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July 2000

Richard Trachtman, Ph.D.

New Mexico Cliffs

Our beliefs & fears with regard to money, work and relationships are circular, each affecting the other.

Recently I was speaking to a patient, I'll call Veronica about her fear of loneliness and the difficulty she experienced in being by herself. Soon the conversation turned to work and career. That in turn, led to her fear of homelessness.

Veronica is a successful freelancer who loves her work, in part because she is able to spend time with associates, many of whom she also considers friends. Recently though, she was feeling overworked and was considering accepting a part time, salaried job so that she could be more financially secure and, therefore, more selective about which freelance jobs she would accept. The downside of that would be that she would not have as much connection with her friends.

There was also a catch. She might end up working even harder because she fears that, if she doesn't accept as many jobs as are offered, even those she doesn't want and which pay too little, she would not be visible enough, her "friends" would forget her, and she would no longer be offered work. "Out of sight, out of mind," is the operative phrase that sums up her belief. If that happened, she said, she would end up homeless.

Fear of homelessness is common among women, even very successful ones. I asked Veronica what homelessness would mean to her. Her immediate reply was "no friends." The conversation had come full circle. We had started out talking about loneliness, connected that to her work which was not only valuable for income but also for connection to friends, and then to fear of homelessness which, in her mind, meant "no friends."

Fear of poverty and homelessness is complex and based on many meanings. Issues of comfort, safety, and control come into play and would probably be of equal concern to both men and women. But Veronica's identification of homelessness with loss of friends is, I suspect, at the root of many women's fears. By and large, women, more so than men, are concerned with social connection. But, is the equation of homelessness with social isolation based on reality?

What is it really like to be homeless? A while back I became friendly with one homeless person, an elderly, gentle man who often stands on street corners with his hand out, welcoming donations. He will sometimes make a friendly remark but he never hassles anyone. Some people respond to his friendliness by being friendly in return. Last year I interviewed him about what it is like to be homeless, and he told me that for him it is not bad. He does worry that someone might steal his blankets on a winter night or that the police might hassle him. He knows churches where he can get free meals and clothing. The best thing about being homeless, he says, is that he meets lots of interesting people with whom he can talk and who look out for him - something that never happened in the past, when he was working and not homeless. He has friends with whom he spends his evenings, some of whom will provide him a place to say if the weather gets too cold. My friend's experience of homelessness is not, I'm sure, the experience of every homeless person. But because he is a friendly person who invites friendliness in return, loneliness or lack of friends is not one of his problems.

Some fears of loss of employment and Wincome may be realistic, but many are not. To achieve peace of mind, we must figure out the difference.

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