Chapter five 5
I am studying ambivalent attachment in Siegel’s TDM book today. While reading about the developmental stage that arrives at about 9 months, where transitional memory abilities begin to form so that the infant begins to tie past to present by the new ability to conceptualize on some level the “virtual other.”
These virtual others, who are representations from implicit memory and experience with primary caregivers, form memory connections to states of mind that will be with the individual the rest of their lives.
As I read about the inconsistent and intrusive patterns created between infants and “preoccupied” caregivers, I began to sense an overwhelming sensation of FOREBODING. I have never connected this word directly until today with the experiences I had with my mother.
Because the feeling is so fundamental, I want to explore its meaning in the English language the best that I can, because I believe it connects to the core of what damage from infant abuse and a chronic, enduring level of acute distress during peritrauma that is at the heart of my concerns – both for myself, and for others.
If this is the developmental stage where the infant brain can begin to connect past and present, it makes sense that this sense of foreboding would begin to assert itself, if not begin to dominate the infant’s internal emotional experiences and awareness. The infant is still absolutely dependent upon its caregivers for its survival. If only biologically, there would still be times when the arrival of the caregiver would correspond to desperate needs that the infant is experiencing. When the presence of the caregiver itself is directly connected to severe threat, fright, trauma and distress – during peritrauma, foreboding would come to be a permanent, chronic internal state.
An infant’s first ability to connect past to present, and this is what it gets: “Oh Boy! Here comes EVIL! I guess I’m going to get fed!” Not funny, I certainly know from experience. But no wonder how foreboding is a distortion of a sense of prediction for these infants, where the foreboding becomes pervasive.
As adults we can summon resources, both internal and external, regarding a situation or impending experience that we might have foreboding about. Internally, the resource might be courage. Or confidence. Both being the knowledge that we have faced difficulties before and survived them. As my dear friend, Ernie says, “You just face these things head on.” “What if we hit a brick wall?” I asked in return. He said, “Well, then, you bounce back. And learn not to do it again.”
It is hard for people to realize that these very old feelings, which became a part of our being – brain and mind – at such very early ages can continue to plague us nearly constantly in our adulthood. It is my suspicion that particularly for those abused as infants, and especially for those who were abused throughout their entire childhood, that it is extremely hard to become subjective enough to identify these feelings when they are with us in the present. And it is nearly impossible for us to calm ourselves or soothe ourselves, or to regulate the intensity or the duration, or even the EXPERIENCE of having the emotion itself, because we also lack the ability to regulate emotions as part of the damage done to us. We don’t experience stress. We experience distress, and we cannot regulate it. (If there is hope, I have to find it.)
It is also nearly impossible for us to be able to identify the cues around us in daily living that trigger our feelings, foreboding being one of them. I am beginning to see that it isn’t that we “lack a sense of well-being.” Nature abhors a vacuum. Foreboding is one of the strongest feelings that stands within us in REPLACEMENT for a sense of well-being. Well-being is tied to having received adequate secure caregiver interactions from infancy. Foreboding is the sense we have when they were absent.
In particular, when we were raised by an out-of-control violent and rageful caregiver who terrified and hurt us consistently, our “virtual other” sense of people was damaged, so that, for me anyway, ANY interaction with a person is fraught on a deep internal level, with a sense of danger. As I say to Ernie, though he doesn’t understand me, “I am allergic to people.”
The truest irony and the greatest damage is that I was also deprived of developing my own sense of self, so that I am “allergic” to myself as a person even now. And yet the NEEDS are still a part of me for attachment. I remain with a sense of aloneness without end, tied to this sense of terrible foreboding. It makes being a person very painful, and very difficult. As it was in the beginning.
1 : to have an inward conviction of (as becoming ill or misfortune)
2 : foretell, portend
the act of one who forebodes, also: an omen, prediction, or presentiment esp. of coming evil: PORTENT
The dictionary is not offering origins for these terms, so I will go to “bode.”
