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Alice Walker has become famous for her writing, especially for The Color Purple, a novel which tells of the difficult early life of a woman of colour. She was married to civil rights lawyer, Mel Leventhal, for ten years and a daughter, Rebecca, was born of that union. Mother and daughter are now estranged.

Rebecca Walker, the daughter, became a mother when she gave birth to her first child, Tenzin, a boy, in December 2004.  She has published a diary of her pregnancy, which is also an account of her attempt to come to terms with the maternal and paternal ambivalence she experienced as a child, an ambivalence which infused her beliefs until she decided to move from a scarcity model of love to a model of love which presupposes love being present in abundance.

Baby Love, the title of the book, grated, until I realised that this short phrase encompasses her own experience as the child of her mother, as well as her experience of having a child of her own. The book is both about being the baby, and having the baby.

Rebecca Walker’s estrangement from her mother begins towards the end of her pregnancy, at the point where she decides that if her mother is unable to apologise for her maternal neglect then she is “too emotionally dangerous to me and my unborn son”. Alice Walker doesn’t say sorry. Instead she writes that she won’t miss what she doesn’t have , that their relationship has been inconsequential for years, that she is no longer interested in the job of being a mother, and she ends her letter with her name, not her role-title, mother.

Despite the absence of the mother, the mother is everywhere in the pregnancy:

“because mothers make us, map our emotional terrain before we even know we are capable of having an emotional terrain, they know just where to stick the dynamite. Decades of subtle undermining can stunt a daughter, or so monopolize her energy that she in effect stunts herself. Muted, fearful, riddled with self-doubt, she can remain trapped in daughterhood forever, the one place she feels confident she knows the rules”.

In Rebecca’s case, the ambivalence of her mother toward childbearing was sufficiently chronicled in her mother’s writing – specifically in a poem and an essay written around the same time, the former of which compares a child to the calamaties that befell other women writers and impeded their writing.

It appears to have been an ambivalence that Alice Walker was unable to resolve, and which fed through to Rebecca’s sense of who she was:

“Ambivalence itself is rarely positive. Ambivalence about one’s offspring is a horrific kind of torture for all involved. It affects me to this day, stealing my certitude at critical moments. I have sat with others and said, Well, of course my mother loves me. But in the very next moment I will purse my lips and squint my eyes and tilt my head back and remember all of the indices of ambivalence, and the thought will arise with an even greater clarity: or maybe she does not.”

What hope then, that a woman afflicted by such ambivalence could master the role of mother herself? The ambivalence described runs deep and has consequences that spread not in ripples, but like a tidal wave, for it is accompanied by a misguided insistence on independence. The feminist, the womanist, cannot allow herself to depend in her maternity on her male partner with the result that she cannot afford to be a mother at all. For being a mother involves spending time with your child, being invested in your child’s welfare, being dependent for your happiness on your child’s happiness, allowing your partner to play a role in the child-rearing, sharing the parental role. Losing the ambivalence involves abandoning self-sufficiency as a goal. Mothers are not meant to be mothers alone, but alongside fathers.

Rebecca experiences “a letting go into inseparability”, a realisation that “I was not autonomous and never would be”, and she reflects on the self-sufficient career women that she sees around her and how they radiate to their menfolk an emasculating lack of need, as if men can be rendered obsolete by having enough money and a few good girl friends. And she reflects how utterly devastating it would be to be told by the person you love that you are not necessary to them:

“Because the fact is that we do need each other, and we are locked into this dance with the whole frickin’ world whether we like it or not. This lack of separateness is awful and terrifying, amazing and exhilarating, and just plain true. It seems to me that men and women both need to come up to speed on this, instead of competing for the prize of who can do without whom, for longer. There is power in partnership…”

And how she has never felt so dependent as during her pregnancy. She knows that she needs “someone who will show up”, but at the same time she needs to be someone who will open up, and she is worried that the inherited ambivalence will mean that she cannot sustain it forever, which is how long she wants the partnership to endure, but she has never felt so motivated to try.

Except, when it comes to it, it doesn’t need any effort. It just happens. Rebecca’s mother told her that she chose to love her, that the decision could have gone either way. Looking at her baby, Rebecca writes “There is no choice in my love for Tensin, and if there were some secret place where I wondered, and there isn’t, I would never tell him about it.”

