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Reading a recent post on Stavros’s blog, My Greek Odyssey, I was reminded of the description I’ve included below, of the way before us in life. It took me a while to remember where I’d read it, and to find the book, and then the passage, and then type it up.  I’d like to be able to find it more easily next time.  I’d hate to lose it.

 

“Our capacity to choose changes constantly with our practice of life.  The longer we continue to make the wrong decisions, the more our heart hardens; the more often we make the right decision, the more our heart softens – or better perhaps, comes alive … Each step in life which increases my self-confidence, my integrity, my courage, my conviction also increases my capacity to choose the desirable alternative, until eventually it becomes more difficult for me to choose the undesirable rather than the desirable action.  On the other hand, each act of surrender and cowardice weakens me, opens the path for more acts of surrender, and eventually freedom is lost.  Between the extreme when I can no longer do a wrong act and the extreme when I have lost my freedom to right action, there are innumerable degrees of freedom of choice.  In the practice of life the degree of freedom to choose is different at any given moment.  If the degree of freedom to choose the good is great, it needs less effort to choose the good.  If it is small, it takes a great effort, help from others, and favourable circumstances … Most people fail in the art of living not because they are inherently bad or so without will that they cannot lead a better life; they fail because they do not wake up and see when they stand at a fork in the road and have to decide.  They are not aware when life asks them a question, and when they still have alternative answers.  Then with each step along the wrong road it becomes increasingly difficult for them to admit that they must go back to the first wrong turn, and must accept the fact that they have wasted energy and time.”

 

 

It’s by Eric Fromm, in The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil, from pages 173-178, but I read it in M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie; The Hope for Healing Human Evil, where it appears at p91.

 

 

 

The sun was still low in the sky. Looking towards its lazy light, I saw how it coloured the river and the shining mud of the river’s banks a pale golden yellow, leaving only textures to discriminate between the infused water and the shore. Liquid gold flowing past rough nuggets. Turning the other way the bright colours of the yachts tied up along the pontoons were like national flags against the sky-blue water. Bright red. White. Dark blue. Small amounts of yellow.

Seabirds flew across the screen with the same frequency of as easy computer game. One now, flying horizantally from east to west. Another, later, swooping to land on the water, then taking off again. Now a pair of smaller sea birds. Then a heavy oil-black cormorant, like a sooty full stop, becomes long points suspendus as it heaves its heavy body up, its wings batting the surface of the water and punctuating the smoothness.

A small procession of yachts, only a lone man at the helm of each, take advantage of the ebbing tide to carry them out to the mouth of the estuary, letting the pull of the vanished moon multiply the impulsion of their engine, using the free water between the rows of moored boats.  A small red fibreglass tender is launched from the wooden ramp and floats away. A man in the boat, facing forwards, pulls on a cord to start the outboard engine clamped to the stern. Nothing happens. He pulls again, and again, and again, as the boat drift further from the shore. I start to watch with more interest, wondering if he has a paddle as well as the motor. The man turns to face the stern and tilts the engine out of the water. He examines it, perhaps regulating the choke, checking that the fuel is turned on, then he lowers the propellor in the water once more.  He jerks the cord. Again the engine stays silent. He pulls several more times, then stands up and gives the cord one more almighty pull with all the force of his upright body. The put-put engine jumps into life and the boat makes a more determined progression into the sun.

My dog jumps from tussock to tussock. Vertical takeoff and bouncing on landing. He mis-judges a gap and gets his feet wet and then takes off in a frenzy of excitement, his tail bent oddly at right angles, his hind legs strangely under his body, running round in endless circles until he collapses on the rough sea grass and rubs himself dry. Then, frog-like, he waits to see if I move. I stay still, taking in the glass-like blue beauty of the river and the sky, feeling my cheeks lift with a smile that reaches to my eyes and relaxes my body, slowing me down.

 

Juan Carlos Garelli, M.D., Ph.D.
University of Buenos Aires
Department of Early Development

Hello again Dr Garelli,  

I am currently writing an newspaper article about anxiety in children and why, in this country, we often tend to overlook the chronically anxious child.

I know you are very busy but if you have the time to respond, I would be most interested in your succinct opinion of how anxiety in children develops.  Thank you.

To which I replied:

Anxious children are overlooked because they are seen as overdependent, spoilt, jealous, possessive, greedy, immature and many similar names.

Viewed in the perspective of the Theory of Attachment, children described by clinicians as dependent or overdependent are ones who exhibit attachment behaviour more frequently and more urgently than the clinician thinks proper. Inherent in the terms, therefore, are the norms and values of the observer using them. As you may be aware, this leads to so many difficulties that it renders impossible to explain the child’s behaviour in objective terms.

