Denial of Experience

by Sibt e Hasan

Why do people listen to orators spell bound and perpetrate violence in the name of his/her political agenda? Why people are compelled to kill their personal acquaintances (living together for years) in the name of ideology based upon the stories of war heroes from past? Why do people try to prove that they are the Chosen People on the basis of a fictive past? Under the influence of such fiction, why do people metamorphose living human beings of flesh into abstraction or statistical units? They think that human beings in abstraction and statistical units do not have blood and do not feel pain; therefore, they can be killed without any mercy and remorse rather this persecution should be done as ‘sacred’ duty. Through abstraction, ‘strangers’ are created. ‘Strangers’ do not belong to your family, community, religion, ethnic group, nationality or country.

Therefore, they are enemies and should be eliminated. To kill ‘enemies,’ a spectacle of death is staged by hanging them publicly, blowing them together, burying whole body in ground and chopping their heads and killing ordinary citizens by (suicide) bomb blasts. Stoning and then burning people for frivolous allegations. This spectacle terrorises the strangers and reinforces obedience in the followers. Why do people aggrandize their false selves by moral policing?

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Traditionally, for thousands of years, parents find creativity embodied in a child as a challenge for the elders. Instead of identifying and grooming creativity, they destroy it. Elders consider children as a resource for their successes in this world and also in hereafter. They do not realize that children have any will or wish of their own. That is why they are led by their elders. Elders think that ultimately this is in the interest of children. This is the reason that children are led by nose to follow a prescribed agenda. Only in recent fifty years or so, researches are being undertaken regarding child’s world to understand child’s potential and the impact of child rearing upon society. These researches reveal that a child is an independent being having the potential of unlimited creativity instead of a resource for the well-being of parents or raw-material for any ideological venture. Child is not a visiting card to represent his/her parents, child can have his/her own feelings, love, jealousy, grief and anger etc.

Is the trans-generational process of ‘being victim to becoming a perpetrator’ a historical predisposition or is it perpetuated through cultural, juridical and ideological canons? Alice Miller has answered this question. She says that we are being abused as children because our parents had experienced similar kind of abuse in their childhood. They were unable to recognize the abuse as such and passed it on to us, without the trace of any regret or bad conscience.

Alice Miller (1923-2010) was a distinguished Swiss psychologist who is known for the books she wrote on the subject of parental child abuse. She published her best-selling book – The Drama of the Gifted Child – which is about the children who suffer permanent trauma at the hands of their parents. According to Alice, spankings, beatings, humiliation, neglect, betrayal and sexual exploitation are different forms of mistreatment as they injure the integrity and dignity of the children. Alice analyzed the lives of different writers to find a link between the traumas of their childhood and the course of their lifework. She believed that feelings of repression and regression have a major impact on the personality, and these feelings are mostly traced back to childhood experiences. In her book, The Body Never Lies, she investigates the long range consequences of childhood abuse on the adult body. She explores various known and unknown traumas that can haunt person during his/her childhood.

Miller’s book, For Your Own Good, is her the most thorough explanation of the nature and effects of poisonous pedagogy. In this book, Miller proposed that young Adolf Hitler had traumatic experiences during his childhood in the form of beatings and verbal abuse by his father. This had a major impact on his personality. Her book, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child was published in 1981, and it focused on the social impact of abuse on child’s life. This book demonstrates that it is we who are to blame for anything shameful happens to us.

According to Alice Miller the cruel reality is that the parents need something from the child and that something is affirmation of them. For example, a mother who had received little attention from her mother might expect her daughter to never desert her and keep her in the centre of attention. Through sentimental love, mother would enslave her daughter and coerce her to fulfil her repressed desires. Apparently, mother expresses her unconditional love for daughter but in reality she is using her daughter for her selfish (though) unconscious desires. Daughter, being obedient to her mother, would abide by what is expected from her without raising any question. As she does not have any other option to escape this coercion, she would develop a false self. In this situation of oppression, daughter would not be able to grow with her original self. She does not want to lose the love of her mother and therefore suppress her anger, frustrations, joys and even sadness.

Alice Miller claims that every judgement on what a child does comes from the adults’ own needs and their own expectations. This happens without giving any thought to what is happening in the child. This may also be surmised that through this treatment examples are set. Children develop their selves not how they are moralised through verbosity but the way they are treated. As in the case of the relationship between daughter and mother, the mother through her very behaviour sets a practical example for her daughter. The daughter internalises these behaviour traits and will later on make her into a ‘perpetrator’ who will make new victims. In this situation rewarding and punishing are used as tools and hence both, in essence are no different from each other.