The ambivalence is gone, and with it the scarcity model that had governed her relationships. A few days before the expected date of birth she muses on these two sides of the coin – scarcity and abundance:

“For my whole life I have operated as through there isn’t enough love to go around, that love is something that must be stockpiled, hoarded, guarded for fear of losing a few precious drops. But lately, maybe because I’ve been contemplating what life would be like if I had, gasp, two or even three children, I have been thinking about how, while there may never be enough time or money, there will always be enough love. What if everyone could let go of the fear and territoriality that comes from trying to control the love supply? What if everyone realised that love is about giving, not getting? What if everyone realised all of these things before it was too late? What if it is true that when you believe in abundance, what you have multiplies magically?”

The move from the scarcity model to abundance is not one Rebecca could have ever made alone. Glen, her Buddhist rock of a partner, is the foundation of the new model, upon which everything else is built.   Or perhaps their faith underpins it all. 

The book is a celebration of unambivalent maternity, but it is equally a celebration of fathers, of how they are essential, and how the success of the two parents is contigent upon their mutual dependence and, ultimately, their love for each other and their lack of ambivalence about what matters most. The baby, not the career.

lake

[Thanks to C Jones of Malepositive whose comment on this blog a while ago pointed me in the direction of this book.]

Baby Love: Rebecca Walker

 

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 Unmothered Mother

by Karin Mackay Feb 2008

“Any woman who does not have their mothers support during the crucial transitional stage of becoming a mother is bound to feel vulnerable, insecure and have a sensation of missing out on something whether it be real or imagined. They do not have the benefit of experiencing first hand the ancient wisdom that is surreptitiously stored in their mother’s actions, verbalizations or body language that has been passed down from thousands of generations before.

If the link to the birth mother is broken, a woman can feel a profound sense of loss, loneliness and isolation particularly when they experience any major life events such as marriage, the birth of their first child, their first child stating school or any other time when sharing joy and pain intimately is needed. Motherless daughters just don’t have that someone who supposedly loves them unconditionally that they can lean on. Even if the daughter has a surrogate mother who loves them dearly it is not the same as the bond between blood mother and daughter. The new mother will find her way but this is often at great personal cost as she may also be left with feelings of not being good enough, low self esteem, being over motherly and feeling overwhelmed when she has no back up support that many other mothers may take for granted.
One characteristic is that unmothered mothers are often very independent and have difficulty asking for help as help has possibly never been there for them in any reliable way. They may display outward strength but you can bet that inside they are very soft and vulnerable

The unmothered mother cannot intimately watch and know from one who has “done it before” even if she would have wanted to birth and mother very differently “her way” and change it all anyway. She still doesn’t have that knowing which is not spoken of or taught or read about in books but is absorbed through watching, feeling and sensing. She feels she has missed out on crucial information, even if she hasn’t, and will attempt to make up for it by wishing to be the perfect mother………., all loving, kind, caring, the cleanest, the best cook, and produce children that prove that she is doing all the right things or by reading everything she can get her hands on about “how to mother” and so on and so forth…….. She may even seek out other mothers, grandmothers, aunts of blood or in name only, to help her with her task. And she will find answers, and she will be able to be the almost perfect mother for a while but there will be a gap, a missing piece to the puzzle, a hole in her heart. She may feel “if a mother can’t love me then who can?”

She will want to be the perfect mother so she does not repeat the same mistakes with her own children, hoping desperately to break the cycle but there is an innate danger to her personal wellbeing because she carries the burden of the generation before her and the one that is to follow. She trying to be the bridge that closes the gap and creates connections and this may prove to be an arduous journey. In her perfect mother quest she is doomed to fail as she can never live up to her own expectations.

One day she may wake up and realize that to make up for her own lack of mothering she is mothering everyone else – her husband, her friends, her children and even acquaintances but she is not mothering herself. She has tried to gain love through mothering but cannot find it until she learns to mother herself. This can be an extremely painful realization because no matter which way she looks whether it is up the line to her elders or down the line to her children and grandchildren she has been the mother. This may be especially so if her mother was there physically but unable to be there emotionally, a double blow really because she is playing the mother but is really the daughter and may have had this relationship with her mother from a very young age.

