountability
April, 2011

Our society does not teach children how to resolve conflict fairly and respectfully. In fact, it does not address communication with any real direction or purpose. Instead, at a time when our country is divided into hostile camps politically, religiously, and economically, our children, for the most part, are left to fend for themselves when they encounter conflict or bullying. And how is that working out?

They are beating each other up physically or verbally, occasionally killing each other or themselves. They may attack each other for the way they look, the way they talk or don’t talk, the color of their skin, the religion they claim, or just because they can. Not only are we as a nation at war with each other, our children mirror that orientation, reflecting back to us the price of such hostility and anger. They are encountering a culture where their peers are just as easily potential enemies as they are potential friends. In their youthful vulnerability, they are suffering from their ignorance of how to deal with conflict and abuse.

Our schools are where our children meet and interact physically on a daily basis Texting and facebook encounters are the sites of their meeting in virtual reality. In either venue, the culture is the same, beware of the predators lurking around any corner. In this environment of hate speech and bullying, anger is constantly in the air. Our children may be attacked at anytime either by words, written or spoken, or by fists.

They are at the mercy of the predators or bullies that may sneak up on them when they are the most exposed, and use the exposure to humiliate and abuse them. What is their recourse? Counter attack or withdraw in shame and despair, which in some instances, as we know, leads to the irreversible option of suicide. To belong, our children are even resorting to having physical fights with each other while cheering classmates egg them on. Superiority and dominance are being established by verbal and physical fights where winning is the prize and losing is the humiliation.

Our children desperately need the tools to deal with potentially hostile interactions effectively.Teaching them confrontation with accountability will provide them with the tools they need. It requires adding a communications element to the school curriculum. Certainly not an unreasonable option, since education is the name of the game, and communication is an essential life skill.

The course needed is a course in confrontation with accountability. When we encounter anger we tend to attack, argue, or defend, but that is usually only a precursor for more arguing and more anger and unresolved feelings that may boil over if left hot and unresolved. Instead, a confrontation is a claiming to another that what they said or did upset, hurt, disappointed or angered us, and revealing why it upset us and how it felt. The person being confronted is then expected to be accountable for what they said or did and reveal what was going on for them when they said or did whatever it was that triggered the confrontation. It is a way to express hurt or upset or anger that is able to be heard and cared about, instead of feeling attacked and blamed.

The confrontations are governed by integrity, honesty, and fairness. They are never allowed to be attacking or blaming or in any way abusive. They are meant to lead to discovery and an understanding of what was going on for each person involved. This understanding leads to a sense of caring and respect for each other’s feelings, and creates a culture of fairness, caring and respect. Conflict is resolved in a fair and respectful way. Each person involved learns something about the other person that helps them understand each other better. They have a sense of resolution and intimacy with each other when a confrontation has been successful, which is why it creates a sense of community in the school.

An accountability committee comprised of students, faculty and an administrator facilitate unresolved confrontations. This allows difficult situations to be dealt with by the school community in a timely manner and done fairly, with consequences that assure that bullying is not tolerated.

This approach to exacting confrontation with accountability cultivates a climate that refuses to tolerate abusive speech. This is contrary to the current culture that hides the existence of bullying, and waits until it erupts into a dangerous situation before it is reported, revealed, or addressed. Rather than fighting over designer sneakers, a 2 girlfriend or boyfriend, a dirty look, or a mean remark, that can escalate quickly into viewing each other as enemies, confrontations allow feelings to be expressed fairly and heard respectfully. Fairness has a stabilizing influence on the process, and students feel safe when the process for dealing with conflict is in place and is fair.

So, let’s stand up for our children and stand beside them, committing ourselves to changing the culture of how to deal with conflict in our schools. As parents, pressure your school to implement a communication dimension in their curriculum that teaches confrontation with accountability and refuses to tolerate any form of bullying. As teachers or administrators, take the leadership in figuring out how you can include a program of confrontation with accountability in your school, and learn how to teach your students confrontation with accountability. You will be thrilled with the change that will occur in your school and the sense of community that results.Greater learning can take place when students are not distracted by fear and hurt anger that unresolved conflicts generate. A school that provides its students with a sense of safety and well being, is a school that provides the ideal climate for learning.

Index of Running Commentaries

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