Major Update: June 28, 2014
What is a “rejected” child? It is the child who was unplanned, unwanted by the new mother, who is never accepted by the mother as her own until after the critical window of brain development closes at three years of age. Such a child suffers from what can be called Type I PTSD and will show some typical behaviors. The picture presented here is often the worst case scenario, but there are clearly some cases in the news which are relevant. Rejection at any age can be devastating. However, one can reasonably deduce that the earlier it takes place the worse its effects are on a person. It can be safely assumed that rejection before the age of three will have the strongest and most lasting effects. There are many people who will suffer PTSD from being rejected by one or both parents and/or family who will display similar symptoms.
There are several types of rejection. There are children who reject one of their parents, generally because of the trauma associated with divorce when one parent wins the affection of the child and the other parent loses. See Pilla & Bernet 2011 for more on this aspect. Some children reject a parent because they perceive that this parent committed an unforgivable act. More than likely, no single event leads to that kind of rejection, but the culmination of a series of behaviors that finally breaks the parent-child bond. One of these events may be associated with the failure of a good parent-child bond from having been formed in the first place.
For more discussion on this topic see my blog post Types of PTSD.
I state here that I am a victim of the lack of a mother-infant bond, who finally discovered this fact very late in life. This post is based on my thinking about my own symptoms and their effects on my life. However, I also bring in ideas proposed by others (in TV, radio programs, journals and books).
Jonathan Winters comes to mind as one who clearly suffered from rejection by both parents (see NPR’s Saturday Weekend Edition for 07/30/11) but who had enough self-esteem to become a successful comedian. His bipolar personality may reflect that difference between the time he was loved as a child and the time he was rejected by his parents later in life. In this report he mentions the pain that he went through. No doubt it is the strong emotional pain of such rejection by his parents that lead to him developing his sense of humor as a way of distancing himself from that pain.
The Mother-Infant Bond
See the blog post The Mother-Infant Bond.
What Rejected Children Feel
When a baby is rejected by the mother, he/she never gets to form that critical mother-infant bond. Oh, yeah, you can learn to love each other later, but there is no place in the brain of either person that says you are something more than just a friend. The unwanted child is never considered “one of the family” or deserving of “family ties”. The rejected child can suffer from repeated attacks by family members. I discuss more of this in my blog The Mother-Infant Bond.
Biologically, as vertebrates, such a baseline is supposed to be established by the mother within the first three years of life, because it is so critical for survival. Being laid down so early means that you are completely unconscious to it, which you need to be so that you can make many decisions without thinking, giving you an edge over others who lack this ability, and because this unconscious “first step” is critical for survival to adulthood and beyond. It is the baseline against which all relationships are compared. Assumptions are made precisely because this baseline is there. Or is “supposed” to be there.
I think of an analogy to describe this process. When you are born, you stand on an island. There is a huge chasm between you and the continent near you, filled with a very powerful, loud, flowing river. There is no way across it. That continent has roads all meeting at the edge of the chasm just opposite you. The scene is blurred at birth, but as you grow up, you start to see some of the details. You can see the roads split off and move toward mountains. At the top of each mountain is a prize, e.g., a job, a spouse, a home, a college degree, any goal, toward which later in life you will have to work and should be able to achieve. You can see small barriers in the way of achieving each goal: hills to climb, rocks to crawl over, small, do-able challenges. You learn how to get to the goal, starting at the edge of the precipice on the other side of the river. That is what education and watching others teaches you. But you never learn how to get to the other side.
Throughout life, you stand at that precipice, where, if you try to jump, you most certainly will fall into the river and be carried away. You know that you will die. Dying early is a fear you carry all of your life, simply because every day is one filled with concern for survival. Any other goal in mind seems ridiculous to you to hold because there isn’t any time or energy for it, and you have to get past the problem of “step one”–crossing that chasm. No one else seems to even be aware of it, since no one speaks of it.
Those wanted by their mothers are completely oblivious to this chasm because their mothers, by wanting them, caring for them, anticipating their needs, talking and interacting with them, showing interest in everything they do, and satisfying all needs of the baby, build a huge, wide, highway across this chasm. That highway helps set up a sense of trust in people so critical for life in a social species. Children raised with this love will never know about that river below them, because they never see the chasm when they set about to do something, to make ANY decision in life. They just start walking down this highway. They will be baffled by the child who sees the chasm. “Just do it” they say, as if it is that easy. The rejected child will be constantly looking for a solution to “step one”, looking for help to get across. They learned that sometimes good luck comes along and someone carries them across, so that they get to achieve some goals, but clearly not all the ones necessary for survival as an adult.
There are millions of children who are born each year who are rejected by their mothers. A tip of the iceberg are those put into foster care, because only 10% of these are ever adopted. Translate that to “wanted by someone,” even if it is too late to build that highway across the chasm. A large percentage of those rejected at birth will grow up feeling unwanted by anyone, with “nothing” to lose and more likely to enter a life of crime. These children need a lot more luck than the “wanted” children to survive without making unfortunate decisions. By far, the majority will not do such desperate things that the gunman who shot the Sikhs in a Wisconsin temple did. In fact, their need to work harder to survive will set up a mentality that makes it unlikely that they will ever commit suicide. The two states of mind are so totally opposite of each other.
However, there are rejected people who might commit suicide. There are a lot of things that happen between early childhood trauma, any continuing childhood trauma, and the trauma that can occur resulting from when a brain-damaged person tries to interact with the undamaged. As Perry et al. (1995) and Perry (1997) say, early childhood trauma changes the entire life course of a person. You cannot generalize about its travel for every child who suffers from this early rejection by the parent(s).
The acute characteristics of the panic attacks of children rejected by the mother can include some or all the following:
- Complains of back aches,
- Complains of feeling too cold when the temperature doesn’t justify that feeling,
- Teeth chattering (thinking that it is caused by feeling too cold, but often panic starts with a sudden drop in body temperature, followed by teeth chattering)
- Brief inability to breathe when surprised by a sudden entrance by a family member,
- Shaking all over,
- Goes limp or freezes when frightened by anything, and unable to make appropriate responses to danger (see “Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Faint” at Striped Giraffe Press, 2006) ,
- Often cannot focus the eyes when in the middle of a panic attack,
- Loss of speech, or when pressed, stumbles over words,
- Complains of odd symptoms under circumstances that most people do not,
- Can’t seem to make a decision
For more discussion of these responses in PTSD see Physiological Responses to Terror.
The characteristic behaviors of children rejected by the mother can be some or all the following:
- Solitary or gang members,
- Fierce independence and guarding of privacy,
- Chronic lack of self-esteem,
- Ashamed to be noticed,
- Ashamed to be alive,
- Adopts postures that show self-protection, e.g. slouching, hair styles that hide the face,
- Running away and hiding,
- Stays out late,
- Only minimal attention to appearance,
- Can develop criminal behavior,
- Only takes risks if involved with gangs, or around non-family that they know
- Chooses employment where only small groups of people are involved
- Fears any activity where people they do not know must judge them,
- Other children in the family taunt, tease, and often show vicious attacks on this child
- Have many unexplained, often unconscious, fears,
- Have parent(s) who often forget about them,
- Strong ability to teach themselves,
- Will not ask for help when needed,
- Hides all emotions when fearful, but can show depression, and tremendous sadness, when they think no one sees them,
- Often cannot carry a tune when singing with family members (this is associated with lack of muscle coordination and contraction force that happens with a panic attack)
There are special aspects to children who were rejected by their mother, or both parents at birth and never accepted before the age of three years. Because of this rejection they cannot trust the parent to respond to their needs. Most notably, all rejected children will show signs of PTSD. However, the signs are very subtle. They can suffer from physical and/or verbal abuse at the hands of one or both parents, and all will most surely suffer from neglect. They will be constantly forgotten by the parent, and thus are extremely afraid of abandonment. However, they will be very realistic as they decide to embark on learning something on their own. Most are very motivated for and capable of self-education. They have to be, they feel that no one else will help them and that if they want something they will have to get it themselves. Furthermore, with education, they learn to at least trust themselves.
