Raising Up Kids Who Can Do The Unthinkable – UPDATED

I’ve long observed that day care is how we prepare our children for the day they’ll decide to dump us in nursing homes. This article argues that it worse than that – much, much worse. (H/T to Mark Shea.)

Both my long-time readers will be familiar with my general distrust of therapy, especially when it flows from a psychology that combines amateur philosophy hour with claims of Science! that it can’t, even in theory, back up – Freud, I’m talkin’ to you! But, OTOH, there are more reality-based approaches characterized by a certain wise reticence and circumspection  as well as appeals to common sense that are, well, common-sensical.  These therapies, in other words, appeal to wisdom as their basis, not science. I’m granting provisional, cautious assent to some of the following on this basis.

My son and daughter-in-law just told me of a couple they met that had an infant. When sharing with this couple their plans for parenthood, a vitriolic debate ensued about the Ricki Lake Show on natural childbirth and how to treat an infant. “Infants don’t think,” the couple said. “They don’t care who is taking care of them,” they insisted. “They aren’t smart enough to care until they are older,” both parents argued. I predict they will have a RAD child.

RAD stands for Reactive Attachment Disorder, which is a fancy, sciency way of naming two related ways that neglecting the emotional development of infants can go wrong: a kid, even an infant, can ‘draw the conclusion’ that they are unloved and unlovable. He can manifest his conclusion either in a classic sociopathic detachment and furious

disassociation from others, or in inappropriately assuming a level of intimacy with relative strangers. The first comes to hate the intimacy denied him; the second reveals a total lack of understanding of what intimacy really is, and so seeks it everywhere and especially where it can’t be found.

What I see in the quote above is something best explained in Alice Miller’s book “Thou Shalt Not Be Aware“. (Aside: about 20 years ago, I plowed through dozens of psych books from a variety of writers, including Alice Miller. She is a not-quite-fallen-away-enough fallen away Freudian, meaning that although she rejects and denounces Freud for a number of good and sound reasons, she still retains a shadow, as of Mordor, of Freud’s way of thinking. It is intermittently disconcerting, as when she indulges in armchair psychoanalysis of people she’s never met. But, again, here, I give her general premises my provisional assent.)

Miller’s central assertion is that a normal child knows instinctively that he cannot survive without his Mom or other caregivers. Therefore, he is under enormous internal – and often, external – pressure to absolve Mom and  other intimate caregivers of all wrongdoing, as rejecting caregivers would be suicidal.

The outcome, as Miller names it, is the first Commandment of the abused and neglected child: Thou shalt not be aware. The abuse and neglect are as much as possible simply pushed out of consciousness, or, when that is not possible, simply denied or explained away. This behavior carries on into adulthood, and – here is Miller’s scariest conclusion – manifests in our own child rearing. I can’t both deny that what my Mom did to me was in any way bad AND at the same time act differently. In fact, I will, out of my own need to subdue my pain, subject my children to the exact same thing, claiming all the while (if I even allow myself to be conscious of what I’m doing) that it didn’t do me any harm, so my kid should just stop his bellyaching and tough it out.

This leads, in the extreme cases Miller looks at, to parents who were sexually abused as children going out of their way to put their own children into situations in which they will be sexually abused. Serious craziness here, but you know what? It seems to be true.

And so, these parents in the quotation above both attack any intimation that what they are doing can be in any way bad for their child, deny the infant can even tell what’s going on (an insane position for anyone who’s ever held and loved an infant to hold) – all, it might be assumed, to keep their own feelings of rejection firmly buried.

At the beginning of every violent person’s life there is some version of neglect, even if not abandonment. It could be relentless insensitivity, criticism, disappointment, indifference or a lack of attunement. None of us ever adapts to being someone who is not loveable. It’s a very bitter pill to swallow. He tells himself he doesn’t care, but in his heart of hearts he cares. Actually, he is secretly enraged that he is not loved and protected. He hates to see other children cherished.

