The child’s world is small

A recent comment from Anonymous sent me scurrying to Bruce E. Levine’s Huffington Post article Thinking Critically About Scientology, Psychiatry and their Feud.

Interesting article, but what really got me thinking was the author’s commonly enough held opinion that mental illness is a rational response to an insane world, which I am now re-examining. (The schizophrenia diagnosis has made me get around eventually to re-examining everything. It’s been a blessing.)

It was R.D. Laing, who made the original insane world observation and people like me have been making this argument ever since. Except that I am more of the opinion now that mental illness is the direct result of not the larger world (society) that most people have in mind, but the smaller world – the child’s world – the familiar environment, the family, not some abstract thing called “society.” People don’t go insane because there is air pollution or poverty in the world. Their suppressed sense of self has made them sensitive to these problems, yes, but people are more likely to go insane because the family environment is polluted with lies or has a poverty of emotional warmth or a tsumani of physical or verbal abuse. People do not go insane because someone else’s family tree is warped (who cares?), but they do inherit the emotional resonance that their own family tree passes down.

It is much less troubling, I suppose, for parents and patient alike to accept the idea of an insane world, rather than to accept the idea of insane family dynamics. The insane world view has much in common then with the diseased brain view of mental illness. Both deflect the situation in ways that don’t point the finger at any one individual, thus making the situation palatable and guilt-free.

I said to a friend one time when my children were very young and they were all at their most challenging/difficult/wimpy (take your pick), “I like my own children but other people’s children I can do without.” She heartily agreed that the same applied to her. The brewing period for mental illness is the period of childhood where the family is being formed, imperfectly. Families understand each other on some level, but do not understand the way other families relate with each other.

Society is insane, but “mental illness” begins and ends at home. The “mental illness” usually manifests when the older child leaves his small world and steps out into the threatening larger one. Rather than the individual  directly confronting past hurts, psychosis feels like a “safe” way to express accusations, that if expressed honestly and directly, would trouble other family members.

9 thoughts on “The child’s world is small”

  1. I read this article, yesterday, that supports what I’m convinced of and what you say here. It’s not enough to live in a dysfunctional, insane, society. Everybody does, more or less, but not everybody becomes “psychotic”. The dysfunctionality needs to be present right from the start, in your own family, your primary caregivers, to have you develop a degree of insecurity, respectively a lack of self-confidence, sufficient to have the dysfunctional, insane, society overwhelm you and have you “go to pieces”. Anyhow, the dysfunctionality is the same, whether it occurs in wider society, or in the microcosmos of the family.

  2. I also read this article and kept thinking about the difference of my two children. Clearly my daughter struggles but my son is a well-adjusted young man making his way in the world as an artist – not easy and demanding an extraordinary self-confidence.

    Where, I keep, asking was the “start” of my daughter’s mental distress? How come one and not the other of my children was affected? My ex left the house when my son wasn’t even a year. Maybe my son wasn’t influenced the same way.

    Rossa, we have talked about past life experiences carrying over into the next life (British Journal of Medicine). Maybe the affliction of mental health issues goes even deeper than the environment – both large and small. Maybe we bring it with us when we come. Certain relationships trigger dysfunction.

    My ex husband and my daughter. He never liked her. And, as a result, I kept them apart as much as I could. Culturally, this was a awkward as he is South American where family rules.

    The question of when did my daughter “go to pieces” still nags at me.

  3. Kris – I am feeling bogged down today by the weight of knowing where Ian and I went wrong – but it’s also part of the picture. Chris was more sensitive in utero, to the point of being barely alive. Did certain thoughts influence him in utero? Why him? According to Family Constellation Therapy, the person with the diagnosis is taking the hit for earlier family traumas (read grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) Marian’s comment prompted me to look up Dr. Clancy Mckenzie, who has plenty to say about the origin of schizophrenia – I can’t imagine that BPD should be much different. Dr. Mckenzie has a two part article that is tough reading, but here it is. He talks about, for example, the number of months difference in age between siblings as being one of the critical factors in trauma. I think I’m going to go home and crawl into bed and put a sheet over my head. I have to keep remembering that Chris is healing, otherwise reading this stuff can be so overwhelming!

  4. There is little value in beating yourself up for the past. What is important is what you have been doing, and what you are doing now. Pull a sheet over your head if you like however your self torture is apt to resolve nothing unless it forms the basis of a discussion with Chris where you acknowledge responsibility and that provides an opening for him to take additional responsibility and alter his present interpretation of past events.

