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Ordinary Failures of Compassion toward PWA and stigmatized populations:. Psychological and spiritual mechanics and resources.  Rev. Betsy Ritzman Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor Email: betsyritz@comcast.net Website: www.tenditmendit.com. Gentle us, Holy One,

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ordinary failures of compassion toward pwa and stigmatized populations

Ordinary Failures of Compassion toward PWA and stigmatized populations:

Psychological and spiritual mechanics and resources

 Rev. Betsy Ritzman

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Email: betsyritz@comcast.net

Website: www.tenditmendit.com


Gentle us,

Holy One,

into an unclenched moment,

a deep breath

a letting go

of heavy experiences,

of shriveling anxieties,

of dead uncertainties,

open us to the mystery,

fill us with the joy that is you.


connection and compassion
Connection and Compassion
  • Psychological, Social and Spiritual rules of our culture support compassionate responses to human suffering.
  • These same rules of connection also undermine compassion.
  • This is true among all peoples of faith.
social myths of autonomy
Social myths of autonomy
  • American Culture directs us toward independence and separation
  • Separation and connection become polarized.
  • However, Human autonomy is actually the outcome of a ongoing dance between connection and disconnection.
  • So, we seek independence and long for connection.
psychological factors in hiv aids stigmatization
Psychological factors in HIV/AIDS Stigmatization:
  • Failure of Compassionexists in many forms and degrees – from interpersonal tension to murderous rage.
  • Social isolation and rejection is an outcome of a community wide failure of compassion.
  • Abuse (physical, emotional) is another response to a failure of compassion.
compassion vs abuse
Compassion vs Abuse:

Abuse is hurting the feelings or body of someone else to alter some unpleasant feeling within the self.

Compassion regulates unpleasant (ego annihilating) internal feelings.

Abuse occurs when compassion for self and loved ones fails to sufficiently support ego function.

emotional disregulation why those who love us hurt us
Emotional Disregulation:Why those who love us hurt us
  • Relationships serve as mirrors of our innerself. We know who we are by how others see us.
  • Reflections can build or undermine ego strength E.g.:
    • A misbehaving child can evoke feelings of being a failure and thoroughly unlovable parent; a thriving child strengthens the ego.
    • Angry or withdrawn parents can evoke in children feelings of shame, and unworthiness; loving involved parents build self respect.
    • A distracted or controlling spouse can evoke feelings of worthlessness; affirmation from a spouse supports the self.
disregulation and revenge
Disregulation and Revenge
  • Feelings of shame, rejection, unworthiness stimulate an internal crisis, destabilizing ego and identity.
  • They inspire revenge, not for the behavior of others but for the wound (to our sense of self) they seem to inflict.
communal mechanics of abuse
Communal mechanics of Abuse?
  • Communities and cultures react in ways similar to the individual when communal thresholds of emotional dis-regulation are exceeded.
stigma and hiv
Stigma and HIV
  • HIV/AIDS diagnosis implies these conditions, often experienced as negative mirrors:
    • Forbidden sexual behavior
    • Homosexuality
    • Loss of God’s protection or blessing
      • Consequential punishment
        • Curse
        • Affliction

If a loved one discloses HIV+ status to you – what kind of mirroring do you receive from them?

dynamics of stigma in community
Dynamics of stigma in community
  • Stigma 1596, "mark made on skin by burning with a hot iron," from L. stigma (pl. stigmata), from Gk. stigma (gen. stigmatos) "mark, puncture," especially one made by a pointed instrument, from root of stizein "to mark, tattoo," from PIE *st(e)ig- (see stick (v.)). Fig. meaning "a mark of disgrace" is from 1619, as is stigmatize in this sense. Stigmas "marks resembling the wounds on the body of Christ, appearing supernaturally on the bodies of the devout" is from 1632; earlier stigmate (1387), from L. stigmata.
  • Community: 1375, from O.Fr. communité, from L. communitatem (nom. communitas) "community, fellowship," from communis "common, public, general, shared by all or many," (see common). L. communitatem "was merely a noun of quality ... meaning 'fellowship, community of relations or feelings,' but in med.L. it was, like universitas, used concretely in the sense of 'a body of fellows or fellow-townsmen' " [OED]. An O.E. word for "community" was gemænscipe "community, fellowship, union, common ownership," probably composed from the same PIE roots as communis.
Traditionally and ritually, those who are marked with disgrace are “stigmatized” and cast out or “scape-goated” - ritual or symbolic acts of cleansing for the community/family:
  • HIV or other disorders mark community members with disgrace, mirroring shifts from good to evil
  • Communal emotional dis-regulation (loss of community ego strength) inspires radical distance – stigmatization, scape-goating, etc


behavioral pecking
Behavioral Pecking
  • Fear
  • Distance –people as projects
  • Spiritual: If I avoid death and suffering of others, I’ll be spared.
fear and superstition in spirituality
Fear and superstition in Spirituality
  • Reactions to suffering that emerge from and impact our faith:
  • Fear = this might happen to me!
  • Superstition = I can control whether I suffer
reciprocity in relationships
We expect relationships to build the sense of self

They must provide:

Unconditional safety and security

High levels of compassion

Freedom from resentment, hostility, abuse, and other emotional constraints.

If a relationship consistently fails to do this, it loses its ego-building function.

If it falls below the threshold of safety and security, it becomes ego-destroying.

Reciprocity in relationships:
examples of spiritual pecking
Examples of Spiritual Pecking
  • The biblical Job’s friends: your afflictions define your worth and destiny: ie, less than mine
  • Prosperity gospel – Spiritual faith= worldly success, failure/pain is evil/weak
  • Healing traditions may deny suffering and pain on the premise that we are already healed, forbidding any open expressions of suffering as inviting evil.

A Neighborhood Story:

The Bike Theft at Longfellow

the psyche of the good samaritan building compassionate human response with faith resources
The Psyche of the Good Samaritan:Building compassionate human response with faith resources.
  • Identifies with the oppressed one
  • Capable: noticing, present, able (self regulated emotions)
  • Observes the spirit of the law
  • Compassion: Takes effective action
  • Fearless: Violating cultural demands
  • Radical: Violates religious law
spiritual resources for maintaining community and managing stigma and suffering
Spiritual resources for maintaining community and managing stigma and suffering
  • Suffering seen as universal in every life
  • Acknowledgement that suffering elicits fear
  • Love-mandates to regulate fear - reduces distance
  • Separation from others is seen as illusion/transient
  • Other’s suffering is our suffering
faith traditions often teach
Faith traditions often teach:
  • True compassion arises naturally when our ego-protecting thoughts lie down
  • Pay attention to your own heart, separate assumptions about yourself from assumptions about others eg:“Don’t judge” - a discipline that builds autonomy and self regulation
  • Cultivate compassionate toward yourself (builds ego strength and self regulation)
  • Listen for God in story of the weak and oppressed (undermines scape-goating)
marks of the beloved community
Marks of the Beloved Community
  • Honoring connection with those who suffer with a willingness to suffer for common good.
  • Willingness to engage transformation by confronting oppression of others and our own suffering and transgressions
  • Planting seeds of forgiveness- scape-goating and revenge becomes taboo
  • Harvesting joy from suffering.


Discussion …