The Working Poor Shipler Analysis Essay

In his book, The Working Poor, David Shipler introduces readers to the culture of those he calls “invisible” Americans. He describes these people as the struggling poor who work to provide a comfortable lifestyle to the same people that are unaware of their plight. In the chapter entitled, “Sins of the Fathers,” readers meet Wendy Waxler. She is a single mother struggling to provide for her young daughter who has cerebral palsy. Commenting on her fighting against abuse and poverty, Wendy declares, I feel that everyone has their mishaps, everybody has their setbacks or whatever.

It will take a real strong person to overcome those…by seeing me overcoming mine, I’m hoping that’ll influence her [Wendy’s daughter] to overcome hers (Shipler, 2005, p. 150). This paper will chronicle Wendy’s life in the context of her past cycles of trauma and abuse, up to her more recent abuse and exploitation. It will highlight how both first and second order changes have affected systemic multigenerational transmission processes handed down to Wendy, and possibly to her daughter Kiara. ? Wendy never knew her biological mother.

Her recollection begins with the two foster homes where she spent the first four years of her life. Each of these foster homes will play a pivotal role in her later life. Her physical abuse began in the first foster home. She recalls, They believed in beating us for every little thing. They had this two-year-old. She was a foster child, too…. I remember one day; it comes like it’s a reoccurring dream. It’s like it won’t let me forget. [The foster mother] took the little girl down in the basement and beat her. I think the little girl peed on herself or something, and she got mad ‘cause she got to clean it up.

All of a sudden, I couldn’t hear no more screaming. The lady came upstarts, but the baby didn’t. I got scared, and I guess she saw the expression on my face. She said, ‘What, you don’t want to be here anymore? ’ And I think I told her no. She told them people to come get me, and they did, and I went to the next foster home” (Shipler, 2005, 146). This memory contains two important elements. One, her first relationship experiences were not safe and damaged her ability to trust people later in life. Two, a possible murder added trauma to her inability to trust.

A symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder is reflected in the circular causality of Wendy’s reoccurring dream that her mind will not allow her to forget. At a time when children are supposed to learn safe connections and trust by forming attachments to caregivers, Wendy was traumatized by physical abuse and possibly witnessing a murder of another foster child like herself. Her first foster home is a closed system with rigid boundaries. She has no outside help or resources to protect her. The physical abuse is a first order change without hope of changing the feedback loop.

However, after the possible murder, her foster mother changed this first order system to a second order change system by adding a new level when she asked Wendy if she wanted to leave. Adding this new level to cover up her own criminal actions, Wendy has a way out of the feedback loop of physical abuse. Wendy’s second foster mother had two teenage sons and another foster daughter named Paula. During her stay in this second foster home, Wendy recalls ongoing sexual abuse. She describes what happened to her this way: “These boys used to take me and Paula in the basement, pull down our panties, and do. In her interview, she cannot complete the description.

She cannot voice the actual sexual abuse indicating another sign that she has not processed the events in her past. She jumps over the details and continues saying, “Stuff like that you never forget, I don’t care how old you get. You never forget. Until the day you die, you never forget” (Shipler, 2005, 146). Her inability to forget is another symptom of trauma (PTSD), because her memories are caught in a circular causality or a repeating loop. Symptoms of Wendy’s sexual abuse will continue to manifest in a series of unhealthy relationships throughout her life.

Personal boundaries in Wendy’s second foster home did not existent. The foster mother let her teenage sons run “loose and free,” and Wendy describes it. The two young girls were not protected. The family system’s boundaries, however, are permeable because Wendy was able to access outside support; her adoptive mother “rescued her” from the system. Her adoption becomes the second order change needed for Wendy to escape the cycle of sexual abuse in her second foster home. At age 4 or 5 Wendy is adopted by a divorced, single mother without children.

Her mother rescues her from severe neglect. She says, “By the time she got me she said I looked anorexic, she said my hair was all over the place, my clothes were dirty, and she said my teeth were green. She said it was a wonder they were still in my mouth. She said, ‘I saved you’” (Shipler, 2005, 147). Wendy is saved from the sexual abuse of the boys in the foster home, but she continues to fall prey to future victimization. Wendy’s adoptive mother often dropped her off with a sitter where she was left alone with the sitter’s sexually abusive teenage sons.

She reports they made her, “Do weird things…That was the first and only time I experienced anal sex. I think I was in second grade…And my mother never believed me. She didn’t believe me. Thought I was lying ‘cause when she asked the lady, the lady didn’t know anything about it” (Shipler, 2005, 147). The triangulation between Wendy’s mother and babysitter damages Wendy’s ability to trust either adult for protection. This is a closed, first order change system because Wendy attempted to change her situation by telling her mother the truth.

Her mother refused to believe her, so the cycle of sexual abuse continued. The circular causality of trauma from repeated sexual abuse causes victims to feel powerless and unable to control their own life and future. Sexual abuse causes distrust, emotional distance, and damages the capacity to form healthy relationships (Shipler, 2005). Many children from abusive environments have an increased risk for developmental problems Wendy, however, succeeds in school and is accepted into Harvard University.

On the day of her high school graduation, she discovers she is pregnant with twins. In an effort to break the downward cycle of poverty that comes with lack of an education and early parenthood, Wendy’s mother forces her to have an abortion. Wendy recalls, “After the surgery, I turned around, and there’s a jar with these body parts all in it…. I felt that was really cruel, because if you’re gonna have me go through something like that, don’t leave the result right there” (Shipler, 2005, 147).

Wendy’s recollection of her powerlessness in the decision to have an abortion and the added trauma of seeing her twins body parts further confirms her feeling of exploitation and inability to control her own life. After her abortion, a “Chasm of disrespect opened between Wendy are her mother” (Shipler, 2005, 147). Her mother’s decision to choose Harvard over her daughter’s mental and physical health illustrates triangulation leading to another first order change feedback loop of broken relationships and more pregnancy losses.

Sexual abuse survivors seek out intimate relationships for protection. They tend to idealize their partners in an effort to suppress constant fear of exploitation or abandonment. Deep conflict results when the idealized person fails to live up to the high expectations. Shipler writes, In the mind of the survivor, even minor slights evoke past experiences of callous neglect, and minor hurts evoke past experiences of deliberate cruelty…. Thus the survivor develops a pattern of intense, unstable relationships, repeatedly enacting dramas of rescue, injustice and betrayal (Shipler, 2005, 145).

Wendy’s inability to form healthy relationships is a circular causality. She continues to search for protection from future abuse and to escape from her inner pain. Yet her need to idealize men, combined with her inability to find and form a healthy relationship, plunges her deeper into poverty and homelessness. In the wake of unhealthy relationships and six lost babies, she chooses a second order of change during the pregnancy and birth of Kiara.