The unmothered mother needs to accept that there is no such thing as the perfect mother, that she is loveable and worthwhile and deserves to be mothered herself, to be respected. She needs to find a way to heal the pain and the grief so that she can find within herself the nurturance to love herself, give time to herself and follow her own passions. She can do this by seeking other understanding women to share her story with respectfully, who will listen to and acknowledge her challenges without judgment. She needs to find another way to access her stored memory of the grandmother and mother memory through other mothers or older women to learn that they are probably not doing such a bad job of mothering their children after all and to just relax a little.
She needs to learn to give herself time to grieve every so often the loss of never having a mother, for the pain will never go away completely; but she also needs to learn that there is no need to carry your pain like a flag that identifies you. It may be time to move on from that so you can experience life more fully wholly and to allow yourself guiltless pleasure in filling your own cup to the brim with the amazing love and acceptance that you have been giving to others but now need to give to yourself.

And finally to appreciate your women friends that truly accept you as you really are as they are precious indeed.”

Toni Morrison, in an interview [with Bill Moyers in 1989]:

There was something so valuable about what happened when one became a mother. For me it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me. . . . Liberating because the demands that children make are not the demands of a normal ‘other.’ The children’s demands on me were things that nobody ever asked me to do. To be a good manager. To have a sense of humor. To deliver something that somebody could use. And they were not interested in all the things that other people were interested in, like what I was wearing or if I were sensual. . . . Somehow all of the baggage that I had accumulated as a person about what was valuable just fell away. I could not only be me -– whatever that was -– but somebody actually needed me to be that. . . . If you listen to [your children], somehow you are able to free yourself from baggage and vanity and all sorts of things, and deliver a better self, one that you like. The person that was in me that I liked best was the one my children seemed to want.”

jeanegeorgeweigel-the-many-mothers

othersThere is a core aspect of a woman’s psyche called the Mother Complex. This complex includes the Ambivilent Mother, Collapsed Mother, and the Unmothered Mother.  They represent the internalized versions of our own mother and the cultural ideas of motherhood.  We each have an unbroken chain of what it means to be a mother/woman within us. Part of our process as women is to identify, embrace, and claim our own individual female nature. 


One person sits in the middle of the other two.  The other two speak at the same time to the listener sandwiched between them, each speaking into the ear nearest to them about a subject that has been decided on before.  Holidays, say.  Two minutes is long enough.  Then the listener becomes a speaker, and the exercise is repeated.  Then the remaining participant takes the middle seat.  You don’t have to repeat yourself – everyone has had more than one holiday.

I thought I was a good listener.  I pride myself on my ability to tune into a speaker and give them my attention.  But this exercise was an eye opener, as it was intended to be.

I spoke to the man-in-th-middle about the week our family spent in New York in the summer where we met up with a good friend, a fellow blogger.  We’d never met him before, and I’ve spent years warning my children about such encounters, but it was beautifully successful thanks to our two families.  It’s an interesting tale and I suppose I chose it for that reason.  It was not a run-of-the-mill story, and I hoped my audience would listen to me.

Then I had to swop to be the middle woman.  The experience was not at all as I thought it would be.  I found it very uncomfortable indeed trying to listen to the two voices.  I wanted to throw my hands up in the air and scream, pulled this way and that.  I closed my eyes in desperation because I felt I could then concentrate better on one sense, but I was blotting out any body language cues that each speaker might have been giving me.  It was impossible to hear both speakers at the same time, and so I was forced to choose.  I discovered that my inclination was to listen to the person on my left hand side.  He was telling me about his holiday, coincidentally also in New York.  Or perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence – he may have chosen to speak about that particular holiday because he’d already heard about my experience in New York.  It was interesting – he’d shared an experience that I understood.  I also have a tendency to favour my left brain for listening (I choose to hold the phone to my left ear), so I might always have listened to the voice in my left ear more than the voice in my right ear.

I struggled to drag my attention back to my right ear, to the story of the holiday in Epernay, but I could only grab odd words – champagne, champagne, champagne – and I really wasn’t very interested.  I’ve been there too, but I was more inclined to listen to the New York story.  This upset me and made me feel guilty, especially so because the speaker in my right ear is a senior lawyer from the same organisation as me and I felt I should be listening to him in preference to the other man I had never met before.

It was an artificial situation, but actually not that unusual.  Imagine the busy airport queue where your companion is speaking to you, but you find yourself listening more to the fascinating conversation going on behind you.  Or the dinner in a restaurant when you are straining backwards in your chair to discern the juicy indiscrete words of the unknown diner behind you.

The content of the language (how interesting it is to you), the tone of voice, how much you are attracted to the speaker, how loud their voice is, your natural brain disposition – so many factors determine who you are inclined to hear.  The exercise was part of a session at an annual conference in my area of work.  It was aimed at encouraging disputes to be mediated rather than pursued to the bitter end.  Mediators owe a duty to the speakers to give each the same attention, and to set aside their inclinations.  I discovered that was a lot more difficult than I had imagined.

