Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Parent to a sociopath (part 2)

While I was watching We Need to Talk About Kevin, I thought several times about Andrew Solomon's book Far From the Tree, in which he writes about outlier children (i.e. children who are quite different from their parents, e.g. deafness, dwarfism, disability, genius, criminality, etc.). He discusses the difficulties that such children present to their parents, who have hoped to see their own unfulfilled promise attained vicariously through the lives of their children, and the great disappointment that can accompany the realization that their child is not who they imagined he would be (via Brain Pickings):

In the subconscious fantasies that make conception look so alluring, it is often ourselves that we would like to see live forever, not someone with a personality of his own. Having anticipated the onward march of our selfish genes, many of us are unprepared for children who present unfamiliar needs. Parenthood abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger, and the more alien the stranger, the stronger the whiff of negativity. We depend on the guarantee in our children’s faces that we will not die. Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not for the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do. Loving our own children is an exercise for the imagination. … [But] our children are not us: they carry throwback genes and recessive traits and are subject right from the start to environmental stimuli beyond our control. 

The most directly applicable We Need to Talk About Kevin quote:

Having exceptional children exaggerates parental tendencies; those who would be bad parents become awful parents, but those who would be good parents often become extraordinary.

Solomon also looks at the unique struggles of children who are born to parents that do not share the same defining traits. He first identifies the distinction between vertical identities, those we inherit from our parents like ethnicity or religion, and horizontal identities:

Often, however, someone has an inherent or acquired trait that is foreign to his or her parents and must therefore acquire identity from a peer group. This is a horizontal identity. Such horizontal identities may reflect recessive genes, random mutations, prenatal influences, or values and preferences that a child does not share with his progenitors. Being gay is a horizontal identity; most gay kids are born to straight parents, and while their sexuality is not determined by their peers, they learn gay identity by observing and participating in a subculture outside the family. Physical disability tends to be horizontal, as does genius. Psychopathy, too, is often horizontal; most criminals are not raised by mobsters and must invent their own treachery. So are conditions such as autism and intellectual disability.

(A quick note, I think the reference to psychopaths is hilariously demonizing, especially given Solomon's great care to withhold normative judgments of "bad" or "good" for the other outlier characteristics he discusses. To illustrate, imagine if he had used a similar negatively slanted statement for gay horizontal identity "most kids are born to straight parents, so must invent their own perversion.")

Solomon, who actually is gay with straight parents (but apparently feels that he did not invent his own perversion, unlike sociopaths), came up with his theory on vertical and horizontal identity when he noticed that he shared common identity issues with deaf children of hearing parents:

I had been startled to note my common ground with the Deaf, and now I was identifying with a dwarf; I wondered who else was out there waiting to join our gladsome throng. I thought that if gayness, an identity, could grow out of homosexuality, an illness, and Deafness, an identity, could grow out of deafness, an illness, and if dwarfism as an identity could emerge from an apparent disability, then there must be many other categories in this awkward interstitial territory. It was a radicalizing insight. Having always imagined myself in a fairly slim minority, I suddenly saw that I was in a vast company. Difference unites us. While each of these experiences can isolate those who are affected, together they compose an aggregate of millions whose struggles connect them profoundly. The exceptional is ubiquitous; to be entirely typical is the rare and lonely state.

I have noticed (and mention in the book) that there has been a lot of push back on labeling people, particularly the pathologizing of more than half the population. How could it possibly be that fewer people in the population are normal than abnormal?! But which seems more plausible -- that we are all cookie cutter neurologically the same? Or that we are all on a bell curve of myriad different human traits, our particular blend making us both completely unique (we actually are neurologically all special snowflakes, it turns out) and yet share identifiable traits in common across the entire swath of humanity. And that's a good thing. Charles Darwin remarked on the great variety of the human species:

As the great botanist Bichat long ago said, if everyone were cast in the same mould, there would be no such thing as beauty. If all our women were to become as beautiful as the Venus de’ Medici, we should for a time be charmed; but we should soon wish for variety; and as soon as we had obtained variety, we should wish to see certain characteristics in our women a little exaggerated beyond the then existing common standard.

