Over the last few years, I’ve been having an ongoing ‘discussion’ with my teens about the limits of being able to do what they want.
I’ve noticed that a lot of parents seem to be ducking the whole issue of teaching teens how to figure out healthy compromises with other people by adopting two maxims, namely:
While I can understand that attraction of both these things in theory, in practice they really don’t work to create healthy, open relationships with teens. Let me try to give an example from my own real life, to see if I can show you why that is.
The last few years, both my teens have been driving me bonkers with their ‘staying out all night’ habits. I have a lot of fears, most of which are not rational, so when my kids stay out late, I get nervous about them.
I often can’t sleep until they come home, so when they decide to come home at 2, 3 or even 4 in the morning, that’s a real problem for me, and it fundamentally affects my life. When I don’t get enough sleep, my brain doesn’t function so well, I start to feel ‘out of it’, and if it continues on for too long, it also has a real impact on my physical health.
So if that’s happening every night, or even most nights, it quickly leads us all into a very sticky situation.
Is my need to have my teenage kids in the house by 11pm at night reasonable?
But not always.
Is their need to be out very light at night multiple times a week reasonable?
But not never.
So, over the past few years, me and my children have been steadily working our way up to a compromise situation, where I let them have two nights a week where they can be out later, and I do my best to minimize my psycho tendencies to keep texting them every half an hour to make sure they’re OK.
There’s been some fine-tuning required as we go along. For example, I stipulated in our discussions that the two days shouldn’t be back-to-back unless there are extenuating circumstances (like two ‘can’t miss this’ events back to back); and recently, I also had to add another stipulation that the two ‘late nights’ should be on the same days for both kids, so I don’t end up having to deal with 4 sleepless nights a week on my end of things.
We’ve had a lot of blow-ups and heated arguments leading up to this place of compromise. Initially, the problem was mostly on my side of the equation, as I wanted the kids home at 11pm every single night, regardless of what was going on, or how important it was for them to be there.
That’s an example of my house, my rules, but I quickly learnt that if I tried to apply that indiscriminately to my children, I’d end up doing terrible damage to our relationship, and I’d also just be living with an awful atmosphere at home, 24/7.
Then, one of the kids went through a very rebellious stage (as a reaction to a lot of very difficult things we were going through, as a family) – and started staying out until 4am davka.
In effect, she was living according to: ‘her house, her rules’, and it was very hard for everyone else to cope with it.
After a few months, and a lot of praying (and a lot of figuring out where I needed to apologise to my kid for contributing to the things that had made her so unhappy to be in the house), we were finally ready to get to the next stage, which was to work on our house, our rules.
Which is a very different beast, because instead of having one person acting like a domestic dictator, this version tries its best to listen to all point of views, and to come up with a compromise situation that is acceptable to all parties.
Part of doing that was to sit down, and tell the kid:
Kid, I get you need to go out. But, you need to get that when you go out, I don’t sleep, and if that happens too much, I get exhausted, and even ill. So, let’s sit down and figure out how we can arrange things so we both give way a little, and everyone is happy.
This is a tremendous skill for life.
And it’s one that the kids who grow up in an atmosphere of ‘my house, my rules’ just aren’t being taught.
So the pressure continues to build in the home, until the parents pack their children off to boarding school, or university, or the army, or for a trip around the world where the kid can ‘indulge’ all the things they wanted to do at home, but couldn’t.
And that’s a big part why so many people go completely off the deep end, in so many ways, when they finally leave the parental home.
Because there is no ‘limit’ to butt up against, and their evil inclination is pushing them to throw all caution to the wind, and to over-indulge in all those things they wanted to do at home, but couldn’t.
I’m not just talking about drinking alcohol, smoking, doing drugs, and other types of obvious ‘vices’. Clearly, lacking healthy boundaries, and being unable to police our own appetites and urges and crazy ideas to just not sleep for three days straight and only eat Haagen Daz for breakfast is not a healthy situation to be in, long term.
But the bigger problem is that these kids are being taught a very unhealthy paradigm of how to manage human relationships and disagreements which you can basically sum up as:
The winner takes all.
Whoever can impose their will on the other – whoever can make the biggest drama, the biggest threats, whoever is in a position of ‘power and authority’, that person can impose their will on the other person 100%.
And if you aren’t that person? Then you can expect to get totally crushed for as long as you are in that unhealthy relationship.
How can we resolve this problem?