Here is a more detailed description of the exercise.  You might like to try it at home with your family and see how you find the experience, but be prepared to discover that you are not as interesting as the other speaker!

 

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.

Feelings when your needs are satisfied

 

AFFECTIONATE
compassionate
friendly
loving
open hearted
sympathetic
tender
warm

CONFIDENT

empowered
open
proud
safe
secure

ENGAGED
absorbed
alert
curious
engrossed
enchanted
entranced
fascinated
interested
intrigued
involved
spellbound
stimulated

INSPIRED
amazed
awed
wonder

 

 

EXCITED
amazed
animated
ardent
aroused
astonished
dazzled
eager
energetic
enthusiastic
giddy
invigorated
lively
passionate
surprised
vibrant

EXHILARATED
blissful
ecstatic
elated
enthralled
exuberant
radiant
rapturous
thrilled

GRATEFUL
appreciative
moved
thankful
touched

HOPEFUL

expectant
encouraged
optimistic

JOYFUL
amused
delighted
glad
happy
jubilant
pleased
tickled

PEACEFUL
calm
clear headed
comfortable
centered
content
equanimous
fulfilled
mellow
quiet
relaxed
relieved
satisfied
serene
still
tranquil
trusting

REFRESHED
enlivened
rejuvenated
renewed
rested
restored
revived

 

 

 

Feelings when your needs are not satisfied

AFRAID
apprehensive
dread
foreboding
frightened
mistrustful
panicked
petrified
scared
suspicious
terrified
wary
worried

ANNOYED
aggravated
dismayed
disgruntled
displeased
exasperated
frustrated
impatient
irritated
irkedANGRY
enraged
furious
incensed
indignant
irate
livid
outraged
resentful

AVERSION
animosity
appalled
contempt
disgusted
dislike
hate
horrified
hostile
repulsed

CONFUSED
ambivalent
baffled
bewildered
dazed
hesitant
lost
mystified
perplexed
puzzled
torn

 

 

 


DISCONNECTED

DISQUIET
agitated
alarmed
discombobulated
disconcerted
disturbed
perturbed
rattled
restless
shocked
startled
surprised
troubled
turbulent
turmoil
uncomfortable
uneasy
unnerved
unsettled
upset

EMBARRASSED
ashamed
chagrined
flustered
guilty
mortified
self-conscious

FATIGUE
beat
burnt out
depleted
exhausted
lethargic
listless
sleepy
tired
weary
worn out

 

 

 

 


alienated
aloof
apathetic
bored
cold
detached
distant
distracted
indifferent
numb
removed
uninterested
withdrawn

PAIN
agony
anguished
bereaved
devastated
grief
heartbroken
hurt
lonely
miserable
regretful
remorseful

SAD
depressed
dejected
despair
despondent
disappointed
discouraged
disheartened
forlorn
gloomy
heavy hearted
hopeless
melancholy
unhappy
wretched

TENSE
anxious
cranky
distressed
distraught
edgy
fidgety
frazzled
irritable
jittery
nervous
overwhelmed
restless
stressed out

VULNERABLE
fragile
guarded
helpless
insecure
leery
reserved
sensitive
shaky

YEARNING
envious
jealous
longing
nostalgic
pining
wistful

The contents of this page can be downloaded and copied by anyone so long as they credit CNVC as follows:

(c) 2005 by Center for Nonviolent Communication
Website: http://www.cnvc.org Email: cnvc@cnvc.org
Phone: +1.505.244.4041

I’m trying to finish a post on Russian painting, but it seems stuck. In the meantime, I wanted to write about this …

According to widely-quoted statistics, somewhere between 1 in a 100 and 1 in a 250 people have Asperger’s Syndrome.  A recent, as yet unpublished, piece of research at Cambridge University puts the figure at 1 in 58*.

Asperger’s Syndrome is sometimes otherwise called “high functioning autism” – those with Asperger’s Syndrome (often called “Aspies”, just as the syndrome is shortened to “Asperger’s”) do not show the same developmental indications as those with full-blown autism and, almost by definition, have an intelligence well above average if measured using the traditional IQ scale. The vast majority of these people are male. Professor Simon Baron Cohen characterises them as being very good “schematisers” and occupying one end of a spectrum, at the other end of which are the “empathisers”. The vast majority of empathisers are women.