    There is little question that my ex wife and I contributed to our son’s poor self esteem, lack of confidence, and feelings of inadequacy. With these contextual interpretations events that occurred at school, with peers, and in other situations became catalysts in inspiring the later delusional and psychotic.

    I can’t change the past. I can help him alter his present interpretations of the past and assist in inspiring confidence, self awareness, trust, and self esteem. We can undo our mistakes and contribute positively to the individual’s outlook and present interpretations; something that would be best accomplished outside of under a sheet.

    He sent me a text earlier today that said “Just woke up…thanks for being one of my number one fans.”

    Respectfully, you may need to find the indications and achievements that allow you to acknowledge the significance of your recent contributions to your son. Don’t be surprised if the sum total of all of his experiences to date and going forward result in Chris achieving a measure of greatness that you currently have no concept of.

  5. “Don’t be surprised if the sum total of all of his experiences to date and going forward result in Chris achieving a measure of greatness that you currently have no concept of.” Isn’t that what we wish for? Desperately every single day? It would feel like absolution.
    I am all too aware of my pitfalls as a single mother but my ex is so lost to alcohol and meanness that when he sees my (no longer “our”) daughter and experiences her behavior, he wants to beat her up. Literally. I try to protect her but she is like a moth to flame. Why is pain so familiar?
    My daughter barely made it to five pounds before her birth. I breast-fed her long after it was socially acceptable in North America (ex is South American) because her constitution was so fragile. I don’t know. Like you I review and consider old stuff, filter it through new information.
    My daughter recently said that maybe she would stay in the midwest for a while. My mind raced around excited by the time and all the healing that I could institute. Ha. Now she wants to go to New York next week. She doesn’t remember to take the fish oil, much less the benzos in a timely tapering manner.
    I will read the link you sent and probably join you and take to my bed.
    xx kris

  6. Thanks everyone for their comments and insight. I went home, and taking a page from Dr. Mackenzie, planted the idea with Cris that he for further healing, he was always free to get away from us for a while, maybe longer than a while . . . According to Chris, the occupational therapist doesn’t think it’s such a hot idea that he go to university back in North America where we are from. (I wonder where Dr. Mackenzie thinks people will go when they have no money or training?) I then retired to the bedroom. Chris apparently took me up on my suggestion and went out to the pub down the street where he seems to know some people. I was glad to learn that he was distancing himself from us, even in a small way.

  7. Dr. McKenzie’s theory of healing is compelling. It is very difficult to accept but it makes sense. My son was born when my daughter was two and a half. Unwittingly, I set her up for depression and addiction.
    We have tried separation. It worked until it didn’t. She did in fact develop some self-determination, felt good about her social interactions and was starting to work on a future that involved modeling and art directing. She was talking about getting space in an art studio some friends have . Then, it fell apart. Abandonment issues were at the heart of it. The photographer on the shoot in Australia was mad at my daughter, her boyfriend got nervous about her behavior and boom, here she was back home. Surprising us all.
    And, yes, she reverted immediately to her infant like reactionary self. But, then, I began to feed her regularly and give her supplements which I think mitigated the usual menstrual havoc and she calmed down. To the point that when she said last week that she might stay awhile, I didn’t completely freak out (as I might have if she had announced this when she first arrived).
    Now, I am thinking after reading this that I should encourage her to return to New York. She was fearful of returning to the pressure to be thin, have the energy to be out every night, be calm and attentive to a boyfriend who seems to be anxious to see her after having had a break.
    I just printed the McKenzie lectures for my husband and maybe my daughter to read.
    I should thank you. But…
    Just kidding. Live and learn.
    xx kris

  8. Hey Rossa and Kris, come out from under the sheets! Anonymous is right, it doesn’t do any good to beat yourself up. See, this is the purpose of existential suffering: transformation, growth. You don’t transform anything, or grow, while hiding (in bed or wherever else).

    Everybody makes mistakes. Many people don’t have the guts to admit their mistakes, to neither others, nor, and even less, to themselves. So they blame the suffering their mistakes causes not least themselves on others: “mental illness”, and miss out on the opportunity to create transformation and growth for both themselves and their “loved ones”. You don’t do that (anymore). You do a hell of a good job on your blogs, and, from what I read there, also irl. You should be proud of yourselves.

  9. It’s important to accept responsibility. There is a distinction however between accepting responsibility and blaming yourself. The first postions you to take positive action and to be cause in inspiring something better, The latter can be disabling and prevent one from taking action. The fundamental objective in accepting responsibility is the transference of that responsibility to the affected loved one. Ensure that you allow the individual to assume responsibility as recovery progresses.

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