A Gang of Seven

 Pointing the Way

 Premises

 Two Movements

 Three Sacraments

 Facets of Vital Engagement

 Vital Engagement:
            Life Blood of Trust

 Steps Towards Trust

 Missed Steps

 Unseen Options  

 Justice in Relationships

 

Douglas W. Schoeninger, PhD
Psychotherapist

Biography                   Touchstones             Defining Moments              Publications

Touchstones

I recall my anguish and shame, even desperation, as I listened to my father’s repeated dinner table complaints and laments about receiving unfair treatment, being taken advantage of or being left out or behind at work as others gained attention or advancement. I hated his portrayal of himself as a victim. At times I would challenge his views, point out what another’s side might be, as if my life depended on it. I felt “less” when he felt less. My social worth seemed tied to his. I was conflicted. Privately my mother would ask me to understand his pain, his depression, and go easy on him. His father had committed suicide. There was a basis for his feeling treated unfairly and for having no sense of voice. I could feel his agony and yet felt weakened and diminished by his expressions of helplessness. So I would alternately listen and challenge. I knew, even as a boy of 6 or 7, that his perceptions were skewed, that others had their side and viewpoint different from his. I would challenge him to see others’ perspectives and to imagine others’ situations, though I regretted triggering the terror he seemed to suffer as a consequence. Once he accused me of trying to kill him so intense was his pain. Maybe the worst for me was never sensing his response to me. I experienced him responding to an imagined reality that was not me. At times I was assaultive, attacking his behavior, trying to end my humiliation. Yet I was a son trying to heal my father and reaching for him to end the impact of his social alienation on me. I did not know how to tell my side to him or to my mother, to speak what I was experiencing. And my siblings (there were four of us) seemed always silent, frozen, hoping I would stop, frightened as to where this was leading. And we did not know to inquire of each other. Perhaps following my mother’s way, who invariably represented my father’s side, we all remained hidden from each other. And this way persisted into adult life right through my mother’s death when I was 20. I remained hidden.

In my 20s I invested in control, carefully managing my image and all emotions. I insisted on acting mature. I invested in a psychology of determinism. I was terrified of being seen, discovered, of revealing my hated vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Finally at age 31 I was mired in depression, feeling lost, worthless, enervated, incapable of fulfillment.

Early experiences had fostered in me a passion for fairness, for searching out the value in each person’s point of view, and to finally speak my side. Depressed but hungry for connection, I initiated conversations with my father and siblings, began speaking my experience and sought their memories. At my initiative my father agreed to travel to Germany with me to search for his father’s childhood, his father’s story. This search with him began to water my inner desert, self reproach and loneliness. Gradually life and light began sparking through real exchange and real embrace. I lent my father motivation to find his father’s roots and beginnings. He acted on my expressed desire and his own unconscious longing.

From this wellspring a conviction and drive to seek each person’s side and to liberate the hidden resources in meeting, the unpredictable life-giving potential in any exchange or conflict, took deep root.

Consequently I have invested in listening, in imagining that which is real for others and for myself, in speaking my side, in calling others to speak their side, and in asking others to follow suit. These I have pursued through work as a therapist and in groups and organizations to which I belong as well as in family and community.

Both written and teaching contributions flow from these concerns, including applications to healing across generations in family and community, where voices both past and present press to be heard, and articulating the practical essentials of ethical address in family, friendship and organization.