After talking to a friend about the way his teenage son is treated by his ex wife, I feel so strongly that I must set out some thoughts here...
Let`s extend this into a general case: A boy is failing in school, is tending towards unwanted behaviour and is evidently unhappy. He lives with his mother who grew up in an abusive family and we find that she exerts the same kind of behaviour upon her son,systematically, as was inflicted upon her when she was growing up.
The boy`s personal possessions, including a computer, have been taken away by his mother as a punishment. He then is anxious for his father to get him a sophisticated mobile phone. We surmise correctly that he wants this phone to raise his self worth materially, since he has been dispossessed of material parts of him by his mother.
How do we analyse this situation?
Well, firstly, it is typical that children who are abused in any way learn this behaviour and may inflict it on others when they grow up, particularly on their own children. As we talked about before, a mode of relationship is learned and then enacted. If children learn that relationships are about power and punishment they will certainly often do this to others, by instinct.
So why don`t adults think about the way they were treated, how it felt, their unhappiness, and steer their own behaviour away from the example of their parents? Well, of course many do, where they have the ability, intelligence or just sensitivity,to reflect and to delete these destructive behaviours. But not all adults have the facility to do this and they blindly go on just as their parents did, causing hurt and humiliation and permanent damage in their own children. What is more, they are so caught in this acquired behaviour that they do not realise that they are causing the very aberrant behaviour that they are punishing their child for. What is actually happening is that the parent, the mother in this case, is disrespecting her child so much that she is creating an unhappy, disaffected and depressed child who behaves badly out of a depressed sense of self protection. Moreover, not only does the child find it difficult to function against a wall of negativity, but actually being disruptive and failing academically becomes both a weapon of self defence and, perversely, a twisted gesture of "love" for the parent: the child is being the way the parent wants him to be. He loves his mother and, unconsciously, pleases her by taking this role.
Just a minute you might say, what are we saying? Well, it`s hard to believe, but the child, in a sense, fulfils the "wishes" of the parent in his need to fight back. What? "The wishes of the parent"? Surely we are not saying that a parent who is angry with a child for being a failure or for being naughty, actually wants the child to be this way? Well, yes, in an unconscious way they do. ... and this is why:
The parent grew up in a family where love was supplanted by bullying, so that the only "love" she knew was a bully- victim kind of love. We all experience "love" relative to what kind of treatment we received when we were small children. If it was nurturing and kind and accommodating, that is what we feel is love, if it was bullying and punishing and based upon a bully-victim polarity, then that is what we know as "love". We can then go on to replicate this precisely in our adult relationships.
In our general example, the mother, unwittingly enough, is reproducing the kind of relationship that is familiar to her from her early years...and in that sense is safe and comfortable with it..... She diminishes her son and creates a victim whom she can blame for bad behaviour, just as her parent/s performed a guilt-shift on her for precisely the same reasons. This time, however, she is the bully and HER child is the victim. And this is why this unconsciously manipulated drama is attractive to her: When she was a child, she was the victim, humiliated, powerless, with a screaming soul unable to find release, now HER release from her prison is her own child, who symbiotically enables her some peace by "allowing" her to switch roles.
When a parent humiliates a child, systematically, in this case by invading him and stripping away all his self worth and the precious territory of his personhood, this is psychological rape. It inflicts the same pain and humiliation as a physical rape and does the same kind of mental damage. Just as in rape as we know it, it is difficult for a person to recover from such violation, the damage of psychological rape is hard to heal, particularly since this kind of damage isn`t so apparent to observers.
Taking away these possessions, things that are extensions of, symbols of, a child's core being, is a power message to the child that says that every bit of them is owned and controlled by the parent. There is nowhere for them to go, not even in their own mental space. Just like in physical rape, the parent penetrates the child with sadistic vigour and relishes the power they have over them. The message is you cannot run, you have to submit, and if you fight me I will destroy you until I win; I will even destroy you with your own fight-back. This strategy is very sophisticated, so much so that the instinct of the mother puppets the child into behaving badly so that he even despises himself right into his inner being. As this scenario plays out, the child behaves more and more badly and the mother tightens her purpose. She "knows" that the child will take her negative regard for him into himself and will have an enemy within as well as without, just like has happened to her. Ultimately, the self-injury that is failure and bad behaviour may turn to more disturbed self harm. You see, the mother has a tendency to self harm.
This is unconscious psychological warfare, it is a subtle and deeply pathological game. Ultimately......and not all kids are going to be totally broken by this insidious game, I hasten to add, ultimately, the parent needs to murder the child from within. This is why degradation is so important and bad behaviour is elicited: As every agent of psychological torture knows, you must destroy the person on the outside with all manner of demeaning tactics, in order to destroy them on the inside. The unconscious aim is to turn the victim in upon himself so that even he feels himself to be a bad person. Then you have won.
As a digression, I just want to mention that I am mindful of a book I read that made a very deep impression upon me: "The Stolen Child" by Keith Donohue.......... The tragedy of the story is that hobgoblins who live in a forest, who were once abducted children, watch and wait and study children in our world until a time when they can substitute themselves for a child they abduct. Only when they can steal another child can they achieve the freedom to go back into the world themselves as real children in a normal family. The emotional pain for me in reading this book, was that one child`s pain could only be assuaged by inflicting the same pain upon another child. You get my point I am sure, the situation we are discussing in this blog is in part one person`s pain, the parent, being released by the infliction of pain upon another, the child.
Well, this is how bullying is inherited and why many adults need to bully in order help themselves. Instead of them as children being the victim, the guilty one, they make someone else guilty instead.
In my next blog I want to talk about this again and to address the question of what we do about the child in this terrible circumstance. How we look after him and try to prevent the mother creating a clone of her psychological make up and how we deal with socially permissible abuse.