Following the Life-Course of an Expectation: A Case Study Examining the Exchange of Expectations in a Homeless Shelter in new York City


Mark B. Borg, Jr.
Leroy Porter

Borg, Jr., M. B., & Porter, L. (2010). Following the Life-Course of an Expectation: Examining the Exchange of Expectations in a Homeless Shelter in New York City. In: P. Le-n and N. Tamez (Eds.) The Psychology of Expectations (pp. 1-47). Happague, NY: Nova Science Publishers.


IN THIS CHAPTER, THE AUTHORS PRESENT A STUDY of expectations of clients and staff members as met and shaped by the dynamics of the New York City homeless shelter system. A case study is presented of one client who traversed New York City's homeless shelter system over a two-year time period — a shelter for male individuals, many of whom were dually diagnosed — mentally ill chemical abusers (MICA). In the study, contemporary theories of Reasoned Action and its offshoot, Planned Behavior, are used to illustrate issues surrounding the conceptualization of intentions and other proximal antecedents affecting a person's expectations of life in the shelter. The authors use the constructs of Implementation Intentions, Behavioral Expectation, and Behavioral Willingness to measure the degree to which expectations are realized in terms of hope and of despair. The authors see this cycle of hope and despair as a dynamic — and sometimes defensive — process that continually transforms and is transformed by, bureaucratic, social and other aspects of the shelter system itself. Also considered in the study are the ways that the theories of reasoned action and planned behavior can inform and be informed by system-level dynamics viewed through the lens of community level security operations. The authors define this artifact as Community Character. Through an analysis of this construct the authors propose a dramatic distinction between expectations which can be seen to have a life-course and those that do not. The aim of the study is to use contemporary behavioral health and community psychology theories and research methodologies to begin to develop a model describing the process of configuring behavioral intentions, expectations and motivation as they interact and play out in the life-cycle of an expectation.


Expectation, as a signifier is an empty vessel to be filled in with/by semantics, with actual experience, and with its history as a word and as a concept overflowing with meaning and cultural significance. [1] Expectation has significant psychological meaning in that it sets the stage for our belief systems, for our wagering on sophisticated probabilities (certain preset outcomes) that we set in advance, only to find that we adhere to our anticipated and habitual expectations even when the empirical evidence suggests otherwise. We do so through the use of such psychological defense mechanisms as denial and dissociation (Borg, 2002, 2003a, b, d; Levenson, 2009; Stern, 1997; Stolorow, 2009; Sullivan, 1953, 1954). Expectation sets up our own subjective — and often unconscious — terms on hope, improbability, and possibility; it guides our intentions (Aarts, Cuusters & Holland, 2007; Aarts, Gollwitzer & Hassin, 2004), our willingness to engage in various and sundry behaviors (Aarts & Dijksterhuis, 2000), as well as the likelihood that we will repeat a particular behavioral pattern that has a particular expectation at its central core (cost what it may).

The term expectation has colloquial use-value. It is often aligned with wishful thinking. It is a means of informally setting oneself up for disappointment and failure that can be applied to everything from the suppositions one makes regarding how a potential romantic partner is expected to behave in the context of a future relationship, to how successful one should be in whatever endeavor one so chooses to pursue (e.g., a new job or an educational experience). Expectation, however, also has a complex surplus-value. It overflows into each and every opportunity that both compels us forward through our hope that we might accomplish that which, in advance, seems to veer into the miraculous (say, the breaking of a destructive habit, or the achievement of a grandiose wish) and simultaneously fills us with a sense of dread — the dread that we might actually get what it was that we thought we wanted, only to find that it no longer has, or holds, the expected value for us. This being the case, expectation can serve as a prediction — with elements of both hope and dread — that we will be able to make it through, to survive, what feels like impossible conditions. This exponentially expanding array of meanings and uses would constitute the many meanings (Signified [2] ) of the term expectation — so, we will limit our operational definition to that which is exemplified through our case study. In this study, we will show how we can utilize our expectations as a means of traversing what feels like intolerable conditions (though, through dissociative mechanisms, we might not consciously feel it at all), as a means of surviving what — in a more conscious sense — might not feel survivable at all. This kind of circumstance is exactly the context that we wish to set for examining expectation in this chapter as we follow the life-course of an expectation through what felt like impossible conditions: the long and arduous journey that begins when one enters the New York City homeless shelter system.

In this chapter, the authors present a study of expectations of clients and staff members as met and shaped by the dynamics of the New York City homeless shelter system. The New York City homeless shelter system itself is presented as well as some of the ways in which it has been shaped and transformed by the current political environment, and by those who implement the programs to address the needs of New York City's homeless population — sometimes represented under the rubric of The Homeless Problem. In this chapter, we will use the constructs of Implementation Intentions, Behavioral Expectation, and Behavioral Willingness to measure the degree to which expectations are realized in terms of hope and of despair. The authors see this cycle of hope and despair as a dynamic — and sometimes defensive — process that continually transforms and is transformed by bureaucratic, social and other aspects of the shelter system itself. Also considered in the study are some system-level dynamics viewed through the lens of community level security operations (Borg, et al., 2009). The authors define this artifact as Community Character. Through an analysis of this construct the authors propose a dramatic distinction between expectations which can be seen to have a life-course and those that do not. A case study is presented of one client, who we refer to as Mr. Cyrus (a pseudonym), who traversed New York City's homeless shelter system over a two-year time period. This was a shelter for male individuals, many of whom were dually diagnosed: mentally ill chemical abusers (MICA). In the study, contemporary theories of Reasoned Action and its offshoot, Planned Behavior, are used to illustrate issues surrounding the conceptualization of intentions and other proximal antecedents affecting a person's expectations of life in the shelter. The aim of the study is to use contemporary behavioral health and community psychology theories and research methodologies to begin to develop a model describing the process of configuring behavioral intentions, expectations and motivation as they interact and play out in the life-cycle of an expectation.

The New York City Homeless Shelter System

New York has a large shelter population. In New York it is 38,400, of whom 8500 are single adults. This is a significant population. Not-for-profit organizations are given authority to run shelters, and these tend to have better conditions that those run by the city authorities. One New York shelter held 800 people, living in cramped and crude conditions. There are problems with street life in New York in terms of drugs, petty crime and begging. There exists, currently, in New York a strong political commitment to deal with people who are homeless. In New York, 70 per cent of the homeless population are African-Americans or of Spanish origin (Shelton, Taylor & van den Bree, 2009).

There is high expectation that people in homeless shelters will work toward obtaining and maintaining stable housing and high expectations — at least in theory — that this will result in behavioral manifestations of commitment and motivation. This might be assumed because it has been noted that up to 70 per cent of the staff who run the shelters have been through the program themselves.

In New York there is a universal right to shelter. This means that the city has had to take responsibility for the people who are in the most desperate need of help — the homeless/mentally ill. In 2004, the Bloomberg administration wanted to oppose this universal right, claiming that people abuse the shelter system and do not follow the care plans that are set up. However, since that time, the Bloomberg administration has begun to implement strategic plans for addressing the epidemic of homelessness in New York.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Robert V. Hess announced that street homelessness in New York City is down 12 percent since last year and 25 percent since 2005 — the first year the City conducted the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate, or HOPE (NYC Department of Homeless, 2009). The HOPE survey is conducted annually in January to produce an accurate estimate of the total number of unsheltered individuals on the streets and in the subway system. The Mayor and Commissioner were joined by Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs, MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot "Lee" Sander, former New York Jets running back Curtis Martin, who is collaborating with the City on efforts to reduce homelessness, and representatives from City agencies and homeless services non-profit providers. The City and the MTA also unveiled a new public education campaign, called 'Give Real Change', which reminds New Yorkers that the best way to help homeless individuals on the streets or in subways is to call 311 to have an outreach team sent to help.

In a complete reversal of his administration's previous policy, Mayor Bloomberg said,

Tackling homelessness in its many forms has been a priority for our Administration — and I'm pleased to announce further progress in our efforts to help people leave the streets for a better life. The good news, from both humanitarian and quality of life perspectives, is that a quarter fewer New Yorkers live on city streets today than when we started measuring in 2005. We will continue to bring innovation and focused management attention to this longstanding urban challenge (NYC Department of Homeless, 2009).

"The annual HOPE count not only provides an estimate of the street homelessness population but it also enables us to evaluate and improve our approach to services," said Commissioner Hess. "Used along with other information, HOPE informs the development of programs and partnerships that have produced the results we see today — nearly 1,100 fewer New Yorkers living on our streets."

Behind the Numbers:
City Points to Successful Strategies

The City credits the decline in street homelessness to stepped-up strategies undertaken over the last two years. These include the Homeless Encampments Initiative, through which DHS and more than a dozen city and state agencies partnered to clear 70 targeted encampments and "hot spots" throughout the five boroughs, and the NYC Street to Home outreach program — a major overhaul of the City's approach to outreach efforts citywide. In addition, the introduction of innovative housing options like Safe Havens and a partnership with the MTA positively impacted this year's results.

From Street to Home

NYC Street to Home provides for the first time, a citywide approach to street outreach. NYC Street to Home further changes DHS contracting by combining a new outreach approach with increased accountability for providers. Instead of many contracts being managed by multiple city agencies, for the first time, DHS maintains oversight for all outreach contracts, with one non-profit provider responsible for each borough, ensuring a higher level of coordination. NYC Street to Home moves away from conventional outreach methods that focus on the number of times a team contacts particular clients to one that emphasizes placing the longest-term or most chronically homeless individuals into permanent housing. Providers work independently and share best practices and areas of concern at monthly StreetStat meetings, held by DHS to ensure teams have the necessary resources. In its six short months, NYC Street to Home providers have collectively placed 450 individuals with some of the longest histories — sometimes decades — of street homelessness into permanent or transitional housing.

DHS works closely with its sister agency, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), to provide clinical expertise and guidance on the contracts. The providers are: Goddard Riverside Community Center (Manhattan Consortium), Manhattan; Common Ground Community, Brooklyn/Queens; Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), Bronx; and Project Hospitality, Staten Island.

A Safe Haven from the Street

In November 2006, New York City piloted its first Safe Haven, in partnership with the Bowery Residents Committee (BRC), a non-profit service provider, and with the support of a grant from The Betty and Norman F. Levy Foundation made to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City. Safe Havens offer a safe, barrier-free temporary housing option for street homeless individuals who otherwise would not come off the streets. The size and atmosphere of Safe Havens, which tend to be smaller and have few restrictions, are an innovative alternative for those individuals who choose not to come into shelter. In its first year, the BRC Safe Haven partnership had served 52 clients with an average length of street homelessness of seven and a half years. Seventeen of these clients — some who were chronically homeless for more than 20 years — have moved into permanent homes of their own.  

Based on the success of the pilot program, Mayor Bloomberg provided funding in the City's budget to replicate the Safe Haven model citywide. There are currently more than 200 Safe Haven beds across the City at five sites, and by the end of 2008 there will be more than 500 beds. The new Safe Havens will follow the BRC pilot program's approach, reserving capacity for the hardest-to-reach street homeless individuals who consistently have rejected placement in the shelter system, and who instead, opt to stay on the streets.