These rejected children learn early not to make a sound, to avoid talking or letting themselves be noticed by the parent to avoid an attack by the parent. This means that they will avoid speaking first, avoid sticking out in a crowd, learn to hide behind sofas and chairs or inside closets when the atmosphere gets tense. When they get old enough, they will stay away from home as long as possible, a practice they will carry into adulthood, even if no longer living with their parents, and have no reason to feel unsafe at home. They will develop favorite hideaways from all people, and crave solitude. Going to a party or a gathering is a chore. Many of them could care less about their appearance as long as they don’t go the opposite way and stick out because they are dirty. For the most part, they are solitary, not trusting anyone. However, those that join gangs will be particularly attentive to how the others in the gang are dressed/behave. They learn that the only way they can develop trust in anyone is via the gang life.
Possible Cases of Rejection Mentioned in the News
I will describe in more detail particularly important behaviors of children who were probably rejected by their mothers in this section. They include: Lack of Trust, Development of Rage, Hoarding, Low Self-Esteem, Poor Decision-Making, Needing Approval, and they are more often victims of Bullying.
Many rejected children will run away from home because they feel that staying at home causes more pain to them than leaving, even when the attempt to leave home is not very successful. A case in point are the Hollywood homeless kids mentioned in a report by NPR (Help for Homeless Hollywood Street Kids). ABC 20/20 was following the plight of the four homeless teenagers in this special episode (see the episode originally broadcast on 28 Jan 2011, with update on 26 Aug 2011). Although ABC says nothing about these kids being rejected by the mothers at birth, they all come from conditions of extreme poverty, some of whom have parents who were either homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless.
ABC claims that all four had been living in happy homes, with mothers who loved them. However, given the information about how they were treated as teenagers, it is unlikely that any of these four kids had been loved by their mothers at birth. We cannot assume that a mother who does not give up a child to adoption loves the child at birth. There are many reasons why she won’t give up the child at birth (see later in this post and The Four Pillars of Support).
Rebecca and her mother moved into the same trailer with the mother’s boyfriend. The cramped space of that trailer helped fuel animosity between the boyfriend and Rebecca, so she left when it appeared to her that her mother chose boyfriend over daughter. Rebecca ran out of couches to sleep on at friends’ homes, and decided to move in with a 59-year-old man who offered her a room in his house. His estranged wife divorced him over this living arrangement, and a lot of people in the community wondered about this pair. In her interview, Rebecca denied that this man ever looked at her in a “weird” way, shuddering at the thought of him coming on to her.
David came from a large family, also living in very cramped space, where he got picked on miserably by all of his brothers because he chose to live as a girl. He was the youngest of seven boys, with one younger sister, and very much the smallest, no doubt because of under-nourishment. A social worker said that 20% of the homeless teens were gay.
George was raised by an aunt, having become too tired of him being around. She gave him a bus ticket and $50 when he was 17 to go live with relatives in San Francisco. On the way in a phone conversation she admitted that the address she gave him was a McDonald’s and that these relatives never existed. He did not have enough money to go back home.
Dakota’s father died when she was very young. At eight years of age, she was constantly moving around with her mother, on the road, sleeping in cars with her. At 16, she decided that life would be better without her mother, and watched as her mother drove off, leaving her at a diner. She felt that being free of her mother was better than living with a “twisted” love, and won a court judgment of emancipation in Oregon.
All four of these teens had extremely difficult times navigating their way toward finding even temporary shelter, after having left home. From the behavior of these teens’ mothers, I strongly suspect that all of them were also rejected at birth by their mothers.
Children who have not been able to develop trust in anyone are likely to steal or do other criminal acts. Very often the criminal behavior escalates from vandalism and petty theft to more serious crimes, simply because no adult at home notices them or cares what they do and they desperately want some approval. Thus, gangs that show approval of vandalism or theft will often encourage even more risky criminal behavior. The gangs are a small stage for those who cannot graduate to a larger stage where they do not know most of the people.
Sometimes, some of these children may commit crimes that most people think only adults can do, e.g. brutal murder. Many people mistakenly assume that these children should be tried as adults.
More than likely what happened to these children is a case of mother (and sometimes father also) rejecting the child at birth. The child will try not to stick out when he/she is around the parents. However the child does not have to be so careful when with people who may want them around, e.g. gang members or best friends (also rejected by their mothers). With no adult supervision, these gang children may end up doing things that most children would never do (“Lord of the Flies” syndrome).
Development of Rage: Examples
Comment on “Profiling Mass Shooters And Assessing Threats” reported on All Things Considered 15 Dec 2012, where I suggest how this mass shooter, Adam Lanza, may be the victim of rejection by his mother before the age of three. I suspect that the rage he expressed by shooting his mother in the face was the result of this rejection, and discuss how rage is expressed. The shooting may be the ultimate expression of a rage accompanied by no solution to its healing, and the inability by Adam to talk with anyone about it.
Guy Raz speaks with Shankar Vedantam about profiles of mass shooters. Vedantam says that they tend to be young, white men, in general, many with interest in guns, some reported to have mental disturbances. He also describes a characteristic often mentioned by news reporters elsewhere–these men tend to be loners. Vedantam says these behaviors don’t add up to a profile, but to a pattern of behavior, stating that a profile should be able to predict where the next shooter will come from. He says that we have not been able to achieve this predictability yet. He also points out that a list of people with the above characteristics would number in the thousands, when the number of mass shooters represent only a fraction of these. The majority of the people on this list would never dream of doing what Lanza had purportedly done.
Vedantam says that law enforcement personnel have moved from drawing up profiles to determining a “threat assessment model”. They realize that many of these shootings need a lengthy plan, and could not have been executed in a very short time without that planning. Because of this, they depend upon people coming forward with information about a possible threat, even if the information doesn’t make a lot of sense. They understood that most of these shooters seem to give a hint that they are upset enough to do something extreme. The law enforcement people then determine if the proposed threatening person was just upset or actually appeared to have a plan. They then look for evidence to show that the person could carry out the plan, having a track record of violent behavior.
Comments at NPR
Shankar Vedantam talks about reporting to the police, people who are not just angry, but appear to have a plan. He says that mass shooters don’t suddenly snap, and go shoot a lot of people, but enter into a long-term plan. I say that the person has actually been steaming for a lot longer and probably ever since early childhood. Clearly Adam Lanza must have or why would he associate his mother with first grade at the school where he first started to socially interact with other kids? I say that detecting rage is the most important behavior to report, but that it can be very subtly expressed, depending upon how long it has been building. The reporting on Adam Lanza about his childhood is extremely spotty right now, but we have hints that something was wrong between him and his mother from a next door neighbor, Barbara Frey, who was interviewed on TV (ABC 20/20).
