Nov. 10, 2019, John Æonid (2nd Draft Dec. 22, 2019; 3rd Draft Dec. 24, 2019; 4th rev. Apr. 4, 2020)
Trigger Warning: This article discusses effects of intense chronic parental arguing on child development. Those affected by this, or have C-PTSD and/or DTD, should seek a safe space, with adequate emotional support structures suitable for any particular individual affliction, before reading further.
I’m forcing myself to continue work on this by posting in draft form. This is round two, and there’s still much to do.
I'm fighting against a complacency and apathy arising from a fear of a kind coming out—with all due respect to those who’ve had tougher things to come out about. Though, I expect they’ll understand. There’s a lot in our culture that has too long been pushed into the shadows.
Basically, I’m an adult who had a lousy childhood. While that may not be all that uncommon, there are now new psychological classifications being researched to address this better. This is a condition in which an injuring or traumatic stressor recurs many times, possibly throughout a child's life. It's called Complex-PTSD, and in my case it's a variant that arises from having a miserable childhood. Complex-PTSD can also arise in adulthood and can certainly also apply to combat veterans. There is a difference between the childhood variant and the adult variant; and because of this, there's a completing term that I prefer.
That other designation is developmental trauma disorder or DTD (references at the end). And, I prefer this term because of the significance of early and adolescent periods of development, as these are times when young people are more vulnerable to the formation of deeply ingrained scars. Neither of these terms is yet in the DSM-5, as the standards for diagnosis are still being hammered out. This condition can develop from either chronic child abuse or, in as it is in my case, a dysfunctional household. More specifically for me, this involved frequent and distressingly intense arguments between my parents.
I should also wonder if there is a meaningful difference between the effects a dysfunctional household and direct abuse by some perpetrator. In particular, my parents arguing was not specifically directed at me or my siblings. But, the arguing would sometimes be about us. And, there's also often be a sense that we should take sides. Which makes the impact much worse, as it tears at the love a child feels for both parents. But, that last point is a topic worthy of a full article on its own.
To be clear, I don't want to portray my parents as bad. To this day, I have good relationships with each. And, I know that they actually did love each other throughout their marriage. And, they've gotten along quite well since their divorce. It's just that they are both very opinionated and quite bull headed. They just couldn't learn how to get past the frequent and intense arguing. Things would surly have been different if they could have had better rapport and collaborative skills.
The end result of this condition for me is that I only really feel free to be myself when I'm alone. In relationships, I would get worn out like any Introvert or HSP (https://hsperson.com/), of which I am both. However, there would arise out of an old deeply embedded craving to heal my parents a need to be the good partner. What would inevitably happen is that I would simply try too hard, and I would reflexively do this even when I was past the point of being too worn out. The result is that I would end up just wearing a mask and going through the motions. I just wouldn't be my real self anymore. But because I was worn out, I wouldn't notice that I was just playing a role. After a while, I would have to drift away and eventually find myself retreating into the solitude that I so desperately needed. Ultimately, this is how relationships would fall apart. I would drift away without being able to volunteer an explanation.
But given enough time alone, I would eventually return to being my true self. I'm not really all that lonely this way, and I am actually quite happy this way. It can feel really good. Along with all this, people are surprised at the contrast. Those who know that I'm an Introvert have actually pointed out that I come off as an extrovert to some extent. Well, that's because I like people and had learned the value and beauty of being friendly. But, I can barely last half an hour at crowded gatherings, less if all that's going on at the gatering is people mingling. I'll then retreat to my safe space, my fortress of solitude, and be a reclusive. And, I do this when I need, for as long as I need. You might even imagine that this is the space in which all my philosophical perspectives arise. It's the place where I can best see the beauty in the World.
The unfortunate thing about this is that people have unreasonable expectations of me. They take my friendliness as the whole of what they should expect. Relationships never last more than a couple of years, typically fading in and out through the middle of them and then either drifting apart or having to be terminated. There are those in which we end as friends, but no connection is ever maintained. It's sad, and there are those that I miss. But this is for the best, as I can barely keep up with the couple of friends I have.
