Thursday, January 3, 2013

Your Crappy Childhood Is In the Past, Right?

For fifty years there have been voices in the social sciences, neurobiology, and psychology asking hard questions about how we were raised and how we raise our children.  Questions about the possible harm from spanking, slapping and corporal punishment of children in general.  Questions about the use of children to satisfy family sexual appetites.  And questions about the nearly universal demand that children remember and memorialize their parents with glowing evaluations no matter what the reality may have been.

If you have heard any of this discussion, you have unusually sharp hearing.  The prevailing conversation is that children don't remember what happens to them, if they claim they remember "things" they are making them up, and even if society in the form of social workers have to intervene in a home because things get so outrageous, the future therapists of the children involved (if they are lucky enough to have any therapy) will listen sympathetically up to a point, then recommend forgiving and forgetting as the only way to "get past" being damaged as an adult by insisting on remembering the reality of their childhood rather than re-framing it to give parents a pass - "they did the best they could."

An important premise of this worldview was shaken not long ago by a large, long-term study of adults who happened to have Kaiser health insurance and lived in the San Diego, California, vicinity.  Called the Adverse Child Experiences Study (ACES), it established that adverse childhood experiences like sexual or emotional abuse, absence of a parent and a few others, made it much more likely that in adulthood the child would have social and physical negative risks directly comparable in intensity to the number of adverse items they had experienced.  Read about the study here.

So much for children forgetting.  Apparently even if the mind forgets (or declines to remember), the body enjoys no such out.  The ball keeps rolling.

What if you have some questions about how you were raised and you decide to get some therapy?  Or you want to prepare to be a parent yourself and would like some parenting lessons?  There are a lot of books and a lot of therapists who would like your dollars and your attention.  If you are impressed by the ACES study, WNL suggests you look to European therapist Alice Miller's books, especially "The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting".

Alice is from the first wave (a very small wave at that) of people in the helping professions who take the side of the child, believe children, and stand up for them.  In her role as crusader and pioneer, Alice has taken a lot of heat over the years (she died in 2010), and her German upbringing makes her uniquely aware of all aspects of cruel parenting, parenting universally approved by church, state, and tradition.  It takes a courageous person to hold on to her insights over a lifetime of being challenged.  Fortunately, before she died, she knew of the ACES study which supports her lonely crusade, and referenced it in the latest edition of "The Body Never Lies."

The seeds of advocacy for children's safety are growing and, while still in the minority, you can find therapists and parenting mentors to support your personal growth and your parenting efforts.  Check out these videos by Daniel Mackler, therapist and filmmaker, for a great introduction to Alice's groundbreaking ideas today:

(Part 1)

(Part 2)

The revolution in child/adult relationships has adopted the name Nonviolent Parenting, and a google search brings up books, online and real-life organizations, schools and more, all designed to produce an ACES for today's children of 0. 

WNL is especially fond of Echo Parenting & Education, a bright light in the Los Angeles area for one-on-one parenting advice, workshops, educational seminars for parents and people in the helping professions.  Read, learn about ACES, find resources in your area.  Make this your year to believe in your own childhood memories, and support nonviolence in your sphere of influence.

(Art - "Companions II detail", oil painting by Lyn Southworth.  See more at

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