"Give Real Change" Public Education Campaign

To further reduce street homelessness, Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Hess, and MTA Executive Director Sander also unveiled a new public education ad campaign called 'Give Real Change', which is currently going up in subway cars and stations around the city. The spots inform subway riders that the best way to help homeless individuals on the streets or subways is to call 311 to have an outreach team sent to help. The campaign emphasizes that New Yorkers can make a difference by joining the efforts already underway to house the homeless. The MTA provided premium subway squares and one-sheet posters in subway cars and stations for this campaign, which should extend into the spring.

By the Numbers

New York City has an estimated 3,306 unsheltered individuals according to HOPE 2008 — a ratio of 1 unsheltered homeless individual to 2,485 of the general city population. San Francisco has a 1 in 269 ratio; followed by Seattle with 1 in 295; Miami-Dade County with 1 in 1,741; and Chicago with 1 in 1,798. There were an estimated 1,263 unsheltered individuals in Manhattan; 279 in the Bronx; 336 in Brooklyn; 135 in Queens; and 152 in Staten Island for a total of 2,165 on the surface (meaning streets and parks). There were 1,141 unsheltered individuals in the subways. Additionally, the Single Adult Shelter Census showed a decline by 19 percent from 8,687 in 2005 to 6,998 in 2008.

Homeless and Mentally Ill    

An average of 16% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (National Resource and Training Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness, 2003; Coalition for the Mentally Ill, 2009). While 22% of the American population suffers from a mental illness, a small percentage of the 44 million people who have a serious mental illness are homeless at any given point in time (National Institute of Mental Health, 2005). In a 2007 survey performed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, of the 23 cities surveyed, 7.9% of the homeless population of individuals in a family suffer from some type of mental illness. Additionally, 22.4% of the homeless individuals in this survey have a mental illness (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2008).

Psychiatric epidemiological studies since the 1960s have shown that the prevalence of psychiatric disorders is extremely high among American homeless people, with a broad consensus emerging that of the homeless people residing in shelters, about one third have significant mental illnesses (Breakey & Thompson, 1995; Coalition for the Mentally Ill, 2009; World Health Organization, 2008). Yet there is some discrepancy of opinion as to whether these illnesses are a cause or a result of homelessness (Cohen, 1993; Saperia, 1999). Experience and research findings suggest that homeless people are a heterogeneous lot (Abberley, 1987). Although, a steely and impervious homogeneity is attributed to homelessness, and it serves as a trigger for the stimulus-response nature of the transferential reactions explored within this chapter, homeless people do not constitute a distinct class of individuals (Borg, 2007; National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 2007; Smith, North & Spitznagel, 1993). In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health has identified eight major subgroups among the homeless: 1) street people; 2) chronic alcoholics; 3) situationally homeless; 4) chronically mentally ill; 5) dually diagnosed (substance abuse and psychiatric disorder); 6) homeless families; 7) homeless children and adolescents; and 8) HIV infection (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2008). But how much heuristic penetration can we expect from an epidemiological study? Does not that research methodology in and of itself provide a repetition of the very circumstance that we are discussing, in that it must compress the vast diversity and the many unique subjectivities and individualities of actual people into objectifiable categories and almost equally anonymous subcategories?

In one such study of the "epidemic" of homeless mentally ill persons, the authors state that the "outrage" of the American public has little to do with concern for the people in this condition, and more to do with "visible signs of failures of our social and health care policies" (Breakey & Thompson, 1997, p. ix). This system breakdown, evidently, is the cause of a massive form of collective defense, characterized (in a general way) by a generally hopeless attitude about the epidemic proportions of homelessness among the whole of U.S. society in general. Thus, society-level security operations are created against the anxiety that were we (that is, I) to fall into this status, I, like those who are there now, would be stuck there.

To think about the workings of such a societal system conjures up the notion of Erich Fromm's (1941) "social character." Invoking this specter, and Fromm's explicit forebodings regarding it, Hegeman (1995) suggests that, within such a character formation, "successful adjustment to society could produce psychopathology" (p. 830). This being a society where the some (the homeless/mentally ill) suffer from an inability to adapt while others suffer from the compromises they have made in order to adapt (Bell, Adams & Griffin, 2007; Fromm, 1968; Levin & Greenwood, 2001; Swan, French & Cameron, 2003). Directed specifically against homelessness and mental illness, perhaps as a screen for the displacement of other concerns about a system-wide failures, this adaptation allows us to maintain a blind spot around the notion that were we to fall (into that death-like silence) there would be nothing to catch us.

Behavioral Intentions, Expectations, and Willingness

This section follows closely — and summarizes — the most contemporary research, conducted in the theories of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior by Francis Gibbons (cf. Gibbons, 2009). As we follow the life-course of Mr. Cyrus's expectation — as he traverses the New York City shelter system — we will see how these theories informed our analysis and understanding of what it takes to maintain an expectation throughout chronically traumatic circumstances. We start, as does Gibbons and the theories of reasoned action and planned behavior, with the belief that the single best predictor of an individual's behavior is simply his/her intention to engage in that behavior. Thus, virtually all health-behavior theories include some version of the construct of behavioral intention (BI) as a proximal antecedent to action. The most often cited of these theories is the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975), which has BI as its focal antecedent. Together with its offshoot, the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB; Ajzen, 1991; Ajzen, Albarrac’n & Hornik, 2007), the TRA illustrates many of the issues surrounding the conceptualization and measurement of intentions and other proximal antecedents to health behavior (Hawkins et al., 2008; Hornik & Niederdeppe, 2008; Leader et al., 2009; Sheppard, Hartwick & Warshaw, 1988). Our analysis follows a client in the New York City shelter system through a complex series of behaviors and associated behavioral intentions. Nonetheless, intention is the starting point for the expectation — and expectations — that we will be analyzing throughout the rest of this chapter.

This is the start of our journey through the life-course of Mr. Cyrus's expectation, and, consistent with this endeavor, the TRA is one of a group of psychosocial theories of human social behavior referred to collectively as expectancy value theories (Feather & Newton, 1982; Fishbein, 1963). The name reflects a process thought to precede all behaviors: decisions to act or not act are the result of an assessment of the likelihood of specific outcomes associated with the act along with the subjective value assigned to those outcomes. As we will see throughout Mr. Cyrus's journey, when the assessment produces a positive evaluation, a decision is made (usually) to act — and the opposite is also (generally) the case. The decision to act is the BI, which is the only proximal antecedent to behavior in the TRA and TPB. Specific antecedents to BI in the TRA and TPB are subjective norms (what important others want one to do) and attitudes toward the behavior (e.g., one's affective reaction to performance of the behavior). 

Intentions have been defined in the TRA/TPB as: the amount of effort one is willing to exert to attain a goal (Ajzen, 1991), "behavioral plans that...enable attainment of a behavioral goal" (Ajzen, 1996), or simply "proximal goals" (Bandura, 1969, 1986, 1997; Bandura & Schunk, 1981). In essence, intentions can be conceived of as goal states in the expectancy value tradition that are the result of a conscious process that takes time, requires some deliberation, and focuses on consequences (Loewenstein et al., 2001; Sheeran, 2002, Xianchi, Wertenbroch & Brendhl, 2008). Meta-analyses have shown that intentions account for between 20% and 30% of the variance in health behaviors (Albarracin et al., 2001; Ajzen, 2002; Armitage & Conner, 2001; Conner & Sparks, 2005a; Gibbons, 2009; Hagger, Chatzisarantis, & Biddle, 2002; Sheeran, 2002; Sheeran & Orbell, 1998a, b), and therefore, it would appear that a more in-depth look at — or into — the processes of analyzing intentions (especially as they underlie goals, expectations, and outcomes) is required.

Implementation Intentions, Behavioral Expectation, and Behavioral Willingness 

Gibbons (2009) notes that in order to decrease the variance associated with TRA measures, as well as to reduce the "literal inconsistency" problem (the inconsistency between what people say and what they do), and therefore increase the observed relation between proximal antecedents and behavior, researchers have explored a number of proximal measures — implementation intentions, behavioral expectations, and behavioral willingness — associated with the Theory of Reasoned Action. 

Implementation Intentions 

One way to increase the predictive power of intentions is to make them more concrete; i.e., add items regarding the specific ways in which the behavior may be performed, or the goal attained. In other words, ask about when the behavior will be performed, as well as where and how it will take place. This is what Gollwitzer (1999) calls implementation intentions. Adding these specifics has been shown to increase the likelihood that intentions to engage in behaviors, such as maintaining a healthy diet (Armitage et al., 2004; Verplanken & Faes, 1999), or engaging in breast self-examination (Orbell & Sheeran, 2000, 2002) will predict those behaviors — in part because it increases the likelihood that the behaviors will actually be performed (Abraham & Sheeran, 2004, 2005; Rivis & Sheeran, 2004; Sheeran, Webb & Gollwitzer, 2005, 2006). [3] Forming these types of intentions is likely to be most important for health behaviors that are complex, and clearly linked with situational cues or prompts. We will discuss implementation intentions more thoroughly in the Dynamic Implications section.

Behavioral Expectations

Warshaw and Davis (1985) developed the construct of Behavioral Expectation (BE) as an addition to the construct of BI. Whereas intentions are defined as plans or goals, (BE) is an estimate, or subjective probability, that a behavior will actually be performed. Since people oftentimes fall short of achieving their goals, BE accounts for whether a person' goals are completed or achieved. Whereas BI is a plan, BE is a prediction. Theoretically, when answering BE items, people will take into account additional influential factors — circumstances, past behavior, anticipated change in intentions or circumstances — that might not enter into expressions of goals. Thus, BE should work better for behaviors that are undesirable and/or difficult; and there is some evidence of this (e.g., speeding; cf. Parker et al., 1992). Meta-analytic studies have produced mixed results. Some have shown a slight, but significant superiority of BE for difficult or socially undesirable behaviors (Courneya & McAuley, 1994; Rhodes & Matheson, 2005; Shepperd et al., 1988); others report no difference (Orbell & Sheeran, 2002; Sheeran & Orbell, 1998b; Webb & Sheeran, 2006). One reason for this is that people are not very good at estimating the impact of influential factors that are presumably considered when forming expectations: peer pressure and past behavior, for example; nor are they very good at estimating or anticipating changes in circumstances or in intentions. Thus, BE and BI often end up looking very similar (Conner et al., 2000; Conner & Sparks, 1996a, b). [4]

Behavioral Willingness

When asked, most respondents in research studies and in general state they have no intention of engaging in behaviors that put their health at risk; and yet, when given the opportunity, many of them — especially adolescents — do (Gibbons et al., 2005; Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). This is one reason why intentions are less effective at predicting behavior (Ajzen, Brown & Carhaval, 2004; Albarracin et al., 2001; Sheeran & Orbell, 1998a), or behavior that involves health risk (Webb & Sheeran, 2006). In an effort to improve this type of prediction, Gibbons and Gerrard developed the prototype/willingness model of health behavior (see Gibbons & Gerrard, 1997; and, Gibbons, Gerrard, & Lane, 2003). The basic contention of the model is that much health risk behavior (binge drinking, drug abuse, risky sex), especially among adolescents, is not intentional, but rather a reaction to social circumstances (Flowers et al., 1997, 1998). This is especially so when the stakes are raised, the social environment is hostile and dangerous, and the conditions are chronically traumatic (Borg, 2004; Borg et al., 2009). That is, when certain behaviors begin to be endowed with survival — whether emotional or actual.      