If the mother-infant bond doesn’t form within the first three years of life, it never will. The mother and child can never “connect”. It is critical for the formation of certain circuits in the brain that allow the child to complete “step one” in the formation of a social relationship, among many other aspects of life. Worse, no one is even aware that this bond does this for us, because no one talks about it, it seems to be that “innate”. The lack of its formation can predict the lack of success in life. To any kid born to such rejection, abortion would be far better than the life they would be forced to lead without the ability to trust anyone, without having anyone who wants to be with them. Adam Lanza, no doubt, may be at one extreme end of the spectrum of people suffering from such rejection, but that should not prevent us from doing something about it. See my blog post “Special Case of Type I PTSD–Rejected Children” at https://marthalhyde.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/special-case-of-type-i-ptsd-rejected-children/ for more discussion about the effects on the rejected child.
Rejected by Mother?
I suspect that Adam Lanza was rejected by his mother at birth, with all the implications previously mentioned in this posting, based upon the descriptions of him by neighbors, family and former classmates (ABC Good Morning America, a Times-Tribune 2013 report ) He was a “loner”, very shy, “socially awkward and deeply troubled”, possibly with an “unspecified personality disorder”, a “weird kid”, “He liked to sit near the door of the classroom to make a quick exit.” A neighbor, Barbara Frey, told a reporter that “He was not connected with other kids”. She described his mother as “very particular”, “I just think she had too high a standard, or focused only too much, for whatever reason.” She described a very uncomfortable relationship that should have been much more comfortable for a mother and child. The Times-Tribune 2013 report, however shows a much more complicated relationship.
Observers of him in high school show a young man with clear difficulties handling the size of his school and all the people he met (Times Tribune 2013). He also appeared to have had only a short-term, part-time job, lived at home with his mother, and probably shot her in the face when he started the shooting spree that ended with his suicide. Of course, not all rejected kids show all of the above behaviors. Most importantly, because of not being wanted by the mother, rejected children feel rejected by everyone, and have enormous difficulty in forming attachments. They just don’t show the emotional and behavioral cues to friends that would tell them the rejected child considers that friend important to them, although the rejected person would say they feel otherwise. The downcast eyes and face are often a signature of this difficulty, and most photos of him show this behavior. More importantly, they show up mostly in photos taken of him as a teenager. In the collision of needing to connect and wanting to hide because of shame, the latter wins out, because they cannot trust that doing the former will allow them to survive.
Some will argue that all teenagers show this type of anti-trust behavior, and don’t want to be photographed. That is not true in every situation. School photos usually are a way of showing you belong to a community and the rejected child never feels that, so why should they take part in something that too many people will see repeatedly see you and remark on it? The teenager desperately wants to belong to a community and a photo of him among his friends would be proof that they belonged. As to the behaviors to watch for in rejected children, beware of shyness in all situations.
Lanza’s is an extreme case, because he clearly had decided it was time to die. Three years before the shooting in 2009, his father divorced his mother and had little contact with him since then. His sense of rejection was starting to boil over, and many would suggest that the divorce started the ticking time bomb. But was it the trigger for his violent behavior? However, his father had maintained weekly contact with him after the divorce, but suddenly, a year later, Adam was the one who cut off his contact with his father. His mother was leaving him alone more often, even over holidays like Thanksgiving, to encourage his independence. There was another possible shock to Adam. Early in 2012, Nancy started to talk to friends about moving to Washington State or North Carolina, so that Adam could go to college there. She settled on Washington. Is it possible that the apparent imminent disruption in his current environment was a major trigger? But, as a friend pointed out, Nancy would not have made any move without approval from Adam (Times Tribune 2013).
The police mentioned that his bedroom was immaculate, everything perfectly folded and put away. He probably did not routinely have a room that was perfectly in order. More than likely, when we consider that 2 computers were found smashed to pieces by the investigating team (CBS 48 Hours for 15 Dec 2012, and Elementary School Rampage), he did not want any evidence left as to his motive. As mentioned previously, rejected kids feel shame, shame for existing. So most certainly, if contemplating their imminent death, they do not want to leave anything behind that might tell others about who they were (remember, shame).
He also was considered “very bright”, described by some as “brilliant” or “genius” and a computer geek, having taken some college courses in computer science (Elementary School Rampage). He was home schooled because his mother had issues with his public school, so most likely he was also self-taught in a number of things. For all his computer ability, however, he never had a Facebook or web page and never twittered or texted messages. He did not appear in many group photos. Many would call this “shy” but more than likely he did not want to stick out, often a sign of growing up in a home where he wasn’t allowed to be noticed.
Showing Rage Behavior
Adam Lanza clearly had a plan to shoot those children. He had access to guns. He had difficulties with his mother. Something happened to trigger this shooting where he had to view these children as enemies. A memory of the feelings he had when he was in first grade may be associated with his decision, but could not have been the trigger. Was he in imminent danger of losing something that he needed and that triggered his violent behavior? We may never be able to tell what the trigger was but we cannot conclude that it was mental illness, unless he was hallucinating at the time.
Hallucinations may be false sensory signals entering the brain, or the correct signals are improperly processed, or a really bad memory, with all of its sensory associations is triggered. Besides drugs, severe schizophrenia can cause hallucinations, as can dementia, but we have no evidence that any of these were in his immediate past. Improper processing of signals and drugs can trigger very strong rage, strong enough to send someone on a rampage, but there has to be some associated memory that is maintaining that rage.
Shankar Vedantam in his NPR interview said that the only thing we as citizens might be able to do to prevent such a violent outcome is to report behavior that suggests the person is planning something. Clearly if that planning is obviously for a violent act we would want to report it. Indeed, one mother in Portland, Oregon reported her son as a possible shooting threat and the police were able to prevent a shooting.
As I suggest above, there are other behaviors that should trigger alarms in the observer, long before a person becomes so violent. Maybe it is better to report to police those with rage. However, we have to learn how to sense rage in people. Rage that “bubbles over” into a very obvious anger, where they do things like what we see in “road rage” are mainly due to very short-lived problems (although they do not seem that short-lasting to the person showing the rage).
Long-term problems reveal themselves in a much subtler rage. I learned that the “baby” rage I felt towards a mother who had rejected me at birth was expressed in what is called “restless leg syndrome”, something I had all my life. More interestingly, my mother also showed this, suggesting to me that what she did to me while I was very young may have resulted from unrevealed problems in her childhood. (not necessarily imminent, but just the beginning feelings). However, nausea is also a symptom of PTSD. I suspect, however, in all “non-medical” cases, it is the result of two very opposite, but very strong, emotions colliding in one’s head. One of these emotions could be rage.
All of us, at some point, show anger or irritation about something that surprises our friends and family. I know of people who really hate the fact that the paper boy cannot aim very well. Others wish their neighbors would keep their dogs in their own yards. They might act out their irritation in fairly “extreme” ways, like shovel all the dog droppings in their yards and drop the garbage bag on the porch of their neighbor. This might irritate the neighbor, but it is not killing someone.
Rage can be extremely quiet. When a child cannot seem to make many friends easily, and who seems to drift in and out of a relationship, the child may be having difficulty making attachments. Some of these children may resent anything that “friend” has done and it adds up to rage. The resentfulness may never be expressed toward that “friend”, but may add up with other events to the point where the child, now an adult, understands that the mother is the one responsible for their lack of success in life. Expression of this early rage will vary throughout one’s life for the simple reason that we gain perspective as we age. We blame the kid we are fighting with when we are six, but we don’t start to add up all the incidences of rage until we reach adulthood when we can look at them with more distance.