[ME boden; akin to OE beodan to proclaim – more at BID]
1 archaic : to announce beforehand : FORTELL
2 : to indicate by signs : PRESAGE
BODE past of BIDE
[partly from ME bidden, fr. OE biddan; akin to OHG bitten to entreat, Skt badhate he harasses; partly fr. ME beden to offer, command, fr. OE beodan; akin to OHG biotan to offer, Gk pynthansethai to learn by inquiry, Skt bodhi enlightenment]
1 a : BESEECH, ENTREAT
2 : to give expression to
BIDE, vb BODE or bided; bided; biding
[ME biden, fr. OE bidan; akin to OHG bitan to wait, L. fidere to trust, Gk peithesthai to believe]
1 : to continue in a state or condition
2 : to wait awhile : TARRY
3 : to continue in a place; SOJOURN
Even with a search through the meanings and origins of the words, which leads us back to their roots and their relatives in terms of concepts and intonations, I can see that this word, foreboding, encompasses much of the fundamental nature of the state of mind a child develops and remains in. Although the definitions of these words do not appear to be connected to a FEELING or emotional state in any direct or obvious way, I know from experience that they do.
A maltreated infant by the age of nine months, then, can develop a clear sense of dread with the anticipation of a violent caregiver’s return in the same way that a well cared for secure infant can have the feeling of excited anticipation, hope and happiness. A sense of impending doom can become a chronic state when it intrudes on an infant’s developing brain and mind. It becomes “hard wired” into the circuitry of the brain and into the working patterns and models of its mind. We do not exchange our infant brains for child brains. We do not exchange the child brain for our adult brains. We have the same brain that developed within us before birth, that continued to develop during our infancy and childhood. Our experiences have formed it, especially those with our primary early caregivers.
When Jon Allen refers again and again to “an unbearable emotional state,” I believe that foreboding is one of the core “unbearable” emotions he is referring to. I also know that it is only possible for someone who had this feeling constellate within them in early infancy will know exactly what I am talking about. They know it because they have it, too.
This is not a transitional state. This is a fundamental one that has been built into the very structure of the person who was abused in and from infancy. It is a crucial distinction. We need to accept the power, strength, pervasiveness and persistence of these emotions, along with the core, central and fundamental placement of them within infant abuse survivors, to begin to acknowledge the consequences of infant abuse and the damage it causes.
These infants learn not only that evil exists, but what it is, and that it is coming to them.
Chapter six 6
The way we combine words in our language gives us a context for their importance in describing our relationships between ourselves and the world around us. We can say, “I am filled with a sense of foreboding.” When we say this, we mean this!
In between episodes of direct physical harm and terror, and infant can, by the age of nine months, begin to connect the actually physical aspects of harm in its mind to a state of mind that remains in constant terror of the impending arrival of the same “monster” who will cause the harm again. Unfortunately, the sense of foreboding runs exactly parallel to any experience of needs that the infant may have. This sense of foreboding is also central because it originates at the exact developmental stage where the infant’s brain begins to utilize its new ability to connect the past to the present, and to connect experience directly to the people that are central to its existence.
We, as living humans, are constantly in need of something, even if it is simply the air we need to breath. As time passes, our awareness of our types of needs, as well as of the intensity of our variety of needs ebbs and flows, as do the needs themselves. To have this fundamental process of living tied directly, deep within the history and core being of a person, to a fundamental sense of foreboding, threat and danger, is devastating. Such a person is chronically, on some level, in a state of duress and distress. They have experienced an ultra-ordinary amount of traumatizing events in connection with their core experience of being alive. The ordinary maxim of “take care of yourself” has, by adulthood, acquired a complexity so far beyond reasonable proportions as to appear next to impossible to achieve.
Contrast this state with the state of most ordinary people who received adequate care giving as infants, and were not terrorized by traumatic relationships with their primary caregivers. They evolved states of mind corresponding to internal states as adults that are of the basic security type. They have hope and trust that their basic needs will be met. The needs themselves, and the process by which they are recognized and experienced within the individual are acceptable and not distress producing – though on occasion there may be states of stress (not the same thing: stress and distress.) The actual experience of seeking fulfillment of these needs is not essentially negative, nor is the fulfillment process itself tied to traumatic experiences. Thus, ordinary people who had the experience of an ordinarily adequate infanthood (and ensuing childhood) experience ordinary needs and their fulfillments in ordinary fashions (albeit some may appear a bit eccentric.)
The internal state of a severely traumatized infant, who is remaining ensconced in a perpetual chronic acute state of peritrauma, is fear of annihilation, terror, pain, and an intense need for and desire to escape the unendurable suffering caused by the conditions of its continuing experience. To have these circumstances directly tied to the caregiver itself creates in the infant a state of unendurable pain that will remain within it as explicit memory and parallel-created brain circuitry and mental modes, representations, and schemas. These states are not passing and temporary. They are fixed and permanent. Just because the infant survives the trauma over time, and grows into an adult body, does nothing to mitigate the reality of this damage.
