Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Peeling Away The Layers 1

A Personal Take on Personality - What really Makes Us Tick

I have long been quite given to the idea of our personalities being made up by the gradual accretion of succeeding layers.  I suppose the very core must be in the little embryo huddled in its mother's womb.  As we age we put on succeeding layers, layer after layer,  like birth, infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age, senescence and finally death.  I have also stated that real growth involves acknowledging the pluses and minuses, the strengths and weaknesses of each successive layer.  The real adult must embrace every layer in his/her psyche and attempt to garner strength of character from so doing.

1.  Needing Mammy:

There can be few more important truisms than that the little child's need for its mother is of paramount importance to its growth as an infant and as a child and as a toddler.  The little child learns so much about life, about when and how he or she can get their needs met from his or her mother.  All psychotherapists from whatever background or school place supreme attention on importance of these first years in  the development of the growing person.  Freud, who died in London in 1939, placed considerable importance on the early impact of the mother on the child. The psychoanalytic tradition in the UK was carried on after his death by figures such as his daughter Anna Freud, Ernest Jones, Melanie Klein and in particular Donald Winnicott (1896-1971). The latter two took psychoanalysis in the direction of the analysis of children, and child therapists to this day are influenced by this tradition.  Henceforth it was a sine qua non that psychologists and therapists would place supreme attention on the importance of these first years in the development of the growing person. Much good and much ill can be done in those formative years.  However, as our parents are all too human, and hence flawed, they make mistakes, so none of us is reared properly.  In all of this early development the relationship with mother is of paramount importance.  In more recent years the role of father in the rearing of children had got some attention as we now realise that the growing child needs the influences of both sexes.

2.  Absent Fathers:

For most of my adult life I was dealing with this in my own life.  My father was stricken with poliomyelitis when I was only four years of age and I missed his presence dearly from the house.  We lived in a small country town where he had been a postman.  The affliction - he eventually thankfully lost only the use of his right arm while many others lost the use of legs and spine to this horrible disease - meant that he had to go to hospital in Dublin, then he got work in Dublin as he could not continue as a postman with one arm.  The saddest sight for me as a child was that of the rear of the train carriage carrying him away from us every couple of months when he used come to visit us.  Then as an adolescent my father did shift work and we used only see him at weekends mostly.  We never seemed to do much together when I was young.  However, I realise that was not his fault - merely the conspiracy of events.  I see from my reading of the Internet that Barack Obama has delivered a sermon at a Black Pentecostal Church on the reality of the absent father among young black families. Here is what this political gentleman had to say on this topic:

“We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. Too many fathers are M.I.A, too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Mr. Obama said, to a chorus of approving murmurs from the audience. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.” ( Quoted at this link Obama NY Times, 16th June 2008)

The New Scientist reported as far back as 2003 that numerous studies show that girls reach puberty younger, become sexually active earlier and are more likely to get pregnant in their teens if their father was absent from the home from when they were young.  These authoritative reports confirmed also that teenage girls raised without fathers are more likely to suffer from depression, drop out of school and have other behavioural problems.  We probably all were somewhat hazily aware of this reality but it is good to have our suspicions confirmed.  See this link for the relevant article: NS and Absent Fathers.   It also appears that girls who have little contact with their fathers, especially during adolescence have great difficulties forming lasting relationships with men. Women without father figures lack a sense of protection and are more likely to end up a pregnant teenager, dropping out of college or never attempting college and having low self esteem.  For further information and statistics on this see this link:- continuing difficulties

As regards both boys and girls it would appear that teenage delinquency is correlated very highly with the phenomenon of the absent father.  See this link Teenage Delinquency.

Okay, fathers can be absent due to many reasons - separation, divorce, neglect, imprisonment, sickness or early death.  I have taught many children who did not know their fathers.  One boy confided to me that "I'd murder the fucker if I met him, because he abandoned my ma and me."  Yet another younger boy cried that his absent father who still kept in contact with his "new" family now and again forgot his birthday.  Still another boy who was adopted asked me in front of his peers: "Do you think that my real parents loved me?"  A few months back, a rather effeminate fifteen year old boy spoke of hating his separated father.  Even when fathers are physically present they may be emotionally absent to their sons especially.  As a teacher I have always marvelled at how well young lads whose fathers come to watch them play football or hurling or whatever do in life generally.  These are the confident youngsters, not necessarily the brightest.  Those who are working out of a sense of abandonment, even if brighter, are far less self-confident and competent socially.

Meditation techniques using self-parenting images I have found work a treat with the young lads I teach who often experience themselves as abandoned one way or another by their father figure.

Here is an interesting little snippet from the insuppressible psychologist Maureen Gaffney, Ph. D:

But to become a man, every son ultimately needs to struggle with his father - the protagonist of the old order - to metaphorically slay the dragon, and to become himself the hero, the champion of the new.  It is a struggle, however, which must be tempered by love, and is only possible through love.  Because the old order has to be first taught by a beloved father. (Maureen Gaffney, The way We Live Now, Gill and Macmillan, 1996,  206)

Through personal dream work which I've been engaged in for the last 20 or more years I've already had dreams of the individual deaths of both my mother and father.  At the time through dealing with these dreams - by writing them out - I realised that they were saying that the link between me and my father or mother was finally broken.  

I have found in my nearly 30 years teaching that pupils' relationships with mother and father are the most important relationships in their lives.  Often I have found that as a male teacher I have become a father figure for those who have had long-absent fathers.  I can remember two recent past pupils hugging me and thanking me publicly for so being.  I'm not singing my own praises here, as any teacher worth his or her salt would be available in like manner.

3.  Distressed Souls

In practically every class I have ever taught in my life there has been at least one distressed individual.  I call this the "distressed soul" of my subtitle above.  Indeed children can come under emotional, physical or sexual threat in the family and in each of the social systems they frequent - school, local community and sports clubs.  The clinical psychologist, lecturer and counsellor Dr. Tony Humphreys adverts to Physical Signs, Undercontrol Signs (sic) and Overcontrol Signs (sic) which such distressed souls exhibit on a daily basis.  Physical signs are obvious like bed-wetting, nailbiting, jumping at sudden noises etc.  Undercontrol signs are very obvious to teachers, police officers and social workers - namely bad behaviour of all sorts, attention seeking, verbal aggressiveness, hyperactivity etc.  I will not deal with these as much has been written on them.  Also the latter category of people shout the loudest demanding attention and they do get attention.  The ones who often don't get attention are those poor creatures who are subjected to overcontrol. Here is what Dr Humphreys says about these distressed souls:

Overcontrol (sic) signs of distress are more common in girls than in boys.  Examples include shyness, passivity, perfectionism, timidity, over-pleasing, feelings easily hurt...Unfortunately the children who are perfectionistic (sic), timid and fearful are most at risk emotionally than those children who act out their feelings of rejection and inadequacy.  It is as if those who shout loudest are most likely to be heard. (Tony Humphreys, Examining Our Times, Gill and Macmillan, 2002, 74)

Distressed souls are quiet and lost souls who need the care and attention of every teacher.  Unfortunately, the poor overworked teacher has a lot to contend with if he or she has a big class.  If there are unruly distressed souls there as well the poor quiet ones these will get most if not all the teacher's attention while the quiet ones will be neglected. 

Above I have placed a picture I took of our first year Leinster Soccer winners. Many of their parents were their to see their sons in action. This is good parenting!

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