This rage might be expressed by an avoidance of interaction that might cause the rage. A child learns very quickly not to stick out when they have been rejected by the mother because she will criticize anything that the child does that might make it obvious that something is wrong. The mother doesn’t want the world to see how she has failed as a parent in any way, simply because she knows she can’t love this child. She is scared to death that someone might discover this. Thus, she might seem to want to do anything for her child as far as the neighbor or friend might see. But the child knows better and sees through this hypocrisy, and becomes even more distant. In fact, the mother may act like she cares when around other adults, but not when she is with the child alone.
I strongly suspect that much of this long-term rage in the adult is the result of rejection of the infant by the mother, causing a failure to form a strong mother-infant bond. This failure leads to attachment syndrome, where the child cannot form lasting attachments, but the mother cannot do so with the child, either. We have heard of some evidence for this being a factor in Adam Lanza’s behavior from a neighbor to Nancy Lanza, Barbara Frey, in an interview on TV (ABC 20/20, and from Times-Tribune, 2013).
Some have suggested a mental disorder or disability caused Adam Lanza to kill these children and adults. So far, as of this writing, no mental health professional has listed all the disorders that might be associated with this type of violent shooting. On CBS 60 Minutes on 16 Dec 2012, two men who studied school shootings said that schizophrenia was involved with just a few, and no other disorder was mentioned. On that same show, a family member said that the mother told her that Adam had Asberger’s Syndrome, which is now classified as Autism Spectrum Disorder. The reporter asked if he was on medication and the family member implied that he may have been. However, it is unknown whether a mental health professional diagnosed him or if her family physician prescribed medication. A child with a developmental disability, like autism, wants to fit in with other kids. If they start to withdraw from others, they do not maintain this seclusion for long. They need the interaction. However, the rejected child doesn’t, because more interaction will only hurt himself.
People may ask, why didn’t Adam Lanza talk with someone about his troubles? He may not have, out of the realization that most people would never understand and he might end up in a worse position. A child rejected by the mother feels shame, shame for existing. How can they muster up enough self-esteem to trust anyone to tell them about the problems? Furthermore, since no one talks about how to do it, how can he find the words to express his inability to take that step? His isolation becomes even more important and inevitable, given these very real constraints.
A Much Larger Picture
The only way we could ever understand why a person becomes a mass killer is to understand what happens in early childhood and why certain events have to happen. As long as we ignore this process, and continue to make assumptions about mothers’ attitudes toward their children, and make assumptions about brain development, we will continue to miss the early signs of a very troubled future.
A much larger picture about rage also needs to be recognized. We see the rage against women today being expressed by men everywhere. Foreign women have a 90% risk of being attacked by men in Egypt, and Egyptian women have more than a 70% chance of such an attack. Why are women being targeted in Egypt? There are many Egyptian men who love and respect the women in their lives, possibly the majority. Women are targeted in some African “failed states”, and being raped by men who are terrorizing villages. We have all heard of such stories in past history, where the invaders rape and pillage. I discuss how this rage against women may result from not being protected by their mothers in infancy, and how this failure may add up to rage against women in adults, expressed in a variety of ways in this country, and sometimes as a desire by our legislature to restrict medical choices by women at my blog post Politics and Rage Against Women.
Children rejected by their mothers will most often be hoarders or collectors of stuff. They move this stuff from one place to the next whenever they have to take up a new residence. They will cling to things that most others will throw out over the course of a lifetime. Why? because these things are the only constants in a life where their mothers were never a constant. Another reason may lie in the fact that sorting through the stuff and making decisions about whether to keep something or not is too difficult, since so much of it may make them recall very painful events. Just looking at/smelling/reading/hearing anything from the past may trigger panic attacks.
ABC 20/20 for 5 Aug 2011 did a show recently on hoarders . One of the mothers (it was not the woman at this link, Bonnie, but you can watch the full episode there) who was a severe hoarder was described having been severely abused by her parents. It is highly likely that she was rejected by her mother at birth, even though she did not begin to show such hoarding behavior until her divorce. The specialist who was interviewed suggested that often it is triggered by a severe emotional trauma, like a death or divorce. I suspect that this type of trauma, especially divorce, will make a hoarder relive the feelings of abandonment by her own parent(s). Few psychotherapists seem to realize how such severe behavior belies extremely severe and very early childhood trauma. Rejection is so hard to figure out without special techniques, that it rarely is even considered as a causative factor.
Low Self Esteem
These children, for all of their self-taught accomplishments, will suffer from a chronic lack of self-esteem. That lack will become expressed in several ways. In the CBS 60 Minutes program, “The Gospel Kids“, broadcast on 31 March 2011, I recognized immediately a characteristic of some of the young girls and boys in that music class that betrayed a very low self-esteem. Many dressed in ways to cover up aspects of themselves that they were too afraid to show (hair). Nearly all when asked to speak could barely get a squeak out or spoke with such low voices, they were asked to speak up. Vy Higginsen, creator of Gospel for Teens says that these young people seem to say “I’m ashamed of who I am and where I come from.” Many of them, when asked to stand up and give their names and talk about themselves, were so “shy” they could not even say a word. One, Rhonda Rodriguez, even cried.
I immediately recognized one girl with these characteristics, Gabby Francois, as probably having been rejected by her mother at birth and never accepted by either parent. Higginsen describes her as “Chewing gum, slouching, watching, not singing.” My guess was strongly supported when the narrator told us that this girl’s parents neither knew she came to the gospel music classes, nor appeared to care enough to come to her first competition. I also suspect that Rhonda was also rejected at birth, since she was raised by her great-grandmother, Carmen Rivera since she was a baby. Rhonda sees her mother only two or three times a year.
Even stronger PTSD can be suffered by these children when the mother, who didn’t want them at birth, tried to kill them. Often they will suffer from memories of physiological responses to suffocation or strangulation attempts or exposure to toxic chemicals put into their bottles or into the air where they slept. Repeated attempts to kill them add up to a lot of memories of memories of memories, etc.
Complicated Family Scenarios
Another possible scenario is that of the unwanted baby born to a family of more than one child, some of whom were wanted, especially older siblings. The mother often teaches these older children that the baby is unwanted. The siblings will be particularly vicious toward the unwanted child. The mother teaches by example, so that the younger children respond the same way toward the baby, and therefore, the growing child.
In fact, all the children, seeing how the mother attacks that rejected child will feel scared at first, suffering PTSD also, because they cannot see why the mother is acting so horribly toward that child. They then make up stories of their own about why the mother doesn’t like that child. Thus, the rejected child not only suffers from the terror of the mother and/or father, but also from that of siblings. It is an incredibly dysfunctional family in these circumstances. Some rejected children try hard to please their siblings who are constantly criticizing them because they do not understand why they can’t stand seeing or hearing the unwanted child. All grope for an explanation for themselves. Because the issue is the elephant in the room and all the people there are blind, each will have a story of their own to explain the problem. Since no one has ever discussed the issue, all will grow up denying that a problem exists.
We see in David, the homeless teenager mentioned in the ABC 20/20 TV show for 26 Aug 2011, the effects of the complicated dynamics in a family of more than one child suffering, either from primary rejection by the mother or secondarily, from the awareness that rejection of one of them has occurred. In either case, they will all suffer from chronic PTSD. It is clear that rejection by the mother becomes the overwhelming living condition in this family, even if it is brushed out of consciousness in both parents and never discussed. It is probable that all the children in David’s family were rejected by the mother, but competition for scarce resources occurs in the extreme poverty seen in this family.