Most of this attitude is being learnt in homes where ‘my house, my rules’ is strictly policed, with very little empathy for the kids’ point of view, or compassion for their different needs and wants.
The more a parent can ‘see’ and ‘hear’ where their kid is coming from, the more the lines of communication between parent and child will be kept open, and the greater the chances that a workable, healthy compromise will be found.
The paradigm shifts from my house, my rules, to OUR HOUSE, OUR RULES.
And that's so much better, for everyone involved.
Being able to have compassion and empathy for another person is the basis of good mental health. If we can really show our kids how that’s done – when we’re the ones in the position of ‘power and authority’ – that’s probably the biggest gift, and most useful life skill, we can give them.
And as an added bonus, our kids will hopefully still enjoy being in our homes (at least for visits!) and still enjoy our company well after they are 18 and independent.
Last week, one kid came back and announced there was a ‘funny smell’ in the house that she really didn’t like. After berating me for leaving the dishes to stew in the sink all day (yes, you thought that would never happen again after you left home, didn’t you?), she then grabbed the mop and went into major sponga mode.
This is quite an oddity in my house, as I’m so not into housework beyond the bare minimum required to not spark off a cholera epidemic. Also, I hate, hate, hate the smell of bleach and all those other ucky chemical products that sadly so many of us equate with ‘clean’.
But this kid was adamant: We needed to bleach everything.
Not only that, we needed to throw out all my gentle-smelling (and clearly more expensive…) dishwashing soap, and laundry detergent, to get some ‘real stuff’ in that was ‘normal’ and wouldn’t leave our house smelling like a place for old people.
(Clearly, this kid has never been in a real ‘place for old people’ because if she had, she’d know that bleach is far more likely to be the parfum du jour than natural pomegranate fragrance. But I digress.)
As she scrubbed and cleaned, and washed up, and re-tidied a million different things, and barked out a few orders about things I needed to do to get the house looking ‘normal’ (yes, you thought that would never happen again after you left home, didn’t you?) – I started to literally choke on all the chemical fumes she was mopping all over the place.
And then, I had a choice.
On the one hand, I could put my foot down, and go into that tired old ‘my house, my rules’ routine that has done so much to sour relations between parents and their kids down the generations.
Or, I could decide to practice some self-sacrifice, and allow my kid to turn my home into Clorox central for an hour or two.
I pondered it for a moment, while I stuck my head out the window to breathe – and decided I was going to go for a long walk. Even though it was raining.
My kid clearly needed to sponga like a maniac, and I wasn’t going to get into a fight with her about it.
Over the next week, the weird smell apparently remained.
Every time my kid stepped in through the door, she’d take a sniff, pull a face – and start obsessively mopping and cleaning again.
(Yes I know, what am I complaining about, right?)
Then, she started writing me notes of things we were lacking that ‘normal’ houses had, like a nice clock on the wall; and curtains; and proper cloths to mop the floor with.
I started to realise: There is something much, much deeper going on underneath all this.
And I resolved to go and discuss it with my One Brain women next time I went to see her, in a few days’ time.
Long story short, we figured out that this kid was giving me a strong message that she needed a place. That she needed to feel at home, on her own terms. That she needed to be really seen, and really heard, and not just fobbed off, ignored, squashed or made fun of.
And the way it was expressing itself was by filling my house full of all that ucky chemical stuff I so hate and detest.
Once I realized what was really going on, I came home, and told the kid this:
“Kid, I love you. I really hate the smell of the bleach, but if you need to do this at the moment, it’s OK. I don’t know where the funny smell is coming from, or what’s causing it (because no-one else except this kid could smell anything) – but I will help you to sort the house out anyway you want, to the best of my ability.”
We had a hug, we both felt much happier – and then I had to go out for another walk before the bleach fumes knocked me out.
Two days after this happened, I discovered that one wall of the covered back porch was literally furry with mold.
We use that place for storage, so I hardly ever go there, and it also wasn’t easy to see the mold as there was so many other things crammed into the space.
But the kid had been demanding I clean it up and make a little order over there, so I finally got around to it.
My kids’ room opens out on to that porch, and it seems to me, the source of the funny smell had finally been located.
I scrubbed the walls yesterday, and I’m waiting for the landlady’s permission to re-do it with some mold-resistant paint.
To put it another way: the kid was right.
And it’s amazing how many times that happens, when we parents actually make some space for them in our homes and our lives.