Given all of this, it seems reasonable to assume that a pool of men, all of whom have IQs above, say, 130, will contain a sizeable number of men with Asperger’s syndrome. Men usually measure higher than women on traditional IQ tests, so it seems reasonable to assume that almost all women measuring, say, 130 on an IQ test would be schematisers, or have a degree of Asperger’s syndrome.

Not all men and women with Asperger’s will marry. Marriages with Aspies tend to fall into two camps. First there are those Aspies who marry other Aspies. Secondly, there are those Aspies who marry those who are “neuro-typical” or not Asperger’s. This is often a marriage of opposites where the strengths of one are complemented by the strengths of the other, or the weaknesses of one may be compensated for by the strengths of the other. Neuro-typical partners are often very empathetic but are still likely to have high IQs as they would be unlikely to interest the Aspie otherwise.

Because of the circles I move in, I know what seems like a huge number of men (but also women), with Aspergers, several of whom have received formal diagnoses from Professor Baron Cohen. The fact that they have Aspergers often comes to light when they have children. Aspergers is a highly hereditary condition (apparently). Often adults with Aspergers have learnt to fit into neuro-typical society, but their offspring have yet to learn and so the behavioural manners of the adult are magnified in the child.

I remember a philosophy class when, to the horrified silence of the rest of the class, I suggested that all babies should have a brain scan before their first birthday to discover whether or not they had Aspergers, and then should be cared for and educated accordingly. I actually wasn’t joking, but my comment was provoked by the misery of so many of my female friends.  These friends all seemed to be abandoning their marriages, usually for a man who was empathetic.  They all described living in an emotional desert, receiving no affection and no intimacy.  Yet their husbands were good men, devoted to their families and hardworking, if more than usually interested in arranging huge classical music collections alphabetically, or playing “Dungeons and Dragons” or achieving world wide acclaim for their esoteric mathematics.

Researchers in Sweden believe that early intervention can promote better outcomes for children with autism.  Babies in the Uppsala Babylab are being wired up so that their brain patterns can be followed.  Similar studies on infants are being carried out in London.

I move in circles where most of the men have very high IQs, and I have chosen female friends who have high IQs too. Some of these women probably have Aspergers, but a proportion do not. This second neuro-typical high functioning proportion tends to be married to men with similar or higher IQs. A significant number of these women are, therefore, married to men with Aspergers.

One odd thing about Aspies and love is that Aspies appear to function quite normally when they are “in love”. This period typically lasts about two years. After that the real work of “loving” as opposed to “being in love” starts. The Aspie does not know what “love”, outside the obsessional interest of being in love, means.

He will typically become immersed in his special interest – often his work – and will be disinterested in the minutiae of everyday life. He will have fixed ideas about things and will respond badly to being asked to do something that does not correspond to these fixed ideas. Typically he will not be in the slightest bit snobbish. He will typically have a very strong sense of fairness, though this sense of fairness is abstract. By abstract, I mean as it applies to other people, other than himself. Typically he will not be able to see why he should not do what he wants to do when he wants to do it. Typically he will not value possessions, needing very little. He will have almost no interest in clothes and will prefer them to be functional and comfortable rather than smart. He will only want what he actually needs to survive and will not see the point of anything else. He will typically not be interested in earning large sums of money – for he has no need of it. He will typically seem very pure and not of this world. He may have a tendency to take things literally, unless he has learnt to interpret phrases correctly. He may be fascinated with words, and very skilled at foreign languages. He will typically not hold a grudge, and will typically not be jealous. But he is not jealous because jealousy is tied up with preference and preference with love, and he is not concerned with that. He does not understand love as a “going out” feeling. He is more likely to understand love as “respect”. He will typically like rules, and be happy if they are followed. He will typically dislike holidays and leaving home. He will typically enjoy spending a lot of time by himself, away from other people. He will typically have been bullied at school. He will typically not have excelled at sports, though he may be able to recite all the winners of every football competition since the game was invented. He will typically be not quite sure what the point of women is, except to have his babies and bring them up. He will typically not imagine that she has any emotional needs, and will typically not see the point of wasting money on useless or decorative or fragrant presents or adornments. He will typically be close to his mother. He will typically have only a very small number of friends, and will share interests rather than feelings with them. He will typically always tell the truth, and speak his mind with no regard for the hurt the truth may cause: this is both a boon and a curse.  He will speak a different language which neurotypical people rarely grok.