David’s case is further complicated by the fact that his desire to be a girl makes his mother very uncomfortable. Both parents are relatively ignorant and cannot understand or accept David’s decision. Their discomfort makes all the children in that family afraid that any decision they make will cause a similar parental response toward themselves. The dislike or indifference by the mother toward David causes his brothers to gang up on him and ridicule him, thinking that is what she would want. It is extremely brave of David to choose to stick out like this but it is obvious that he sticks out anyway because of his birth order and his small size. He has reached a decision early in life that he may as well express his individuality now since it won’t make a difference in how he is treated at home, anyway, but it may help him be tolerated by others outside the home, at least in their first response towards him.
Because each of the wanted children, in the family of the rejected child, suffered PTSD as children, like the unwanted sibling, they will probably only remember that those early years were tough, but not why. They will also tend to feel the PTSD when they come into contact with the unwanted sibling, causing them to lash out at the unwanted sibling to attempt to make themselves feel better (recalling those feelings when they were children where they felt they were pleasing their mother or father).
In cases where all the children were unwanted, we may see them bond together, and older siblings will be strongly protective toward younger ones. They will have a sense of empathy toward those who suffer such attacks. However, all will share PTSD symptoms when they remember the attacks on any one of the group, and there is a risk that the bond among them may be very fragile, especially in conditions of poverty or when one of the children is picked on more than the others by the parents, as seen in the case of David in the ABC 20/20 TV show on 26 Aug 2011.
We see in the behavior of homeless teenagers in the ABC 20/20 TV show on 26 Aug 2011 another aspect of rejection by the mother–the inability to make any or a good decision whenever they must be out in the real world where they are being judged by people who do not know them, but could still hold power over them. For the rejected child, the first impression they make is more important than any followup, since they know they have no control over the future, only the present. They can operate on a “small stage” in life where people outside the family who know them have power over them, but not the “big stage” where there are people judging their performance who do not know them personally. Drugs can become involved very easily because of this fact–they not only kill the constant emotional pain the child is in because of the rejection, but they may also bring “friends” with the drugs where none would bother to get to know the rejected child otherwise.
The only other way for such children to get approval from anyone is by doing something spectacular which hits the “news”, either TV, radio, internet, or word-of-mouth in a small community, because of the need by the child to be isolated from anyone who might hurt them. Since they cannot trust anyone because of the rejection by the mother, “anyone” becomes everyone else.
However, doing something spectacular means having to do it silently because they cannot perform on the “big stage” in front of an audience who might be able to call attention to what they are doing, thus submitting them to judgment by those with power over them. They do not do these things because they crave attention that spoiled kids would want, but because they are desperate for approval of something they do from anyone.
Example: The Barefoot Bandit
“The Barefoot Bandit“, Colton Harris-Moore, who was arrested in July 2010 is an extraordinary example of a rejected child. As such, he probably has suffered from Type I PTSD all of his life, although no one would have likely seen the symptoms. They weren’t paying attention. The story of his early life is one that has been documented (For Barefoot Bandit, Life on the Run Started Early, Colton Harris-Moore’s Childhood) and from these records, I will outline how he displays the profile of a rejected child, based upon the characteristics I have listed above.
When young, he ran away from home often. He became a solitary person on the run. Even though he had a friend who taught him how to steal, he chose a solitary life when he was able to abandon his mother’s home. He was known to live in the forest on his own, but police said he made temporary shelter for himself in empty houses for days and weeks at a time. Most reports say his life, even before his two-year hiatus from jail when he escaped a half-way house and before he was caught in July 2010, was spent alone and hungry. When arrested, people were surprised that he seemed to hate the publicity. However, he seemed to like that there were thousands of people talking about him on the internet. However, note that this infamy was not surrounding him in his daily life. He never sought being seen by people, and when captured, looks extremely uncomfortable with the paparazzi.
Some might say that he learned how to be solitary from seeing his mother defend her right to privacy with a gun. However, I strongly suspect that both of his parents were also rejected by their mothers. Thus, some behavior may seem to be “genetic” when it is purely the legacy of poor parenting passed down through the generations.
There are police records of physical and verbal abuse by both parents of Colton at the age of four and later. Neighbors heard his mother scream vicious things at him. Police investigated the parents for “negligent treatment or maltreatment” when he was 10. He was called a bully at school. He was called the bare-foot bandit because he wore no shoes. I suggest that he became accustomed to going barefoot as a young child because his mother did not buy shoes for him. Court records show neglect by the mother. The father appears to have abandoned the family. When he was first arrested at the age of 12, a social worker wrote, “Colton wants Mom to stop drinking and smoking, get a job, and have food in the house. Mom refuses.” Even with all that neglect, it seems odd that he stayed in touch with her during the entire time he was eluding capture. I suspect that our brains are built so that we cannot give up all ties to our mothers, even if they repeatedly show they don’t care.
The photos taken of him show very little emotion. Although he seemed to capitalize on his infamy by drawing chalk outlines of his bare feet on the floor of one store and leaving “mementos” of his invasion in homes and businesses, they would be just that–no confrontation of people in person. At age 12, psychiatric evaluation of him mentions depression, attention deficit disorder, and intermittent explosive disorder.
Although he dropped out of school after the ninth grade, he was self-educated in many ways. He struggles with writing, but he could read and teach himself how to fly planes, even flying in weather that pilots with standardized, quality training could not do. Even though crashing all five of his stolen planes, he always walked away, apparently without much harm done to himself. Many people want to know how he could teach himself to fly with no cockpit training.
Some may call him fearless for doing these things, and that contradicts the inability to take risks that the rejected child shows. However, that paradox can be explained because of the ability of these children to educate themselves in activities that others would not think of doing, precisely because it takes risks. However, to the rejected children, the bigger risk is doing these things with other people, since other people cannot be trusted. Since the rejected child can only trust themselves (and only for those things they could learn on their own) , they have a fierce independence as a result.
He has a juvenile record of stealing things. He did not seem to care much about his own appearance, since what he stole tended to be food, money, and things needed for survival. However, he did steal electronics (records show laptops, iPods, GPS devices, remote controls), probably all battery-powered. Furthermore, his classmates made fun of his dirty clothing (resulting from his mother’s neglect of him) when Colton was in the fifth grade.
You might say he took risks, however, by stealing, but he always chose rural areas and small towns where there was unlikely to be anyone else walking around at night–so he took risks only whenever he might not be observed at all. He did not hold many jobs, and appeared to choose only temporary employment, where people are unlikely to get to know him at all.
Comment on Bullying Movie Is Released With No Rating on Morning Edition 03 Mar 2012 where I discuss how bullying is related to the life of children rejected by their mothers, bullying by siblings, and how the topic is also related to the soldiers suffering from PTSD who have a hard time talking about because they fear retribution from their fellow soldiers.
This report is on the ratings for the new documentary movie, “Bully” which opens up in theaters on 31 March 2012. The Motion Picture Association of America was originally going to release it with an R rating because of the language used in the movie. However, anti-bullying groups wanted every child to be able to see it, with or without a parent. So the MPAA decided to release it without a rating, leaving it up to theaters as to what requirements are needed for a child to see the movie. The interview with Elizabeth Blair and Sun Dee Larson, interspersed with clips from the movie, shows that not every school or child would want to see the movie and that many schools seem to encourage bullying. This short interview seemed to suggest that this is a topic that needed far more discussion in the news than has been done in the past.