To capture this unintentional, reactive component of risky behavior, Gibbons and Gerrard created the construct of behavioral willingness (BW), which they define as an openness to risk opportunity — what an individual would be willing to do under some circumstances (Achtziger, Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006). To assess BW, risk-conducive situations are described, along with the qualifier that no assumptions are being made about whether the respondent would ever be in (or seek out) these types of situations (Gibbons, 2009). The intent is to avoid implied internal attribution or "blame." After describing the situation, a series of possible responses is described, which increase in level of risk. The aggregated total provides an assessment of what kinds of risky behavior the respondent is capable of performing — if they encounter the opportunity. [5]

Behavioral Intention vs. Behavioral Expectation
vs. Behavioral Willingness

Gibbons (2009) concludes with an assessment of important factors to consider when deciding which measures to use in health research. Most importantly, the factors to consider are: 1) the type of behavior being examined; and, 2) the age of the population being assessed. For health-promoting behaviors, such as those related to diet and nutrition, medical regimen, exercise, etc., standard BI measures should work well, especially if accompanied by implementation intentions — where and when to exercise, which diet to follow, or which doctor to trust. If the behaviors are complex and control is an issue, then these BI items should be accompanied by measures of perceived control (Milne, Orbell & Sheeran, 2002; Sheeran & Abraham, 2003). By the same token, if there is reason to believe that commitment to the intention or goal is tenuous, or if the behavior has a clear social desirability element associated with it, or, again, if perceived (or actual) control is low, such as with drug, alcohol or smoking cessation, then BE measures may do better than BI (it's not likely they will do worse). Finally, much health behavior research concerns health risk, which often has a significant "social reaction" component (Webb & Sheeran, 2006), especially for adolescents (Gibbons et al., 2005) and people who are living in chronically traumatizing circumstances (Borg et al., 2009). As we will see in the analysis of Mr. Cyrus's expectation(s), performance of these behaviors often depends on the situation. The best way to assess these kinds of behaviors would be to use BW as well as BE measures, and, if possible, measures of intention to not engage in the behavior. 

Conscious and Unconscious Elements of Implementation Expectations and Other Dynamic Implications

Perhaps because Implementation Intention is the one construct of the many we have described that can be assessed in a more or less longitudinal manner, we assert that it provides the most salient construct for assessing conscious and unconscious elements [6] — opportunities for assessment and prediction that also account for successes and failures, as well as the revision of plans and expectations — along the life-course of an expectation.

The moderating effects of seven properties of cognitions — accessibility, temporal stability, direct experience, involvement, certainty, ambivalence and affective-cognitive consistency — on cognition-intention and cognition-behavior relations (Cooke & Sheeran, 2004; Fife-Schaw, Sheeran & Norman, 2007; Trafimow et al., 2004; Trafimow & Sheeran, 2004) [7] showed that all of the properties, except involvement, moderated attitude-behavior consistency. Similarly, all relevant moderators improved the consistency between intentions and behavior (Ajzen, 2005 a, b; Ajzen & Fishbein, 2000, 2005; Ajzen, Albarrac’n & Hornik, 2007; Martijn et al., 2008). Temporal stability moderated predictive behavioral control-behavior relations, certainty moderated subjective norm-intention relations, and ambivalence, certainty, and involvement all moderated attitude-intention relations (Norman, Sheeran & Orbell, 2003; Sheeran, Webb & Gollwitzer, 2006; Sheeran et al., 2005). Overall, temporal stability appeared to be the strongest moderator of cognition-behavior relations. [8] This suggests that these moderators variables — and, we highlight the fact that each has an affective component, a direct link to emotional and unconscious process — are key in understanding and predicting behavior (Cuusters & Aarts, 2005), and the associated expectations (Shweiger-Gallo & Gollwitzer, 2007; Shweiger-Gallo et al., 2009).

Holding a strong goal intention ("I intend to reach obtain my own independent housing") does not guarantee goal achievement, because people may fail to deal effectively with self-regulatory (affective/dynamic) problems during goal striving (Webb & Sheeran, 2006). Gollwitzer and Sheeran (2006) analyzed whether realization of goal intentions is facilitated by forming an implementation intention that spells out the when, where, and how of goal striving in advance ("If situation Y is encountered, then I will initiate goal-directed behavior X!"). [9] Implementation intentions were effective in promoting the initiation of goal striving (hence tapping into and making use of ego strengths — coping skills such as reality testing, impulse control, affect regulation, and judgment — against anxiety), the shielding of ongoing goal pursuit from unwanted influences, disengagement from failing courses of action, and conservation of capability for future goal striving (all three of which are influenced, and maintained, through the non-pathological use of such psychological defense as selective inattention and dissociation) (Wortman &Silver, 2001). There was also strong support for postulated component processes: implementation intention formation both enhanced the accessibility of specified opportunities and automated respective goal-directed responses (hence suggesting that these responses become somehow relegated into the unconscious dynamic system that regulate thoughts, behaviors and emotions — allowing these responses to then become associated with — and felt to be — internalized aspects of one's sense of self). [10] Crucially, implementation intention effects are mediated by the accessibility of the specified cue and by the strength of cue-response links. Therefore, implementation intentions benefit performance because control of behavior is delegated to specified situational cues that initiate action automatically (Tsai, Knutson & Fung, 2006; Webb & Sheeran, 2006). In a follow-up study, Martijn et al. (2008) found that implementation intention conserve self-regulatory strength. After goal blockage, the remaining strength can be used to continue goal-directed action (that is, when such responses become internalized expectations — consonant with one's sense of self — the likelihood increases dramatically that one will be able to redirect oneself according to said expectations).

Crucial for a dynamic understanding of implementation intentions, research on ego-depletion suggests that the ability to self-regulate one's behavior is limited: exerting self-control on an initial task reduces performance on a subsequent task that also requires self-control (Aspinwall, 1997; Buunk & Gibbons, 1997; Fšrster, Liberman &Friedman, 2007; Gibbons, 2009). [11] Implementation intentions help to enhance people's ability to self-regulate their behavior (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005; Godin & Kok, 1996; Godin et al, 1992; Sheeran, 2002). Self-regulation, in turn, sets the foundation for people to begin to establish viable expectations that can be utilized when and while traversing more long-term processes that require postponement of success and/or goal attainment.

In the literature, and in Gibbons' (2009) description, the constructs we have described in this section have generally been used for their predictive value. Implementation intention notwithstanding, the predictive value — the variance associated with each of these constructs — is limited when it comes to evaluating behavioral outcomes (Achtziger, Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2008; Gollwitzer, 1999; Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006; Gibbons & Gerrard, 1997; Rivis, Sheeran & Armitage, 2006; Webb & Sheeran, 2003, 2007). Therefore, in the following section, we will be developing a means to assess a dynamic component associated with (and/or underlying) expectation. We have observed through our analysis that each of the constructs we have described are at play (constantly in flux) at various points along the way as one is embedded in a chronically traumatic process — such as traversing the homeless shelter system.

Developing a Construct for Assessing Expectation and Associated Community Dynamics

Clearly, it is a complex task to get back to the starting point — the intention — that results in the series of behaviors that ultimately cause a person to become homeless. When one resides in a homeless shelter, there is also the increased complication of being mentally ill and chemically dependent (Borg, 2007). Goal states are described as being the result of a conscious process that takes time, requires deliberation, and focuses on consequences (Gibbons, 2009; Siemens & Tittenberger, 2009). Therefore, somewhere between the initial intention and the outcome we can see that something dramatic has surely gone awry. This is especially so because it is unlikely that the intentions that are initially set in motion (behavioral plans that enable attainment of a behavioral goal), that then result in the kinds of behaviors that ultimately result in homelessness (time, deliberation, and a focus on consequences), start out as intentions to engage in behaviors that will result in total destitution. That is, it is improbable that the behavioral intentions that set up expectancy values — decisions to act or not act resulting from an assessment of the likelihood of specific outcomes (Ajzen, 1991, 1996; Feather & Newton, 1982; Fishbein, 1963; Hagger, 2009; Ran, Urminsky & Zhang, 2006) — result in subjective norms (what important others want us to do) and attitudes toward behavior (our affective response to performance of the behavior) that could be predicted, at the outset, to lead to total failure. Therefore, in regard to failure (as a general description of how one might feel as a result of winding up in a homeless shelter), it seems necessary to expand our conceptualization from the personal to the interpersonal, as well as to the system (family, community, society) within which one operates.

Many failures — system and other — along the way to homelessness are already part and parcel of the homeless individual's sense of self. How many of these belong to the homeless individual specifically? How much of the sense of being the very incarnation of failure on the part of the homeless person also reflect large-scale failures in the systems/communities within which the whole life-course of our expectations are at play? The homeless individual is, in many ways, set up to be the scapegoat for these system failures. Therefore, the homeless individual serves as a receptacle for our most dreaded projections (fears and insecurities) about being ourselves the victims of such system failures (Borg, 2006, 2007). This complex social defense sets up a multi-determined, bidirectional (between the individual and representatives of the system itself) process where a whole series of failures — personal, interpersonal, community, society — are experienced as belonging solely to the individual and establishes failure as an expectation that then inhabits and influences the intentions, behaviors and even the comprehensive sense of self of individuals (e.g., homeless shelter residents). Since expectation itself becomes unhinged from the individual within this process, we find it necessary to describe a community-level construct to establish a way of expanding our lens to examine the life-course of an expectation.

Community, itself, can be conceptualized as a defense against the overwhelming sense of isolation and alienation that is increasingly part and parcel of modern life in most Western cultures (Cohen, 2009; Nancy, 1991, 2008). We can see the dynamics associated with so-called modern life in any U.S. inner city; more so in the enclaves that form in the margins of such cities (Bellah, 1995; Bellah, et al., 1985; Hage & Kenny, 2009). A typical shelter for homeless individuals could be perceived as such an enclave, and might serve to highlight problematic dynamics even more acutely. What intentions might underlie the behaviors — often perceived as failures — of those who wind up in the margins (especially the far reaches of the margins such as a homeless shelter)? Are these behaviors/failures (and the intentions that operate to either promote or disinhibit certain problematic behaviors) purely personal? Might they also represent system failures? Might whole systems operate to stultify the life-course of an expectation to the mere repetition of failure?

Our starting point for developing a construct for assessing expectation and associated community dynamics is the assertion that communities, like individuals, develop distinctive characters that make use of unique constellations of psychological defense systems (Borg, 2002; 2004, 2005, 2007). Also like individuals, community responses to trauma — and, let us state definitively, being homeless and mentally ill in a large U.S. inner city is traumatic — are frequently marked by rigid and repetitive modes of interaction (Borg, 2003a, c; Bose, 1998; Friedman, 2001; Garland, 1998; Stokols et al., 2009; Tedeschi, Park & Calhoun, 1998; Ursano, McCaughey & Fullerton, 1994). [12] For instance, in many communities that have been traumatized by oppressive conditions — and unjust treatment — from the wider society, patterns of interaction are marked by suspicion and hostility (Borg & Dalla, 2005; Borg & Garrod, 2003). As I use the term, community character describes group-level self-protective mechanisms (or group-level self-system operations). [13] In this sense (community qua group-level defensive/security operation), community can be considered a kind of system-level conscious and unconscious intervention — complete with complicated implicit and explicit implementation procedures that influence, fuel and guide intentions, behaviors and emotions of individual's within each specific community.