He will usually be a very loyal friend, though you may not hear from him very often, and he will not know how to share what has been happening to him.  He will usually feel lonely sometimes, despite wanting to be alone, and will be devastated if those who he has high regard for disappear from his life but he will be unlikely to know what he should do about it.  He may have bouts of anger born of frustration.  He is likely to have periods of depression. Left to his own devices, on his own terms, he can be very happy with very little. Pushed to behave like a neuro-typical person, he will typically distance, and become very difficult. But then, so would a neuro-typical person asked to behave like someone with Asperger’s. He will have his own, unique character, and be shaped by his birth order and circumstances just like any other child would have been.

All of this is likely to produce confusion in his wife or partner.  On the one hand she will know him to be loyal, good, honest.  On the other hand she will experience him as being inside a glass ball.  However hard she knocks on the glass she cannot really get his attention, cannot really connect with him.  He will not know how to soothe her, or actively listen to her, he will not be able to put himself in her shoes.  He will not do empathy, though he might, if she is sad enough, feel sorry for her as he would for a wretched animal.  Psychologist have grouped together a basket of symptoms that such women often show, and have called it the Cassandra Phenomenon. The basket of symptoms is so called because the woman will rarely be believed when she describes the cause of her desolation: a romantic partnership demands a level of intimacy that no other relationship or friendship does, and so families and friends may not be aware of the deficit. It is easy to be judgmental when these women give up knocking on the glass and find emotional intimacy elsewhere. But these women are often not aware of the manifestations of Aspergers syndrome. Even if they are, it is a lot to ask of a woman, to live her life without emotional intimacy. Monkies wither away and die in similar circumstances. Simon Baren Cohen calls those women who stay with their Aspie husbands “saints”.

I often think that Christ (absent the miracles) may have been an Aspie. The internet was developed by Aspies for Aspies. At least, only Aspies would find it a truly rewarding form of communication. It suits them perfectly since there are no facial expressions or body language to read (they cannot read them very well, so better not to have the potential to misread them), and it also allows them time to process the speech they receive before they have to respond. This is true of emails, true of instant messaging (which need not be very “instant”) and comments on blogs. In my experience Aspies do not tend to be prolific bloggers. If they have their own blog it will usually only feature occasional posts. They may, however, be quite prolific commenters with a tendency to appear troll-like if they are not careful.

One of the most well-known writers about high-functioning autism is a woman called Temple Grandin. She is an expert on the industrial handling of livestock, but is also known for having invented a machine that will hug her. She writes this about the brains of those with autism and Asperger’s:

Autopsies of autistic, Asperger’s, and normal brains by Margaret Bauman and her colleagues reveal that in both autism and Asperger’s there is immature development of the cerebellum, amygdala, and hippocampus. Small cells are packed tightly in these immature parts of the brain, signifying true immature development, not damage or atrophy. Brains from people with autism are more immature in hippocampus development than are Asperger’s brains, which may help explain the cognition problems we see in low-functioning autism. The situation is reversed for the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes emotion. Here, the Asperger’s brain is often more abnormal than the autistic brain. Could the more normal hippocampus preserve the cognitive function in Asperger’s, with the less normal amygdala causing the social problems?

Corroboration comes from brain scan studies showing that people with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism process emotional information differently than do normal subjects. The British autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen has done functional MRI studies indicating that normal people activate the amygdala to judge the expression in another person’s eyes, but people with Asperger’s call on fronto-temporal regions of the brain. It is true that brain scan studies show less clear-cut results in terms of differences in amygdala size than do autopsies, but this may result from the subjects’ positioning in the scanner, from gender, or from differences in diagnostic criteria. In 1999, Elizabeth Aylward and her colleagues at the University of Washington School of Medicine found that in male non-mentally retarded autistic adolescents and young adults, the amygdala was significantly smaller compared to normals. But a British study by Matt Howard and his colleagues showed that high-functioning autistics had a larger abnormal amygdala. A third study, by Mehmet Haznedar and Monte Buchsbaum, showed no differences. Possibly the differences among these studies could be explained by differences in the criteria used to diagnose the subjects. Also, a brain autopsy is more accurate than a brain scan on a living person. Brain autopsy research has shown that both Asperger’s people and the highest functioning people with autism have a small amygdala; in cases of low-functioning people, by contrast, the amygdala is more normal and the hippocampus more abnormal.