Then there are those optimists who say, "oh, but surely there's somebody out there for you." But, can't you see the problem. It would have to be someone who can both get to know and understand the real me, as well as be able to let me drift into solitude when I need it—without being stressed by that in any way. I've had girl friends who need an enormous about of re-assurance, like the one with borderline personality disorder. That relationship burden is just too hard on me.
Do you see the paradox? A person empathic enough to get past the mask in anything shorter than two years would either be too good for me or too sensitive. But in solitude, I get to be who I am all the time. Don't worry, it's only vaguely lonely for me in here.
Internet Meme: I live in my own little world. But, it's O.K. Everyone here knows me. — Author Unknown
In the sections that follow, the stories that I’ll be telling are from my childhood, but I'll be telling them in the second person.
I've come to realize that these stories could well be material for a dark music video or two, as there's already plenty of material out there with this kind of dark tone. These sort of stories reflect all the shadow that exists in our culture. Go ahead and read these stories with that in mind. And, imagine them in a setting from any of your favorite dark videos as a template. It could be Black Sabbath or Pink Floyd's The Wall. Sound Garden, Tool, and David Grohl are all equally good places to start. Then there's System Of A Down or Gorillaz. Or, how about Billie Eilish? There are plenty of others as well. Just keep this one little detail in mind: this time, the stories are real.
And to help set such a tone, I've decided to tell it in second person (as mentioned above). I've previously imagined telling these stories in first person, which would be accurate as these are the stories of my miserable childhood (and adolescence). But, this isn't about me anymore; this is about the millions out there that are still suffering this cultural karma. Those dark music videos that are out there wouldn't carry any weight if they weren't reflecting the terror that already exists in our cultures and around the globe. Telling these stories in second person will hopefully direct all the empathy and compassion at those who really need it—those children who are suffering right now and those young adults who are floundering and struggling with the dark memories of their childhoods.
There's an important preamble to the first of these stories in particular, though it applies to the others as well. It’s important to understand that repeated trauma experienced accumulates over time. And, if this occurs in our developmental years, it causes us to acquire permanent neurological wiring of that trauma. To understand this, we need to examine how important the developmental process is.
The nature vs. nurture debate is really more than just that. Yes, our chromosomes give us our primary nature, while our environment, and those who nurture us, conditions us into a particular cultural perspective and the constructs1 that go with that. Both of these things are true, in varying proportions (according to relevant aspects of life).
But there's a third perspective, in an intermediate phase. We are born with a brain that is more undeveloped than any other animal on this planet. This is necessary, as we would never be able to squeeze through a reasonably sized pelvis at birth with a fully developed brain. So, we end up having to be born relatively underdeveloped. And, we then go through a significant amount of development that occurs outside the womb. And, we spend at least 8 to 14 years before we reach a point in which our brain development begins to slow down. Those are the crucial developmental years—the ones that will decide who we become. And, that development continues through the rest of our adolescence and into our early adulthood, when it begins to slow.
This means that our crucial cognitive abilities are being formed in the presence of our culture—along with whatever manner of nurturing that happens to provide—or not. This includes our language and our accent. Think about it. You can learn a second language later in life, but not as quickly or naturally as you did when you were a child. And in adulthood, it takes much more work to alter your accent. Linguists know full well that there are vowel sounds (and certain consonants) that young children naturally acquire. Later in life when we encounter languages with vowel sounds different from our own, it's almost impossible to distinguish those unfamiliar vowel sounds.
Then there are these rare cases of those termed feral children. These are children, who for various reason, were not exposed to social interactions and were not exposed to people talking—during those key developmental years. That means they had no chance to acquire language in the normal way. Scientists have only been able to study these things when they happen beyond the control of society. No reasonable society would ever deliberately create these conditions for a human baby. This is to say that depriving a child of an upbringing in a nurturing environment, full of rich cultural interaction and full of fluid verbal exchange, is not acceptable, and even a kind of abuse (as incredibly understated as that is).