Because the damage appears to be invisible, we do not consider that it has included the entire developmental process of early brain development, the evolving mind of the infant-into-adult person, and has impacted the very evolutionary developmental process of the self. You can’t get more central than that!
When we see catastrophes on the social and behavior level of our world around us, then we are seeing consequences. Yet by ignoring the facts of infant abuse, we are setting our own stages for disaster. It is only a matter of time. These people are suffering. And the suffering does not go away. The only thing that will change is the form of expression the suffering will eventually take to express itself. And if it eventually impacts us directly, then and only then will we maybe sit up and pay attention. But the promise of infant abuse is that it always hurts. Always.
Psychiatrist Keith Ablow, who wrote the book, “Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson,” explored in detail how the circumstances of Scott’s relationships with his earlier caregivers impacted his mind so that his killing of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, seemed an inevitable consequence. The words Ablow wrote on the last page of his book are important ones:
“The more you look for the truth, the further back you search for it, the more you realize that there is no original evil left in the world. Everyone is just recycling pain.
This work I do, then, is oddly reassuring to me. For there are no monsters that spring, fully grown, onto the planet. There are only vulnerable children, destroyed by those who have been destroyed themselves, made hungry for the blood of others.
Can they be saved? Can they be resurrected, healed?
Can the cycle be broken?
I believe it is possible, but not always, and not with any predictability. I know it requires more empathy from us, not less. I know it requires some raw material to work with – a person in whom the light of life still burns, however dimly. And I know it requires a certain amount of luck – the right moments between the right human beings, whether teacher and student, therapist and patient, husband and wife, or between lovers.
The words of the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke come to mind. I leave you with them:
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives
Are princesses who are only waiting to
See us once beautiful and brave.
Perhaps everything terrible is in
Its deepest being something
That needs our love.”
I agree with Ablow. However, I would be much more specific. It is the damage done to an infant by its primary caregivers during infancy that is most fundamentally harmful. Any chronic and persistent actions to an infant performed upon it by its primary caretakers that the infant HAS to interpret as traumatic affect the development of its brain and mind in such a way as to create unbearable states of being within that person that will usually last the rest of its life. I use the qualifier “usually” in a very limited sense because I do not believe the newest research on brain and mind development that occurs throughout the course of infancy has been given the credence it absolutely MUST have for us to begin to understand the damage done to these people. And without specific knowledge about the nature of the damage we cannot hope to offer any treatments toward truly successful long-range outcomes.
We ought not attempt to perform surgery with a dull rusty hatchet. “Luck” is not what we need. We need knowledge, and we need to take a cold hard look on our own fears and biases. It appears to be extremely difficult for most people to accept the fact that severe abuse happens to babies. Just because it happens behind closed doors does not mean it doesn’t happen. We need to KNOW this fact!
In many cases it may be that the infants who die as a result of direct physical damage to their tiny bodies are the lucky ones. When we hear of those cases we are shocked and appalled. But what about all the rest of those helpless infants that are exposed to the direct trauma of all kinds of abuses we cannot and do not see? Those that remain invisible to us and leave the horror of invisible scars? They are no less real. And it is the life of the living dead that these infants-grown-into-adults are condemned to live, as Ablow notes, that is the biggest crime of all. Because if they didn’t start out that way, they wouldn’t end up that way.
And it is in this regard that I most disagree with another author, Richard Rhodes, who wrote the book, “Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist.” Rhodes won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his earlier book, “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” and states in the prologue to “Why They Kill,”
“I have personal experience of violence, which is why it interests me. For two years, between the ages of ten and twelve, I was subjected to beatings, psychological and physical torture and near starvation at the hands of a stepmother whose amused malevolence substantiated the wicked stepmothers of folklore. When my older brother and I were removed from our abuser’s dark precincts by an enlightened juvenile court and sent to a private boys’ home to recover, I gained thirty pounds in three months. As a result of my extended personal encounter with evil, most of my books have examined human violence in one form or another, always for the purpose of discovering what causes such violence and how it might be prevented, mitigated or at least survived.”
It seems interesting to me that Rhodes does not explain where his father was nor why he did not intervene to protect his sons. I also have to stretch my mind to accept that his two years of abuse constitutes an “extended personal encounter with evil” when my own lasted from the moment of my birth until I left home at age eighteen with no intervention of any kind, ever.