More recently, a study by Haznedar revealed that in the brain of the high-functioning autistic or Asperger’s person, the circuit between the anterior cingulate in the frontal cortex and the amygdala is not completely connected. As a result, people with autism or Asperger’s have decreased metabolism in the anterior cingulate.

These brain studies demonstrate that the social deficits in autism and Asperger’s are highly correlated with measurable biological differences. But the question remains: When does a difference in the size of a certain brain region become an abnormality, instead of just a normal variation? If I selected 100 people at random from a large corporation or at an airport and scanned their brains, I would find a range of differences in the size and activation level of their amygdalas. It is likely that brain scan results from this normal cross section of the public could be closely correlated with tests that evaluate sociability and social skills. Conducting this experiment on the general public would show that normal brain variation could be measured. Furthermore, people tend to choose careers that they are good at, and I predict that there would be a high correlation between a person’s job and the characteristics of the amygdala. Out of the 100 hypothetical people from a large corporation whose brains were scanned, the technical people in the computer department would probably show less activation in their amygdalas compared to the highly social salesman in the marketing department.

The rest is here.

Important Note:

 

I do not update this blog regularly any more.

More importantly, for more than the last five years I have been pursuing an intensive training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy.  Through the training I have gained insight to the degree to which so-called ‘autistic’ defences are used as a means of surviving very difficult childhoods, and I am more likely now to see those defences as developmental challenges than before.  I would point readers in the direction of the Tavistock Clinic in London which works with children and adults with autism and Asperger’s, and to the many writings of psychoanalysts on very early developmental intrusions.  Ogden, for example, writes about the ‘autistic-continguous’ position.  Rhode and Klauber have written a useful book, endorsed by the Tavistock Centre.

Good luck with your journey towards understanding.  I guess we can only begin where we start from, and try to find our way.

Babies
Uppsala Babylab
Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College, University of London
Other sites
The Asperger Marriage Site
Alone Together: Making an Asperger Marriage work – if you read nothing else, read this …
National Autistic Society: Partners
Radio Four, Home Truths, An Asperger Marriage
Families of Adults Affected by Asperger’s Syndrome (FAAAS)
On-line Asperger Syndrom Information and Support (OASIS)

*A report of the research, published in the Guardian, has been removed from the newspaper’s website. The report said that some of the team of researchers believed that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, but Professor Simon Baron Cohen has since distanced himself from their views.

See also my earlier posts: “The Space Between: Mind the Gap”; Asperger’s Test; Austistic Traits and Testosterone

(Link to report repaired)

 If you’re older than 44, that is.

If not, skip the middle bit – it will only make you miserable.

For those older than 44, apparently things only get better.  This is exceptionally good news, because I am 45.  I am delighted that I can now rest assured that all of my miserable friends who are also 45 or older will only have increasing happiness, and I will console those of my younger miserable friends that it is not long until things improve for them too.  Good news all round …

Stephen Moss
Wednesday January 30, 2008
The Guardian 

‘The first 40 years of life is text, the rest is commentary,” wrote Schopenhauer. Setting the watershed as low as 40 is arguable, but Schopenhauer surely had a point, and it may help to explain the results of a new survey that puts our most depressed age at 44. This vast study, carried out jointly by researchers at Warwick University and Dartmouth College in the US, has concluded that happiness is U-shaped: it peaks when we are 20 and 70, but slumps in the middle. “You would expect people to get unhappier as they get closer to death,” says Professor Andrew Oswald of Warwick University, “but the opposite appears to be the case. It is a mystery why this happens

If we trust Schopenhauer, it is no mystery at all. Your 40s are the point at which the act of composition – climbing the career ladder, having affairs, believing you are the next Montaigne – is replaced by the art of reflection and perhaps regret. How did I fail to become prime minister? Why did I have those affairs? Where is my oeuvre? At 44, those thoughts – as I painfully recall – are uppermost in your mind, and sometimes you will blame anyone but yourself for your failures. But trust me, you will come through it. I reached 50 last year, and far from being distressed by that supposedly defining moment, I’ve never felt better. I now accept that I am deep into my commentary period, and am enjoying it hugely. In your 20s and 30s, you think there is some big secret that is being withheld from you. But there is no secret. No one has a clue what they’re doing or why. By 44 you are distressed to discover there is no secret and that life’s glittering prizes are made of tin. But then comes the getting of wisdom. As Oswald observes, “When you get older, you’ve learned to accept yourself.” You aren’t Montaigne, you aren’t going to be PM, you are just you. In Schopenhauerian terms, will is replaced by art, acceptance and a sense of the universal. You learn to enjoy the comedy of life’s struggle, and happily take your place in this huge and leaking lifeboat.”