What science finds when examining feral children is this: if they've reached a certain age without being exposed to language or culture, they are past the point where they can learn it properly, and certainly not as well as a properly raised child. That means integration into any culture, or for that fact, any nurturing family, is impossible. Their neurological wiring is set like gelatin, and you can't insert anymore fruit or marshmallows into the mold without disrupting what has gelled.
Then, beyond the linguistic perspective, there's even evidence that things like our color perception and spatial perception are affected by our environment and culture. So, any language we acquire later in life, along with any new accent, will never replace the one(s) we were raised with. Yet, it's more than just language, color perception, and spatial perception. Your understanding of how the world works, your world view, will also get wired into you during those formative years. There's no reversing any of that.
So, if your parents had a seriously dysfunctional relationship—throughout your childhood, as was the case for me—your very concept of how relationships work would be permanently broken—wired deep in your brain that broken way.
So given all of this, and whatever we experience in our early childhood, it gets locked in. The wax seal, or such, pours in, preventing any alterations of the deep programming. Any adaptation that comes later will be a bit of bubble gum and string—or more modernly, duct tape.— But, it will never involve altering that original wiring. I'm sorry, but if you had a crappy childhood, that means you are as stuck as me. For most, altering your world view is staggeringly difficult if not impossible—even for those of us who have struggled to heal our world's by seeing things from various conflicting world views.
This is a key point. A person that grows up in a crappy household, one in which intensely distressing screaming can ring out at any time—with little or no warning, will ultimately lead one to have an inherent distrust of care givers and social situations. And, having this distrust wired deep in the brain, means that the scars never really heal, and the only hope then is little more than to acquire coping mechanisms. I’m fairly lucky, as I’ve managed to acquire these coping mechanisms on my own. Various meditative practices have helped me immensely. But, these are ongoing. Meditation isn’t just a path to enlightenment for me. It’s the thing that allows me to function in this World.
So, what's the point of this preamble? This first story is about me before I could talk, though I could already walk. That is, I was a pre-verbal toddler at that time. This is not from my memory, by the way. This was told to me by my Mother. And, the reason for this preamble is this: when I've told this story in the past, people tend to say “awww, isn't that cute.” I've even come to call this story the “Awww, Isn't That Cute” Story. Well, don't do that. I want you to see that this is a child being irreparably damaged. This is a child having his neurological wiring being permanently scarred. This is happening to others out there right now, little boy and girl toddlers are being scarred. So, please stop saying oh isn't that cute! Go out there and save those children.
On a side note to cognitive linguists, if there isn't already a body of work out there about this, this first story is worth noting. This is a story of a child who was not yet talking but understood a certain symbolic meaning. So, symbology predates verbalization. I bet the research on these things is (or would be) fascinating.
As mentioned previously, this was told to me by my Mother. But, I’m not telling it the way she told it. I want people to see this as something that’s happening right now to some other child, boy or girl, in some other place. And again, please don’t say “awww, isn’t that cute”. This is a tragedy; this is a travesty.
The boy is just a toddler in the room with his parents. He has not yet uttered the first word of his life. His parents begin to talk about how to use a bit of money in this early part of their marriage. The choice is whether to buy a stereo or a living room rug. Trivial things really, when you consider what a loud and heated argument will do to the boy. And yes, it does turn into a heated argument. And, it has an impact on the boy. He toddles over to his parents. He takes the hand of each. And, he puts their hands together.
There, that’s the story. For the cognitive linguists, note that there is a meaning represented in the joining of hands, and it’s a symbolic meaning that this child understood—and expressed—before he was able to talk.
My Mother waited until I was in my twenties before she told me this story. But, I brought back to mind pictures I’d drawn in high school involving disembodied or trapped hands. So, I'll describe three of those pictures to show how an event as a toddler may well have influenced my artistic inclinations.
First, there was a picture I drew in a style inspired by Frank Frazetta. It was of a bridge viewed from it’s beginning in perspective reaching up to heaven. To either side of the bridge, partly rising out of the mists below, could be seen swords and axes being wielded violently by warriors in battle. On the bridge, towards it’s beginning, a disembodied hand and forearm crawled toward heaven, with a warriors armored bracelet. Blood trailed behind it.