To sum up, community character is a typical style of interaction that reflects the unconscious, unwritten, unstated, but ever-present laws that decrease group anxiety by governing and limiting the ways that people interact with each other within a community (Borg, 2004, p. 155). These implicit laws grow out of the actual historical events, circumstances, and experiences to which the community has had to adjust. They give communities and even cultures their distinctive characters, similar to the ones found in individuals. Indeed, there is a direct connection between community and individual character. Individuals are formed in part by the character of their communities, and experiences and behaviors that are not consistent with the community character must be dissociated and enacted. [14] For example, gang violence can be seen as an enactment of a prohibited protest against injustice (Borg, 2005; Borg & Dalla, 2005). The community may acknowledge the injustice, but the act of protest is prohibited, out of fear that protest would mark the community for more oppression. The gangs hold and enact the protest for the community, partly due to their willingness to violate the standard rules and regulations of the community, and partly as a displacement of repressed/dissociated community concerns.

Community character is organized into patterns of social interaction, relations, and connections — essentially the sum total of the conscious and unconscious enactments of a particular community's stakeholders (Borg, 2004). Through repetition, these enactments lead to the establishment of rules, regulations, taboos, and stereotypes, implying that any character formation based on acclimation to a pathological society can produce psychopathology (Ainslie, 2009; Coles, 2009; Fromm, 1941, 1956, Fromm & MacCoby, 1970; Hegeman, 1995; Menzies, 1960; Revenson & Seidman, 2002; Richardson, Fowers, & Guignon, 1999; Schultheis, 2004; Wachtel, 2009). Most importantly, the community character sets up and regulates the implicit expectations of any particular community. In communities that have experienced significant trauma, as in individuals, character tends to become inflexible, impinging upon individual members in ways that are more overt than in less traumatized communities. Rigid patterns of relating within communities are partly the enactment of the community character (Borg, 2004) — and this is where a more thorough assessment of expectation comes in.

Behavioral expectation is an estimate, a subjective probability, that a behavior will actually be performed (Warshaw & Davis, 1985). Whereas behavioral intention is a plan, behavioral expectation is a prediction (Parker et al., 1992). Community character qua anti-anxiety/security system is both an unconscious system level prediction and plan — an a priori expectation for how behavior (specifically resulting in interaction patterns) should/must be conducted, and a retroactive assessment of whether or not its members were in compliance with its rules and regulations. Since in the construct of behavioral expectation people take into account such influential factors as circumstances, past behaviors (Gibbons, 2009), anticipated change in intentions or circumstances (Mc Culloch et al., 2008a, b). It also runs parallel to the multifaceted influence of the community character. Since people are not very good at estimating the impact of such influential factors, the community character itself picks up the slack in the realm of expectation and it is possible that this will significantly affect the outcome — as the community character is also run on the dynamics of repetition (Borg, 2003e). This, of course, is not necessarily good news. Though the estimates of the outcome of behavioral expectation is highly enhanced, it also suggests that changes at this (system) level are also influenced by repetitive (and highly resistant to change) processes under the influence of the community character. This in turn, of course, affects behavioral willingness: 1) an openness to risk opportunity; and 2) what an individual would be willing to do under certain circumstances (Achtziger, Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2008; Yanovitzky, Hornik & Zanutto, 2008). The heart of behavioral willingness is also the heart of the community character: much of our behavior is not intentional at all, but rather a reaction to social circumstances.

Community represents interaction patterns among individuals who respond and react to each other and to the outside world according to their sense of security within the context that they have inherited and that they themselves sustain (Borg, 2002). This is what Kurt Lewin (1935b) meant when he argued that a natural relationship exists between "the character of a given situation and the character of the group which dominates the behavior of the individual in the situation" (p. 109). First and foremost, the rules and prohibitions of a community and the repetitive interactions they shape protect a tentative sense of security. This function encompasses all the feelings, thoughts, belief systems, passions, longings and other facets of community character — and sets up a whole cycle of repetition wherein reactions to social circumstances (especially if they are traumatic) repeat the very traumatic elements that have been dissociated, and are then enacted in habitual interaction patterns.

Community itself can also be examined as an interpretable context wherein the factors that affect behavioral intentions can be taken into account. For instance, we can assess the measurement factor of aggregation within the context of community as complex variations of behaviors that are constantly enacted between and among residents. Regarding possible change in residents and/or the character of the community itself, the factor of compatibility — intervention strategies that involve exactly the same action, target, context, and time — is a natural resource (at least potentially so) in a given community, especially if goals and behaviors are specific. This will be highly influenced by the next factor which is more likely to induce in an individual the actual influence of the community character. That factor is commitment — the factor that assumes that if the given behavior (goal) is important to the individual, his/her expressed intention to do it should be related more strongly to its performance (Fishbein, 2007, 2008). This is strongly influenced by the community character, as it implicitly sets up guidelines for acceptable/permissible behaviors that are likely to create a feedback loop. In this process, enactment enhances commitment (Borg 2003d). Of course, regarding the highly salient influence of emotion — especially the level of anxiety that, in classic approach-avoidance terms (Lewin, 1935b), might inhibit behavior — the influence of community character is most applicable, as its primary task is to limit anxiety and increase (the sense of) security.

Community character has the potential, therefore, to regulate emotions and impact one's perceived ability to perform a particular behavior, or achieve a certain goal, and this in turn may directly influence — for better and/or for worse — one's overall sense of self-efficacy. It answers the question posed by Zizek (2005), "not 'How does one explicitly relate to power?' but 'How is one situated within predominant power relations'" (p. 93). A potential problem related to community character itself is that, in some communities it is taboo to achieve certain levels of efficacy (i.e., power, as this might induce envy, or target one as having valuable resources in an environment of scarcity). Therefore, community character will, and does, most certainly effect perceived behavioral control (Cappella, 2006; Kreuter et al., 2007). However, it might do so in a manner that is destructive, by providing an implicit, though artificial, limit on perception, behavior and sense of control (Wong & Cappella, 2009). Community character, however, does tend to regulate social desirability, and can provide an implicit confrontation with the issue of literal inconsistency (the tendency for people to not do what they said they were going to do). In fact, community character essentially sets the criteria for what is and what is not socially desirable. Therefore, it can and does confront literal inconsistency on a regular basis (but it is also possible that being behaviorally consistent can include involvement in destructive behaviors), though it is likely that consistency might also be a code word for habitual behavior that is highly resistant to change.

To summarize, the concept of community character allows practitioners to view community intervention through a lens which accounts for group-level dynamic patterns, by which character is seen as a series of repetitive ways or patterns of relating to self and others. At the most basic level, these adaptive/defensive patterns form a stable — sometimes intractable — structure for addressing security needs in the face of anxiety. They are reinforced according to the degree that such needs are threatened in a given relationship (e.g., between parent and child), in a specific community (e.g., by local beliefs, prejudices, and taboos), or within society (e.g., by formal laws, sanctioned rules of conduct, or cultural norms).

Numerous authors have concluded that intentional control over health behavior is limited (Cappella et al., 2009; Gibbons, 2009; Ryan, 2009). They have recommend that future behavior change efforts give greater consideration to non-intentional routes to health behavior and automatic (that is, situationally-controlled) processes. Overall, the community character — for better and for worse — is just that.

The functioning of community character might, therefore, be compared to the workings of the digestive system. In the case of a client who is ingested into the community character of the New York City homeless shelter system, we might consider how it is that a person is sown, harvested and reaped. We are interested in how he or she is then prepared for consumption by the system itself. How is one prepared for the process of being ingested by this system? How well does the system absorb and metabolize the individual? What about digestive problems? Indigestion, etc.? Might there, then, be problems at the tail-end of this process? Such problems might include excretory functions (and malfunctions) and constipation, for instance. If a person gets caught up in the various mechanisms — in a digestive sense of the term — what are the consequences, the repercussions, for the person and the system itself?

Through our ongoing interviews with the client, Mr. Cyrus, who we will introduce in the next section, we have seen that the Next Step [15] program is a very special shelter circumstance for those who reside therein. In fact, Mr. Cyrus described the Next Step program as being "the very end of the service-delivery system." He described the Next Step program as a system within a system — acting like an enzyme in the digestive system metaphor — with a special function in the New York shelter system: to break down the homeless person into something more digestible.

Following the Life-Course of an Expectation:
Mr. Cyrus and His Sojourn Through the New York City
Homeless Shelter System

In this section the authors will describe how expectation can be influenced and transformed by living in a New York City Next Step Shelter. The authors will describe stages of living in the shelter and how the life course of expectations changes in an individual who lives in the shelter. The following descriptions of the Next Step program and the vignettes are interview data obtained from a person, who we will refer to as Mr. Cyrus, who we interviewed over the course of a year as he traversed the Next Step homeless shelter system, and who actually had these experiences. Let us introduce Mr. Cyrus.

The Client

The Client, Mr. Cyrus, is a 46 year old African American male who has a history of chronic crack cocaine addiction and alcohol abuse. He is well educated and articulate. Mr. Cyrus prides himself in his communicative skills. Mr. Cyrus, per his own self-description, "Has had many opportunities to turn (his) life around and has not taken advantage of help that has been offered." He had previously obtained independent living (an apartment) through the shelter system in the past and returned to the shelter system. He admits to having "a rebellious nature" and states that he is often told by staff members, other residents, and people in his social circles that go beyond the shelter system, that he is "arrogant." He stated that he has lost all connection to his family due to his addiction and he also stated that he is "somewhat of a 'lone ranger' character." Prior to his re-entry into the shelter system he stated that he had "lost everything once again." When he reentered the shelter system, he had no place to go nor any support system to which he could turn. He said, "I was at ground zero." He continues to refuse long term drug treatment. He has attempted long term treatment two times previously and walked away — AMA (against medical advice) — from the help on both occasions. He believes that he needs more "treatment" and now must come to terms with his "shattered life." He has joined a 12-Step program, Alcoholics Anonymous, and stated that he expects that joining this 12-Step program will save him from "dying in his addiction." Mr. Cyrus, in answer to the direct question of what are his expectations for/of the shelter system answered:

I quite simply could not even expect to survive out there in the streets. I expect...I believe that I will survive if I am able to use the shelter system properly this time. I expect to be back on my feet fairly quickly and live a better life if I can just get all the way through [the shelter system] this time."

What To Expect When Entering The (Next Step) Shelter

It is important to delineate what it means to live in a New York City Next Step Shelter. Although there are a number of Next Step Shelters, this article will concern itself with one such program located in the South Bronx of New York City. The reader can assume that all Next Step programs will have the following characteristics and operate pretty much in the same manner. Here is the New York City Department of Homeless Services description of the Next Step Program:

While the standard shelter model serves a majority of New York City's homeless population, some clients need additional support and enriched services in order to make the transition from shelter to independent living. New York City's Department of Homeless Services' (DHS) Next Step model is based on intensive case management and a more structured approach. There is a smaller client to case worker ratio, providing the more individualized attention these clients need. Staff are ostensibly available to provide more one-on-one support, such as accompanying clients to housing or other appointments and helping them overcome barriers to permanency. The Next Step model revolves around the fundamental belief that clients are best served living independently in their communities and works intensively to achieve this goal. After visiting an intake center, trained social services and professional staff assess the client's unique needs and assigns that person to a shelter with expertise in addressing those needs. All programs are designed to help clients overcome homelessness. Some of DHS' programs include counseling, case management, employment training, mental health rehabilitation, specialized services for veterans, substance abuse treatment, and various programs for the elderly. Social workers, employment specialists, housing/vocational counselors, and health coordinators work closely with clients in an individualized approach that aims to provide clients with the skills needed to achieve the highest level of self-sufficiency. All adults entering the shelter system are expected to work with shelter staff to accomplish this goal. Clients will be asked to follow an Independent Living Plan, participate in programs that meet their needs, and follow shelter guidelines that keep clients and staff safe (NYC Department of Homeless Services, 2009).

