Common Reactions to The Topic of Childhood Trauma

Parental Responsibility and Nature vs Nurture 
or
Common Reactions to The Topic of Childhood Trauma

Nature vs Nurture
Yesterday I wrote an article “It’s Not The Child’s Fault”, and although the ideas in it are not new, it created some controversy, as expected. Even though the reactions mostly were positive, some people got emotionally triggered and replied negatively. The negative reactions were pretty much the same as I’ve seen them many times in relation to articles and videos on the subject of child abuse and childhood trauma: “parents did the best they could,” “it’s nature, not nurture,” “so you’re saying that ALL diseases and disorders are developed because of child abuse?”, straw-man, projection, acting out, no curiosity, etc. I’ve seen the same thing posted in relation to the material of Alice Miller, Stefan Molyneux, Daniel Mackler, Gabor Maté, Peter Gerlach, Lloyd deMause, my own, etc.

So, in this post I’ll try to address some of the most common reactions, responses and misconceptions.

Firstly, I know that the topic of parenting and childhood trauma emotionally is very sensitive to people, especially if they lack self-knowledge or information and/or they have children. Child rearing, child abuse, and childhood trauma are emotionally-charged topics. However I don't think it's very productive and respectful to avoid these topics, since in most cases early childhood experiences and family dynamics are the primary reasons for experiencing the symptoms called “PTSD”, “depression”, or other various “mental disorders” in later life.

Which leads us to the topics of Nature vs Nurture, the definition of “mental health”, and straw-man arguments like, “so you’re saying that ALL brain disorders are developed because of child abuse?!” I won’t try to do this topic justice in this blog post, but in short I’ll say this... Some mental health and development issues are caused by birth defects, accidents, and genetic problems, but the majority of mental health and development problems are in fact caused by attachment figure-child bond, childhood trauma, and the early environment. And, sadly, most people, even those who work in the mental health field, don’t know what mental health is. I suggest studying the works of Alice Miller, Gabor Maté, Lloyd deMause, Stefan Molyneux, Daniel Mackler, Peter Gerlach, John Bradshaw, etc. I’ll provide some resources at the end of this article.

I won't respond to all comments I've seen over the years, because some of them are just plain ad hominems or straw-man arguments – but I want to address one specific post. Now, this response was not posted in relation to my article directly, but it came up as a post in a Facebook group shortly afterwards. So, I assume it’s at least related – it’s definitely related content-wise. It has some commonly occurring arguments, so I'll address it. It’s long (I didn't change or cut out anything), so I’ll try to respond in segments. (By the way, this person is a group moderator, a mother, and she works in the field of mental health.)

I have been reflecting on trends I am seeing in the arena of mental health in some circles that are advocating that parental relationships are at the core of mental health illnesses. While I admit that early experiences, and especially parent child interactions are a crucial element in developing mental health...this is not the foundation alone of mental health issues, and to assert that it this is the base issue is not only unresponsible professionally, it is also unfair to families around the globe. In developmental psychology, a discipline that is built into many other subdisciplines of psychology.. research has shown and illustrated that multiple factors lead to different disorders. It is not only the parent child interactions, but also biology, genetics, exposure to harmful substances, and social factors that are beyond a parent's control. This movement takes us back to the days of philosophizing, instead of basing theories on more concrete scientific research. I worked with families in the United States and their teenagers that had multiple issues, and yes sometimes these issues were grounded in dysfunctional family interactions, but not all of them.

Sure. (I’ve addressed this a couple of paragraphs above so I won't repeat myself here.)

However, I see a lot of parents, mental health professionals, or even adult trauma survivors avoiding information, blaming the victim (i. e. children or adult trauma survivors) – or avoiding putting responsibility where it belongs – for the abuse and trauma. And in this way confusing, misinforming, possibly drugging, and traumatizing them – and/or themselves – even more. To quote this person, this is “not only unresponsible professionally, it is also unfair to families around the globe” (projection?).

