At this time of year, instead of sending Christmas cards, my family donates the money we would have spent on them, to charity.
This year we gave it to Crisis, the charity for single homeless people and it got me thinking about what it is like to be both alone and homeless, at a time we all associate with family and home.
In fact, it seems to me that there is something circular about being without family and home, because arguably it is our childhood experience of just those things that shape our ability to create our own as adults. Kohut talked about the need of a child to know that they belong; he called it the twinship need and believed that shared characteristics with a parent and the positive experience being part of a community in its smaller sense, is part of what a child needs to develop a healthy self.
A healthy self promotes a high self esteem and the confidence to take on challenges and hone skills. There are similarities here to the work of Bowlby which tells us how the quality of an infant’s initial attachment, (usually with their mother), moulds the adult’s way of being in relationships.
Children who experience poor early relationships, (perhaps taken from home and placed in care, or who grow up belonging to an unsafe and uncaring family) are ill equipped as adults, to develop both their own competencies and strong relationships with others. Sometimes as adults, such children manage to function, albeit unhappily, in the world, but others often slip beneath the cracks and end up with no where to go, and no one to care.
Last year almost 3000 people visited Crisis shelters over the Christmas period and as you would expect received practical help; hot food, medical consultations and sewing repairs were all available. But also, there were sports, dancing, board games and craft activities, things that have no discernible physical benefit, but which actually have a massive impact on emotional well being.
These activities offer an opportunity to join with others, a mechanism with which to share a positive experience, as well as exploring creative self expression. These, along with food and shelter are among what Maslow called the basic needs of any individual, without which we are unable to realise our full potential.
If you are lucky enough to be able to say “we’re at home for Christmas”, you are usually describing more than the bricks and mortar you inhabit. You are hopefully referring to a place of safety, a place where you are accepted and can be yourself without fear or censure. The bringing together of different generations under one roof is a physical representation of where we come from, and inevitably where we are going, it reminds us of how we came to be, who we are.
So, whilst I appreciate that family gatherings are not without their stresses and strains, it seems to me to be a much better situation to be in, that those to whom Crisis can only give a temporary sense of belonging.