I was drawing this in English class. I was not a diligent student. In the next story I’ll explain why. But the English teacher came over and looked quietly over my shoulder. After a moment, he just walked on. At no moment during the encounter did I acknowledge the teachers presence or stop drawing. I imagined there was something he understood that kept him from not chastising me for not paying attention in English class. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that he had hanging on the wall a piece of art work of his own. It was a kind of an abstract, and it was of a man on horseback, with a spear running trough him. Only the spear was physically real, and it pierced the canvas, both on the front and back of the man in the painting. This was the 70’s, and education was trying to be more progressive. Yet, that teacher was viewed as a crotchety old man. Yet, I then found myself seeing him in a different light. I wonder now what would have happened if I'd asked him what he thought.
The second drawing was planned to end up as a painting in the style of Roger Dean, though it never really got beyond the drawing stage. It was of a pillar like volcanic peak rising out of the mists with a lake in the crater at the top, and water falls spilling down the sides in several places. Out of the surface of the lake arose a gigantic hand, wrist vertical, like a tree, and the palm open to the heavens, fingers spread loosely in the sky. Out of the palm welled up the water that poured down the wrist to fill the lake. Only it wasn’t water; it was blood.
The third and final drawing that I want to describe was essentially inspired by The Scream by Evard Munch. It was a drawing of just the ethereal figure (no bridge or such). It was a ghostly figure. It’s face only had holes for eyes and mouth, and there was no nose. It’s expression, similar in style to that of Munch’s was meant to portray absolute terror, with the eyes shaped to suggest a raised desperate brow, and the mouth gaping in a gapping frown of dreaded panic. Below him were a giant set of razor-sharp teeth as if the ground was really some incredible monster lying on its back. The figure had both its ankles and its fingers trapped in those teeth. Its legs were depicted as struggling to get free, and its fingers were stretched like taffy or chewing gum, hands raised up as if struggling to get free.
I had this last one stored in the art class desk drawer. A girl caught a glimpse of it and recoiled, saying it was horrible and walked away.
This was my state of mind during high school. If goth was a thing then, I would surly have been a horror. Well, maybe not that bad, though I have to admit that playing at bad is fun when the world is garbage. And, this is the kind of thing that was going on inside me. Anyway, since goth was not yet a thing, I had to settle for Black Sabbath being my main band. Black Sabbath was in fact responsible for my first meditative experience. No, I didn’t play Back Sabbath at 78 and see God, as was the common joke at the time. But, that’s a story for another time.
The thing to see here is that it seems clear that there is likely a strong connection between a symbolic meaning of hands symbolized in tragedy and that early childhood experience. I was after all, just beginning to develop a metaphorical conception of my reality, and I was just on the verge of being able to speak.
You see, it’s really not that cute. And elsewhere, others are suffering right now.
The “Awww, Isn’t That Cute” Story, shows how the impact of an unstable household can affect both early development and world view. In contrast, this story shows how an unstable household impacts the ability to function, in particular, the ability to be a productive student.
I should mention that I didn’t fail a lot of courses, but my GPA wouldn’t get me into a state University, despite having decent SAT scores. (Almost two decades later, I did eventually get a degree, but that was only possible after gaining some professional experience as an adult.) So, as a preamble to the main story that follows (for this section), I'll start with a couple of stories about my academic performance.
In my second year in junior high school, I had the opportunity to get into a progressive math class. There were six grading periods there; and at the beginning of each grading period, the teacher would give a lecture or two on the material. After that, we could do the homework at our own pace; and then when we felt we were ready, we could take the exam for that grading period. I never did the homework. I just went ahead and took the test immediately after the lecture. This is how it was for the first five grading periods, and in each one I got an A for the grading period. For the last grading period, however, the teacher decided to change the rules and require the homework as part of the grade. Well, I still didn’t do the homework. And though I still got an A on the examine, I failed that grading period and got an overall D for the entire course.
