How To Sprain Social Development – Incorrect Attribution of Why

Our abnormal psychology professor admitted to the most dreadful thing to our class. “As a psychiatrist in the 60’s I told parents of schizophrenic children that their parenting caused the illness. I feel horrible still for having said it, but that was the understanding then. The theory was based on the science at the time. The science advanced then the disease became chemical with environmental stress being an agonist.” The good in this evolution of understanding is the realization that the social environment of a child in not likely to create physiological brain dysfunction – the thought processes will be created and shaped, and volumes of information will be stored but the brain is developing according to the genetic plan.

Childhood does not change the brain, it shapes the processes that run. It helps to create an understanding of the world that allows the brain to plan and coordinate the body’s interactions with the external environment. This internal representations of the world is based on an interpretation of all of the information known and assumed about the world. When there isn’t enough information, the brain generates possible reasons, and one of them eventually fills in the missing info. What gets rendered into ones world view is a mixed stew of real and make-believe. Needed are answers to the “why” of what happened so we can move on to the next experience and we’re willing to make-up stuff not provided.

This is how most development gets sprained – incorrect reasons attributed to why things happen.

The biggest offender is sexual abuse. Young person gets molested by a family member, friend, or coach. It’s new to them so they have no idea what to make of the whole thing. It feels wrong but it’s so far from the norm that there’s no reconciling it with real information. The assumptions begin and the underlying thought processes start to morph. “My care givers don’t love me because they let that happen” is a common assumption to make as it answers the why question instantly. The children don’t talk about it either out of fear or because they are now sure that their parents don’t love them. The parents don’t talk about it because they don’t know anything about it. They’ll ask the child about any change in behavior (the withdrawal that occurs when your parents don’t love you enough to protect you from bad things). When the parents continue to expose the child to the abuser it serves to reinforce the assumption and can change the narrative from neglect to enabling. These assumptions can get traction and write themselves into interesting areas of their future.

Personal relationships can become a mine field as one advances with incorrect assumptions about cause and effect, particularly ones involving feelings of love. In some cases the person never allows themselves to get close to anyone and lives a fairly isolated life full of efforts to avoid receiving love from others as that ultimately means suffering because people who love you let bad things happen. In other cases the person will begin to experience what most would call true love with someone and they will begin to do things that will make the other person change their view of them. There is an element of what seems like sabotage but it is simply the persons desire to be unlovable so that they can be the way they believed they are supposed to be; an assumption made in the past to help manage the experience of being abused.

Love hurts more than anything else in the world because there is a need to feel it, but it has become associated with so much suffering, cognitive-dissonance and a mis-pairing of cause and effect. For those who are willing to try romantic relationships as an adult, they will often leave a sea of damaged and bitter people in their wake as the recovering party recreates the relationship dynamic of the past. Without the knowledge and acceptance of what happened, the past becomes the future and the emotional pain rolls on.