Overdependency, therefore, is not the term to be used. I prefer to use “Anxious Attachment” in its stead, especially because it enlists our sympathy: it respects the child’s natural desire for a close relationship with an attachment figure, and recognizes that he is apprehensive lest the relationship be ended.

The thesis espoused by the Attachment Theory is that, even though other causal factors may play some part in the development of this condition, those about which by far the most evidence is at present available are experiences that shake a child’s confidence that his attachment figures will be available to him when required.

The main cause of anxious attachment lies in mother’s accessibility to the child’s needs to achieve and maintain an optimal degree of physical and psychological proximity, from birth onwards.

Lack of mother or parent accessibility occurs all too often in an environment of distortion and falsification of the family context which leads to more anxiety and cognitive disturbances.

As Diana Baumrind has repeatedly stated, parents can be categorized as either authoritarian, permissive or authoritative. Authoritarian and permissive parents tend to be inaccessible and give the child a misleading account of what is going on in the family and the reasons for his anxious behaviour. This leads to serious consequences.

In the first place, no child cares to admit that his parent is gravely at fault. To recognize that mother is exploiting you for her own ends, or that father is unjust and tyrannical, or that neither parent ever wanted you or cared for you, is intensely painful. Given any loophole, therefore, most children will seek to see his parents’ behaviour in some more favourable light. This natural bias of children is easy to exploit.

Not only are most children unwilling to see his parents in too bad a light but there are parents who themselves do all in their power to ensure that their child does not do so or at least that he does not communicate an adverse picture to others. This develops a state of mind whereby the child faces a dilemma: is he to accept the picture as he sees it or is he to connive with his parents’ version?

Thus, the data reaching a child from his own experience and from his parents’ view may be regularly and persistently incompatible. to take a real, though by no means extreme, example: a child may experience his mother as unresponsive to him and unloving and he may infer,correctly, that she had never wanted him and never loved him. Yet his mother may insist, season in, season out, that she does love him. Furthermore, if there is friction between them as there inevitably is, she may claim that it stems from his having been born with an ill or contrary temperament. When he seeks her attention, she dubs him unsufferably demanding; when he interrupts her, he is unbearably selfish; when he becomes angry at her neglect, he is held possessed of a bad temper or even an evil spirit. In some way, she claims, he was born bad. Nevertheless, thanks to a good fortune he doesn’t deserve, he has been blessed with a loving mother who, despite all, cares devotedly for him.

In such a situation, as I said above, the child is faced with a most grave dilemma. Is he to accept the picture as he sees it himself? Or is he to accept the one his parent insists is true? to this dilemma there are several possible outcomes. One is that the child adheres to his own viewpoint, even at the risk of breaking with his parent(s), which, as you may easily surmise, increases anxiety, due to fear of loss of attachment figure.

A second and opposite outcome is complete compliance with the parent’s version at the cost of disowning his own. This leads nowhere in terms of decreasing anxiety; on the contrary, the child is constantly trying to placate his attachment figure, and damaging his perception of the world.

A third, and the most common outcome is an uneasy compromise whereby the child tries to give credence to both viewpoints and oscillates uneasily between them.

A fourth outcome is when he desperately tries to integrate the two pictures, an attempt that because they are inherently incompatible is doomed to failure and may lead to cognitive breakdown.

And then this companion piece, written by Arthur Becker-Weidman, an experienced psychotherapist practising in the area of attachment problems:

Attachment is the base upon which emotional health, social relationships, and one’s worldview are built. The ability to trust, and form reciprocal relationships, will affect the emotional health, security, and safety of the child, as well as the child’s development and future inter-personal relationships. The child with disordered attachment may be impulsive, doing whatever the child feels like, with no regard for others. This child may be unable to feel remorse for wrongdoings, mainly because the child is unable to internalize right and wrong. The child may tell you that something is wrong, but that will not stop the child from doing it.

Children, who are adopted after the age of six months or so, may be at risk for attachment problems. Normal attachment develops during the child’s first few years of life. Problems with the mother-child relationship during that time, or breaks in the consistent caregiver-child relationship, prevent attachment from developing normally. There are a wide range of attachment problems that result in varying degrees of emotional disturbance in the child. The severity of attachment disorder seems to result from the number of breaks in the bonding cycle, and the extent of the child’s emotional vulnerability. Emotional vulnerability can be affected by a variety of factors including: genetic factors, pre-natal development including maternal drinking and drug abuse, pre-natal nutrition, and stress, fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effect, temperament, birth parent history of mental illness (schizophrenia, manic depressive illness, etc.) One thing is certain; if an infant’s needs are not met consistently, in a loving, nurturing way, attachment will not occur normally.

