A lot is said, has been said, will always be said, about parents who leave the family unit. Vilified, justly or otherwise, we see Fathers for Justice, we see stereotypes, we see absent mothers as disproportionately lambasted in contrast to fathers and castigated from communities. It goes on.
Money, love, first casualties for all parties.
One thing that is rarely discussed is the destiny of nature/nurture, especially with regards neurodiversity and mental health conditions. We are not all the same and understanding ourselves throughout life is not something that can be understood by tracing a map of experiences.
Sometimes it is our DNA, or injury, that change us. Sometimes it is passed on from parent to child.
The biggest benefit of close parenting is that you develop a hormonally based bond that intrinsically makes you care, empathise and want to help. (In some cases, this is damaged, by trauma/mental health disorders etc. etc.) and the key benefit of that is that you can look within yourself and see yourself in this little person. You can see their behaviours, their similarities to yourself. You have a unique, and new, viewpoint to see why you were the way you were. That actually, to some extent, you were just naturally prone to certain behaviours. Getting hyperactive I am particularly thinking about right now.
You can’t go back in time and correct any ways you were treated, but you can support the little person in your life to live with it. Manage it. Learn about it.
To some extent this is the power of diagnosis.
We all experience emotions differently, some of us with alexithymia do not, some of us who gifted but emotionally intense, some of us are very calm. Shame is a huge shaper of our lives. We may start ‘masking’ and with that, and other responses, we find ourselves taking steps up a ladder of responses that can before too long make us lose track of what lead to what. A guide is what we need in those moments.
A parent who understands what happened because something similar happened to them. And if both parents are together, there’s a much higher chance of your behaviour being understood, and mentored…. parented.
Is it sociopathic to want to be the sun? As Frederick Douglass is widely accredited as saying:
“‘It is easier to build strong children than fix broken men.”
Life can be a sequence of bruises as we bounce from situation to situation; but how do we keep shining as a positive person, rather than let ourselves be mired? Think of a negative person, how broken they look–as though poisoned, or how falsely upright they are in their indomitable appearance. It’s not something enlightened people would aspire to.
So assuming our original position is one of kindness and goodness, this is reminiscent of the sun. It is not a leap of imagination when one considers energy and radiance. One ought to be the sun: a measured giver of radiance, burning out one’s life force as is the way of all things, and not a tree: one tied into a complicated system of inputs and outputs, symbiosis and dependency. But in thinking this, worries arise of of the implications for such bombastic imagery. Is it ever a good idea to position oneself in any thinking, as the giver of life? Sounds dangerous and enormously egocentric. So taking any connotations of God or celestial power away we are left with the concept of a singular radiant entity of the sun and the implicated organic network of life in the tree.
There’s nothing wrong with self-betterance but at what point do we build ourselves into an ivory tower when resurfacing from strife because of self-defence in the face of arseholes around us? At what point do we become that which we loath because we can never fully control our environment and influences–especially from other people, say at work etc.? At what point do we become the indomitably upright in our self-defence during ‘life’, which by nature we cannot control? Our personality is a construct of thoughts and behaviours, and our thoughts and behaviours are a construct of our cognition and our personal histories. Our cognition and personal histories are impacted by those around us and our interactions and so we can never truly be ‘in control’. But what can we affect?
The aforementioned danger concerns the ivory-tower. When resurfacing from strife and in avoiding pain, but seeking improvement, there is a risk of creating a monster when trying to create a hero. Of course, sometimes it is not good to think in those terms at all, and instead just be; no hero; no monster. Change happens, life grows, one is not the architect but the house. Still, I think for some–especially for those rebuilding themselves after a storm of any intensity or duration–there needs to be at least a vague understanding of what it all looked like before, in order to rediscover the shape. Just being is just circling–round and round, on and on–for some. One would need fresh influence, not stale dead ends and self-deception.
So being the sun means giving out your life force, regardless. Not burning any brighter because you feel scared, not burning any less because you feel withdrawn. Not changing your approach to life because of arseholes, not being chameleonic and losing your own shape, not being dependent on other people being good for you to be good. Not being held hostage by yourself because you require something in return when you are being kind. Give out positivity, and do it regardless of how dull or malicious those around you are. Be okay regardless of whether you receive an apology. You do not lose anything: they do not suck out any more of you. You do not catch disease; you do not run out of water; you do not get entangled by climbers or get cut down. You radiate regardless, and you will radiate every day until you die and that’s a great thing. That’s life, at its best.
Sadness and deep trouble–like a chili bubbling on the stove; a feeling of being out of control and anxious for what might come. We can wish time away, desperate to feel more often. Why else do people risk hurting someone they love with an affair? Sometimes we can desire the pain that made adolescence so vivid, we wish that the feeling of being alive was more common. In a sense it is wishing to feel something out of the ordinary, something that was of spontaneity‘s creation rather than routine’s.