I also wonder about another of Rhodes’ comments when he notes, “It strains common sense to invoke brain damage to explain violent behavior when most people with damaged brains are not violent.” Based upon my own meager forays into a consideration of the same topics, I am left with a different angle to my own conclusion that seems to be more relevant: I suspect that most people who display excessive violent behavior were traumatized during their infanthood, and therefore have brain damage (because our early social experiences form our brain).
This is what we need to consider. Along with the fact that this brain damage was done to helpless infants by the weapon of the kinds of traumatic intimate interactions primary caretakers had with their infants during the early brain developmental stages that created the growing brain itself, along with the mind that grew at the point of intersection between where these experiences interacted with the growing brain – out of which the self emerged. Or not.
Rhodes book, “Why They Kill,” is a detailed presentation of the research of Dr. Lonnie H. Athens. Rhodes discovered the work of Athens during his own investigations into the causes and nature of violent behavior and believed that Athens had discovered “proof” that violent criminals learn to be violent through a stage-development process that, if successfully completed by nearly ANYONE, would lead to their ability to commit violent acts – as well as to the probability that this would be the predicted outcome.
As I eagerly scoured Rhodes book to discover the magic formula that Athens had discovered, I began to question the methodology Athens had used during the extensive in-prison narrative interviewing he had built his theory upon. It appeared logical to me at first that Athens would choose to exclude any prisoner from his studies that he could determine was a liar, a feat he accomplished by comparing prisoner statements to court and police documents.
It eventually became obvious to me what was bothering me about the blanket conclusions both Athens and Rhodes were proposing from this research. While they claimed that the discovery of a four-stage “violentization” process meant that criminals are created through a learning process that enables them to CHOOSE to commit violent criminal acts and that they proceeded through a discernable thinking process that led to their decisions to commit their crimes, and that this therefore proves there is never an insanity case or a crime of passion, something to me was missing. While this does appear to be an accurate observation from the selected group of “truthful” violent criminals Athens interviewed, by excluding, to me suspiciously, the whole category of “untruthful” criminals his findings are not generalizeable to criminal populations as a whole. How could they be?
When I went back over my own thoughts, I realized that Athens had excluded from his extensive research the one group of people that could have told him the TRUTH about violence. It was a truth that Athens did not want to know, and neither, evidently, did Rhodes. The liars are telling the truth about their lives as they know it by their very act of lying. But Athens and Rhodes would have had to turn to another field of study to have been able to see their own biases because without it they could not make sense of their own process or findings if they had included the liars.
They would have needed to turn to the field of Attachment Studies to locate the facts they needed to use to consider the whole picture. But, unfortunately, despite the hard work and dedicated efforts of Athens, as described so painstakingly by Rhodes, it is too late. Had Athens accumulated the narrative reports of the liars equally along with those of the criminals who told the truth, there would be a great body of information others could return to for their studies.
That the truth-tellers are among the liars, and that the liars are telling the truth is in the world of paradoxes. Because that is where these people live. It is where they originated. In attachment research, the phenomena is known in part as the telling of “incoherent narratives.” It is exactly the kind of story attachment theorists thrive on, and have assessment tools to measure. (For the most part, if we leave out the “cannot classify” category, which we will return to later).
When the field of criminology joins that of the attachment researchers, and they participate in their research using a broader and more accurate framework of consideration, we can truly begin to make some serious progress in understanding how violent criminals are made, and why they do what they do. It’s the world where “violence is as violence does” makes a whole lot more sense to those who truly know what to look for, and what they are looking at.
Chapter seven 7
If we truly begin to look at the intergenerational transmission of trauma, if we truly begin to find where and when and how all the pain in the world that Ablow writes about is being continually recycled among us, then we will begin to find that we don’t have the tools to do the job in place yet.
Attachment theorists and neurobiologists have at their fingertips a wealth of findings and facts. More so than ever before they are beginning to see links and patterns between early attachment relationships and how the brain develops itself from an infant’s interactions with these people. But we need to be more courageous. We need to be willing to stretch our minds and to stretch our theories. We need to make room for an in-depth investigation into the areas that have remained to this day primarily taboo.
Incest is taboo in almost every culture where human societies have been studied. We abhor sexual abuse to any child, and find it almost unthinkable, even to the point of not being able to THINK about such actions, in our own minds. But it happens. And when I read Siegel’s writings about how early relationships shape the brain and mind, and read about his descriptions of the adult attachment relationships defined through careful application of the tool of the Adult Attachment Interview and analysis of the findings from its use, I know inside that something is missing. I know because I have experienced it.