A friend of mine, actually my best friend, said that he could tell that teachers were treating him differently and had labeled him an underachiever. He said that they all knew our aptitude scores and somehow held it against us that we didn't try harder.
I should mention here what his special academic super power was. One morning at the end of English class, we were assigned for reading the book “The Outsiders” by S. E. Hinton. We then went to Spanish class. Afterwards, my friend said: “that was pretty good.” So, I asked: “what was pretty good?” He said: “that book.” Me: “What book?” Him: “The one we were assigned in English class, 'The Outsiders'.” Well, geesh; that guy had managed to read an entire novel, well a smallish one, all within one class period. So, he was the reader. Science and math were my thing. Anyway, neither of us, as far as I know, speaks Spanish very well.
It would appear that the math teacher had changed the rules to somehow make things more fair for those who did their homework. Or, did she intend to jolt me out of my apathetic academic coma. As, my friend suspected, they likely had access to our aptitude scores. Whether he was right to view it as some manner of persecution I can't say. But, that change in rules and the other things teachers did to address underachievers did nothing to help the dysfunctional environments in which we were raised, at least nothing that we were made aware of.
So, here’s the homework story:
The teenager is sitting at his desk in the corner of his bed room. He is staring at the homework laid out before him, with his goose-neck desk lamp illuminating it. His head is in his hands, and he just can't focus on the homework. He has a terrible knot of anxiety in his stomach. It's this knot that's disrupting his concentration. But, why is there a knot in his stomach? The house is quiet. Certainly, it's quiet enough for homework. No, the house was too quiet. That’s what's causing the knot in his stomach. He has the sense that his parents are keeping the house quiet for him—specifically so that he could do his homework. But, there isn’t even any normal chatter—no civil whispering of the kind you would normally expect to hear. No the house is dead silent, and it is surely because they are holding their tongues—holding back a bitter bile that would eventually come out. No, this is the quiet before the storm, and he feels it. It completely occupies his mind. Oh, to be dealt such crap in life. Why is there no escape? That's the reason for the knot in his stomach; that's the reason he is utterly unable to focus on his homework. If his tear ducts had not gone dry years ago, surely he would break down crying. This is what it means when parents argue so often that it’s just expected all the damn time.
I really get a bit stressed in the presence of a ticking clocks. And there's that ring tone that some people have on the mobile phones, the one that sounds like an old telephone. They really have no idea how I jump and twist inside when I hear it, particularly in an otherwise quiet environment. Then there’s the feint metallic reverberation of knives and forks clanking on plates in an otherwise dead silent dinning room. It's the sound of a family that can't commicate. It's not awkward silence; it's deathly silence (search: lyrics Tribe Greg LoPiccolo Easter Dinner from the Abort CD).
Yes, such sounds appear in movies and television plays, and I can feel what it was intended to feel. It just feels that it's more intense for me. Silence in the presence of others can really be a dreadful dead thing.
A holiday-season story: The Mother comes home to find that the Father had not done the chore he promised. He was supposed to take the boys to the mall to buy nice clothes for them, so that they'd be presentable for Christmas services at church. She asked about it. As usual, it turns into yet another heated argument, perhaps more heated than usual. The mother then packs the boys into her little yellow Chevy Vega. It's a car she'd bought it on her own so that she could have a little more freedom and control over her life, the implication being that the father was not quiet sympathetic enough regarding her needs. The eldest of the boys takes the front passenger seat, with the two younger boys packed into the back of the little yellow car. Off they drive, winding through the back streets of the neighborhood. All were quiet. The boys could all tell that the Mother was fuming; they could feel it. And, everyone knew that this was a terrible day.
After a number of turns, they turn on to the last of the neighborhood streets, the mother still fuming. It's a long, straight road, one with a 25 mph limit, cars parked on either side. This is the road that leads out to the main thoroughfare. As, they approach that thoroughfare, the stop sign at the end of the road becomes visible in the distance. The Mother starts accelerating. Easily now past the speed limit by 10 mph, the eldest in the front passenger seat can see the approaching thoroughfare, and imagines what the mother has in mind. He says: "Mom?". She says nothing, staring ahead, still fuming. He says more insistently: "Mom." Still she doesn't respond. The boy reaches down and grasps the hand break of the little yellow Vega. He then, now in a loud voice, says: "MOM!" Still, she is silent. The car still accelerating, he yanks up on the hand break. The little yellow Vega skids to a halt.