But then comes the second part of the process: the arrival of the feeling one has lusted after. Cognitive behavioural therapy posits that there is an interpretation of danger over depression or sadness. But the perception is the key to the cycle. What is it that one is feeling? Fear of the danger of being weak and in confrontation? Is it a masochistic introspection that generates adrenaline? Does it give us a buzz? A thrill? We watch TV, film and theatre; we get addicted to boxsets and binge watch seasons of shows. But it is not real and whilst this is a truism, it has a profoundness that it is easy to miss: we pay to feel. But realise that the feeling is false! We put our own experiences outside of ourselves and watch from afar. Watch from safety. But life is not safe, and life does not happen at a distance.
Comfort: the antithesis of pain, the sponge of life. As the daylight disappears before 4 o’clock, primal impulses to nestle grow. And in so doing we erect a shield, a buffer or a safety net. If we continue through life with a distance and a moat between ourselves and our experience then we are denying ourselves the joys of the human condition.
What we ought to do, is bring our two eyes into focus: our animal instinct and our abstract awareness. We ought to look through both eyes at the same time, at the same thing, and see the entirety and understand that nothing beyond matters.
One’s relationship with religion can be deeply emotional, even if that is unbeknownst to oneself. Growing up in a 1980s/1990s village in England with friends who were deeply, familially religious yet being of a single-parent home with a complex family structure there, it is obvious, lay many sticky wickets. Many places where an unconventional boy growing up and his friends some of religious families may find conflict amongst themselves. I remember a day when, walking to the village green to play football, we crossed the dirty grassy track through the bush and my best friend asked me not to say the word “damn” around him, because he found it deeply unsettling and/or offensive. I found it offensive that he was censoring me (though I doubt my inner monologue used that term). We were ten.
Alter cross enshrouded for Lent
My mum did humour me on at least one occasion and we came to the Sunday Baptist service. We did not fit in. It was wierd. From that point onwards the weekly youth activities on a Friday night became more tumultuous and the relationship with the leaders and their children – those they were ultimately doing these groups for – became fractured. To the point where it was indirectly suggested that if the attendees did not go to Sunday services then it was not really for them anymore. We were maybe eleven or twelve. That was the first real experience of religious intolerance that I experienced. There were (as far as I could be aware) no Muslims, Sikhs or Jews in our village – the most exotic theology was Catholicism and everyone found that family more than a little strange. Though if you ventured into Cambridge sometimes you would see an actual Buddhist monk wandering around in orange robes. That was like seeing an alien. Really.
The village had a divide – in that divide there were two sects: the builders with their Sunday morning football, weekly sermons at the pub on a Friday and Saturday which felt like something from witch-hunting days – families that seemed to be famous in the village, faces you recognised but you knew would never recognise you. Then there were the religious families, equally as famous, but in more of an old-village, rather than new-village way. Perhaps my outsider status with both groups afforded me clarity of perspective. That was not unique to me, it wasn’t a particularly small village, at least not when I finally left – when I was born it was a three or four hundred homes lighter. Neither side were welcoming, both were intolerant in their own way and so organised religion and old-fashioned village bigots became two sides of the same coin.
Fortunately my mother was deeply open-minded and curious for her children, she brought us up with a deep curiousity in other religions and cultures. She took a stance that was intentionally opposed to village bigotry. She read us stories from the Ramayana, voted Green, practiced yoga and made sure we felt we could be whatever we wanted. It was a great gift. Especially since the village often conditioned us to laugh at those values.
But now, as an established adult, how does one make peace with traditional English religion and values and embrace the good things like Lent – the forty days preceding Easter Sunday whilst being more mindful of their history? Well, when I was a kid I’d often give up sweets for Lent, and then pig out on them after Easter. But I gave up junk food a month or so ago (and have never had more energy in my life) so I need to find something else. I didn’t even have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (something established to get rid of fatty ingredients in the house before the fasting of Lent). So what can someone who does nor partake in the new British tradition of dieting on junk food give up?
I shall give up negative thinking.
But why? Why do we bother giving anything up for Lent? Penance – absolution before God. Something any good, god-fearing Westerner ought to do, right?
Well, I’m trying to avoid ruining my mental health at the moment – I’m getting my body, mind and soul in shape and I don’t think that I need to berate myself for my sins. In fact, I do not necessarily think that I need to rid myself of them. Yes, for some it may work in the traditional Christian way, but it does not work for me. I’ve done bad things. I’ve been a bad person. We all have. I’m not going to repress it and develop a personality disorder, that just can’t be healthy. So I’m not going to try and self-harm myself into ridding me of negativity, instead I’m going to embrace harnessing negative thinking (and more obviously talking negatively) by what I’ve read in Pema Chödrön’s ‘Start Where You Are’ which described Tonglen meditation. I’m not going to ignore my history and the traditions of my environment, instead I’m going to try and embrace the opportunity. I’m also not going to beat myself around the face repeatedly until my mind falls in line – I’m going to trust what many others have found deeply rewarding and I think it’s going to work really well (see, I’m being positive already!)