For example, as with the Preoccupied Adult Attachment category — if the conclusions he describes in his book, TDM, are stretched in every possible direction as far as they can go, I can find my mother’s psychotic behavior toward me contained within this category’s parameters. But I have to stretch. Really stretch. I have to leave off the last half of many of his sentences as I find that the first half of many of them apply, but not the latter halves. Not the conclusions he draws from what he is describing.
Because his descriptions fit primarily “ordinary” experience that an ambivalently attached child would have with a preoccupied parent. But I believe in my case, and in my mother’s case, as could be found in many cases if we look deeper, the intergenerational transmission of the defects of the preoccupied attachment style have altered their course. If these categories truly reflect the discovery of patterns of parenting among humans, at least in our culture, then the patterns themselves have a life of their own and can evolve. Just like humans do.
No researcher truly owns the information they gather through the application of their tools, through the accumulation of “facts” that they gather. Subjects may sign releases of information and turn their stories over to the experts, but the stories are not a part of the researcher’s lives. And if there is some sort of professional obligation that these researchers are using their talents and findings for the betterment of the larger society, then they have an obligation to be open and able to listen to how their research applies to us. Those of us who live in the “larger picture” of the social regions they are studying and applying their findings to.
Most of the time their findings fit. That fact, ultimately, is what gives researchers credence among their professional peers. It is what allows their names to be repeated throughout their academic and clinical peer groups. But for the rest of us, the “general public,” picking at the carcasses of vast research findings as we try to feed ourselves on their theories so that we can understand and heal ourselves – those of us who cannot afford to attend expensive therapy sessions because we have been so affected by the traumas in our early lives that we are lucky to be barely holding on to any kind of a job, let alone one that pays good insurance – we are left trying to explore regions of study that have the answers we need through our own very limited lenses, our own uneducated filters. And when we cannot understand the professional’s thick weighty dense books, we feel we are to blame.
I also find that when these same researchers, such as Jon Allen and David Siegel do try hard to translate what they know into language the lay public can understand, they are 1) writing to college educated lay people and 2) leave out what I feel is some of the most important information. This happens because they are targeting what seems to them to be the “general public.” What needs to be understood on the professional level is that we, the general public, need these writers to translate for us some of the most important information that will truly help us.
Those of us that have been most traumatized need to understand what happened to us as infants. We need to be told EXACTLY and SPECIFICALLY what happened when during what stages of our brain’s development so that WE can ourselves determine if we can heal it. And in order for this to happen the researchers themselves, in my opinion, need to be willing and able to read between their own lines. Because there are millions of us out here who do not fit the categories of attachment, for example, that they have gone to such lengths to define and describe. And while simply leaving us out of their research, as Athens conveniently did the liars when he did his research, is not truly helpful to anyone.
The parameters of human life are not tidy. To only investigate, consider, and write classifications and define categories for the tidy people is to limit the discovery of what is truly at the bottom of the troubles of our culture. Because it is within the “cannot classify” categories that you will find those people that have fallen through all of the cracks. The categories that the “messy” people’s lives and stories are left with may be convenient for outsiders to use to consider them – the homeless, the unemployed, the mentally ill, the criminals, the pedophiles, the monsters – but in the end nobody is being helped by professionals’ refusals to consider the bigger picture of how our society operates.
People commonly say, “If it works, don’t fix it.” Our society seems from the outside to be holding itself together. That may be true, if we don’t look very far and we don’t look very deeply. It’s true if we continue to apply our biases to our own thinking and to our professional explorations. It can be true as long as we continue to use our stereotypes and allow our opinions and assumptions and beliefs to remain unchallenged by anyone, certainly not challenged by ourselves.
When I was doing my undergraduate studies in psychology in the late 1970s, I believed what the professors were telling me. I accidentally discovered the writings of Thomas Statz toward the end of my coursework, whose thoughts stretched outside the mainstream of thinking on the mentally ill. Soon afterward our society deinstitutionalized the mentally “insane,” and we were proud of ourselves that we had done a good deed by dumping them out on the streets.
Now we can look down our noses at the street people and the homeless. And separately we can wonder about the increases in number of these “categories,” and never make a connection in our own minds between the empty mental hospitals and the swelling populations in our prisons and homeless shelters.
We have a caste system in our country. It exists whether or not we want to accept that reality. Clinicians can talk about the scapegoating that goes on in “dysfunctional” families. It’s an ancient practice. In ancient times, a scapegoat was called a “pharmacos.” In many cultures, once a year the pharmacos was killed by citizens who thought that if everything bad that had happened to them in the span of a year was blamed on this pharmacos, and the pharmacos was killed, that meant they could rest more easily believing that they had done away with the cause, if not the source of, their troubles.