Furthermore, one has to question, based on the principles of scientific proof in making cause and effect relationships, does the dysfunction in some of these cases come from the pressure of having a family member with a mental issue as an added stress versus the assumptions that some make in that the parents are to blame.

On the latest science of Nature vs Nurture, I recommend this video and an interview with Gabor Maté on the subject of addiction. Also, you can study the material that’s provided at the end of this blog post. And for my arguments about parental responsibility, see my previous post and the Addendum part of this post.

Blaming and the information that I see presented often leads to families feeling guilt and shame, which even for the families that dysfunction has served a role, is not conductive to fostering a situation where families can heal. I view some of these posting as almost a "witch hunt" to villainify the parents, 

In my article the accent was not so much on blaming parents, but on NOT blaming children. Words “fault” and “blame” often trigger unpleasant feelings in people, because, well, in their childhood and in later life they are blamed and PUNISHED. However, I want to stress just the fact that “blame” and “fault” means that one’s actions lead to this result. For example, if I broke a window, it is “I to blame”, it's “my fault”, “I’m responsible”, meaning: my actions caused the window to be broken. I’m not talking about punishment or attack. In my article I even said explicitly, “If that’s the case, it’s not the end of the world – it can change; and my intention is not to trigger blame or guilt, but to raise awareness and to put the responsibility where it belongs.”

It’s about understanding the root of the problem and NOT blaming the victim – not about attacking and punishing parents. Although feeling just anger towards the person that harmed you – directly or vicariously – or failed to protect you, is a part of the healing process. While repressing and/or projecting it can lead to even more mental and social problems. However feeling just anger is in no way equal to “witch hunt” or “villainifying the parents.”

and it seems especially the mother. I thought in todays modern world, we would be ready to get past this role of scapegoating women, but apparently not.

It’s a red herring with shades of slippery slope and appeal to emotion. Although the mother often in fact is the primary caregiver. After all, the baby lives in her womb for 9 months, and she breastfeeds him/her afterwards.

I sometimes ask myself, are these individuals stuck in their own past pain and as an effort to compensate, deflecting their own experiences to others? This is unfair and dangerous. 

(This woman has children, works in the mental health field, is from Arabic country and is involved in the topic of women rights. Not that it’s something wrong with any of this – it’s just the context).

Sure, all of us to some extent have unresolved traumas and experiences. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of them, understand them, and resolve them. Could it be that this person has some unresolved childhood traumas, experiences and resentments about her own parenting that are projected here? (Because the science on the subject of childhood trauma and problems in later life is pretty clear.)

Most of the times that’s exactly the case – the person gets triggered by the emotionally unpleasant topics, it brings up unprocessed emotions and memories from their own childhood and/or from their relationship with their own children. And since they lack information, awareness, understanding, and self-knowledge, instead of feeling curious, they act out and project. To quote this woman, “this is unfair and dangerous.” (Another projection.)

We are not so different from plants in some ways....a plant's leaves may begin to wither and dry...but it is always because their caregiver has failed to give them proper care...not enough water, sunshine, plant food etc....It can also be caused from the adaptability of a plant that has come from centuries in the making, from pest and teratogens, as well.

And we’re back to the topics of Nature vs Nurture and parental responsibility that I've already addressed.

Addendum

Please, keep in mind that I’m not talking about “blaming” (that is “attacking and punishing”) parents – I’m talking about NOT putting the responsibility on the victim and about NOT attacking and punishing children. I know that there are some truly sadistic parents, but most of the parents don't have bad intentions and they're trying to do the best they can with the knowledge and resources they have.

However, consider the possibility, that maybe – just maybe – sometimes their best is not the best thing from the objective standpoint. It might be because they lack resources, knowledge, skills, whatever the reason is, it’s still the parent's responsibility to fulfill their child’s needs. And if they fail to do that (for whatever reason), it’s their fault responsibility, whatever you want to call it, and it's harmful to the child – it doesn't matter so much if it's intentional or not.