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Children with their impressionable minds try to explore various shades of feelings. They naturally experience feelings of love, jealousy, hatred, empathy, anger, dislike and compassion etc. but they cannot label or categorize them. Moreover, they cannot realize social meanings and effects of their feelings. Generally, parents do not encourage children to talk about their feelings and emotions. They do not give any importance to such delicate expressions as they themselves had not been sensitized about their emotions and feelings in their childhood by their parents. Emotional life is restricted to two modes: one for the persons in the commanding position like father in home, teacher in school and boss in an office. Other mode belongs to the persons placed as captives i.e. children and mother at home, students in school and subordinates in an office.

People in the commanding position have the exclusive right to show their anger, hate, disgust and paternal feelings of control. However, captives are not allowed to express these feelings. They can express only such feelings which show their helplessness and dependence on the person in command, i.e. feelings of shame, confusion, helplessness and melancholy. If the captives try to show their anger or other feelings, they would be punished for being disobedient and rebellious. Even a gaze of anger on the perpetrator would not be tolerated.

According to Bradshaw, feelings themselves are not good or bad; they are there and need to be expressed. They express an inner experience and this in itself is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. Denial of the feelings of a young child is equivalent to robbing of him/her self. The result is that in order to survive, a child constructs a masked self. Behind this mask, he/she is more concerned about how he/she comes over to others than what is happening inside him/her. He/she is mostly cut off from inner feelings and turns to the outside. In this psychic atmosphere, he/she acts out rather ‘living through’ what is happening to him/her.

John Bradshaw (1933–2016) extended the works of Alice Miller by exposing the secret spots of poisonous pedagogy. He writes in his book ‘Healing the Shame that Binds You’ that the job of parents is to model. Modelling includes how to be a man or a woman; how to relate intimately to another person; how to acknowledge and express emotions; how to fight fairly; how to have physical, emotional and intellectual boundaries; how to communicate; how to cope and survive life’s unending problems; how to be self-disciplined; and how to love oneself and another. Shame-based parents cannot do any of these. He further explains in the same book: “Emotions are a form of energy in motion. They signal us of a loss, a threat or a satiation. Sadness is about losing something we cherish. Anger and fear are signal of actual or impending threats to our well-being. Joy signals that we are fulfilled and satisfied. Since shame-based parents are shame bound in all their emotions, they cannot tolerate their children’s emotions. They have been shamed by their parents whenever they tried to show their intimate emotions. They shame their children’s emotions. When their emotions are shamed, children numb out, so they stop feeling their emotions anymore. In his work, he endeavoured to create new meanings of life. He says that giving and receiving unconditional love is the most effective and powerful way to personal wholeness and happiness.

By discussing, parents can help children understand and rationalise their feelings. For example, in early years of their life, children feel jealous about fellow friends. If this feeling is rationalised and child is told to take it as something normal, then socially negative feelings and their affects would not happen and they both would remain friends. If parents straightway reprimand the child and moralize on just having and then showing this feeling, then the child would never be able to rationalize it. He /she would continue having such feelings naturally but would not express them directly. Alice Miller sums up this situation in these words, “Charitable feelings do not grow easily in the soil that has been dried out by early disciplining. Still, the possibility remains of ‘charitable feelings’ based on duty and obedience, in other words, another case of hypocrisy.”

With the sexual awakening during teen-years, adolescents are attracted towards the opposite sexes. They court each other with romantic resolutions. Emotionally these are the tempestuous times and children do not understand what is happening to them. In conservative families, children are strictly prohibited to even come across the opposite sex. This becomes an issue of honour for them and trespassing this line can prove even fatal to the children. Here, children are deprived of the most important experience of their life. Experience of love teaches to surrender before the others. Love as a vital and unparalleled lifelong experience of emotions creates serenity and depth in one’s personality. It teaches an attitude of waiting and patience. This creates an attitude of empathy. Empathy is the essence of humanity and differentiates him/her from animals. Love is not egoistic affair, it attaches one with the others, hence, develop a sense of mutuality in life. Furthermore, in case of love for opposite sex, it provides an opportunity to understand other sex. In some cases, especially of liberal families, children confuse sexuality with love and therefore after consummation, they lose attraction for each other. In either case, children are deprived of true feelings and they develop a masked or false identity. False self is acceptable as a social norm and hence, culminates into a (false) culture.