It’s not hard to see how the roots of this word and of this concept evolved into today’s reliance on the field of pharmacology to solve our worst ills. Take this pill or that one, make someone very rich in the process, and “things” will be better. YOU will be better. None of us will have quite so much to worry about.
The roots of the word to THINK in the English language are tied to the roots of the word to THANK. Originally, the mental concept of being able to distinguish the good from the bad so that we could have a sense of gratitude for what made us thrive as distinguished from what didn’t was connected directly to the ability to discern the difference.
But what I found truly fascinating is that going further back in the root concepts of both of these words is that they are connected to knowing the difference between was was CHASTE, meaning pure, and what wasn’t. The word original meanings of the word chaste is tied to the roots of the word CASTE. When we make a distinction between what is pure and what is not on a SOCIAL level, we create the reality of a caste system among us.
And ultimately we allow to sift through the cracks to the lowest levels of our caste system that which we don’t understand and what we don’t understand we decide is bad and impure. It is that thinking and that distinction which makes us feel threatened and unsafe. “What is there to fear but fear itself?” We are afraid of what we don’t understand. Ignorance makes us cowards, and cowards keep us ignorant.
Chapter eight 8
Individually and collectively, we don’t place a value, and therefore not a meaning, to things we remain ignorant of. To use this simple cliché, when people thought the world was flat they placed no value on a round one. Before the invention of the automobile, we placed no importance and we assigned no value to owning one. Yet in our current world, owning an automobile is accepted as necessary by most of our populace. Once we were fine with not owning a telephone, or a computer. Times have changed. We can say, “It’s only a matter of time before….” And fill in the blank. But while we are quick to adapt to and adopt technological advances, we prefer for the most part, to keep our ignorance intact about our own selves.
What are we, truly, as human beings? What makes us human? What made us different from all the other mammals on our beautiful planet? On the larger level, we don’t have to know when or how it happened, we just know we are human because we contain the most marvelous structure, manmade or natural, on this planet. Our brains.
But most of us have a better idea, even if primitively so, of how our refrigerators or computers or toilets operate than we do about this essential organ contained within us that makes us who we are. We are taught as very little children to identify the visible aspects of our being. That which we can see and touch. Our fingers and toes, our eyes and nose, our arms and legs and bellies. We know the names of these appendages, of these part of our bodies. But just as nobody tells us that twenty percent of our taste buds are situated on the roof of our mouths, nobody considers it important that we learn about our brains.
Perhaps it was some sort of conspiracy that led to the fact that we can SAY and REMEMBER the external parts of our bodies. And even some of the important inner ones such as our stomach and our lungs and our heart and our kidneys. But the realm of our brain must always have been the domain of the higher educated classes, because not only are we not taught about the structure of our brain, we can’t even say, let alone remember, the different regions it is comprised of. The conspiracy guaranteed that the names those regions are given are not even in English. And everyone knows that to be an American means that you have to speak English.
So maybe there is something un-American about our brains! Like it was in the McCarthy error, I mean era, when speaking about anything that could be possibly construed to be “communist” got us into a whole lot of trouble. Speaking about the brain is taboo and might be unconstitutional! Far be it from us to talk about our brains like we know anything about them! We could be labeled educated! We would be cast into a caste separate from our ordinary peers if we were so presumptuous as to suggest that we actually have important information that we KNOW is only reserved for the chosen few!
But we are NOT in the Dark Ages. We are not even in the Middle Ages. We are supposedly citizens of the Enlightened Era! There are always those that “push the envelope.” Those that move out on ahead of the flock to cut the wind for the rest of us. Those are the people who discover things and invent things. We rely on those people to tell us what is what, to discern what is important for us to know and what is not. Then we assign the job of translating the “unknowable” into our language so that we can understand the difference. That level in our devised working order caste system is in the realm of educators. The furrow in the field is plowed before us, and all we have to do is march along behind them.
But what if THEY can’t or won’t see the whole picture? Who are we supposed to turn to and what are we supposed to do? Well, it could be as simple as using our brains! Because while it wasn’t the fault of our individual brains that humans didn’t know the world was round, didn’t know automobiles could carry us far distances, didn’t know computers could link us instantly with the far reaches of our planet. But when we GOT the information our individual brains certainly were capable of making adjustments to allow for these new concepts to become of practical use to us.