I've seen a lot of people saying that they had a great childhood or that they we're great role models, but if you have some self-knowledge and knowledge on the subject and you evaluate them, you can very quickly and clearly see that it's not true (and it doesn't matter if this person believes it to be true). For some people it's hard even to conciser the possibility that they're parents did something wrong, or that they do / did something wrong in raising their own children. (And if that's the case, it doesn't mean that they / you did EVERYTHING wrong or necessarily did it WITH BAD INTENTIONS.)

So, the first step is awareness. And awareness might lead to curiosity and rational evaluation that maybe my parents' “best” wasn't objectively “the best thing for me”. And maybe by processing this I can be a better parent for my child. Or maybe I can seek more information and self-knowledge. And maybe it can lead to understanding my problems and solving them more effectively. Awareness and responsibility, even though it sometimes feels unpleasant, leads to a healthier life.

I know that it still can generate some unpleasant emotions for people and aggressive reactions towards me, but you can use it as an opportunity to learn from those emotions, learn about your past, heal, grow, and change your life and your relationships for the better. And I'm not even relevant here – either what I'm saying and providing is true or not.

I invite you to check on your current emotional state. How are you feeling right now?

And after that, if you feel curious enough, I invite you study the resources provided below.

Resources on Child Abuse and Childhood Trauma


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8 comments

  1. This is one of the best collations of resources on this topic and the way you have so gently described this is admirable. Great work and thanks for writing this!

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  2. Thank you so much for your kind words and your support - I really appreciate it!

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  3. I also know something about the reactions of people. I had a group for 3 or 4 years, do not remember exactly now, which I called "Stop the silence" where I tried to spread the name of Alice Miller, his http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._S._Neill, Maria Rita Parsi, Paolo Crepet, both Italian and other..... Then I learnt about Daniel Mackler and love especially this text http://wildtruth.net/12-situations-not-appropriate-to-have-children/ which I translated in Polish and put in the group of polish psychologists, psychotherapists and students of psycology, you can imaging what happend!:) never experienced so much aggression as from them.... I love all texts written by Daniel and agree 100% with him.

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  4. Sabina, sorry to hear that. Although such reactions are pretty common. It's a painful topic that triggers a lot of unconscious emotions and memories for people.

    It's good to know that you're also translating the texts of Daniel Mackler.

    And thanks again for your support!

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  5. Well done, Darius. A.S. Neill wrote, "There is no such thing as a problem child, only problem parents." It's been my experience that he was correct.

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  6. Thank you, Jim. And I agree with the quote.

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  7. I reconfirm also that A.S. Neill is right because I experience my self this when my son was 3/4 years (now he is 31) , I thought that he was a problem child but a very illuminated Swedish psychologist said me that is me a problem mother! He said to me that I misunderstood my son's behaviors and explained to me what he wanted to communicate me with such behaviors. She saved my son life, otherwise I will destroyed him. I will add also that I agree also with Daniel Mackler about teenage period. ......"Lie #6: Teenagers Are Inherently Difficult.

    Teenagers are only difficult when their parents have: 1) failed them miserably, and, 2) now blame them for being the cause of the problem. Teenagers are still expected to be good little boys and girls, despite their correct, rebellion-inducing realization that living up to this expectation does nothing to prepare them for the painful transition into adulthood. ....." When my son was about 20/22, he was watching a program on an Italian TV where parents and children were talking about the hard period they have with each other and my son was surprise!:) and called me to come and see the program and asked me why they had such problems because he had not these problems with me .... When my son was a teenager I trust him and when he went out with friends I said to him to come back as late as possible and have fun..never had problems with my son.

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  8. Sabina, it's great to hear that you had courage to look at your own shortcomings and tried to figure out and recognize your son's needs. That's very rare and admirable!

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