Recently the world has lost a lot of its fog and I’ve been able to see some truths a lot more clearly than before. The saddest truth is that of why some people act like complete jerks, heartless, thoughtless and generally a complete pain in the butt to be around. It pains me because as a rule, they weren’t born this way, they were raises this way.
In terms of socialization, children are effectively blank slates when they are born. Certain personality traits are innate, but the degree of their expression is going to be determined by the experiences a child has as they grow up. For example, most human beings are capable of experiencing empathy. We learn through watching our parents and peers that the feeling we get inside when we hear of something troubling happening to someone is called empathy and that a small expression of the emotion is an appropriate response to bad news for someone else. Happiness, love, anger, sadness, guilt, shame, etc… are all the same way. We have the capacity to experience them and we learn how to manage their expression through observation and practice with the people we socialize with. These early experiences lay the groundwork for what becomes our emotional spectrum in terms of expression, thoughts and triggers. So our caregivers from birth to age 10 play an enormous role in determining how we handle ourselves as we interact in the world.
But imagine the possible consequences to a system that relies on a small number of people to enrich a young person with all of the experiences that are needed to effectively create an objective understanding of the world and ones innate emotional potential. For one thing, this approach is very narrow in scope and it engenders an almost carbon copy of what the caregivers believes. While not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t actually offer a lot of diversity and can lead to adjustment issues once the child experiences different points of view or a different world view; as each new experience must be assimilated or repelled to maintain a consistent understanding of the world. Also, by virtue of the small number of primary care givers, many experiences will be missed because these they fall outside the scope of what these people know. Finally and most seriously, there is not sufficient redundancy in such a small system to safe guard for the deluding influence of a deviant role model; anti social or maladaptive behaviors are assumed to be the norm by the child very early. Their struggle with the world begins well before they have an capacity to understand what it is about their behavior that isn’t appropriate.
Love, self-image and anger are the three main emotional areas that are most negatively impacted by absence or inappropriate childhood behavioral modeling.
Love is complicate in the self-aware adult, it’s a ball of confusion for a child. First thing, parents and adults are capable of loving each other in the same way a child loves a parent and also in a completely abstract way that doesn’t make any sense to a child. But that’s “love” modeled for a child. Assuming the care giver is capable of expressing love, the child will begin to generate an association between the feeling of love and the actions that accompany it. If the feeling is paired with loving actions – smiling, cuddling, holding, talking, singing, basically the things that make one feel happy and secure – the child’s understanding of family / caregiver love will well established in reality which will serve them well as they move forward. But if the care giver models something other than loving actions when the child is expecting love erroneous emotion / action pairing begin to form and the child’s view of love will corrupted. For example, an abusive parent who yells, hit or punishes their child for being afraid of the dark, painting outside the lines or not being immediately successful when trying something new. Care giver actions like these teach the child that no one cares when you are afraid, that love is conditional upon you being successful at everything you do and that creative efforts will result in emotional or physical pain. That becomes their understanding of love. It’s ugly, it’s damaging it, and it occurred before the child was old enough to identify any of what was going on.
Self-image depends upon care gives identifying our talents and efforts during critical periods in life. Between 3 – 7 children need to be acknowledged and recognized for how they engage their world. This is critical because they are starting to branch-out and their understanding of the world is expanding as their brain matures – their social circle is growing as they go to preschool and then to school. For the first time in their lives, they have the cognitive capacity to consider that they are not the same thing as other people and that each person is separate. In order for a child to properly form an accurate image of themselves, they need to be taught about themselves. Care gives who recognize a child’s actions and talents help them associate these actions and talents with the image they create about who they are. Care givers who do not draw the child’s attention to their achievements fail to help them connect the dots between actions and self-image, often leaving the child fixate on this phase of development. The end result can be insecurity and narcissism as the developing child struggles to satisfy a need for a positive self-image but having never been given the tools needed to consolidate it out of real life experiences.
Anger and its expression is in many ways the most damaging outcome of inappropriate modeling as anger tends to motivate drastic action that lacks consideration of the future. Anger is natural. It is a very useful survival tool as it can motivate irrational murderous rage, which is exactly what would be needed to fight off an attacking animal. Thankfully that doesn’t happen too often but it needs to be considered that deep within each of us lies the potential to go bizerk and destroy life. Anger needs to be experienced and released, but it needs to be let out in a controlled undamaging way whenever possible. A care giver who takes the time to let out their anger in a control non-volatile way will teach the child the appropriate way to let the emotion flow out of them. However, the physically abusive parent who channel their life frustration onto their child in the form of abuse teaches the child that they are simply an object on which other people beat when they are angry. It doesn’t take very long before the child learns to be helpless and retreats into their head knowing that the violent world will always lay a beating upon them. Worse still in how this lesson makes its way through the generations as the grown child, who has only seen abuse (hitting their children) as the model of anger expression, pays this pattern of behavior forward.
Socializing human beings is a tough, time consuming task, made even more challenging by their tendency towards unquestioned single trial learn and a brain that doesn’t full mature until early adulthood. The key thing with it is to model and teach a child appropriate actions and appropriate responses to external events and emotion evoking occurrences. Our emotional system is well established and it comes on-line will before our brains develop the capacity to work with all of the abstract information that tends to create our understanding of the world. Keep in mind, if a person has never seen it, they are not likely going to do it. If someone is failing to behave in a way that is appropriate, there’s a very good chance that they don’t even know that what they are doing is not appropriate because they haven’t seen anything else, and they haven’t had someone tell them that their actions are alienating and simply don’t work for them.