You can read the full report of the research (much more interesting that the short taster) here.  Things can only get better.

The report intended to sort out the ceteris paribus correlation, that is whether well-being is U-shaped over a lifetime, or whether previous studies had produced skewed results because some generations, or some cohorts (such as those born in a particular decade) were happier or less happy than others.   Several data sources were used.  Initially data was sampled at random from the General Social Surveys of the United States and the Eurobarometer Surveys in Europe.  Analysis of these data sets showed that well-being amongst American men was lowest around 53 years of age, much later than for American women (around 38-40), and later also than the happiness minimum for European men and women who were both at their most unhappy at about 47. 

If women marry earlier than men, then perhaps the unhappiness peaks at the time that both have to contend with teenage children?  The authors of the report say not: “The well-being U shape in age is apparently not produced by the influence of children”.  They deduce from looking at different age cohorts, however, that while Europeans are about as happy or unhappy as they have always been since the 1950s at a particular age, successive American birth cohorts have – since the early 1900s – become progressively less happy.  This difference cannot, the authors say,  be explained away by a difference in use of language or perception of the meaning of words used to describe well-being in the surveys.

Within Europe there are substantial variations between countries, pooling male and female results.  People in the UK become unhappier earliest (35.8 ) and those in Portual latest (66.1) with most other countries hovering around 49.

Data from the UK Labour Force Survey was used to test the Eurobarometer findings.  Depression and anxiety figures taken from a sample from approximately one million observations shows that the measure of mental ill-health turns around at 46.

The authors cannot provide any answers as to why the graphs should, across 72 countries, take on such a U shape, nor why the troughs appear when they do in each country.  One suspects that the reasons are particular to each country and its culture, although some truths may cross national barriers.  Oswald and Blanchflower tentatively suggest three factors:

  • That individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and quell infeasible aspirations
  • That happy people live longer, so that those who survive to older age record higher levels of well-being
  • That schadenfreude or similar effectively prevents us from repeating the mistakes of our peers

These results may be amusing for us, but they are important for policy makers.  It should be possible from a careful analysis of individual country statistics to work out when men and women are least happy and why.  Unhappiness costs the state lots of money – in days off sick from work, in benefits paid to single parents as a result of divorces, in treating depression and anxiety in adults and in their children, in the criminal justice system.  I’d like to know more about the statistics for the UK, separating out men from women, and looking at the variables – number of children, employment or lack of it, socio-economic status, health and so on.

Which leads me on to a rare burst of cruel British humour from another Prime Minister in waiting.

I have to include this wonderful excerpt from a speech made by William Hague, in the House of Commons on 21st January.  The background is, of course, Gordon Brown’s long lived ambition to unseat Tony Blair and become Prime Minister, an ambition recently achieved without an election even.  Here – in the grand tradition of British Parliamentary oratory – William Hague warns him of what is still to come …

“To see how the post of a permanent President of the European Council could evolve is not difficult even for the humblest student of politics, and it is, of course, rumoured that one Tony Blair may be interested in the job. If that prospect makes us uncomfortable on the Conservative Benches, just imagine how it will be viewed in Downing street! I must warn Ministers that having tangled with Tony Blair across the Dispatch Box on hundreds of occasions, I know his mind almost as well as they do. I can tell them that when he goes off to a major political conference of a centre-right party and refers to himself as a socialist, he is on manoeuvres, and is busily building coalitions as only he can.

We can all picture the scene at a European Council sometime next year. Picture the face of our poor Prime Minister as the name “Blair” is nominated by one President and Prime Minister after another: the look of utter gloom on his face at the nauseating, glutinous praise oozing from every Head of Government, the rapid revelation of a majority view, agreed behind closed doors when he, as usual, was excluded. Never would he more regret no longer being in possession of a veto: the famous dropped jaw almost hitting the table, as he realises there is no option but to join in. And then the awful moment when the motorcade of the President of Europe sweeps into Downing street. The gritted teeth and bitten nails: the Prime Minister emerges from his door with a smile of intolerable anguish; the choking sensation as the words, “Mr President”, are forced from his mouth. And then, once in the Cabinet room, the melodrama of, “When will you hand over to me?” all over again.”

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