So how can we tell the difference between a child who “looks” attached, and a child who really is making a healthy, secure attach­ment? This question becomes important for adoptive families, because some adopted children will form an almost immediate dependency bond to their adoptive parents. To mistake this as secure and healthy attachment can lead to many problems down the road. Just because a child calls someone ”mom” or “dad,” snuggles, cuddles, and says ”I love you,” does not mean that the child is attached, or even attaching. Saying, “I love you”, and knowing what that really feels like, can be two different things. Attachment is a process. It takes time. The key to its formation is trust, and trust becomes secure only after repeated testing. Normal attachment takes a couple of years of cycling through mutually positive interactions. The child learns that the child is loved, and can love in return. The parent’s give love, and learn that the child loves them. The child learns to trust that his needs will be met in a consistent and nurturing manner, and that the child “belongs” to his family, and they to him. Positive interaction. Trust. Claiming. Reciprocity (the mutual meeting of needs, give and take) these must be consistently present for an extended period of time, for healthy, secure attachment to take place. It is through these elements, that a child learns how to love, and how to accept love.

Older adopted children need time to make adjustments to their new surroundings. They need to become familiar with their caregivers, friends, relatives, neighbors, teachers, and others with whom they will have repeated contact. They need to learn the ins and outs of their new household’s routines, and adapt to living in a new physical environment. Some children have cultural or language hurdles to over­come. Until most of these tasks have been accomplished, they may not be able to relax enough to allow the work of attachment to begin. In the meantime, behavioral problems related to insecurity and lack of attachment, as well as to other events in the child’s past may start to surface. Some start to get labels like, “manipulative,” “super­ficial,” “sneaky”. Sooner or later the family may decide that this kid is all “take” and no “give”. The child “gives” only when it is to his own benefit. The child can seem to be very selfish and controlling. On the inside, this child is filled with anxiety and fear. The child has not developed the self-esteem that comes with feeling a valued, contri­buting, member of a family. The child cares little about pleasing others, since his relationship with them is quite superficial.

First Year of Life Cycle

The first year is a year of needs. When the infant has a need, it initiates attachment behavior in order to summon a nurturing response from the infant’s attachment figure. The need-gratifying response usually includes touch, eye contact, movement, smiles, and lactose. When gratification occurs, trust is built. This cycle occurs hundreds of times a week, and thousands of times in the first year. From this relationship, a sychronicity develops between parent and child. The caregiver develops a greater awareness of their child and learns just how to respond. The child develops good cause/effect thinking, feels powerful, trusts others, shows exploratory behavior, and develops empathy and a conscience.

When the first year of life cycle undermined, and the needs of the child are not met, mistrust begins to define the perspective of the child and anxious attachment results. The cycle can become undermined or broken for many reasons:

  • Multiple disruptions in caregiving.
  • Post-partum depression.
  • Hospitalization of the child causing separation from the parent and/or unrelieved pain.
  • Parents who are attachment disordered, leading to neglect, abuse (physical/sexual/verbal), or inappropriate parental responses not leading to a secure/predictable relation­ship.
  • Genetic factors.
  • Pervasive developmental disorders.
  • Caregivers whose attachment needs are not met, leading to overload and lack of awareness of the infants needs.

The child naturally develops mistrust and shuts down effective attachment behavior. The developmental stages following the first year continue to be distorted and/or retarded and various symptoms emerge, such as (note this listing is NOT a diagnostic criteria. Diagnoses can only be made by trained and licensed mental health professionals) :

  • Superficially engaging and charming. [phoniness]
  • Lack of eye contact.
  • Indiscriminately affectionate with strangers.
  • Not affectionate on parental terms.
  • Destructive to self, others, and material things.
  • Cruelty to animals.
  • Primary process lying (lying in the face of the obvious*)
  • Low impulse control.
  • Learning lags.
  • Lack of cause/effect thinking.
  • Lack of conscience.
  • Abnormal eating patterns.
  • Poor peer relationships.
  • Preoccupation with fire and/or gore.
  • Persistent nonsense questions and chatter.
  • Inappropriately demanding and clingy.
  • Abnormal speech patterns.
  • Sexually inappropriate.

Parenting

Parenting children with attachment difficulties is a job that requires a great deal of patience, understanding, courage, solid support systems and personal fortitude. Children with attachment difficulties rarely and only superficially return love. Therapists, teachers, child protective services, and even spouses often do not understand the challenge and deception an AD child displays toward an adoptive/foster parent in charge of primary care. Often times the child will project the greatest amount of pathology towards the mother-figure in an attempt to make the world believe that if the mother was not so harsh and controlling, the child would be as lovable as it superficially displays.