They sit there for a bit. No one says a word. The mother just sits there. The boys just sit there. The mother continues to look straight ahead. After a bit more silence, the eldest depresses the button on the hand break and lowers it back down. The mother puts the little yellow Vega back into first gear. No one notices if she has to start the car again or not. No one noticed whether car stalled or not. She drives on at a reasonable speed.
The trip to the mall is completed, uneventfully—as if it was just another of those miserable days.
Never has the mother confirmed or denied what the eldest had suspected. The silence clearly implies it was dire. This story has never been told to anyone before—not a one. And, these events were never discussed within the family. And, now it's written out for the first time—and posted directly to the Internet. The memory of the pain is there; but after all these years, the feeling is only a little unsettling. I guess that much time has finally past.
I realize that there are those who have faced greater challenges than I, and for them the term “coming out” means a dramatically more difficult thing. But, family secrets are all over the place, and the damage they represent will lurk in the shadows if not brought to light. So, I’m using that term. After all, these are stories that I’ve only told to a few very trusted people over the years, and that last one I’ve never told before.
Sometimes people want to know what was so hard about my childhood. When I tell them my parents argued too much, they invariably say “well, all parents argue.” Do you have any idea what a trigger that kind of dismissive response is? Can you please imagine how much time I've spent re-living those horror stories trying to justify my pain? Do you see the cycle that trigger creates? Can you please go back to the stories I've told here notice that I might just have a valid reason for using the phrase “too much”?
Just how many times a week is it O.K. for a child to go to bed with a terrible know in his or her stomach?
Oh, and it’s a funny point about victim-hood. I've been this spectator of others who have gone through things that are far more horrible then what I've experienced. And because of that, I didn't think that I could rightly claim to be a victim. I'm a straight white CIS male, with all the privileges that go with that. (O.K. Sure. So, I'm also an HSP too [http://hsperson.com], but that's a separate discussion.) Surely I can't be a victim. But, it turns out that if you can put a knot anxiety in a child’s stomach—several times a week—throughout that child's upbringing, you can create a pretty screwed up kid. Well, I've managed to cope fairly well, much of which was achieved by pursuing meditative practices, and lots of Black Sabbath. I suppose that means that I wasn’t all that screwed up. Still, it seems I’ve become reclusive, and I’ve never been able to form a normal deep pair bond. It seems a bizarre revelation, though. It's turned out that I can no longer deny being a victim. And, I really do need to stop holding this story in.
If nothing else, then we may well be the Universe becoming conscious. The quality of that consciousness then determines how the virtues all arise. With a consciousness of the finest clarity, the quality of those virtues will be at their finest. Propagating dysfunction, from generation to generation, is the thing our culture must grow out of. As I have come to live alone and have never had children, I have to some extent removed myself from that propagation of the pain. Yet, new lives will be born, and future generations will need to do better.
Postscript: Here on April 4, 2020, I find myself revising this yet again. There are additions, and there are a number of clarifications. The embarrassing part are the homonym typos. E.G. “there” when I meant “they're”, while I tend to more often get “their” right. Puzzling. It seems I'm particularly susceptible to this. And, since I'm the only one I have to deeply proof this material, it takes a very long time to find them all. Today I had found “here” when I meant “hear”. And, an “e” had gotten tacked onto “her” at one point. But I've come back to this article, because I'm starting to have discussions with others about it, and I wanted to make sure that all of the considerations where either here on written into another article.
Nov. 8, 2019 Shadow
I've replaced the home page, though the old is retained, and I'm going deeper into shining light on the shadow, taking more risks..
Jan. 14, 2017 WOT
I now participate in WOT.
Oct. 20, 2016 New Website!
This is truly in its infancy. There is much that I want to share, yet it's just beginning.