The answer is both absolutely yes, and absolutely not.
Why absolutely yes?
Firstly because so many people today have C-PTSD, whether they know it or not, that having typical C-PTSD reactions to life is really far more normal than most people still realize or understand.
C-PTSD doesn’t just happen when you experience terrible, overt abuse as a child, God forbid. As Pete Walker points out in his excellent book: Complex-PTSD, From Surviving to Thriving, sometimes the hardest cases of C-PTSD occur where no obvious child abuse was happening.
It’s just that the parents were…completely absent. AWOL, emotionally. It was a home, a family, where no-one ever really discussed feelings, where the emphasis was put on keeping up superficial appearances, where children (and everyone else) were always expected to swallow down their true feelings, their true thoughts, and to not rock the boat.
Often, these homes had some sort of tragic or difficult circumstances, or some enormous loss that had been experienced in the past, that had been swept under the rug, and which no-one wanted to talk about or discuss.
So the kids grew up in this hermetically-sealed ‘plastic’ atmosphere where they picked up the very strong unspoken message that having feelings, or trying to express your inner dimension, or talking about anything more than very superficial subjects, was dangerous, somehow, and should be completely avoided.
The best way I can think of to try to put across what happens in these types of homes is via Stromae’s video for ‘Papaoutai’ (‘Where are you, dad?’), in the post below, where the kid is trying so, so hard to pierce through the parent’s ‘plastic’ exterior – but in the end gives up, and becomes an unfeeling robot himself.
THE RISE OF THE SCREEN
Screens compound the problem of emotional neglect and emotional absenteeism, and also cause it. The compound it, because when people feel uncomfortable ‘being them’ around other people, they take refuge behind the screen – the TV, the internet, the text message or tweet.
But of course it also causes the problem, because when a parent is so wrapped up in the SCREEN, they have no time or attention to spare for the kid, who then experiences an emotionally AWOL parent, and in turn grows up with C-PTSD issues caused by emotional neglect.
So, part one is: most people today have some form of C-PTSD, whether they realise or not, and that is what is behind most people’s mental and emotional difficulties today.
So, you’re in good company!
Part Two: Let’s look more at whether someone with C-PTSD can live a ‘normal’ life.
The answer is yes and no.
If you understand that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ for anyone, and that each of us are unique, and that each life will run along it’s unique course, then it stands to reason that you can’t live a ‘normal’ life – and neither can anyone else.
But, if you’re talking more about whether you can still live a fulfilled and satisfying life; and whether you can get to a point where you can diminish the C-PTSD enough to really start enjoying life and being happy, and fulfilling your potential – then the answer is definitely yes.
Again, it’s hard to really go into massive details on a Quora answer, so let’s try to boil things down, to give concrete, solid steps of how to do this, as briefly as possible.
1) GET EDUCATED ABOUT WHAT REALLY CAUSED THE C-PTSD, AND HOW IT’S AFFECTING YOU IN MYRIAD WAYS
The single best way of doing this is to read Pete Walker’s excellent book.
It can be hard reading – and I personally don’t agree with Pete’s approach of keeping hold of his anger against his parents long-term (more on this in a moment) – but Pete does an unparalleled job of explaining the different types of dysfunctional family dynamics that actually cause C-PTSD.
And, he does an excellent job of explaining how most of the ‘melt-downs’ that C-PTSD people have, where they get whooshed back into some very negative and hard-to-deal with states of mind are actually just flashbacks to a child-hood state of mind that was never properly processed.
Pete gives a lot of practical tools to show you how to start processing these ‘undigested’ emotional states, and if you follow his instructions, you will start to see a lot of the C-PTSD symptoms start to abate and diminish in both frequency and intensity.
2) LEARN HOW TO LET GO OF YOUR ANGER AT PARENTS (and the others who hurt you), AND FORGIVE
I can’t stress enough, that stage 2 can only be attempted once you’ve 100% internalized and accepted just how bad it really was for you, as a child, and you’ve validated your childhood emotions and experiences 100%.
If you try to jump to forgiveness before you’ve really bottomed-out how dysfunctional family dynamics and behaviors really caused your issues, and your C-PTSD, you will get stuck in the problem.
There are no short-cuts:
First, face up to what really happened to your ‘inner child’, to your younger self, and make no excuses for the bad behavior that was doled out to. Feel all the upset and anger you need to feel to start to heal, and to ensure that you’ll take care of yourself properly from now on, and give yourself what’s required, emotionally.