But what I am suggesting here is that it is not some complicated new invention that needs to be passed down to the swarming ranks of ordinary people that we need now. What we need now is to learn about the new information the specialists at the top have discovered about the development, structure and capacities of the primary organ that makes us people in the first place – our brain! Because what the specialists now know is that our brain is built upon something so simple that we can now apply their knowledge to our everyday lives.
What builds our brain is the interactional experiences we have with all the people around us from the moment we are born. There is nothing mysterious about that. We all KNOW about relationships. Human brains evolved first of all through social relationships with primary caregivers from birth in such a way that people are supposed to be able to get along with one another. It is from those first interactions that the brain constructs all of its architectural features, and determines their functions. From that basic beginning, the brain makes all its other complex connections that allow us to think about anything and everything possible from that point on. What we need to NOW understand is the HOW of how this happens.
And what is most important for us to understand is that the new information available to us from the experts explains exactly how these interactions with our early primary caregivers either makes us or breaks us. It is in this arena, I believe, that the demystification of the distinctions we make between the “haves and the have nots” will become most obvious.
We will understand Ablow’s words, that monsters are not born that way, “we” make them. Our stubborn ignorance makes them. Our continued refusal to consider the facts about what makes a brain and what damages one is costing us a fortune. It is costing many among us the good fortune of having adequate care giving from birth (and before) that will allow their brains to be built in the proper way. For it is not only adequate physical care and nutrition that is necessary to build a healthy brain. It is the quality of the early interactional relationships that an individual has in its first environment, during the time when the brain is growing at an astronomical rate, that interact with genetic material to form the PERSON that we will find among us in our lives.
We must not ignore this new information. We must not choose to remain ignorant of the basic facts of brain development. We must not continue to treat ourselves and each other as if we were surgeons quite capable of performing delicate brain surgery with our rusty dull hatchets. The truth and the facts are available to us. We must find them, and apply them. Ignorance is NOT bliss. Believe me!
Chapter nine 9
It’s been told to me that I can’t truly be a wild child because I learned language. I know how to talk. Considering all the severe deprivations of my childhood, including the moments, days, weeks, months and years from infant to 18 – I’m not sure how I learned to speak. I didn’t wake one morning knowing words and how to use them.
But because I have yet to imagine any loving interchange or exchange that could possibly have happened between me and my deeply disturbed mother, I have to ask the question.
Is hatred truly hatred if the source of it cannot be determined? I can say, “My mother hated me.” But that would presuppose that my mother had a self, let alone one capable of intent. One that could choose to hate me. It would presuppose that she could ever acknowledge that I was, indeed, a self, separate from her. As simple and basic and essential as a rational mind might view the scenes of my childhood, no such logical assumptions can truly be made.
If my mother didn’t herself know she had a self, then she didn’t have one. If she didn’t know that, then how did she know from the instant she gave birth to me that I was a separate self from her? She didn’t know. And because throughout the whole evolutionary process of becoming humans it has always been the job of mothers to care for the newborns, and through their interactions with their offspring make sure their bodies survived – and at the same time through their interactions with their newborns actually BUILD the 5/6ths of the human brain that grows and develops from birth to 18 months, if my mother didn’t recognize that SHE was a self, or that I was a SELF or that I was separate from the non-self that she didn’t possess – me being a non-self extension of the non-self she possessed – then man oh man, what a mess was a’brewin’!
And my brain formed during that messy time. No doubt the conditions surrounding the early months of my life indeed reflected a primordial ooze environment only a few could begin to imagine a mother with a self teaches an infant through her interactions with it that they are a self, and through an ongoing early process that the self of the child not only exists, but is a separate entity different from the mother. Separate from her.
All the rage and frustrations and hopelessness,confusion, pain, anguaish and hatred that my mother DID possess is what she gave to me. She did not give me my self.
A mother cannont give her infant a self if she doesn’t have one of her own.
We were left swimming for our lives in a mental and psychological primordial ooze so vast there were no shores. We were both in a desperate embrace for survival, each trying to get to the surface for a gasp of air. And without hope, help or intervention the bigger of two drowning victims will always win.
So psychologically I was dead before I was ever born. Even though I was expelled from my mother’s womb she could not let me take a breath of my own. I was no longer an unborn, I was a non-born. As Ablow said about Scott Peterson – “life always equals death.” Her non-self claimed my non-self as its own.
