Meeting psychological needs – but going nowhere
A man on the Luas meets his needs. But his life journey will have an unhappy ending
Tragic journey: the man on the Luas seemed to get a sense of belonging from being in jail. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan
I noticed him before we got on the Luas as he entertained four or five companions. His jeans, jacket and runners were of fairly good quality, but he was talking about prison and he stood leaning forward in a way you see with some drug addicts. He seemed to know the people he was talking to and joking with, but they were different all the same. For instance they bought Luas tickets which, I think, is something he would never do.
On the Luas he continued to entertain his temporary companions with his chatter. Other passengers found him funny too, though they kept a wary eye on him.
What struck me was how at home he was, how proud of himself he seemed to be. When two of his companions sat down he came up to talk to them. He was hoping to get onto some sort of programme, he said, but he had charges coming up, nothing serious . . . well, one was serious. He had got stopped by the guards after he had robbed a sandwich from a shop and they found an expensive item he had stolen somewhere else.
After he was released from the Garda station he had gone out and robbed the jacket he was wearing, he bragged. He had also robbed his jeans and his shoes. He did a little dance of bravado as he told his story.
‘See you inside’His listeners laughed, though not quite as heartily. He told them stories about someone they all knew and who was doing very well now, running around delivering drugs for a dealer.
When he arrived at his stop, near a facility for homeless people, he made his way out, scattering jokes. He turned before he got off the tram to say to one of the men he had been entertaining earlier, “See you inside.” They all laughed. “No you won’t,” a woman said. Then, with a final bit of banter, he was gone.
I was struck by the sense of pride with which he said “See you inside.” I had heard him say earlier he didn’t want to spend another hour in jail. But having been “inside”, being part of that world of criminality both inside and out, seemed to give him a sense of status.
And that reminded me that people can meet their psychological needs even in fairly tragic circumstances. I say tragic because he has, after all, moved from a jail to a homeless facility and is, as sure as night follows day, heading for jail again. All he has is what he can rob, and as there is no chance he will ever master the art of stealing millions with a pen, he will never have much. Either drug addiction or the company he keeps will probably finish him off sooner rather than later.
Reality TherapyOur psychological needs are summarised in Reality Therapy as power (which can mean achievement), belonging, play and freedom. This man gets an obvious sense of achievement from robbing, even though anyone else can see it isn’t working out too well and is about to land him back in jail. Having been in jail gives him a feeling of status – after all, his companions on the journey pretend to be impressed.
Jail gives him a sense of belonging. So does keeping company with petty criminals. And, to be fair to him, he could cultivate belonging anywhere, given his talent for entertaining people. As for play, well, the whole carriage was his playground on that trip. The thing he doesn’t have is freedom – that’s completely compromised by his lifestyle.
To get out of that lifestyle, he’d have to give all that up and then learn to meet his needs in healthy and legal ways. I cannot imagine how a person in his situation could do that without the sort of support that doesn’t exist in this country and may not exist anywhere.
For all his bravado, and for all his jokes, the ending will not be a happy one.
Pádraig O’Morain (email@example.com) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness for Worriers. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email. Twitter: @PadraigOMorain