Repressed emotions are part and parcel of the C-PTSD.
Once they are released and properly digested and internalized, the triggers that spark them off will start to fade and dissolve – and you’ll find yourself coping with life, and its challenges, in a much healthier, easier way.
And part of doing this is to really feel what you weren’t allowed to feel as a kid, and to experience what was too hard to experience as a kid, and to learn the lessons from it, and to take the steps required to protect yourself going forward.
But - don’t stay in that angry place!
Don’t feel like a victim for the rest of your life, because holding on to all that negativity after you’ve validated it, learned from it, and made the changes you need to protect yourself in the future will only keep you stuck in the past.
And the past is not a place where it’s good for people with C-PTSD to dwell, any more than is absolutely necessary to properly progress through stage 1, above.
OF course, it’s easier said than done to really forgive. Practically, how can we do this?
The first bit of advice is to read another excellent book by Mark Wolynn, called: It didn’t start with you: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle. (see the vid above).
This book brings some of the science to explain how trauma, traumatic reactions and responses, can literally be passed down the genes to descendants, via a process called epigenetics.
To give one obvious example, the book explains how the grandchild of holocaust survivors can ‘react’ in the same way as someone who went through the holocaust, even though they may have been born 50 or 60 years after the end of World War II.
The grandkid literally has PTSD, C-PTSD – but they have no conscious memory of where it’s coming from!
And when the trauma is ‘in the genes’, i.e. coded into the body’s DNA, that can make for some hugely overwhelming, monstrous reactions that seem to come out of nowhere – until you really make the links that Wolynn makes in his book.
THE NEXT THING TO DO IS LOOK INTO FINDING A GOOD ONE BRAIN PRACTITIONER IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD.
One brain uses muscle testing to ‘find’ where the trauma is actually being stored in a person’s body, and subconscious, and memories, and can literally get rid of specific segments of it in just one or two sessions.
It’s particularly effective for trauma that occurred before the adult brain really developed (or that you’ve inherited, and thus have no conscious recollection of).
Because the One Brain therapist will muscle test to locate what age the trauma occurred at, and if they can’t find it in your lifetime, they’ll go backwards, up to 7 generations, to see which ancestor’s trauma ‘issue’ you’ve inherited, physically.
I know it sounds weird – Wolynn’s book explains the science in an easy –to-understand way, and I can only tell you that I know of many, many people who it’s helped, to get rid of C-PTSD symptoms and triggers that were very firmly embedded, and making their life miserable.
The One Brain main website is HERE.
I've written a lot about C-PTSD here on the website, and you can see some of the pertinent posts about how to overcome C-PTSD below:
c-ptsd 101: I've got c-ptsd! now what do i do to get rid of it?
c-ptsd 101: how 'inherited trauma' can give you c-ptsd
c-ptsd 101: how to raise emotionally-healthy kids
c-ptsd 101: how to tame the inner critic
Below, is the 'masterlist' I put together for how to tackle C-PTSD across all three levels of body, mind and soul:
TIPS TO TACKLE C-PTSD AT THE BODY LEVEL
The key thing to remember here is that traumatised people are physically very stressed and tense people.
The more primitive parts of their brain is continually sending them messages that the world is a scary, threatening, dangerous place, which means:
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD BODY:
NOTE: If someone experienced any form of physical abuse, then even touch can be a very triggering event for them. In these situations, ‘pet therapy’, or having a safe bond with a dog, horse, or other ‘loving’ animal can be an important first step to desensitising the C-PTSD body to physical touch.
(Click the grey for more details and / or information for how to do each of these things):
Other things to try include:
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD MIND / EMOTIONS
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD SOUL
TO SUM UP:
No-one is normal, so give up on that idea.
But, you can definitely live a happy, fulfilled and emotionally-healthy life, once you learn where the C-PTSD is really coming from, how it’s really affecting you, and to learn the lessons the negative emotions are really coming to teach us.
Validate your own feelings and experiences 100% - and then do your best to forgive the people who hurt you (while still protecting yourself 100%, and staying with a realistic picture of the true circumstances and situations you find yourself in).
If you need more help (and most people do), consider One Brain, to help you get rid of the traumatic memories that may be embedded deep in your subconscious mind, or even, inherited from your ancestors.
It’s not easy, but you will definitely see things move and improve if you stick with it, and just keep picking yourself up every time you fall down.