My Comments at NPR
There is no question that all kids should see this movie. However, it sounds like many scenes could really hurt a child who has been bullied who watches this and thus adults should be present while young kids watch. However a note of caution that raises the issue not discussed in the media that has incredible relevance here.
At some point we need to address the bullying of a kid by his siblings. No doubt the child who is bullied by his schoolmates may also be bullied at home, by parents or by siblings or both. I speak of the child who was rejected by his mother.
My comments were sparked by something a soldier said in another report, about a “rest stop” on the way back to civilian life.
Spc. John Nestico spoke of having the ability to talk to someone not in a uniform, to be able to say something that won’t be held against him. That struck me because I realized that his feelings are shared with those kids who were rejected by a mother. The last thing she wants to hear is her child, to be made aware of that child. Furthermore, when she belittles that child whenever he starts to talk, the rest of the kids pick that up and do the same. Anything that child says will “be held against him” by the family because it is a tool for getting that kid to “shut-up.”
Having been rejected by a mother, who hasn’t ever accepted him within that window of the first three years of life, the child hasn’t been able to develop the brain pathways that would allow him to trust that mother, or anyone else. Why not anyone else? Because the brain’s pathway formed with the mother is the model for all other pathways that should develop during a lifetime of relationships with other people. If that pathway is not there, the child has to “start from scratch” in every relationship. Lack of trust is the starting point when others who have that mother-child bond don’t have to surmount that step. Default in the accepted child is acceptance by others. Default in the rejected child is non-acceptance.
The difference between Spc. Nestico and the rejected child is that Nestico has a history of acceptance by others, both as soldier and civilian. The preponderance of events where he was accepted, no matter what he said, greatly outnumbers those where he was not. The rejected child has a history where most events were of rejection, even by people outside of the family who supposedly have no reason to reject him. Why? Because the rejected child learns how to “not stick out” and falls back on that behavior as a default. Not sticking out generally means looking ashamed, since that tends to avert the attacks by the mother. However, it only triggers attacks by his siblings. Thus, he is more likely to become a victim of bullying. Furthermore, it tends to trigger distrust of him by others who are not bullies, simply because they conclude that he must have a reason to hide himself and act ashamed that justifies their own distrust of him. The problems balloon throughout life because the history of rejection accumulates, only reinforcing the behaviors. All of this is unconscious to both the rejectee as well as the observer. Those subliminal behavioral cues govern our relationships far more than the words exchanged.
For more of my comments on bullying, and what a rejected child needs in order to heal, see my blog post “Special Case of Type I PTSD–Rejected Children” at https://marthalhyde.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/special-case-of-type-i-ptsd-rejected-children, especially on the section where I comment on this report.
See also my comments posted on Helping Soldiers with Brain Injury to Return to War.
My Extended Comments
“Just Do What I Do”
Why can’t he just “change that behavior”, develop more self-esteem? That won’t come easy to a person without all the necessary brain pathways that developed in kids accepted by the mother, especially if the child doesn’t know that he was rejected by the mother. He can’t “just do it” without knowing about the unconscious behavioral signals. Pointing these behavioral cues out to this person is not enough. They need to have very basic brain pathways built first. The person who has a history of acceptance is totally clueless to what that history is based upon, it is that unconscious. Knowing what happened, and why, is the single-most important step in psychotherapy to rebuilding damaged or non-existent pathways.
However, the last thing the mother will ever reveal to her child is how she could never accept him, or that she tried to kill him during his first years of life. Just because he has “forgotten” what happened, doesn’t mean that some part of his brain doesn’t remember. Everything that we experience is stored in the brain. The problem we have is in recalling it. Our brain blocks these incredibly traumatic experiences for a reason. Recall of a severely emotional trauma causes more damage in the brain (I am guessing it is the high voltage of neurons involved could cause electrical failure). If we were to remember those events every time we experienced something with the slightest reference to them, we would be constantly having to repair traumatic damage in the brain.
Survival is already a huge problem for the rejected child. Having to be in constant repair mode could push the child over the brink. Instead, that child will go into constant repair mode in later life when the memories of memories of memories have accumulated so much during a lifetime, that the person has to stop the world just to manage life for the next day. Such a person may die early from what doctors would call “chronic stress” and for whom standard doctors’ health care suggestions will not work.
Memories of attempts to kill or hurt a baby will be stored in the brain. Everything we ever experience in life is stored there. Because storage involves so many parts of the brain, and no single event is stored in a single place, only recollection, and not storage of events, can be hampered by trauma. At least throughout most of life.
[I suspect that Alzheimer’s disease involves emotion circuits that have been too heavily used earlier in life. This makes it more likely for the traumatized person to get the disease later in life because of unrepaired damage to emotion circuits. We may think of it as a memory storage failure because the brain cannot seem to store recent events. But all storage processes involve use of emotion circuits. By the time we reach the age when Alzheimer’s is likely, a critical number of emotion circuits have been damaged to the point that there are none left that can help to process new memories.]
We already know of places in the brain where different sensory experiences are stored: sight, sound and smell. These all get stored in the conscious neocortex. However, we also know other sensory experiences are also stored in the brain: touch, pain, temperature, pressure, body position (kinesthetic sense). These are stored in both conscious neortex and unconscious deeper brain levels. But so are sight, sound and smell as well. When we recall events, we interpret signals coming into consciousness from all these locations, as we “reconstruct” in our brains what happens. However, the unconscious storage areas are generally not recalled as easily. Our recollection will change from one day to the next, depending upon what details are critical for us to remember at that time. Thus, getting details from an eyewitness, e.g., while memory is “fresh”, are still going to be spotty. See my discussion of the relation between emotion and memory in the section “Emotions as Expression of Neural Program Satiety”, in Emotional Representation in the Brain and Using MRT: Removing Toxins and Emotional Trauma.
I strongly suspect that all memories of babies before the age of three years are stored in the medulla (unconscious brain) because they are needed for formation of basic physiological programs during those years, and because the neocortex is rapidly and greatly expanding at that time. These unconscious memories never get hooked up with the frontal lobe, as memories made after the age of three are, and thus, are not available for conscious recall. Because these terror events happened in infancy, details of what happened are also not easily recalled.
Recall of baby memories takes extraordinary measures. Some have been able to be recalled with hypnosis, but I used Muscle Response/Reflex Testing (MRT, Applied Kinesiology) and visualization of the centers of the brain to learn what happened to me. The baby can, however, form panic attacks related to these memories, growing up with physiological responses that will remain misunderstood, misinterpreted, or ignored, because there is no association with conscious memory. Furthermore, every sense active at the time of terror will be associated with the terror event, and easily trigger panic attacks later in life, when the person has no conscious reason to panic. Because of this, panic attacks are often not even recognized as such.
I recall a recent memory of my behavior at feeding time when only 2 weeks old in Mindfulness Techniques, in the section “Using Mindfulness to Monitor Conscious and Unconscious Thoughts”. When I recalled this event (31 July 2011), I realized how much fear of my own mother had ruled my own physiology. As that baby in that scene, I drank too much milk because I was not afraid of my mother when I discovered that she was asleep. It was as if my unconscious brain said “Get it now while you can.” As an adult looking back on this scene, I realized that when I was a baby, I normally stopped drinking milk early at each feeding because I was so afraid of her. The significance of this memory is very disquieting, showing us that the effects of PTSD in a rejected child will even show up in a newborn infant if we only look for the evidence.