Therapists often times are introduced to AD cases witnessing a burned-out parent in their office who is angry, resentful, and full of blame toward their child. Unfortunately the therapist may react by thinking (and sometimes saying) “if this mom would just lighten up on this kid, she would not have so many problems’.” This can lead the therapist to scolding the parent much in the same way the therapist experiences the parent scolding the child. Many well intentioned, but naive, health care workers believe that “all this kid needs is love” and end up creating an alliance with the child against the parents that furthers the family getting the help they desperately need.

Therapy

The basic purpose of attachment therapy is to help the child resolve a dysfunctional attachment. The goal is to help the child bond to the parents and to resolve their fear of loving and being loved. A high percentage of the children that I see are foster or adopted children who have lived in one or more foster homes and have suffered from loss, neglect and/or abuse. Often the children come with a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder [ODD] or Conduct Disorder [CD]. Many have a secondary diagnosis of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The child’s symptoms could also be understood as a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Depression stemming from a delayed grief reaction in response to one or more significant losses early in childhood. Whatever the diagnosis is, it is important that the developmental history receives the consideration required to provide the appropriate treatment. Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy is an evidence-based treatment that is effective for treatment of Reactive Attachment Disorder and Complex Trauma. There have been two empirical studies published in professional peer-reviewed journals regarding the efficacy of this treatment.

Because attachment is developed in the first years of life, often times the trauma driving the child’s pathology is pre-verbal. The child needs a solid educational component of treatment for the child to understand what force is driving the feelings and controlling the child’s behavior. The parents also need the education and understanding that the child’s behavior is not caused from their parenting, but from past traumas. From this base then, new parenting interventions can be designed from a cooperative relationship to fit a child with special needs.

A major dynamic in the treatment, is the affective work needed to heal the emotional wounds that drives these children’s behavior. A corrective emotional experience is orchestrated allowing the child to express these feelings, recognize and recall them and identify the events and the people involved. In essence, the child going through this experience with their parents allows for resolution of old pathological emotions while simultaneously creating powerful new bonds. As with any good trauma therapy, revisiting the trauma in order to integrate the fragmented and overwhelming experiences is crucial for healing. The revisiting must be done in a sensitive and titrated manner to avoid dysregulating the client.

©Copyright 2008 by Arthur Becker-Weidman, Ph.D.. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org. The following article was solely written and edited by the author named above. The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org.

 From Wikipedia

Secure Attachment: Securely attached people tend to agree with the following statements: “It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me.”

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment: People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment tend to agree with the following statements: “I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.” People with this style of attachment seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their partners. They sometimes value intimacy to such an extent that they become overly dependent on their partners—a condition colloquially termed clinginess. Compared to securely attached people, people who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment tend to have less positive views about themselves. They often doubt their worth as a partner and blame themselves for their partners’ lack of responsiveness. They also have less positive views about their partners because they do not trust in people’s good intentions. People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment may experience high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry, and impulsiveness in their relationships.

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment: People with a dismissive style of avoidant attachment tend to agree with these statements: “I am comfortable without close emotional relationships. It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient, and I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.” People with this attachment style desire a high level of independence. …Some may even view close relationships as relatively unimportant. Not surprisingly, they seek less intimacy with relationship partners, whom they often view less positively than they view themselves.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment: People with a fearful style of avoidant attachment tend to agree with the following statements: “I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.”

…secure attachment styles are by no means a guarantee of long-lasting relationships.

Nor are secure attachment styles the only attachment styles associated with stable relationships. People with anxious-preoccupied attachment styles often find themselves in long-lasting, but unhappy, relationships. Anxious-preoccupied attachment styles often involve anxiety about being abandoned and doubts about one’s worth as a relationship partner. These kinds of feelings and thoughts may lead people to stay in unhappy relationships.

…Differences in attachment styles influence both the frequency and the pattern of jealous expressions. People who have anxious-preoccupied or fearful-avoidant attachment styles experience jealousy more often and view rivals as more threatening than people who have secure attachment styles. People with different attachment styles also express jealousy in different ways. One study found that:

“Securely attached participants felt anger more intensely than other emotions and were relatively more likely than other participants to express it, especially toward their partner. And although anxious participants felt anger relatively intensely, and were as likely as others to express it through irritability, they were relatively unlikely to actually confront their partner. This might be attributable to feelings of inferiority and fear, which were especially characteristic of the anxiously attached and which might be expected to inhibit direct expressions of anger.”