In sharp contrast, here is Mr. Cyrus's description of the Next Step Program:

Next Step Shelters are designed for persons, like me, who have abused the shelter system by not complying with service plans that provide the means for moving on to independent living. In general people who are transferred to Next Step are view as irresponsible persons who need to be motivated by horrible living conditions so that they do not want to stay in the shelter system any longer. Horrible conditions include an 8:00 pm curfew, no ability to watch television, unsavory meals, regular forced drug testing, no ironing boards or any appliances of convenience, and no hot water (not an exhaustive list). The atmosphere of the environment is further maligned by a staff that is unprofessional and demeaning. The level of control and intimidation is high. Threats are often followed by actual physical violence. The ability to have any stability requires that clients always make an 8:00 pm. curfew, otherwise their belongings are packed up and squandered and often belongings are stolen or misplaced by staff and/or other clients. There is a strong "staff vs. clients" interpersonal dynamic operating at all times.

Having provided context for thinking about what a Next Step New York City Shelter is like — both from the perspective of the system that implements it and the contrasting perception of one who it is meant to serve, Mr. Cyrus — the authors will turn to looking at how expectations are affected by living in such a shelter.


Critical Incident

Upon our initial interview with Mr. Cyrus he reported the following critical incident that resulted in him seeking residence in the New York City Next Step Program. Prior to Mr. Cyrus seeking residence in the Next Step program, he lived in Brooklyn in his own apartment. However, his addiction to crack cocaine and alcohol had progressed to the point that he maintained his rather expensive addiction through his associations with neighborhood drug dealers and prostitutes. His apartment had become a place where crack use was daily and extensive. Over time, Mr. Cyrus lost control of the events that took place in his apartment to the extent that drug dealers were all but running their business out of his apartment.

The living situation became intolerable for Mr. Cyrus on the day he entered his apartment and saw guns lying on his kitchen table. It was at this point that Mr. Cyrus decided to simply walk away from ownership of the apartment. Mr. Cyrus never returned to that apartment again.

Thinking that this turn of events might very well represent a breaking of a long-term — chronic — pattern of substance abuse and failure, Mr. Cyrus walked out of the door that day believing that he had left his problems behind him. However, he walked straight into another crack den and then, the next day, made his way up to the Bronx and into the shelter — and, as a result, into and through another two years of struggling with not only his addiction, but also with how to maintain his overall recovery while being homeless, unemployed, and severely depressed.

It is important to note that Mr. Cyrus had numerous previous experiences where he had been able to reorganize his life — after having gone through the whole cycle of addiction and recovery — to what he considered and "acceptable" level of functioning. Each time he had reached that particular goal, he had then come to believe that he might then experiment with the notion that he can "use successfully" (that is, that he would be able to maintain his overall functioning while under the influence of alcohol and crack cocaine). Each time he reached a level of comfort and satisfaction with his functioning (e.g., attaining an independent living situation, employment, and so forth), it doomed him to further failure (e.g., relapse, homelessness, and overall behavioral dysfunction), which was a repetitive pattern for Mr. Cyrus.

He told us, in our initial interview that his sole intention upon entering the shelter system "yet again" was to "get off the street." It turned out, however, as we pursued this initial intention, that he did, in fact, have a plan of action, that he did have a goal to make his way through the whole of the shelter system process and obtain both independent living and long-term abstinence from illicit drug and alcohol abuse. He believed that, in his words, "I would do it on my own terms."


As we consider the Theory of Reasoned Action, it becomes clear that Mr. Cyrus's Behavioral Intention (BI), prior to entering the homeless shelter system, was to use successfully (that is, that he would be able to maintain his overall functioning while under the influence of alcohol and crack cocaine). This BI is common to addicts and alcoholics prior to seeking treatment (Cappella, 2007; National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2009). This BI had a false high expectancy value because although addicts often strongly believe that they can use successfully, they more than often cannot. This speaks strongly to our reversal on the construct of behavioral willingness. [16] Mr. Cyrus had met up with circumstances that made it clear that his high positive evaluation of his potential for success while using could not be actualized. Regardless of his chronic history with relapse and recidivism (i.e., repeatedly winding up in the shelter system), the social norm held and maintained by most drug addicts and alcoholics is to continue to try (to use successfully) (Feather & Newton, 1982; Fishbein, 1963). This social norm had, in fact, become central to his thinking, feeling and behaving (Ajzen, 1996, 2005b; Baker, 2009; Folkman & Moskowitz, 2004; Layton, 2009; Sandlin, 2009). When we consider the amount of effort that Mr. Cyrus was historically willing to exert to reach an unlikely goal, we are now able to appreciate the power of a BI. Unhinging (or dissociating) the BI from the actual outcomes was necessary for Mr. Cyrus to maintain his false behavioral expectations in the face of contrary evidence (cf. Gibbons, 2009; Romano & Netland, 2008). The intention to use successfully had become associated with Mr. Cyrus's self-described "rebelliousness" and "arrogance" which allowed him repeatedly to expect unrealistic outcomes. It is Mr. Cyrus's false behavioral expectancy that gets confirmed by periods of comfort and satisfaction that sets him up for failure. This is at the central core of his repetitive cycle of substance abuse, homelessness, and behavioral dysfunction. Studies of the adaptive impact of a wide array of developmental circumstances have shown that there are common developmental antecedents, such as family resources and interaction patterns, economic and social deprivation, other life stresses, powerlessness, and an array of non-specific protective resiliency factors (social support, sense of self-efficacy, hope), that all relate to the probability that persons in a population will develop an extraordinary assortment of mental and physical disorders (Creswell et al., 2005; Felner, Farber, & Primavera, 1983; Kellam & Brown, Livert & Hughes, 2002; 1982; Perkins, Larsen & Brown, 2009; Senge & Scharmer, 2001; Shure & Spivack, 1982; Taylor et al., 2000), and that certain communities themselves are themselves "disordered" (Diener, Lucas & Scollon, 2006; Latkin et al., 2009; Kellam et al., 1983; Sameroff & Fiese, 1989). Mr. Cyrus, during his pre-entry stage, had already had numerous encounters with the shelter system, and even though he knew first-hand of its disordered nature, he came into the system this time in what seemed to be a dissociated state. He dissociated the trauma of his previous experiences, and was therefore in a state where his expectations were clearly unrealistic and did not account for the traumatic nature of the shelter system itself. We can now look back and see that Mr. Cyrus's history of "doing it on (his) own terms" had proven many times over to be counterproductive to his progress in previous attempts at sobriety as well as in his attempts to "get off the streets." As we pursue our analysis of his process — and follow the life-course of his expectation(s) — we will see how far off course that philosophy took him, as well as the ways in which it nearly proved fatal to Mr. Cyrus.


Critical Incident

Upon arrival at the Next Step shelter, the first order of business was to complete the intake procedures. Intake procedures required the signing of an Independent Living Plan (ILP). The ILP is a service plan outlining all of the things one will be required to do in order to obtain independent housing. The plan includes means of obtaining gainful employment, treatment planning for chemical dependency, rules and regulations of the shelter, as well as scheduled contacts with a shelter case manager. The remarkable aspect of this particular shelter's intake procedure was to have clients sign a blank ILP. The signing of a blank ILP was simply, as Mr. Cyrus was told, a matter of expediency. Mr. Cyrus was told that the form would be completed at some time in the future after his case manager was assigned.

Mr. Cyrus had a strong reaction to this immediately. His initial refusal to sign the ILP was met with threats that he would not be able to obtain a bed at the shelter until he signed the ILP. Mr. Cyrus vehemently resisted and reacted by commenting on the "unprofessional" nature of such a practice. He went on to counter the threats made to him with his own set of threats. He said that would report the house manager to the Coalition for the Homeless, a watchdog organization charged with the protection of client's right in the shelter system. Mr. Cyrus became engaged in an escalating exchange of verbal threats and insults and was told to leave the shelter. Mr. Cyrus stated that he was not willing to leave, and that he had a "right" to a bed.

At this point, Mr. Cyrus requested to speak with the director of the shelter. The director was called and she agreed to meet with him. Mr. Cyrus said that when she came out of her office, the director looked "annoyed and disgusted by the fact that someone was not willing to comply with the rules of the shelter." The director suggested that Mr. Cyrus would be able to revise the ILP in whatever ways that he saw fit once he met with his case manager, but that he would need to sign the form if he were going to be able to obtain placement in the shelter at that time. Mr. Cyrus's reaction to this was one of dismay and disbelief. He stated to the director that he "could not believe that a director would uphold such an unreasonable and unprofessional demand, and ignore a client's right to not sign a blank document." Mr. Cyrus insisted that his complaint be attached to his blank ILP. The director told him, "Do so, if you think that matters." Mr. Cyrus then reluctantly signed the ILP.

These interactions set in place a backdrop of provocation and retaliation that would haunt Mr. Cyrus throughout the rest of his stay at this shelter.


One of the salient characteristics we can glean from this incident is the fear that Mr. Cyrus experienced when he was asked to sign a document regarding the expectations that the system itself was implementing in his service plan without actually stating what those expectations were. Upon analysis, we found that the underlying reason why Mr. Cyrus did not want to sign the blank document was that he feared that the document would hold him accountable for vague behavioral tasks that he very well might not agree upon. Interestingly, and in a reversal of what one generally means when using the term "literal inconsistency," Mr. Cyrus feared that he would be required to commit to certain behavioral tasks, and then be unable or unwilling to perform them. Therefore, at this point we can begin to assess the ways in which literal inconsistencies in the system — as if it had a voice (i.e., we are beginning to get a sense of the contours of the community character) — began to effect Mr. Cyrus and impact his behavioral willingness in ways that were consistent with his own history of repeating problematic behaviors in reaction to "rules and regulations." He felt this would not only thwart his goals, but would be personally damaging to him at all levels (physical and emotional, most especially), creating a powerful focus on the ongoing issue of safety.

Also of note, is how this incident made it clear to Mr. Cyrus that he was being asked to make vague and uncertain commitments to the shelter system (to which he would then be held accountable), while the system itself — through the representation of the blank document — would not be held accountable for its commitment to him, his case, and ultimately shepherding him through the shelter system and into independent living. This blank document itself then became the equivalent of a blank screen upon which Mr. Cyrus could then project his deepest held fears and anxieties, based on his own actual experience of being abandoned, rejected and poorly treated by his own family of origin. Therefore, regarding the commitment to a certain level of service provision for Mr. Cyrus from the shelter, there would be no overt literal inconsistency (as the blank document could be interpreted to mean that there was no commitment to his actual care). Instead, this set up a chronic state of uncertainty in the implicit contract between Mr. Cyrus and the system, that would then sustain rather than confront Mr. Cyrus's deep fears and expectations that the system itself (like everyone else in his life) would disappoint and ultimately betray him, and would therefore thwart his goals (see Wrosch et al., 2003 and Tversky & Kahneman, 1974).