Writing this chills me. Even though I sit in a chair in the dappled sunlight of a clear skied warm July day. Mostly I am terrified of having to return in my mind to such a beginning. My body was separate from my mother’s the instant our umbilical cord was cut. No longer was there the intimacy of a shared warmth between us. A shared heart beat. Or the sharing of air and sustenance.
I was out in the world, absolutely alone. My mother wasn’t even there to hold me. Not even for a first time. She had become terrified during her labor with me that the devil had sent me to kill her. I was a breach birth and we both barely survived (to hear her tell it the rest of my childhood, that I was born backward and was backward ever since).
The material fact that we both did survive that birth both mattered and didn’t matter for the rest of our lives. There had been a “tipping point” during her labor process, and once that point was crossed there was no turning back. Nothng could be reversed. Nothing could be changed. As with everything else in this lifetime, once something happens, it is done.
She was done being the Mildred Ann Cahill Lloyd she had always been up to that moment. If, in fact, the devil sent me to killher while she birthed me as she believed, then the act of murder was indeed committed though I was not the one to blame. Even though she held me responsible and accountable for it the rest of her life.
The old Mildred was dead. Not the first instance a baby was born to a dead mother. Certainly not the last. What was truly unique about our birth was that nobody knew she was dead! Her hear was still beating. She had a pulse. Her body was still warm. Her eyes would open and shut as would her mouth. Nobody realized what had happened. Nobody recognized the fact that this body of a woman named Mildred was not the same person whe had been when her labor began.
And it is only because I feel driven to tell you this story that I can see at this instant, as I write these words, that my real mother truly died before I was born. And that the one I was literally left here on earth which was an imposter. What self there had been of my mother prior to the tipping point, prior to my birth into this world, was gone gone gone. The woman who was left behind to raise me was a nobody.
Yes she DID have a body, as I now did. But the essence of who my mother was, who she had been – or tried to be – or thought she was – had vanished like a vapor on a high desert summer’s day. POOF!! (Not even a mirage was left behind).
What was left in that body was a monster. And the experience of my birth, the actual stages we went through to deliver me including not only the physical stages of labor but also how they were handled (probably) by the attending birthing professionals, created this story.
Included on the stage would have to be all the phantom people (as Athens puts it) from her past. Those she might have remembered along with those she’d never met. Her ancestors who had passed all their anguish and trauma right on down the line first to her. And then to me.
Through all the trauma and drama of my birth, I was given all the trauma, of my life.
Several days after my entrance into this world a handsome young man named William Dennison Lloyd would retrieve his beautiful wife, Milred – and claim the prize of his healthy, beautiful new daughter, Linda Anne, from the Queen of Angels hospital in downtown Los Angeles. My mother would have held me in her arms. Maybe. What was the choice?
No doubt everything looked shiny. Mildred’s mother, Beatrice Ann would come to the house I was brought to bringing along my 14 month old brother, John.
Car seats weren’t invented then – unless she laid me on pretty pink blankets on the back seat of the car. Perhaps the four of them Oohed and Ahhd over me for a few minutes before I was laid alone in my crib. Or perhaps in the bunny cradle my father had made for my brother. The larger than life rabbits cut and shaped out of plywood and carefully painted with bright nursery colors stood at each end holding the rockable cradle box between them.
Did John sleep in a crib by then? Or was he “a big boy, now” and sleep in his own “big boy” bed? If so, then was I placed in the crib, my mother already deciding I didn’t deserve to be allowed to sleep in the precious bunny cradle her precious husband had made for their precious son?
What I do know is that she didn’t nurse me. She’d bottle fed my brother by the Dr. Spock rules of the early 50s. A regular feeding schedule held to with clockwork precision. “Never pick that baby up when it cries. You will ruin it” rules.
I also know my mother was a bottle proper. A skill she no doubt especially perfected practicing it on me. And of course I had to sleep a lot. “Babies need to sleep so they can grow. They need tip-toe silence around them. And if they don’t cry, don’t pick them up. Don’t bother them. “Nobody bother the baby. She’s sleeping..”
Brother, don’t bother the baby. Father, don’t bother the baby. After all you’ve had a hard day’s work at the office and you need time to unwind and relax. Grandmother, how nice to see you. I’m so glad you came for a visit. I’m sorry you can’t hold Linda right now. I just got her to sleep for her nap. Maybe next time.
What was unspoken between the lines was, “I’ll parade her out on the holidays for you to see her. Be patient. Thanksgiving is coming. And after that, Christmas.
One thought on “*Ambivalent Attachment”
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