The Consequences of Being Rejected
The culture of poverty mentioned in my post The Four Pillars of Support plays a role in the creation of rejected children. I strongly suspect that children in the lower socioeconomic groups suffer a far greater rejection rate than children born to families that can afford to raise them. As evidence is a statistic from the ABC 20/20 TV show for 26 Aug 2011, mentioned before, which followed four homeless teenagers. One of them, Rebecca, had lived in the town of Falls City, Oregon, which had a very high poverty rate resulting from the economic downturn in 2009. Roughly 32% of children in their school district were homeless, in many cases because their parents were homeless, but most teenagers in that category were without home and parent. A San Francisco social worker said that the city must find resources for more than 6000 homeless teenagers every year. Also revealed in this program was that there were more than two million homeless children in the US in 2009. I strongly suspect that number has only increased since the original broadcast.
Children of rejected mothers may reject their own children. Because these people live in poverty, any decision they make will more likely, than other socioeconomic groups, put them over the edge economically. As discussed earlier in the section called “What Rejected Children Feel,” every decision they make has consequences that are far more severe for them than for children who were not rejected by the mother, simply because the latter have someone at their back. Bullies come out of the woodwork when they see someone weaker than themselves, and these children will most certainly be targeted by both child and adult bullies.
Children of rejected mothers may go the complete opposite way, too. They may know how badly they were treated and want the companionship of having children of their own. They would want the chance to raise them in ways that they never experienced themselves, as loving mothers or fathers. They get to re-live their childhood as they watch their own children, so that they, as parents, can fully understand what they needed as children. But what are the minimum requirements for all rejected children to take this route? I strongly suspect that education is critical as well as certain chance events, like meeting the right mate.
An analogy is appropriate here. Both rejected child and wanted child are standing on a ledge of a building on fire behind them, deciding whether to jump to safety. The child who was wanted by the mother has the wall of the building behind them and crowds below calling to them to jump, that someone will catch them. The rejected child has no wall behind him, he stands on a very narrow ledge, and the crowd below is jeering at him, telling him that he will surely die if he jumps and that no one below wants to see him survive.
It is tempting to say that the latter scene is what the rejected child perceives, and the situation is not as dire as the description appears. However, the rejected child’s desire for anonymity, because he fears the consequences of sticking out (as learned from growing up with such a mother), causes him to take on behaviors which makes him blend in with the background. People cannot notice what doesn’t stick out.
The disinterested observer will not notice the reality that child faces, either. This observer will assume that if the child just jumps, someone will catch him. After all, the observer did this, and he never got hurt. This naive observer will not notice, or will completely misinterpret, the menacing faces of all those waiting for the victim to jump. As mentioned above, there are a lot of bullies out there who feel empowered when they can push someone else around and they can spot a rejected child every time. The non-bully, who was born to a mother who wanted them, will have difficulty seeing the reality that a rejected child faces.
That reality includes a lifetime of rejection, with devastating consequences on brain development. Many, who see these kids make such unfortunate choices in life, consider these kids as victims of their own devices. These observers never notice the bullies out there, who would make sure this kid fails if he tried to make better choices. This situation leads to a “blame the victim” mentality by ignorant/naive observers.
All of us, no matter who our mothers were, will have memories of rejection, both conscious and unconscious, every time we get rejected. The child whose mother rejected him will have a lot more of these memories. Because this child has extremely traumatic memories associated with rejection, each rejection is much more painful to him than to the non-rejected child.
The brain will do anything to prevent its owner from being hurt again, and will prevent the rejected child from doing anything that has a risk of causing another rejection. Dissociative personality disorders (making the person feel numb emotionally about the people who hurt him) can develop as a mechanism for preventing further damage to emotional pathways in the brain. The child stops thinking about the parent as soon as they are safely away from him/her.
Comment on “Interviews: ‘All We Know’: Three Remarkable But Forgotten Lives“, on All Things Considered 19 Jan 2013 where Lisa Cohen, author of ‘All We Know: Three Lives’, who speaks of her biography of three lesbians who were writers, who, although very visible to important people where very invisible to rest of the world.
For her book, ‘All We Know: Three Lives,’ Lisa Cohen tells us how she discovered the extraordinary lives of 3 historical figures who were lesbians: Mercedes de Acosta, Esther Murphy and Madge Garland. She relates parts of her descriptions of the lives of the women. Esther Murphy came from high society and was the sister of the painter Gerald Murphy. Madge Garland was the daughter of a wealthy textile businessman, who wrote about haute couture for the British Vogue magazine. Mercedes de Acosta was a lover of Greta Garbo. She was a “passionate” collector and writer. The author speaks of how she could make these three women visible even though they all three tried to be invisible during life. Cohen wants to show how these lesbian women acted within the communities of women, with their inter-dependencies on each other. She felt that she had to investigate the genre of biography.
My Comments posted on NPR
Esther Murphy sounds like she was rejected by her mother at birth, never accepted by her mother. I say this because of characteristics described by Lisa Cohen: “she’s awkward, inelegant, anxious, absolutely, rivetingly brilliant,” and she never finished writing a book. She seemed to know everyone who mattered in writing. “She became a kind of repository of others’ anxieties about what it meant to fail and meant to succeed.” I need more information but just this bit is pointing toward a possibility of rejection, because rejected children have enormous difficulty in succeeding at anything, and people wonder why.
Children rejected by their mothers lack that basic circuitry that gets laid down during the first three years of life because they lack a mother who loves them and wants to know them. It will be highly likely that the mother who can’t be interested during the baby’s first three years, won’t be later, either. These kids will be socially awkward. They just don’t get it because they lack the basic self-esteem usually given to them by an attentive mother. See my blog post “Special Case of Type I PTSD–Rejected Children” at https://marthalhyde.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/special-case-of-type-i-ptsd-rejected-children/.
My Extended Comments
They lack the confidence that someone will always be there if something goes wrong. This produces a lot of anxiety, especially in social circumstances. Another source of anxiety may result because they fear they will be attacked by anyone, just as their mothers did who did not want to be reminded that these children existed (Physiological Responses to Terror). Often these kids are really good at teaching themselves, since they have to be responsible for their own survival.
Not being able to finish writing the book will come from the fact that they can only operate on a small stage. A book is going to be read by people they don’t know, who will judge them on a large stage. There are HUGE blocks in their brain from finishing, from submitting a manuscript, simply because there is no circuit that carries them to the first step. It is a first step which no one can tell them how to do, because people who were loved by their mothers early on will have that circuitry established, making that first step a completely unconscious one.
This is the main reason Esther Murphy seems to know every writer of her time. She knows she will be judged by them, so she has to know them first so that she can operate on the stage with them, making it a small stage. She wants to be liked by them so that she doesn’t think of them as the larger, faceless, book-reading population by whom she will be judged. She thinks that is the first step, but it isn’t, so she never gets past that step. She knows that to submit her manuscript, she must be able to stand on a larger stage, and she just cannot find the way to that stage.
People keep saying to these rejected children, “just do as I do” (see above), but the kids will be looking for a way to get to the point that they can do it. They will closely watch others, trying desperately to figure out how other people do it, but not seeing anything that they are not doing, anyway. If they succeed at anything when young, it is by accident, when someone who took them by the hand and lead them along the first step. They cannot apply the skills they learned for this activity to anything else because every situation is unique. The circuitry laid down in the brain to guide a child through this first step can be applied to every circumstance but if it is not there, the child has to create a first step for every action they take which demands some self-confidence. So it applies to any goal in life, big or small.