With all of these dynamics in place, the blank document came to represent a short-circuiting of Mr. Cyrus's Implementation Intentions. At that point, and as a result of how he experienced the blank document and what it represented, Mr. Cyrus was unable to be specific or concrete about any of his intentions regarding how to successfully complete the shelter system program and obtain independent housing. Mr. Cyrus was therefore unable to ask about when behavioral tasks needed to be performed, as well as where and how tasks would take place (see Gollwitzer, 1999;

One aspect of Mr. Cyrus's strong emotional reaction to the blank document is that it set up a circumstance wherein he felt unable to act intentionally with regard to his goal of getting out of the shelter system. Instead, he simply had a reaction to his newly established social circumstances. This then created an openness to risk-taking opportunities (Achtziger, Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2008). What this meant, in Mr. Cyrus's case, was that he was more likely to engage in self-defeating behaviors which were consistent with his historical (behavioral) reactions to hopeless situations.

Mr. Cyrus's capitulation provides a salient example of how behavioral expectations and behavioral intentions can exceed behavioral willingness to engage in risk. It was Mr. Cyrus's expectation to get into the shelter and his intention to get a bed that exceeded his willingness to act out and not sign the black document. As Gibbons, Gerrard, Ouellette, and Burzette (1998) pointed out, BE and BI will eventually exceed BW in a person who wants to attain a goal.

Collision #1  —  Resident Vs. Staff

Critical Incident

Mr. Cyrus's expectation that the shelter would provide safety and security for him was shattered when on a day designated as "Code Blue" (i.e., a dangerously cold day) by the city he was not allowed to go upstairs to his locker to retrieve his coat. The house manager informed him that since it was after 7AM no one would be allowed to go back upstairs. The shelter had strict rules regarding leaving the building — that is, all residents must vacate the sleeping floors upstairs no later than 7AM.

Mr. Cyrus explained to the house manager that he was detained by a case manager at breakfast, and asked the house manager if, under these conditions (and considering the weather outside), these five minutes could be overlooked. The house manager responded with an emphatic, "No!" Mr. Cyrus, in turn, became extremely indignant and pointed out that it was a dangerously cold day outside, and that the house manager was "endangering (his) life" with his apathetic — if not antipathetic — response.

The response of the house manager notwithstanding, Mr. Cyrus began his determined march up the stairs. At this point, Mr. Cyrus was "grabbed" by a security officer who prevented him from going upstairs. The security guard cautioned Mr. Cyrus, saying, "If you do not comply with the house manager's request, you will be suspended from the shelter and be unable to return tonight." Mr. Cyrus then proceeded to escalate into a tirade, screaming about his "right to shelter," stating, "You cannot put me out!" At this point, the house manager told Mr. Cyrus that he must leave the shelter or be forcibly put out.

Mr. Cyrus turned around, came down the stairs and went out of the building yelling, "I'll bet you'd kill me rather than allow me to get my coat." Mr. Cyrus went directly to the nearest subway — coatless — to make his way to the Coalition for the Homeless where he proceeded to compose a scathing letter of complaint.

It was Mr. Cyrus's hope that the letter of complaint would be acknowledged and utilized to prevent others from being endangered by the staff of the shelter.


We can see that Mr. Cyrus's primary expectation at play in this incident was simply that the staff members at the shelter would do him no harm (e.g., send him out into the cold with no coat). Suddenly the broken expectation that Mr. Cyrus would be safe in this particular shelter began to interfere with (and unconsciously interact with) his more long-term expectation and hope that he would manage to traverse the whole of the shelter system process and ultimately obtain independent housing. Consistent with what Cooke and Sheeran (2004) describe as moderating effects, we can see that the moderating effects of these broken expectations lead to problems with accessibility, temporal stability, direct experience, involvement, certainty and ambivalence. The expectation that the staff members would do him no harm, when broken, then began to interfere with Mr. Cyrus's ability and willingness to think about — to plan for and toward — leaving the shelter system at all. Mr. Cyrus could no longer perceive the shelter as a stable environment wherein he could continue to consciously work toward his overall goal of leaving the shelter. Instead, it resulted in Mr. Cyrus viewing the shelter as merely "a place for him to come and go" — the shelter itself becoming dissociated from its previous use-value. This resulted in a significant change in his direct experience of the process of making his way through the system and toward independence. The prospect of getting out of the shelter then became an uncertain outcome for Mr. Cyrus rather than an inevitable possibility. Mr. Cyrus was then in a highly ambivalent state where he became increasingly conflicted between his need for the shelter in order for him to achieve his overarching goal vs. his sense of impending danger and his increasing hatred for the shelter itself. Since Mr. Cyrus's thinking and planning had been disrupted (i.e., his sense of stability and safety were replaced by an omnipresent sense of danger that was then dissociated and acted-out), he then began to act-out in ways that were destructive to his overall goal of making it through the shelter system.

Somewhere between Mr. Cyrus's initial intentions and where he found himself at this point, there had been a dramatic shift in his thinking and in his ability to cope with being in the shelter system. His expectancy values had changed (decisions to act or not act that result from an assessment of the likelihood of specific outcomes had resulted in a dramatic change in what constituted his subjective norms) (Smith-McLallen & Fishbein, 2009). Subjective norms refers to what "important others" want us to do and their attitudes toward our behavior (Gibbons, 2009). In Mr. Cyrus's case, one could now begin to predict a course that could very well lead to total failure. As we stated earlier, many failures — system and other — along the way to homelessness are already part and parcel of the homeless individual's sense of self.

This all sets up the dynamic process wherein we can see how Mr. Cyrus is beginning to perceive himself in this process through the patterns of interaction — and what these say about him — that have been transpiring between he and what is now perceived and internalized as The System (what we call "community character"). The character of this system — the shelter system — began to make itself more apparent as this system (with its complex set of rules and regulations) began to communicate with Mr. Cyrus through his interactions with various staff members. In other words, the community character began to speak through its representatives and convey powerful messages to Mr. Cyrus about how he was not measuring up to its expectations.

Collision #2  —  Resident Vs. Resident

Critical Incident

Upon entering the shelter, Mr. Cyrus reported that he was deliberate in his efforts to maintain his privacy. He did not socialize with other clients and worked diligently to set himself apart from the others so that he would be perceived by staff as being serious about improving his life and moving on — moving through the shelter system and toward independent living which was his (conscious) goal. Mr. Cyrus was highly invested in appearing to be "a cut above the rest." His initial interactions with staff and residents were guarded. He did not want to disclose much about himself. Mr. Cyrus was uncomfortable with the notion that people would know that he was single and without children. This discomfort was supported by the fear that he would be "outed" and ridiculed for his bisexual history and his present interest in other men. Mr. Cyrus stated that, "At no time did I ever show any behavior that would suggest that I was overtly gay." Mr. Cyrus clearly expected — or, hoped — that through his own best efforts he could ensure that his sexual orientation would be a non-issue in the shelter. He believed — or wanted/needed to believe — that his general behavior was, without effort, "more straight appearing than gay appearing."

After approximately two weeks in the shelter an attractive black man began making attempts to engage Mr. Cyrus in conversation. Mr. Cyrus kept the conversations short and tried very hard to not show signs of being attracted to the man (we will call Bill). Bill was quick to notice Mr. Cyrus's discomfort and standoffishness and, in a somewhat playful and sarcastic manner, suggested that perhaps Mr. Cyrus was a snob. Mr. Cyrus's decision to ignore this question and further distance himself insulted and angered Bill. He felt rejected by Mr. Cyrus. In reaction to Mr. Cyrus's perceived rejection, Bill began to escalate his dissatisfaction by verbally commenting upon (making sure that other residents were within hearing range) the way that Mr. Cyrus walked and talked.

Soon thereafter, Bill told Mr. Cyrus to stop walking around the place like a "sissy." Mr. Cyrus became very agitated by this comment — especially by how the other clients began making allusions his assumed homosexuality. This all came to a head one night when one of the clients confronted Mr. Cyrus and called him a "faggot." Mr. Cyrus did not engage the person or the comment. Instead, Mr. Cyrus went downstairs to report to the house manager that he was being sexually harassed in the dorm. To Mr. Cyrus's surprise, the house manager said that it was not possible to harass someone when they are being told the truth. Mr. Cyrus became angry and retorted that, as the house manager, it was his job to keep everyone safe in the shelter. The house manager told Mr. Cyrus to get out of his doorway, go to bed, and to simply ignore people if he did not like what they were saying. Mr. Cyrus then told the house manager that his behavior was very unprofessional. The house manager responded, "We don't give a fuck about professionalism."

Mr. Cyrus reported in the interview that he was shocked at the lack of concern regarding the issue of sexual harassment. He stated that he was even more shocked by the disregard for any type of professional ethic. Mr. Cyrus realized at this point that he was in a dangerous place and that he needed to change some of his behavior towards others if he was going to get through this experience without getting hurt — physically and otherwise.


Mr. Cyrus's initial attempt to remain apart from his community of other residents was a failed effort for him to maintain his safety. Mr. Cyrus was trying to resist what Kurt Lewin (1935a) described as a natural relationship between the character of a given situation and the character of a group which dominates the behavior of the individuals in the situation. Mr. Cyrus's false sense of security shattered when he was forced to interact with another resident. His expectation that the staff would protect him was further broken, completing the process that began in the previous incident (the "code blue" weather incident). His disregard for the a priori plan of the community to engulf him forced him to acknowledge that he was in a dangerous place. There was no real secure place or manner of behavior that would allay his mounting anxiety regarding being different from most of the other men in the shelter.

Mr. Cyrus was caught up in unconscious system-level dynamics which regulated how behavior should and must be conducted and he was unaware of the severe consequence for being noncompliant with the system's rules and regulations. Neither Mr. Cyrus nor his resident counterparts had any awareness that their interactions were under the influence of the community character of the system itself — and how Mr. Cyrus and the other residents were playing out patterns of interaction that repeated the very ways in which society itself devalues and discounts its most marginalized individuals. Both Mr. Cyrus and Bill were already in a category that had been severely marginalized by society (homeless and mentally ill). Bill, and those who joined him — including the staff who did not intervene — in ridiculing Mr. Cyrus, could further marginalize Mr. Cyrus (and feel superior to him) by "outing" him as a gay man. Hence, Mr. Cyrus became a scapegoat — a receptacle — for the projections of what was most despised about all of those in this marginalized category.

These dynamics demonstrate that at the heart of community character is a recognition that much of our behavior is not intentional at all, but rather a reaction to social circumstances (Achtziger, Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2008). Because Mr. Cyrus was not aware that he (and the others in the incident) was simply reacting to circumstances, he further lost sight of his initial intention of getting through the shelter and ultimately into an independent housing situation. Ironically, the character of this particular community — a make-shift community which only exists to shelter people as they transition from the street and into independent living — operates in a manner completely contrary to what would be its overt primary task. Since the community character cannot be seen or felt it is nearly impossible to anticipate how one is going to manage oneself and one's goals — especially in an environment where the community character operates in total contradiction to its own overt goals: To safely provide shelter for people as they transition from the street into independent housing. A community character which operates at such high levels of internal inconsistency generates futility and failure.