 

 

[And I wrote this a couple of weeks ago]

Jemima is a sweet little girl.  Brown hair, brown eyes, clear skin, freckles, and a lovely smile.  She is small, but perfectly proportioned so that people do not always notice that she is small.  She is quite shy and likes to stay in the background.  She is very honest and kind.  She is so eager to please, so willing to help anyone who asks.  She lights up when someone pays her attention, and then she can become very playful and full of joy.  She is not attention-seeking.  Quite the reverse.  She chooses to wait until someone approaches her and she is so glad when they do.  She spends most of her time in her bedroom.  She reads stories aloud to herself as if someone were reading her a bedtime story.  She talks to her dolls and dresses and undresses them and looks after them, pretending to be their mother.  She writes stories, and sews a lot, and draws.  She’s a girly girl – she likes pretty dresses and beautiful things.

I know that she is very frightened of being rejected which is why she hides away so much, to keep herself safe, to protect herself from the pain of knowing that someone does not love her.  I can see a look of fear come over her face when she thinks the rejection might be about to happen.  Sometimes she is so frightened that it almost as if she is not inside herself, as if she has made herself invisible.  She thinks that she is not loveable, and however many times I tell her that she is wrong, she just shakes her head and disagrees, politely with a smile on her face.  She thinks she knows better than I do whether she is loveable because she knows what she is like inside.

Besides, she says that she knows that her father does not love her, and if he does not love her (and he must know her better than anybody) then we should all follow suit.  I am not sure that her father does love her, so I never know what to say at this point.  If he doesn’t, I don’t understand why not.  I am not sure he knows what love, that outpouring of affection that Jemima gives so many of us, is.

I watch her.  I can see her talking to somebody who I know is so fond of her, but afterwards she will tell me all the reasons why they should not like her, why they would not like her if they knew what she was really like.  People will compliment her on her appearance and she will bat the compliment back like a tennis-pro before the compliment even registers.  People will tell her that she has done something well and, for a brief moment, she loves the praise, but then she furiously chips away at it, until the praise lies in razor shards like a broken mirror.  People will tell her they are fond of her and she finds all sorts of reasons why they should not be telling the truth, or she imagines all sorts of scenarios in the future that will mean that they will discover the real Jemima and will stop loving her.  It’s so sad because people sometimes get really tired of telling her over and over again that she is wrong, and then they do go away, and the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling and Jemima reinforces her belief that she is unloveable.

It is so easy to crush her too.  I have seen her smiling, enjoying talking to someone, and then someone more assertive comes along, and she will allow herself to be pushed aside.  She keeps a smile on her face, but I can see that there are tears welling up in her eyes as she creeps away, hanging her head.  She does not seem to be able to fight back, to stand up to bullies.  In a way she is just too nice.

She’s explained that this is because it is wrong to be horrible to people and, besides, even if it weren’t, she is worried that what little love that comes her way will be lost if she is not always kind and loving and forgiving.  So she tries so hard to love even those people who are unkind to her, who want to hurt her, or seek to overcome her.  I can see her brows furrow and the tension in her eyes as she tries to find love for these people, to smile at them.  I can also see that terrible fear when she thinks she has found final incontrovertible proof that she is unloveable and then her whole world comes crashing down on her and she sinks into black despondency.  She tends to act very irrationally then and needs time and space to find herself again.

She does have a sister.  I am not sure what the sister is really like, but everyone says she has a terrible temper like their father, and she is very, very good at getting attention.  In the evenings when the girls are sent to bed, her sister will lie in her bed and shout over and over again “Mum-meee, Mum-meee” until their mother comes to see her and spend time with her, and the sister and the mother nearly always end up sharing a bed because she just will not let their mother go away.  The sister has lots of tummy aches which need a lot of attention.  I know Jemima is frightened of her sister’s temper.  I’ve noticed that she stays out of her way, hides in her room.  Her mother seems to try to protect her, but she doesn’t have much time, and she needs Jemima to be good.

I wish Jemima would shout at Them, tell Them where to go.  But she has got in the habit of not doing that because early on, when she was little more than a baby, they were the only people in the house, the only people there were to love her, and so she could not have afforded to shout at them if that meant losing the tiny crumbs they’d leave for her occasionally.  I can see that it really irritates them that she doesn’t get cross, and her sister can try to goad her more and more, just to see if Jemima’s smile will crack.  Her sister hates her for being so good, so perfect, but she’s too young to see that Jemima feels she has to be like this, that it doesn’t feel like choosing to be good, but instead having to be good.

