Friday, November 17, 2006

Home for the Holidays

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred, a psychiatrist, is doing a three-part series about home. They are all worthy reads. (Part III is coming.)

He talks about the phenomenon of removing material things (going camping as a family) to reveal what really matters--the haven we create together, that forms family.

Here is Part 1. How does our perspective on home shape our life?

It is from home that our most important life decisions are made. It is home that shaped many of our beliefs and attitudes, our awareness and self esteem, that feeling of worth- and in a healthy individual, that motivator to give to others. It is from our homes and families that we learn to share, to cope, to play and to forgive. We learn to be comfortable with ourselves. Most importantly, in a healthy home, we learn to laugh and be happy.
Or not.
Not everyone is so fortunate. Some people are so detached and resigned- they have no concept of what a healthy home really is. They believe that every home is like their own- broken, dysfunctional and abusive. They believe that the idea of a happy home is veneer thin, with everyone playing a role in what they know to be a farce. Beneath the surface, they believe, is the same living hell they have endured- every time they go home, history repeats itself. The fights, the anger, the humiliation, all replayed in an endless loop.
Part II:
What happens when a child has no home to go home to?

When a person grows up in an environment that is lacking in nurture, love and safety, they are in fact, incapable and lacking in the coping mechanisms they need to compensate for what was stolen from them. When a child does not experience the comfort of some cradling him or her, or someone who says, 'I'm glad you're here,' or 'I want you next to me,' that child will never cultivate the self esteem needed to go out and make a go of it. In fact, often, an unhealthy narcissism replaces that self esteem (see Dr Sanity , Neo-neocon and Shrinkwrapped for further discussion), something in no short supply nowadays.

To escape the inevitable narcissism, and I say inevitable, because a child with no anchor wonders eternally "why me"? Am I unlovable? Since my parent couldn't possibly be wrong, it must be me. So this person goes through life trying to figure out the reason, trying to prove mom and dad wrong. I AM lovable! Demanding the impossible from lovers and friends, this person must find a way to transcend the loss and only soul-searching and God-searching can do this. Otherwise, the narcissism becomes hopelessly fixed in the person's character. It will forever be "all about me" to make up for the fact that "it was never about me".

The consequences of this narcissism are exactly what the deprived child-cum-adult does not intend. Over and over, this person will be literally or figuratively abandoned because healthy people realize the impossible task eventually--to fulfill the adult-child's unmet childhood family needs. So the narcissist drives people away, proving, once again, that mom and dad were right after all--I am unlovable.

Ultimately, growing up depends on the adult child recognizing his or her parents for the fallible humans they are, that they were wrong, and that seeking validation externally won't work. If the adult child makes this difficult journey, he then must decide how to he wants to live his life now. He has no blue-print. He knows he doesn't want to do what his parents did to him, but what and how does he do for his children and family?

If a person from a dysfunctional background does not make this journey, the results will be as destructive in his own family. Unconsciously, or semi-consciously, he will make the same decisions, as if on auto-pilot and hate himself every minute, but feel helpless to stop it.

There are ways to turn this ship around:
  1. Trial and error: I remember spanking my first son and his horrified reaction, and feeling absolutely sick at myself. Not that I'm entirely against spanking, mind you, but for my autistic son (we didn't have a diagnosis yet) it was absolutely a disaster. That did not work, so I started reading about positive reinforcement--which did work.
  2. Re-education: What do "experts" say about family? I'm not a huge Dr. Phil fan, but his book on family is actually very good. Personally, I went and read Skinner, Lovaas, Maslow, Jung, etc. I also read Dr. James Dobson.
  3. Training: A good therapist, life coach, church Bible-study group, you name it, there are parenting classes and courses. The best ones challenge beliefs. I've seen people throw everything from their parents out in a fit of rebellion. They don't realize that they're still operating in their parent's context. True healing is recognizing the good, retaining it, and recognizing and letting go of the bad.
Starting your own family, creating your own traditions can be very satisfying. Like Siggy says:
Why we envy the mythical Bob Cratchit is because the values of a real home and the comforts that real home brings, are eternal. There is no later or newer model, no 'next generation.' In fact, what is real home and comfort becomes even more valuable with the passage of time- our lives, our experiences all add texture and meaning to 'home.' Those that have been fortunate enough to have had that can attest to it. Those that have not been so blessed, see it clearly- like the cancer patient who sees the healthy person. That person understands more than most, the value of the gift of health.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is very, very good and it has been long realized even in my life. But you already know that. Thank you for this post! I know healing is possible...somehow.