Collision #3  —  Resident Vs. System

Critical Incident

Mr. Cyrus's efforts to influence change in the shelter was met with strong resistance on the part of not only the staff at the shelter, but also by the case workers at the Coalition For The Homeless (the Coalition). The homeless service delivery system created the Coalition to serve as a watchdog agency to protect client rights. The primary task of the Coalition is to investigate client complaints. Mr. Cyrus did not receive any response from the Coalition regarding a number of complaints that he formally filed, not the least of which was the incident where he was unable to obtain his coat on the "code blue" weather day. Consequently, Mr. Cyrus began to recognize that the Coalition could not be counted upon to protect him and his rights during his stay in the shelter.

There is an individual designated by the Coalition as the "Shelter Manager" whose job it is to mediate when problems arise between shelter residents and shelter staff. This person's role entails responding to crisis. The woman in this role regularly visits the various shelter sites, gives new residents her emergency phone number and makes it known that she is "on call" 24/7. Mr. Cyrus attempted to contact the shelter manager and did not receive a response. In previous face-to-face contact between Mr. Cyrus and the shelter manager, he felt that she was implying that his problems in the shelter were essentially due to his acrimonious nature and his unwillingness to "get with the program."

Since Mr. Cyrus received no response from the shelter manager, and because he had received no response to the complaint that he filed previously with the Coalition, he decided to pay a visit to the Coalition again. Mr. Cyrus then had the opportunity to speak with one of the community outreach directors at the Coalition. He began to list a number of complaints — and the lack of response that he had received regarding these complaints — to the community outreach director. Mr. Cyrus attempted to drive home the point that it is not the Coalition's job to point out and confront him on his personal problems, but to help him with the resolution of (the now numerous) incidents where his rights had been violated. Mr. Cyrus was willing to concede to the possibility that he had brought some of these problems (not the least of which was being homeless in the first place) upon himself, but Mr. Cyrus was having a hard time accepting what seemed to be the general interpretation of events, which was that any of his own problematic behaviors gave carte blanch permission to the shelter staff (and/or system) to mistreat and abuse him. Mr. Cyrus said, "No matter how badly residents behave, there are certain things that staff are not allowed to do...such as physically abusing him, throwing him out in the cold, nor withholding his belongings," etc. All of these things had, in fact, been done to Mr. Cyrus by staff members at the shelter.

Mr. Cyrus charged the director and the Coalition as a whole with being remiss in their responsibility to prevent or bring about appropriate consequences to the staff at the homeless shelter for their chronic mistreatment of him and the other residents. He indignantly asked, "If you are not going to deal with the abusive behavior of the staff members, why then even have the Coalition?" Mr. Cyrus went on to say, "The Coalition seems more interested in its own preservation, than in the welfare of the clients in the shelter." In response, the director said, "It does no good to attack the Coalition." Mr. Cyrus ended his conversation with the director feeling thoroughly pathologized and wondering who really cares about what happens to people in the shelter?


In keeping with the attention to the expectation for safety and security, we can now address the ways that the dynamics of the Community Character were brought to life and were influential in the events that took place in the above incident. Community character is used as a construct that, ultimately, conveys to the individual (or group) what behaviors are permissible in a given community (Borg, 2003c; Borg et al., 2009). It is often the case, however, that one will not be able to feel and articulate the impact of a specific community character (the mandates, injunctions, rules, etc.), until he or she attempts to communicate a particular interaction that occurred within the community to an external source outside the specific community. For instance, when Mr. Cyrus went to the Coalition — a source external to the shelter itself — for help, his expectation that the Coalition would ensure his safety and security was met with a greater concern for his compliance with rules and regulation than it was with violations of his client rights. Therefore, it was immediately apparent to Mr. Cyrus that the Coalition was more interested in his compliance than with his safety. However, it was only in his articulation of the problems that he was experiencing within the shelter system to an external source that he himself began to be able to delineate the structure of the shelter's community character.

The nature of a community character, at base, is to maintain its own viability — even if at the expense of the individual. The more Mr. Cyrus pointed out failure of the Coalition to meet his expectations — to protect him, to help him navigate his way through the shelter system — the more the case workers at the Coalition (similar to the case workers at the shelter itself) focused on his failure to comply. We see this in Mr. Cyrus's encounter with one of the directors of the Coalition when he returned after making numerous complaints. The issue of upholding client's rights is repeatedly superseded by the issue of ensuring client's compliance (with the rules and regulations — expectations — of the system itself). It became increasingly clear that the community character that underlies the system that delivers homeless services does not provide permission for behaviors that are based on the expectation that one's rights will be upheld. Instead, it operates in an infantilizing manner which basically runs on the assumption that if a client simply complies with the rules and regulations of the system, then the primary client expectations (safety and ultimately independent living) will be met.

Here we can see clearly the collision of expectation associated with this stage of the life-course of an expectation. Mr. Cyrus believed that it was the protection of his client's right that would provide him with safety and security in the shelter; while the system itself believed that it was solely his compliance with its rules and regulations that would protect him and lead to success. This is a powerful example of how unconscious, unwritten, and ever present influences can lead the individual to believe that client rights are important and necessary to one's safety and security, even when his actual experience in the shelter does not support that belief and all of the underlying expectations that undergird it (Borg, 2003c).

It is through these unconscious processes that we experience a clashing of expectations between the system and the individual. This is what internal inconsistency is made of — expecting, for instance, that client rights will be a protective set of accepted standards of practice, even when there is no empirical evidence to support that assumption. We see how the system communicates at a conscious level the importance of such protective mechanisms as client rights, but that the community character unconsciously operates with a completely different set of rules and regulations. While the homeless services delivery system is itself a catalyst for helping its residents get off the streets, establish security (including helping people recover from addiction, obtain employment, etc.), and ultimately obtain independent housing, we can see in the development of its own unique community character, that its survival now takes precedence over the success of those whom it was established to serve.

We can also see that when one fails to comply with mandates/injunctions — the rules and regulations — of a community character, the community character's primary way of discipline is to drain the individual of all significance. In a symbolic sense, then, the individual ceases to exist. In fact, Slavoj Zizek (1999), paraphrasing Jacques Lacan (1999), referred to the place that one resides when one loses socio-symbolic significance as the space between two deaths (p. 170). [17] Therefore, at this point in the life-course of an expectation, Mr. Cyrus finds himself experiencing a kind of death and he was plummeting into a hopelessness and helplessness that had all but killed his expectations.

Collision #4  —  Resident Vs. Self

Critical Incident

In the final incident, we find Mr. Cyrus two years into his sojourn through NYC's homeless shelter system. He has now been in, and been kicked out of, numerous shelters. He has relapsed into crack abuse many times as well. Mr. Cyrus had come to believe that he could not rely on the shelter system, nor the Coalition, to help him get out of the shelter system.

Mr. Cyrus realized that he had himself great ambivalence about successfully traversing the whole of the shelter system process and obtaining independent living. Once he realized this, he was able to begin to assess his progress (or lack thereof) from a new perspective. Although he acknowledged that there had been much abuse perpetrated upon him by the system and its representatives throughout the course of his residence(s) thus far, he was also able to assess that solely focusing on those abuses had gotten him nowhere. In doing so, he was also able to question to what degree his previous failures were fueled by what he admitted was a profound history of self-sabotage. He began asking himself: 1) How am I going to prevent myself from sabotage this time? 2) How am I going to manage my anxiety related to both the possibility of continued failure as well as potential success? 3) What is the most important thing about me that needs to change if I am to be successful?

Mr. Cyrus's answer to that final question was: "I need to be more humble," and "I need to accept help." Mr. Cyrus acknowledged that he knew very little about humility, much less about how to make decisions regarding what kind of people he might be able to rely upon for legitimate help. Mr. Cyrus was able to recognize how his history with painful and severe abandonments had established patterns of both ineffective self-reliance as well as a tendency to make impossible demands upon others (which was really a cover-up for his deep sense of "neediness" combined with his severe expectation that no one would or could meet his needs). As a starting proposition for himself, Mr. Cyrus told himself that he would "stop telling people how to do their job, accept what people were willing, and able, to offer." He also told us that it was at this point that he also learned "how to hold (his) tongue."

Soon thereafter, Mr. Cyrus decided to find an ally in the shelter. He approached his case worker and asked for help. He said, "I was finally willing to accept my part in the problem." He asked his case worker if she would help him. She explained that she would only be able to help him if he would be willing to follow some "very simple rules." Mr. Cyrus was requested to meet curfew on a regular basis for at least a month, that he would need to meet with her at least twice/week, and that he would avoid all confrontations with staff and other residents. This would give his case worker time to help him amend the negative consequences of his previous violations and would allow her time to complete the housing application. Mr. Cyrus was able to comply with her requests, and in one month Mr. Cyrus had a referral for an apartment.


By taking his experience outside his immediate situation/circumstance in the shelter and coming face to face with a community character that rendered him insignificant, Mr. Cyrus found himself embedded within the Lacanian space between two deaths (Lacan, 1992, p. 270; see also Zizek & Milbank, 2009). There is the death of his expectation that he can be safe in the shelter and there is the death of his expectation that the system will uphold his rights. Mr. Cyrus then was faced with his need to act on his own behalf to secure his safety and accept that whatever his rights are, those rights have nothing to do with getting out of the shelter.

Mr. Cyrus began to see himself differently. He no longer looked to the system or the shelter for safety. He began to see himself as the agent of change in/for his life. He decided to find an ally in the shelter system, and accepted that he would need to adhere to rules and regulations in return for completion of systemic tasks that only a shelter case worker could complete.

In a way, we can see how the death of an expectation might signal that it was an unrealistic expectation all along. It is the realization that one has been dealing with an unrealistic expectation that is shattering then transformative. And this is the point at which he was able to refer back to his original process of making implementation intentions — he was able to increase the predictive power of his intentions going forward at that point by making them more concrete (cf. Achtziger et al., 2008; Gollwitzer, 1999; Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006; Holland, Aarts & Langendam, 2006). Using his experience in the system thus far, he began to add items to his behavioral repertoire regarding the specific ways in which his behavior could be performed and his goals attained. In other words, he began to make a plan — with the collaborative support of someone with actual power in the system — regarding when certain goal-oriented behaviors would be performed, as well as where and how these would take place.