Not on purpose, of course, but they just have SO many different activities scheduled between 11pm and 3 am - the time when really, I absolutely, positively have to be in bed, ASLEEP - and trying to figure out how to keep them happy and well-adjusted and me alive is proving to be quite tricky.
I live in downtown Jerusalem, where until a few months’ ago there were stabbings regularly happening almost every week (and during one really horrible period of time, almost every day…).
When terrorists aren’t trying to stab people and / or shoot them and / or run them down on purpose, my neighborhood is actually really pretty safe and genteel. But the trouble is, you really never know when the next ‘Ahmed the stabber’ is going to show up, and there’s something about trying to go to sleep when your teens are out of the house that seem to bring all these paranoid fears rapidly boiling to the surface.
So here we are, stuck in a paradigm where they (rightly…) want to have the freedom to be teens, and to do the things that teens like to do in the middle of the night, while I (rightly…) want to be able to sleep at least six hours a night so my brain doesn’t completely dissolve and drip out my ears.
I’m typing this on around four hours’ sleep, and I can literally barely see straight.
Which brings me to another point I’ve been pondering recently, about how so much of what we’re regularly taught is COMPLETELY NECESSARY FOR HEALTH can only really happen in a people-less, hermetically-sealed bubble.
It seems that health gurus that preach the benefit of 8-9 hours sleep every single night, and the importance of getting to bed by 10pm, just don’t have teens to contend with. Or small children. Or elderly parents, who often have their own dramas and difficulties that we need to help out with. Or friends. Or social lives (unless you count all those obsessive, daily ‘hot yoga’ classes). Or spouses who don’t always fit their nervous breakdowns, cries for help, late nights at work and desire to have an evening out into the ‘ONLY BEFORE 10PM’ box.
THIS ISN'T THE FIRST TIME THEY'VE TRIED TO KILL ME
Not that my teens are only trying to kill me by severely biting into my beauty sleep. In the past, they’ve also tried to kill me by absolutely refusing to pretend that probiotic sauerkraut is a salad, the sugar-free anything is eatable, that brown bread - and brown pasta and brown rice - is just as tasty as the real, white deal, and by forcing me to make at least two suppers a day - healthy for me, and yummy for them.
At the height of my healthy-food obsession, I was getting into regular fights with my kids (who were not even teens, at that stage) because they (rightly…) didn’t want to be forced into eating stuff they didn’t like just because it was healthy, and I (rightly…) didn’t want to be making them white pasta - which they absolutely love to bits!!! Especially with tons of high-fat cows’ cheese grated all over it!!! - that was also giving them stomach aches, zits and mucous issues.
Again, I come back to the idea that the healthy eating fanatics that insist that their kids just LURVE all that sprouted stuff, and kale cookies, and avocado chocolate mousse (which btw IS really yummy…) either have kids that are completely different from mine in every way, shape and form and / or are complete control freaks who give their kids no free choice and / or are lying.
But my teens aren’t going anywhere soon - thank God! - so I have to continue trying to figure out how to tread that fine line between doing enough to stay healthy, without causing them to go completely insane by insisting that I have everything my own way, all the time.
God gave me my teens. God made teens temporarily retarded, so they think they don’t need to sleep properly and eat enough, and they forget that while they get to sleep in until 2pm in the afternoon, other people in the house actually have jobs to do, and errands to run, that require them to be awake much, much earlier.
In the meantime, I’m learning that while 10 hours sleep is nice, five hours sleep is also doable, at least some of the time. If you don’t mind feeling like a zombie, sprouting a whole bunch of wrinkles and losing all pretense of coherent thought.
The single biggest thing that’s prevents us from dealing with the painful circumstances in our lives, and growing from them, and healing from them, is a lack of acceptance.
This lack of acceptance impacts us in two main ways:
For as long as we keep buying in to the ideas that our parents are ‘perfect’, or that our family life was ‘wonderful’, or that we somehow ‘deserved’ all the slaps, insults, manipulation and emotional neglect that were doled out in our childhood, that keeps us away from accepting ourselves, our true selves, that has an alternative view of things.
Inside each of us, there’s a small child that still can’t understand what they did that was so wrong that they had to go through whatever they had to go through. Young children idolize their parents as a defence mechanism, but when the parent is the source of pain instead of the source of comfort, denial of what’s really going on, and what was really experienced, becomes the adult child’s biggest emotional obstacle to living a happy, healthy life.