This seems true. There’s a lot of rage out there, and, to be honest, in here, too.

Some mothers I have worked with recognized the signs early. Others couldn’t face the fact that their children were in trouble until they had to, something we can all understand. Some thought it was a phase and others thought they simply lacked good discipline techniques. Others thought or were told the problem was genetic. Some parents dislike their child and can’t keep it a secret. Some see themselves as victims and their child as the enemy. Some are single parents with more responsibility than they can handle. Others love their child enough to admit they made mistakes as soon as they can find out just what those mistakes were.

Here’s where a problem first arises: are we talking ‘healthy’ as a separate state from ‘holy’? Does the author really believe that a call to ‘healthiness’ is going to be a sufficient rallying cry for people who are themselves damaged – spiritually damaged? My personal experiences suggest that many people – maybe most people – who are called to simple healthiness in their relationships will cut any deal, deny any reality, in order to not change *too* much. People, including me, want to stay the same. I’ve read about AA (not something I have any direct experience with) and how the wizened hands sadly glance at each other when the newly reformed announce their heartfelt and total commitment and transformation – they see someone who hasn’t really comes to grips, someone who is in fact attempting to cut a deal to *not* change.  That’s where the whole surrender to our spiritual powerlessness comes in – the flip side of grace.

Further, some medications push some patients, even children, into violent states of psychosis, a level they may not have attained without the catalyst of psychotropic medications. In other words, some children arrive at the psychiatrist’s office simply depressed from childhood experiences and leave as time bombs from medication. Others are near a tipping point and psychotropics put them over the edge. Psychiatrists Peter Breggin and Yolanda Lucire, as well as investigating journalist Robert Whittaker and many others, have been warning the public and writing about this phenomenon extensively. These experts have been evaluating medications that put children and adults at risk of suicidal or homicidal psychotic choices. In the meantime, conventional psychiatry recommends medicating these children without testing them first, even though there is a test to identify a person’s reactivity to medications (Lucire: 2011).

It is mind-blowing that, today, as we’ve begun to scratch the surface of how complicated and delicate brain chemistry really is, that we’d pump children full of high-power brain altering drugs. It’s like trying to repair a motherboard with a sledgehammer. Yet it is standard. I knew a kid who was diagnosed ADHD, given drugs that wired him up, then he self-medicated with pot and alcohol to come back down – his teenage year were spent attempting to achieve a workable chemical solution to his difficulties coping with the many stupid  requirements put on teenagers today. And he was pretty normal, all in all, and the drugs were comparatively benign. It’s terrifying to contemplate playing this drug game with kids with more serious issues and drugs with more intense and uncertain effects.

The remaining parts of the essay falls into some typical professional psychologist territory, outlining how nice it would be if we had enough commitment – and funds – to properly treat everybody who needs it, and the endless popular speculation games of imagining What Went Wrong with Adam Lanza.  And, of course, a sort of extended advertisement for the author’s particular brand of therapy – can’t fault her, she is, after all, in some ways obliged to propose something other than despair.

Finally, for me the ultimate question here is: how is it that people come to do the unthinkable, the insanely violent, the inhumanly insensitive? Is a world where abortion is dismissed with a shrug ever going to take the issue of the bad effects of having our infants raised by harried minimum-wage workers seriously? How soon – or has it already happened? – before most of us accept the occasional shot-up school as collateral damage, the price we pay for the lives we live?

This is where hope becomes a virtue. Let us pray.

UPDATE: A commenter over on Mark Shea’s blog points out something very true that I glossed over: that the writer of the linked essay take altogether too strong a position on the nurture side – in effect, blaming the mother *solely* for the development of psychopathic and schizophrenic problems in children. Reality is far too complicated and murky to make a claim like that stick, and the history of autism has demonstrated that moms can be brutally and unfairly blamed for their children’s mental problems. There are physical causes for many mental disorders, and the relationship between nature and nurture in causing psychological problems does sometimes tend very strongly toward nature.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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