Not only is the path to the first step missing in rejected children, but rejected children never realize that they are showing shame, and that shame triggers a response of distrust in them by others who were not rejected, who think that, after all, they must have something to be ashamed of if they are showing it. These kids are most likely to be bullied or taken advantage of because these predators know the rejected people will not fight back out of fear for their lives, for the loss of any sense of security they may have now. These rejected children, and all those watching them, will never realize, without really careful guidance and long-term, reflective thinking, that their shame is entirely existential, and nothing they are responsible for. However, realizing that doesn’t give them the self-esteem they need for the first step.
Their friends never think of themselves as close friends to this person, but the rejected person does think this, because they are closer than the mother ever was. They will constantly be disappointed by these “friends” because they expect them to always act like friends, even if the rejected person doesn’t know what friendship means. However, despite the disappointment, these rejected people will not break off from those friends. After all, that is the way life is, you can’t expect from friends what they seem to expect from each other. The rejected child continues to closely watch people, trying to figure out what to do to achieve success. For this reason, I broaden the definition of PTSD to apply to all rejected children, since they must devote every second of life to thinking about how to survive from one minute to the next, but lack the basic circuitry necessary for a fully functioning, social, human being.
The child rejected by the mother will want invisibility, but so will others who feel rejected for various reasons, but who were rejected later in life. No doubt these women felt they had to keep secret their sexual identity from most people. Thus, they were invisible in the historical literature, although their work was important to many.
Repair of Damage
As I outline in many other blog posts at this website, removal of emotional and physical damage can be complicated. The single-most thorough of methods involves a combination of mind-body medicine techniques of Mindfulness, Visualization, and Muscle Reflex Testing as outlined above.
However, the best method is one of prevention. The best of all worlds would be no such trauma caused to a child, but that is asking too much of a world who doesn’t care about what happens to an unwanted child after birth (Politics and Rage Against Women)
The next best thing is for parents to openly talk to the child about the events that happened early, giving only age-appropriate information, but always with a clinical attitude that life was like that and now it has changed. The discussion should be brought up whenever something happens that is relevant to the event. For instance, the child starts to act out rage at 10 years of age. The discussion can include asking questions, almost rhetorically, as to whether or not the child’s behavior now is related to what happened at birth. Of course, this implies that the mother now accepts the child (if the child has not been adopted by someone else), even if it is too late to happen within the first three years of life.
Motivating such a child to take small risks means more than telling him that “you never know unless you try,” or that “you are a worthwhile person.” Words do not make up for the lack of consistent actions of the new mother in responding to every need of the newborn during the first three years of life. Motivation only comes from experience that there will always be someone at your back. Motivating such a child means that you provide the child with the sense of security coming from someone who will never turn away from them. However, the child can only develop substitute pathways in the brain if there are enough such cases of someone being there for them in their memories.
How do you know there are enough? That is extremely difficult because this child, who lacks the basic pathways that were supposed to be formed by a loving mother’s actions during the first three years of life, now must make new pathways for every circumstance where self-esteem is needed before making a decision. Unfortunately, if those baseline pathways are not there, a lot of short-cuts are unavailable to the child, and separate “first steps” have to be made for every kind of decision. That means a lot of repeated assurance to this child that other children do not need.
That is very difficult for someone to do who is not the parent, no matter how hard he/she tries. Being the parent normally prepares the brain to make that special relationship with the child. Becoming a foster parent doesn’t seem to make a difference to either the child or the foster parent. Why else do only 10% of children in foster care get adopted? What other explanation is there for the higher risk of these children to get “lost in the system,” released without a home or family at the age of 18, making poor choices about education, jobs, gangs, pregnancy, and crime?
Much of therapy today for such people who suffer from early childhood trauma recognizes that reliving their traumatic experiences by talking about them causes even more damage to the brain. A person might be able to tell the brain to disconnect the strong, bad emotions from the individual memory, but that takes a lot of training of the brain, helping it to track down the associations, one by one. That can cause more damage, until the brain “gets it,” how to do it without having the person bring those unconscious connections into consciousness. A person very experienced in using mindfulness, visualization and muscle response testing, as mentioned above, may be able to communicate to the patient’s brain the method more effectively than having the patient just reading how to do it. But there are other considerations that need recognition.
Reliving traumatic experiences (after telling the brain to disconnect the strong emotional responses from the memory) helps only if the child has started to train the brain to replace the mother’s representative nerve cell with a different cell representing true friends or agents in his behalf. Teaching the brain to insert a new person into each memory, who jumps to his aid, is much like we can do with lucid dreaming, where we start a dream with a new track that ends on a much happier note. See my posting Using MRT: Recovering From Trauma for more on this technique.
We must remember that, in the brain, it is a numbers game. I was able to make changes in my brain, as I have just described, with representations of members of my family who have treated me like I was an unwanted stranger all of my life. When I made that decision recently, telling my brain to go through all of archival memory, and remove associations with the cells representing my family members, replacing them with cells representing friends of mine who cared for me, the process took about three weeks.
This step is critical for another reason. There is evidence that the brain uses a kind of “transactional analysis” in behavior, where the success rate of a social interaction is weighed against the failure rate. When success outnumbers failure, that could send a “go ahead” signal to other areas in the brain. My instructions allowed the brain to “add up” better endings of old archived memories.
These sums of good results seem to be stored in a separate location. I suspect this is true because I still remember those old memories with members of my own family, so that those family member cells are still associated with the archived memories. The process was clearly only a temporary solution, but influenced other storage depots that have a major effect on forming critical pathways, and thus a more permanent solution could be achieved. The “good” results could now outnumber bad results from past events, and thus allow the brain to develop other pathways that could not form before because of low success numbers. During that time, I noticed that I felt stronger emotionally, gradually increasing in strength over that period of time. Suddenly, I realized that I was not thinking about any family member at all whenever I tried to do something, even unconsciously or very much in the back of my mind. I realized that my entire life had these ghosts hovering over me, determined to ruin any decision I made. The relief I felt was tremendous!
The parent can teach the child to constantly question if something that happens is associated with the original event, because the rejected child can look for reasons and understand what is completely elusive to the uninformed child. The child learns how to become very mindful of an association with real events. These children do not have to grow up wondering why family members treat them a certain way, different from friends. The child can learn how to “stare it down, until it can’t scare you anymore” (Jaycee Dugard).
I discuss the problems that a mother has who doesn’t want her child in The Four Pillars of Support Affect Mothers’ Decisions.
Perry, B. D., Pollard, R. A., Blakley, T. L., Baker, W. L., & Vigilante, D. (1995). Childhood trauma, the neurobiology of adaptation, and use-dependent development of the brain: How states become traits. Infant Mental Health Journal, 16(4), 271-291.
Perry, B. D. (1997). Incubated in terror: Neurodevelopmental factors in the “cycle of violence.” pp. 124-149 in Children in a violent society, Osofsky, J. D., Ed. New York, N. Y.: Guilford Press. [Freely available version is at The Child Trauma Academy].
Pilla, J. M. & Bernet, W. (2011). Letter to the Editor: Ursula A. Kelly, PhD, ANP-BC, PMHNP-BC, Guest Editor. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 17(2), 189. (Available only by subscription [Sage Journals sometimes has free access to Psychiatric Journals if registered, or go to Current Free Trials], or at libraries).
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