This is for two reasons:
It’s also true that parents can’t always supply what’s required. Accepting the limitations of parents, many of whom are also still trapped in the ‘fantasy world’ view of what they actually experienced as children, is also a big part of acceptance.
But the one doesn’t cancel out the other: Kids deserve all those things, and parents are frequently unable to provide them. Accepting both parts of this equation leads to true inner peace and healing, (especially for us parents.)
There’s another, deeper, degree of acceptance too, and that’s accepting that whatever horrible things occurred, whatever bad experiences we had, it was all part of God’s plan for our life. When this spiritual acceptance is absent, people can get sucked into a vortex of bitterness and anger that can be very difficult to exit. Spiritual acceptance teaches that whatever is broken can be fixed. Whatever is lacking can be filled - but only if God is in the picture.
Without this spiritual acceptance, it can also be very difficult to accept ourselves, especially when we hit our own faults and flaws. When a person can’t accept and acknowledge their own flaws and issues, that’s when they expect others to ‘overlook’ the problem and act as though everything is fine.
And we’re back into that pattern of not accepting reality again, except this time we’re the one asking others to put our need to see ourselves as ‘perfect’ ahead of their own need to recognize the very flawed reality they're experiencing.
Acceptance of reality is the key to getting everything to change. And that’s only truly possible when God is in the picture.
In the last post, we started exploring how it's possible to validate, acknowledge and give a voice to that traumatized child within, without it completely rupturing our family relations.
Before I answer that question, there’s another crucially important part of the puzzle that you need to have: kids are simply the mirrors of their parents. However the parent is treating their kid is how, fundamentally, they feel about themselves.
The slaps, anger, criticism, disparagement, violence, dislike, hostility and blame they dole out to their children are just ‘mirroring’ their subconscious attitude towards the real them, their own ‘inner child’. (There’s a whole other biological dimension to this involving what’s called ‘mirror neurons’ and empathy, but that’s a post for another time.)
If the adult can be taught to like themselves better, to love themselves more, to see the good in themselves and to treat themselves with a whole lot more self-compassion, they will automatically start treating their own children a whole lot better, too.
It works in reverse too: if the adult can be taught to see the good in their child, and to accept them, and to understand instead of blaming, shaming and criticizing them, then they will automatically start to do that for themselves, too.
You can sum it up like this: the abusive behavior has been going on for generations, passed down like some sort of warped inheritance from parent to child. Children are abused, maltreated and neglected because their parents were abused, maltreated and neglected. If that child isn’t helped to break the cycle, they in turn will go on to abuse, maltreat and neglect their own children – probably against their will!
What this all means is that the people themselves are not the problem and shouldn’t be labelled as such, but the abusive behavior and attitudes have to be identified as the evils they truly are, and challenged – but from a place of compassion, not blame.
Remember, the abusive parent was once a scared, traumatized kid. On some level, they are also stuck in the past, reacting to old hurts and injustices that they never really healed from.
In the next post, I’m going to share a powerful ‘gestalt’ visualization, that builds on the previous ‘inner child’ exercise to help your inner child develop their voice, and express their hurts, in a safe, non-risky environment that will help you to keep your external relationships as intact as you wish them to be.
When we lose a loved one, it’s usually too much to take in that reality right from the beginning. There’s a mental grieving process that we have to go through over time, that enables us to deal with the magnitude and scope of what we’ve lost in a healthy way that won’t overwhelm us, or incapacitate us, with huge, often negative, emotions.
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.
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.
For once, I didn't write this!
It's a 3 part in-depth series on what's really causing all the emotional and mental health issues in the world, backed up with solid scientific research spanning more than 60 years'.
It's highly recommended (although I'm guessing the spiritual part of the equation will still be mostly missing....) and you can read the first part of it HERE, over on the Mad in America website.
In her highly recommended book Running on Empty: overcoming your childhood emotional neglect, psychologist Jonice Webb tells us that:
“There is a minimal amount of parental emotional connection, empathy, and ongoing attention which is necessary to fuel a child’s growth and development, so they will grow into an emotionally healthy and emotionally connected adult.
“Less than that minimal amount and the child becomes an adult who struggles emotionally – outwardly successful, perhaps, but empty, missing something within, which the world can’t see.”
