In many ways, coming to terms with the primary causes of pretty much every mental illness you care to mention is no different, because it also involves grieving for a relationship that was actually never really ‘there’, the way it should have been. Before we explore this idea further, let’s set out the basic ideas that have been proven by a huge number of scientific studies, as to what’s really causing mental and emotional illness.
- 1) Top of the list is experiencing some form of chronic abuse or neglect as a child. The abuse could be physical, verbal, emotional or sexual. The emotional neglect could be as apparently mild as a mother who never really makes eye contact with her infant, and is wrapped up in their world and emotionally unavailable.
- 2) Experiencing some serious trauma – such as being caught up in a war, a terrorist attack, a violent mugging or sexual assault, having a serious, life-threatening illness, or some other experience that causes you to lose your belief that the world is a safe place for you to be in. (For example, I believe the problem could even start off with a difficult, traumatic birth.)
In contrast to the never-proven theories about ‘chemical imbalances’ and ‘rogue genes’ being the cause of mental illness, this information has been repeatedly proven by any number of peer-reviewed, rigorous scientific studies.
So why is it being ignored, as the prime cause of mental and emotional illnesses?
It comes back to the idea of how hard it is for us human beings to face up to the idea of losing our loved ones. All of us need to feel that ‘someone’ is looking out for us, caring for us and protecting us. As young children, the thought that we are completely alone and vulnerable in the world is too scary to even contemplate.
When our caregivers are ‘good enough’ (and I hope to flesh out these ideas in more substance as we go along, as it’s crucial to understand that we’re not talking about ‘perfect parents’ here) – they give us a sense that the world is safe, that we’re seen, that we’re important, and that we’re loved.
When our caregivers are not ‘good enough’ – the opposite happens. Having a basic sense of safety and feeling secure is the basis of good mental and emotional health. When the very people who are beating us up, attacking us verbally and otherwise, bullying us, tearing us down, treating us like dirt, failing to ‘see’ us or nurture us – are the people we depend on to care for and protect us, that puts us into an enormously difficult bind, emotionally.
We desperately want to believe we have caring, ‘good enough’ parents, but that’s not the reality.
So many people start to lie to themselves about what’s really going on – because the idea of ‘losing’ their caregivers is simply completely overwhelming to a child, no matter how old they might be – and voila, you’re already well on the way to a host of mental and emotional difficulties.
It’s so much easier to blame all the problems on a chemical imbalance than on enormous problems with our parents, because when all is said and done, we all want to believe that our parents truly do love and care for us, and that their treatment of us is not responsible for our mental and emotional health issues.
But that’s not reality.
And for as long as we’re not really accepting reality, and we’re not acknowledging the root causes of our emotional difficulties, we can’t start to really solve the problem.
The second, much less prevalent cause of mental illness is experiencing some sort of acute danger or trauma. This can also have a huge impact on the individual, and can definitely contribute to mental illness. However, the research done on the incidence of PTSD in Vietnam veterans showed repeatedly that the vets who had already experienced chronic trauma as children were the ones who went on to subsequently develop PTSD as a result of their combat experiences.
By contrast, vets who enjoyed happy, secure ‘good enough’ childhoods very rarely went on to develop PTSD as adults, as a result of their combat experiences.
You can sum it up like this: if you enjoyed a caring, nurturing, secure ‘good enough’ childhood with your caregivers, you are very unlikely to develop a serious, lasting mental or emotional illness as a result of experiencing acute trauma as an adult. If you were already traumatized on some level by experiencing a chronically abusive or emotionally neglected childhood, your chances of developing a serious mental illness (or PTSD type response) after experiencing acute trauma as an adult is much, much greater.
So the first stage of the God-based holistic healing process is this:
Accept the reality of what really happened to you, and what you experienced as a child.
In the next post, I'll share a practical exercise that can help you start to get in touch with your actual experiences, as a child, and start to heal them.