Except she doesn’t need to behave like this any more because she does not need their love to survive because she has all of us – the real family that matters, her friends.  I wish she’d realise that we all love her so much, and that we do know what she’s really like, and we love her as she is, and we’d forgive her for being cross and tired and fed up, because everyone is cross and tired and fed up, and we are not going away whatever she does.  She always forgives us when we are like that, so why can’t she see that?  She wouldn’t be so nice, perhaps, but neither are we, and she loves us …  I’d like her to feel what it’s like to be loved as you are, as she is, accepted as she is, not just with a smile on her face.   I love seeing her face when she does sometimes allow herself to feel that.  I keep encouraging her to do it more often, to let us in.  She’s getting a lot better, growing in confidence, learning that it is OK to lean on us, to trust us, that we won’t let her down.

I get exasperated with her too, and keep telling her off, telling her to open her eyes, but this is making her feel bad because then she takes this as proof that I don’t love her as she is, when I really do.  One day recently I decided to tell her off every time she talked herself down; I found myself having to speak every two minutes or so.  I just want her to be happier, and to be able to feel the love that people have for her run through her veins, warming every extremity, and to know that it will not go away.  She is making lots of progress, and I can see that she is trying really hard to listen to us when we tell her how things really are.  I think she knows that she is quite pretty now, and I love seeing her enjoying clothes.  She bought a pair of outrageous pink shoes a while ago and I’d like to keep them on the fireplace as a reminder of how far she has come.  She can also see that she is not fair to herself, although this is still more of a thought than a feeling as yet.

She has friends who really love her.  Even she knows this if she thinks about it.  Quite a few of them are quite similar to her.  She has some fair weather friends – just as the rest of us do – but most of them have been her friends for a long time and would do anything for her, if she dared to ask them.  They tend to be nice and kind like her and they know what it’s like to be Jemima, even if only deep inside where nobody else can see.

 Twenty years ago today I was standing on the football pitch at Wembley making history -just one insignificant person amongst more than 72, ooo young people.  600 million more people watched on television.  We heard Tracy Chapman sing for the first time in the United Kingdom, a small figure with a guitar, filling us all with her words. 

Then, in the dark, the stadium was filled with small flames as Dire Straits sang Brothers in Arms.  That feeling, of being there, of having been there together with all those quiet people listening in togetherness, is still ineffable after all those years.

This concert marked a turning point for South Africa.  The previous year had seen the extension of the State of Emergency, originally imposed in 1985 and intent on ensuring the survival of the apartheid regime.  By 1988 30,000 people had been detained.

The influence of the world was too much for the government to ignore.  F W de Clerk became the President of South Africa in 1989 and began freeing many black political prisoners.  On 2nd February 1990 he delivered his famous “unbanning” speech.  Nelson Mandela was released on 11th February 1990.   The first nonracial democratic elections were held on 27th April 1994 and Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa.

sweetshop.jpg

One of the blogs I read is one man’s efforts to preserve his family memories and cultural history for his children and wider family.  I enjoy the many posts he has written about the warm, loving relationships he shares with his family of origin in its many extensions, but I often feel as if I am standing outside in the cold, looking through a frosted window into a sweet shop crammed with delights that I will never taste. 

Last weekend we had guests to stay, one of whom has a similarly extended family, with three sisters and a brother who share a loving bond that extends to each other’s children. She happens to share half an ethnic and cultural background with the writer of the blog though I do not think this is much more than accidental.  I watched her buying presents for her small nephew on whom she clearly dotes, and, again, felt as if I was looking into a different world.

My family of origin is a long way removed from the descriptions they both paint of fond uncles and devoted sisters and loving parents. 

Though I am happy that the lives of these friends have been filled with so much familial love, I have to actively brush away my own sadness that floods over me.  Comparisons are always invidious, but I would have loved to have such a family.   Though nothing I can do can make that happen, there is everything to play for with my own husband and children, and small hopes of retrieving sibling relationships over time.

Tiny gestures of kindness, or unexpected observations of a parent and child interacting sometimes threaten to overwhelm me.  A few months ago a teenage skateboarder broke his arm falling of a wall in front of us.  I took him to hospital with his friend and suggested that he phone his parents as he needed an operation immediately.  He spoke to his father who told him he would drop everything he was doing and meet him at the hospital.  The closeness of his relationship was evident from the way in which he spoke to his father, from his tone of voice, and it moved me to tears of envy and sadness inside.  Sometimes my sadness temporarily blocks out the happiness I do feel for those who enjoy the relationships I have coveted. 

Much longer ago, a tiny gesture of kindness from the Greek mother of a friend, wiping away some food that I had dropped on to my blouse, made me long to be mothered.  Sometimes I feel like stealing some of the sweets from the sweet shop before I remember that they are not mine to steal.