Webb goes on to define the 3 emotional skills she says are required to be a ‘good enough’ parent:
Good enough parents:
1)Feel an emotional connection to their child
2)Pays attention to their child, and treats them as a unique person in their own right, not just as an extension of the parent, or an unwanted burden, or as a possession
3)Responds competently to the child’s emotional need – ie, they empathise with what the kid is experiencing, sees when they need extra help, guidance, love, attention and support, and gives it to the child in a way the child can relate to as filling their ‘emotional need’.
Webb has some very good resources on her website, (click the blue) including a Questionnaire which can help you work out if you experienced childhood emotional neglect, and how it’s affecting you as an adult.
Particularly helpful, at least for me, was her list of ‘themes’ that typically come up in adult, if they were emotionally neglected as children.
The 10 main ‘themes’ of emotional neglect:
We’ll come back to these ideas again in the future, God willing, but for now I just want to flag how most of these ‘themes’ show up time and again in diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder, and anxiety and depression, amongst other things.
Emotional neglect can cause huge problems for people, ranging from depression to suicide to personality disorders, and a few other things, besides. But once you know what it is, what it can do, and what's causing it, it can be surprisingly easy to start turning the problem around.
As a parent, I often think how great it would be if I could just tell my kids all my mistakes, and learnings, and life experiences, and save them the trouble of going through so much trouble and pain themselves.
Save yourself the heartache, kid, and believe me when I tell you that you don't have to stress so much over your maths' exam! Save yourself a fortune, my daughter, and stop buying those junky bits of 'cute' pottery mass-produced in China for your room. They'll just sit there gathering dust for years, silently rebuking you for being dumb enough to buy them.
It doesn't matter what it is, from eating healthier, to getting enough sleep, to avoiding 'bad' friends, to making sensible decisions, I see that my kids normally have to learn things the hard way.
They have to see for themselves that wearing high heels gives them knee pain; and that staying up all night reading makes them knackered; and doing that extra bit of babysitting meant they didn't have time to really get all their homework done.
Apparently, there is no other way.
I'd pretty much got to that conclusion myself, but then I read something in this book called 'The language of life: how cells communicate in health and disease' which made me realise that actually, personal experience truly is the only thing that counts.
The author was writing about how the synapses in the brain are formed, and how 'superficial' experiences or learnings result in small, temporary, surface chemical changes in the brain; but how a powerfully-felt experience actually changes the physical cell-structure of the brain.
When something is experienced first-hand as 'good' or 'bad', that experience is literally hard-wired into the brain, so the person won't forget it. Of course, this can also be why it's so hard for addicts to get away from their drug of choice, or why it's so hard to walk away from the Black Forest Gateau, or why it can be so difficult to stop watching movies, or spending so much time on Facebook.
At some cellular level, these things have been (deceivingly…) coded as 'good' and 'enjoyable'. Our body thinks they're great; our soul knows better, and our minds are caught in the middle, trying to work out which one to listen to.
This is also why it can be so hard to break a habit, and why having good habits gets most of the job done, for you. It's literally hard-wired in.
What does all this mean, for you, for me, for our kids?
The first thing I'm taking away from it is that I really need to get God involved in breaking my old bad habits, and installing new ones. It's not just a simple matter of 'will power', whatever anyone may say. My job is to ask G-d to help me change, and then stop beating myself up if it doesn't happen overnight.
Next, I realised how important it is to let kids make their own mistakes, and experience their own consequences, from as young an age as possible. If they get the message when they're young that acting like a jerk is a bad thing; or that wasting all their money on candy is dumb; or that leaving all their homework until 10 minutes before school is extremely stressful, that message will get hard-wired in, and save them so much grief when they're adults.
I know, that's hard for us parents to do, isn't it? I literally bite my tongue, sometimes, when I can see the looming negative consequence of one of my child's immature decisions. If I tell them, they won't get it. If I enable them to experience it themselves, they'll own that wisdom forever, and it will stand them in good stead.
The last thing I realised was how important it is to give our kids as many good habits as we can, when they're young. That doesn't mean nagging them to bentch or wash - again, I learned the hard way that saying the grace after meals was directly linked to making a living, and I expect they will have to do it that way, too.
But it means helping them to develop healthy accountability, and self-awareness, and compassion and empathy for others. It means encouraging them to try things, even if they're going to end in failure. And it means trusting G-d to send them whatever experiences they need, even at a young age, to gently hardwire in the notion that with G-d in the picture, it will be 'good' however it turns out in real life - and vice-versa.