When we consider the circumstance that result in an unmet expectation, such dead ends can lead to transformation on the one hand, or it can lead to repetitious and ineffective behavioral and interactive patterns (cf. Freud, 1914, 1937). The latter was exemplified through Mr. Cyrus's attempting repeatedly to force the system (e.g., case workers, Coalition staff, and so forth) to act in a manner that was in synchrony with his own expectations. It is the internal inconsistencies generated by the community character that supports and negatively reinforced (Iwata, 1987; Michael, 1975; Mistry, Jacobs & Jacobs, 2009; Skinner, 1974; Tucker, Sigafoos & Bushell, 1998) Mr. Cyrus in such a way that he continuously felt compelled to force his expectations into/onto the system (Borg, 2002, 2003a, 2003e; Borg et al., 2009) — and perhaps this was his own defense against an increasing sense of institutionalization (Huber & Stephens, 2001; Zucker, 1977). Consistent with this fear/defense, Henry Giroux (2000) argues that "Domination is never total in its effects; contradictions arise within all public spaces, even those that appear most oppressive" (69). It seems as though the further we move from social investment, the closer we come to policies of social domination or containment, in which state services are reduced to the repressive functions of discipline, control, and surveillance (Aronowitz, 1996; Foucault, 1977; Israel et al., 1998; Price-Smith, 2001; Said, 1993) — and this has all the makings of what Ivan Illich (1976) referred to as "iatrogenesis." [18]

Simply, iatrogenesis is when the "cure" makes the patient "ill," and we can see that the dynamics associated with Mr. Cyrus's care from/by the system and its counterparts were not only impeding his progress toward his goals, but were in many ways making him ill. Along with the chronic and consistent pattern of internal inconsistency enacted from within the system, there was also a state of what we can term behavioral unwillingness to meet the expectations of those it was created to serve (cf. Bock, 2001; Drake, Goldman & Leff, 2001; Duckett, 2004). We can see that this created chronic emotional states of crisis for Mr. Cyrus, which matched the external state of chronic crisis (internal inconsistencies and behavioral unwillingness) in the system itself. Might this mean that in some way, the dynamic pattern — enactment — that Mr. Cyrus found himself caught up within, was also a dissociated aspect of the shelter system itself? In a way, Mr. Cyrus's maladaptive (per the system) behavior actually lets the system off the hook. Through behavioral unwillingness and internal inconsistencies generated by the community character, Mr. Cyrus was finally (and consistently) labeled a "Fuck Up," which in turn allowed the system to, in a sense, punish him — and certainly to no longer feel required to or responsible for meeting his expectations. Was Mr. Cyrus a scapegoat for the system, which in a larger sense, actually represented the state of hopelessness and powerlessness in the system itself to be legitimately helpful to its clientele?

The ability to recognize that an expectation's life-course has come to an end seems directly related to the community character's various forms of resistance. Mr. Cyrus's story illustrates that the style of engagement with the community character is all important to the ways in which an individual's expectations are managed by the community character. At core, the community character is the sum total of psychological (and even social) defenses that a community unconsciously utilizes to protect itself — its various members — from insecurity and anxiety. Mr. Cyrus's ongoing resistance to simply follow the rules and regulations of the community character provoked a reaction from the community character which brought its dynamics to light. After all, a community character would not be detectable — as it exists to protect/dissociate awareness of a chronic crisis in a particular system — if an acute crisis did not arise to provoke a reaction from it. Therefore, by labeling Mr. Cyrus a "Fuck Up," the system was able to scapegoat him (suppress an acute manifestation of its own ongoing crisis), and to simultaneously dismiss its chronic crisis and continue its unconscious operations in its customary unregulated manner.

Mr. Cyrus's individual transformation takes place at the point where his expectation for safety in the shelter dies and he changes his expectations from being outwardly focused to being internally directed. The difference between expectations of others vs. self is the beginning of making adaptive changes that allow the individual to escape vicious cycles and maladaptive styles of engagement. The individual is then able to see his situation — and his/her position in the situation itself — differently. In Mr. Cyrus's case, going to the highest level of authority in the system and finding no relief, finally allowed him to acknowledge the ways in which his previous expectations had not been realistic.

For actual transformation to occur, the struggle between the individual and the community character is necessary in a pathological system. It is this struggle out of which transformation is born. Mr. Cyrus finally began to view himself as a resource — the resource which could and would lead to his finally making his way through the shelter system. Instead of viewing some "Other" as being solely able to accomplish his primary task, Mr. Cyrus changed his style of engagement with the system and sought an ally — an ally who was willing to actually help him if he was willing, also, to help himself. He was then able to negotiate compliance in return for effective systemic change which ultimately led to Mr. Cyrus obtaining independent living and being discharged from the shelter.


Based on our analysis of the life-course of an expectation we have come to understand that an expectation is born out of a thinking pattern of anticipation that gets associated with emotional states. Through repetition, a thinking pattern emerges as a cognitive structure that appears regardless of the content — the cognitive structure is the expectation. The authors refer to this as the vessel — in Sausserian terms, a signifier — in and through which new content of expectation begins to appear on a habitual basis. When we are discussing the life-course we are discussing the content of the vessel itself. When expectations — cognitive structures — remain un-(ful-)-filled they can take on a life of their own. This essentially means that one can have expectations simply for the sake of having expectations — keeping in mind that we have stressed that it is only the individual in his/her specific social context that makes up the content of the vessel. The notion of expectation for the sake of expectation means that we approach each circumstance with an a priori expectation. We simply get into the habit of having particular expectations, and such habitual expectations do not leave room for new ways of filling in the vessel. This is an important distinction because our analysis has led to a significant finding: Expectations for the sake of expectations do not have a life-course; they are rigid and repetitive, cycling through a history of prior experience but static and stultified, and generally only replaying historical experience as a means of defending ourselves. This is especially so when previous experience has been of a traumatic nature. We were also able in our analysis of Mr. Cyrus to recognize how the social context generated by a community character shapes the content of vessels — expectations — that do have a life-course (and are then, therefore, amenable to change).

Mr. Cyrus arrived at the shelter due to faulty goal states where his behavior was inconsistent with his own stated expectations (both of himself and the system within which he was operating). The primary example of this was his drug and alcohol abuse. His self-regulatory behavior was deficient. His drug and alcohol abuse often led to unpredictable affective states that made the formation and implementation — and associated intentions — of a plan for actually completing his initial task (obtaining an independent living situation) impossible (Cooke & Sheeran, 2004; Gollwitzer, Bayer & Mc Culloch, 2004). Unbeknownst to him, Mr. Cyrus's expectancy values were not primarily focused on getting out of the shelter — and certainly did not account for the underlying character structure of the shelter and the system within which it operated, and/or the rules and regulations which were (often painfully) at play throughout his journey through the system and its complexities. Instead, Mr. Cyrus simply wanted to make his way safely and productively through the shelter without regard for shelter subjective norms. However, due to the enzymatic nature of the (Next Step) shelter, Mr. Cyrus began to feel the effects of being broken down by the system — remember, it is the unconscious intervention of the community character to implement its power in ways which will bring the individual into alignment with the its own subjective norms. [19] Here "enzymatic nature" refers to all of the implicit and explicit implementation intentions that serve to create a behavioral unwillingness to meet any individuals' personal and specific expectations if they are not aligned with the dictates of the community character. This is so even when the system proclaims that it is its primary task to do so (creating sustained literal inconsistencies in the system itself).

After "getting off the streets," Mr. Cyrus's original primary goal for entering the shelter at all was to obtain independent housing. However, when the effects of enzymatic break-down had reduced Mr. Cyrus to despair and hopelessness, his main concern was simply maintaining his safety. He had lost sight of his original implementation intentions, and, in a sense, his original behavior intentions became unmoored and existed in a state of disarray that operated in a manner that was in contradiction to his long-term goals. Yet, it was at this point that the life-course of this particular expectation began. This was clearly a dramatic shift from his original expectation (and coinciding behavioral intentions) which was to obtain independent living with very little awareness of what this would require of him. Efforts to force the system to meet this expectation were met with profound resistance and overt hostility. Repetitive and continued attempts to force the system to respond to his safety expectations led to social labeling. Mr. Cyrus was labeled a "Troublemaker" and finally a "Fuck Up." These labels stuck with him throughout his sojourn through the system. These labels served to scapegoat Mr. Cyrus, and made it permissible for all elements of the system to withhold help and effective assistance. He had become a kind of repository for all of the misplaced projections from the system itself regarding its own ineffectiveness. The more that Mr. Cyrus's efforts were met with negative reinforcement, the stronger were his efforts to force the system to respond in alignment with his expectations. The cyclical nature of this interactive pattern resulted in a struggle between the community character and Mr. Cyrus. The struggle between the community character and Mr. Cyrus is the field upon which the life-course of the expectation — specific to his safety issues — comes to an end.

The expectation for safety finally ended as a realization that Mr. Cyrus's safety expectation had become unrealistic and that he would not be able to develop a strategy which would induce the system — or any facet of it — to respond to him in a way that would actually result in his safety. Mr. Cyrus could also recognize that his overall journey through the system had been short-circuited there, and that for as long as he was stuck on the issue of his safety and his "rights," he would be engaged with the system in a way that thoroughly ceased his progressive movement through it. It was within this struggle — that often felt like, and was, a life-and-death struggle — that Mr. Cyrus's behavioral intentions were dissociated from his implementation intentions. We underscore the importance of this struggle as providing the mechanism by which Mr. Cyrus moved from maladaptive to adaptive behavior. In addition, the realization that he must rely upon himself (his own perceptions of his experience with/in the system) instead of the system (and how it had been unable or unwilling to meet his needs) became a new realization for Mr. Cyrus that then began to transform his goal state. This allowed him to develop a new set of implementation intentions that would and could be supported by an ally in the system who actually possessed the power and the willingness to help him under conditions which made his compliance more bearable. By changing his manner of engagement with subjective norms, he was able to identify an ally and negotiate a functional partnership that required him to obey rules in exchange for effective systemic help. Mr. Cyrus was unable to do this while he was attempting to force the system to respect his rights and to unequivocally take responsibility for the whole of his well-being (including taking care of him, meeting his needs and even his desires). It is through this self-directed change in behavior that Mr. Cyrus was able to make his way through the shelter system and ultimately obtain independent living.

Delineating the distinctions within expectations themselves — habitual expectations vs. expectations that have a life-course — has been an important task in this chapter. The implications of this distinction allows for evaluating the significance that expectations have in the individual's life. It will help to distinguish those whose expectations have life-courses in contrast to those individuals who remain stuck in expectations that are habitual, repetitive and therefore very resistant to change. Having offered this distinction, we can now ask some important empirical questions. How do people differ in their habitual development of expectations? To what extent does the life-course of an expectation end in adaptive changes?

As we have seen, Mr. Cyrus's expectations did (and let us hope do) have a life-course, and the development of this life-course was founded upon Mr. Cyrus's willingness to take in and learn from his experience — even and especially when such experiences brought up painful and even traumatic emotions. Consistent with the most contemporary research on the theories of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior, Pomery et al. (2009) state, regarding the most important aspect of the movement from willingness to intention, that "experience moderates the shift from reactive to reasoned behavior" (p. 894). If the life-course of an expectation ends in a personal transformation, then expectations that have a life-course are clearly more advantageous than ones that do not. Of course, there are risks involved. An expectation devoid of a life-course, allows a person to have a standard set of operating procedures that makes the world — and one's movements through it — appear to be (to be experienced as being) predictable and under one's own control (whether imagined or real). Yet it turned out that Mr. Cyrus had to reclaim his own previously dissociated experience — from both inside the system and out — in order for his expectations to develop a life-course, and in order for him to achieve his long-term goals. Expectations that have their own life-courses, do indeed require a tolerance for a certain level of anxiety that is part and parcel of any movement that we make that brings us into new and novel experience. Also involved, we have seen, is evidence that when the behavioral intentions associated with expectations — especially in a long-term process that is traumatic and complex — become disconnected from the implementation intentions that sustain them, expectations are doomed to repeat old patterns and derail the process long before goal attainment is achieved. We have seen that for Mr. Cyrus to transform his expectation into one which possessed a life of its own, he came dangerously and quite literally close to death. However, having survived and worked through the chronic despair and trauma that he painfully experienced during the death of his previous habitual and ultimately limiting expectations, Mr. Cyrus is now able to take a whole new process of expectation — which now includes hope — into his new life outside the shelter system.


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