I hate feeling sorry for myself.  Yet part of allowing myself to feel the pain is a process of accepting that not everyone is blessed with a happy family and childhood and that, for those of us who fall into that situation, our hope lies in overcoming that beginning and creating our own families where the qualities we were denied are in abundance.  In the absence of our own role models, we have to resort to books and the patterns of other more successful relationships we see around us, and to our own instinct.  This powerful internal voice tells us insistently how things should be, and we aspire in that direction.  In allowing the pain to come in, having fended it off for so long, I know that I also allow in the possibility of a happy family for myself. 

Often those families we create will include our friends who stand in for the extended families we do not have.  Our friendships become important to us in a way that I suspect they never are for those who have large, happy families.

I also hope that, knowing what it feels like to be standing on the outside looking in, that my own little family might be generous enough to offer some of the love we have to those who, like me, did not get enough when they were too young to do anything about it, and that in years to come we might have created enough happy memories for our own children to fill several blogs.

 

 The high winds on Monday blew down the electricity lines to our daughters’ school so they spent the day in the dark and cold.  The school was closed on Tuesday and we all enjoyed an unexpected day at home.  Lola B and I went shopping.  She had a particular purchase in mind.  She bought a long red tee shirt, and we took it to the joke shop.  There she chose the following words to emblazon her shirt: I’M FRECKLIER THAN YOU.  She intends to wear it to sleep-overs with friends, but has hardly taken it off since she got it. 

Lola B is aware that her hair makes her different.  One very mean girl in her class used to make quite horrible comments to her about what she had discovered on the internet about redheads (and vegetarians).  She has, thankfully, left the school.  That is, I think, the only instance of negative attention that Lola B has received.  She is more likely to find people coming up to her in supermarkets and pawing her curls.

The following quotation is one of the most famous judicial statements in English law.  Lord Greene in Associated Provincial Pictures Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation [1948] 1 KB 223 laid down the test which would be used ever after to determine whether the government or any of its branches had gone beyond its powers and acted unlawfully.  The case concerned conditions imposed by the local council on a cinema opening on Sundays and this passage relates to the limits on the exercise of discretion by an administrative body:

“It is true the discretion must be exercised reasonably.  Now what does that mean?  Lawyers familiar with the phraseology commonly used in relation to the exercise of statutory discretions often use the word “unreasonable” in a rather comprehensive sense.  It has frequently been used and is entrusted frequently used as a description of things that must not be done.  For instance, a person entrusted witha discretion must, so to speak, direct himself properly in law.  He must call his own attention to the matters which he is bound to consider.  He must exclude from his consideration matters which are irrelevant to what he has to consider.  If he does not obey those rules, he may truly be said, and often is said, to be acting “unreasonably”.  Similarly there may be something so absurd that no sensible person could ever dream that it lay within the powers of the authority.  Warrington L J in Short v Poole Corporation [[1926] Ch 66 at 90-1] gave the example of the red-haired teacher, dismissed because she had red hair.  That is unreasonable in one sense.  In another sense it is taking into consideration extraneous matters.  It is so unreasonable that it might almost be described as being done in bad faith; and, in fact, all those things run into one another.”

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My wee flame-haired lassie, as her godmother calls her.

Watching the first clip (from Catherine Tate) to the end, I was reminded of the very first pop concert I attended, and this song, which I loved.  I wanted to be the dark haired woman.

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I am very grateful to Theophilos and to Annie G. for sticking their necks out to reply to my proffered can of worms.  Annie expresses conclusions which I have also come to with an elegance that I would not have been able to muster.  Who would have thought that the word “friend” could be so terribly loaded.

A familial pattern of trying to obtain succour from a family that specialises in being emotionally unavailable means that I have sometimes looked in the wrong place for friendship.  A more recent recognition of this means that I have been painfully clearing the decks.  I suppose my previous post was  part of that.  Theo sets out what he sees as the male perspective, after reading which I wanted to cry.  From what he writes, given that I am a married (and therefore sexually unavailable) woman, there seems little point in trying for a cross gender friendship ever, and yet he seeks to distinguish himself and sees the benefits of them.  These are some of my thoughts and attempts to define my terms.  I assume heterosexuality and at least one of the friends being married – for the sake of simplicity but for no other reason.  The original context was my previous post – about a “friendship” of more than twenty years with a couple who are now divorced and about my discovery that the husband of that couple and I clearly have different ideas about what friendship means.  But I hope these thoughts have a wider application.