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Winnicott, the British psychologist says that the potential space between baby and mother, between child and family, between individual and society or the world depends on experience that leads to trust. A child develops his/her intellectual understanding of his/her world by recalling memories of care, making his/her needs known and how and by whom care is delivered. In the act of care, a child not only develops her/his separate identity but also its relation with the people and world around. Exclusive attention and identification of specific needs are the basic necessities for taking care of any person. Abused or neglected children try to create dramatic situations to get the attention or care of people around. If a child is surrounded by an insecure atmosphere, he/she would live a reactive life instead of being part of it. Under these conditions a child does not learn to trust and therefore, can only create safety for him/herself through the development of a defensive false self. This child, if grows up with the same sense of defensive self, he/she would always live with a perception of being with enemies all around him/herself.

Children love the pleasures of the senses but they are restrained to experience such feelings like playing with sand or clay etc. Children can easily mould these materials. This experience of plasticity opens the door of creativity. Whatever shapes they make, they proudly present them to others. Also, this experience gives them a sense that they can manipulate materials and transform shapeless materials into various shapes, and above all with the feeling that they have made it. Psychologists think that children having this kind of experience with materials or playing with toys do not have to prove that they can make a dent by adopting violence in their later life. Generally, parents do not allow their children to play with sand or clay fearing that children would spoil their clothes. Such children possibly do not get the experience of creativity. Later, they might undertake sadistic activities and take pleasure by inflicting pain to others. By doing such activities, they feel satisfied that it is they who have done this. Instead of using creative or friendly ways they strive to draw attention of others by obstructing normalcy.

Winnicott has given a valuable insight into the unique world of a young child. He explains that a young child by taking possession of a small piece of colourful cloth (Patoley in Punjabi) feels as if he/she has created his/her own world separate from the bigger world of others around them. Similarly, a used bottle, nut-bolt, cigarette / match boxes etc. or anything used can become a toy for a child. These things have the magical exclusiveness of child’s world. The same type of magical feeling applies on possessing a car, house or furniture etc. by an adult. A piece of cloth or glass beads does not have any utility for a child as such rather something more pleasurable.

These possessions become the extension of their selves and therefore attain the status of ultra-objects. That is why, children seriously mind even feel crushed when these possessions are taken away or stolen. Similarly, possessing a car or any gadget represents something more magical for an owner than their use-value. By possessing a commodity, an individual creates his exclusive presence in the chaotic world of consumerism. A child’s possession only matters to him/her. His/her act is subjective and stimulus is also intrinsic. This is rooted in the child’s urge to relate with the world but at the same time creating his/her own world in it. In case of an adult, stimulus is extrinsic but his/her exclusiveness is looked after by the consumer culture in the shape of ‘style’. Style is subjective but promotes trans-individual consumerism.

Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) developed several theories and concepts that helped shape the way in which psychoanalysis is practiced today. Winnicott and his wife used the term “holding” to refer to the supportive environment that a therapist creates for a client. The concept can be likened to the nurturing and caring behaviour a mother engages in with her child that results in a sense of trust and safety. Winnicott believed that this “holding environment” was critical to the therapeutic environment and could be created through the therapist’s direct engagement with a client. Winnicott also believed that antisocial behaviours developed from a person’s having been deprived of a holding environment in childhood and from feelings of insecurity. Winnicott developed the concept of the transitional object. Transitional objects include items like security blankets, special dolls or toys, and other sentimental items. A transitional object can help a child feel safe and secure. Transitional objects typically spring up during childhood as children begin the process of individuation, or differentiation of self from others.

Winnicott’s conception of the true and false selves is connected to his views on play. He believed that the false self was a mannerly, orderly, external self that enabled a person to fit into society. The true self, however, is the only self, capable of creativity, and play helps a person develop this true self. He thought that play was an important path by which one could gain awareness into their authentic emotional selves. He encouraged play through creative outlets, such as art, sports, or movement.

Generally, parents do not like their children playing with trash. In fact, they do not understand children’s world. They believe that children are always stupid. Children’s choice of activities does have some psychological stimulus but this is not taken worth heeding. If children are allowed to carve out their world by playing with trash, they can overcome the drive for acquisition. If prohibited, they might hanker after acquisition of things and people. Such people lose the capacity to create relations based upon love. They live in ‘having’ mode of life rather living in ‘being’ mode according to Erich Fromm. This is another example of falsehood.

Every child has the potentialities to become a great professional and a true human being provided he/she is offered opportunities to develop them by exploring the world outside and inside them. To be honest, traditional parenthood and its ways cannot help in such upbringing. Parents may qualify biologically bringing a child in this world and this does not require authentic learning. In this process, it is the nature which works. However, nurturing a child essentially requires authentic and exclusive understanding and which cannot sufficiently be acquired through traditional knowledge. In this sense, majority of parents do not even qualify to have children under their influence. To stop the transgenerational perpetuation of child abuse, it is imperative to understand the world of a child.

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