  1. Clearly the territory is beset with craters into which it is all too easy to fall. 
  2. Yet men and women potentially have much to gain from cross gender friendships.  Typically men will be able to enjoy the emotional intimacy that women routinely offer their friends, and women will enjoy the more playful style of male friendship.  Both will enjoy the absence of competition that tends to characterise many same sex friendships, and an affirmation of their own gender identity which is absent from same sex friendships.  More than that, many men and women will find in cross gender friendships a freshness, a newness and an otherness that they cannot find in same sex relationships.  This is not to denigrate same sex friendships, nor the marriage bond which offers the same advantages and more. 
  3. Some men have extreme male brains and little need for intimacy.  Others are empathetic and warm.  Some women have brains that are better at schematizing and less good at empathy.  In the middle, there is not as much difference between male and female brains as many would have us believe, or, at least, we are capable of an approximation of the way of the thinking of our opposite gender. 
  4. Men who are capable of intimacy make much better fathers than those who neither need it, desire it, or practice it.  The same goes for women and mothers.  Many a child has been scarred by the absence of intimacy in his/her family of origin.  Such children may either shun intimacy as their parents did, or  work hard to find it to compensate for the earlier lack.  It would be an ideal world in which marriage partners had equal abilities to offer intimacy, and an equal need for intimacy.  Happily it happens sometimes, but often the experience of falling in love masks a chasm between the two that only becomes obvious when it is too late.  Friendships, not being troubled by the “limerence” of the in-love-experience should be less troubled by this inequality, but are not.
  5. Intimacy and friendship are essential aspects of the marriage relationship, though that will come as news to many. 
  6. Friendship is impossible without equality of regard, that is, a reciprocal affection.  Lop-sided friendships are not true friendships. 
  7. Cross-gender friendships are impossible between people who do not actively believe that men and women are equal (though they may be different). 
  8. Friendship is impossible without intimacy, which will also come as news to many. 
  9. Friendship is a form of love.  All friendships are, to a greater or lesser extent, loving and caring.  Friendships are about extending yourself towards the other person, about being open and vulnerable, about being able to trust, about respecting each other, about caring for each other.  This is true of friendships between spouses, friendships between same-sex friends, and friendships between cross gender friends.  As defined it would not be possible to be friends with someone who only has regard for themselves. 
  10. Men who are capable of intimate same sex friendships are more likely to be capable of cross-gender friendships.  Women who are capable of intimate same sex friends are more likely to be capable of cross-gender friendships. 
  11. Men who enjoy a happy, intimate relationship with their wives are more likely to be capable of cross-gender friendship and more likely to know the benefit of them.  Women, similarly, who have a husband who is also their best friend, are more likely to be capable of cross-gender relationships, and more likely to know the benefit of them. 
  12. People who are unsatisfied in their marriage need to guard against trying to find that-which-is-missing-in-their-marriage in their cross-gender friendships.  This will only serve to increase the unhappiness in their marriage. 
  13. This is not to say that cross gender friends should mirror the marriage relationship.  It is possible that cross gender friends may be quite different from the spouse, but equally likely that they may be similar to the spouse. 
  14. No friendship, same sex or cross gender, should ever be allowed to come between husband and wife. 
  15. Both same sex and cross gender friendships have the potential to cause jealousy (and consequent pain for the spouse).  Jealousy may be well-founded, where the friendship has overstepped the boundaries, or it may result from the spouse’s insecurities.  Such insecurities are entirely understandable and normal in a world where some of the most severe threats to a marriage come from cross gender friendships.  The threat and the insecurity may be sufficient to make such friendships unworkable.  It would, however, be unfair that an insecure spouse effectively prevents cross gender relationships for his/her spouse whilst he/she enjoys them herself in another context, such as the workplace or the extended family, or has no desire for them. 
  16. Successful cross-gender friendships will include the friend’s spouse and will assume that anything told to the friend is related to the spouse.   This does not mean that the spouse is present in every conversation or hears every detail of what was said, but the presence of the spouse is the backdrop to the friendship. 
  17. Cross gender friends respect the commitment that the friend has made to their marriage which precedes any other commitment.  It is incumbent on cross gender friends to go out of their way to be welcoming to the spouse of their friend.  They may find that they gain another same sex friend. 
  18. We all find our friends (same sex or opposite sex) attractive, otherwise they would not be our friends.  Though we may not find our same sex friends sexually attractive, that is because we have a heterosexual preference.  We are still able to appreciate that they are attractive.  There is a difference, however, between acknowledging this truth, and overstepping the boundary between friendship and a sexual or romantic relationship.  This boundary is sacrosanct when either friend is married.  When neither friend is married, it would be entirely normal for the friendship to proceed to a sexual or romantic relationship since the potential is there.  Nietzsche said that friendship with a woman was only possible if there was a degree of physical antipathy, but this is to take away her identity as an attractive woman.  Besides I take everything he says with a big pinch of salt. 
  19. Some men and women shy away from intimacy of any description.  It is impossible to be their friend (same sex or cross gender), and heart-breakingly lonely to be their spouse. 
  20. I’m still thinking and would love other people to contribute their thoughts.

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