Despite the many advantages of diversity, many families (and society) tend to treat horizontal identities as disorders that we would hope to eventually eliminate from the species:

In modern America, it is sometimes hard to be Asian or Jewish or female, yet no one suggests that Asians, Jews, or women would be foolish not to become white Christian men if they could. Many vertical identities make people uncomfortable, and yet we do not attempt to homogenize them. The disadvantages of being gay are arguably no greater than those of such vertical identities, but most parents have long sought to turn their gay children straight. … Labeling a child’s mind as diseased — whether with autism, intellectual disabilities, or transgenderism — may reflect the discomfort that mind gives parents more than any discomfort it causes their child.

(Is Solomon correct here? I think there are actually a lot of people who think that white Christian men are superior to other races/genders/religions, gay people are an abomination, autistic and disabled people are a drain to scarce social resources (same for sociopaths), etc. And perhaps their beliefs are not wrong, or at least it would depend on what measuring stick and set of values you use to judge.)

But I don't think it's the labels that are harmful, necessarily. Indeed, labels can be a boon to all outsiders forming their own horizontal identities. Rather, the problem seems to be the xenophobic system of enforcing social norms that encourages expressions of repulsion and shaming at what is too foreign to be relatable, whether it is feelings of disgust regarding gay people (especially gay people who do not feel the need to hide or tone down their "gayness"), the practices of other cultures (especially things that our own western culture has outgrown, like arranged marriages and modest clothing for women), or the backwards beliefs of religious "cults" (whereas our own religious beliefs are seen as perfectly plausible and normal).

Finally, Solomon describes what eventually happens to the mother in We Need to Talk About Kevin (and a hopeful statement for all parents of sociopathic children):

To look deep into your child’s eyes and see in him both yourself and something utterly strange, and then to develop a zealous attachment to every aspect of him, is to achieve parenthood’s self-regarding, yet unselfish, abandon. It is astonishing how often such mutuality has been realized — how frequently parents who had supposed that they couldn’t care for an exceptional child discover that they can. The parental predisposition to love prevails in the most harrowing of circumstances. There is more imagination in the world than one might think.

30 comments:

  1. holy badman that's a long post



































    and 1st

    ReplyDelete
  2. oh shiny
    fuck you adhd
    i need to read this long post

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'll happily remain a white man, but I'll never be a Christian. I know good Christians, but they are all highly intelligent individuals. If you're not highly intelligent, I think Christianity will more likely make you an awful racist bigot. I'm so glad that I don't come from a religious family. My family is not extremely intelligent, but they are good, kind people.

    It would be great if there were a religion for stupid people that didn't turn them into self-righteous pricks. Hell, I'd found it myself, I have the necessary charisma and eloquence. I could base it on science, and my degree would legitimize it. I could help people understand the nature of reality using simple metaphors that bring complex ideas within their grasp.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "understand the nature of reality", religion and understanding is an oxymoron.

      Delete
    2. Religion develops because of people's desire to understand the nature of reality and how their existence fits into that reality. What better basis for a religion, then, than our best scientific understanding of reality?

      Delete
    3. ^^^The problem is that that is only one reason why religion may have arisen. If it were a simple matter of people wanting to get at the truth of their existential predicament, religion as we know it would have been placed in history’s wastebasket centuries ago. Identity and social cohesion (two sides of the same coin), fear of death and the unknown, and endemic cognitive biases all play important explanatory roles as well.

      Often, however, someone has an inherent or acquired trait that is foreign to his or her parents and must therefore acquire identity from a peer group.

      What if the assortment of identities presented by both your peer group and your family of origin are foreign to you? What if you look around and realize that there is no one in your personal life quite like you, while every one of them seems to share some intagible something in common with each other?

      Delete
    4. "The problem is that that is only one reason why religion may have arisen"

      Exactly, I subscribe your vision on religion.

      "What if the assortment of identities presented by both your peer group and your family of origin are foreign to you? What if you look around and realize that there is no one in your personal life quite like you, while every one of them seems to share some intagible something in common with each other?"

      Then you become Birdick and you are diagnosed as a sociopath ;P otherwise you read more and realise that there are people you have things in common with...




      Delete
    5. Then you become Birdick and you are diagnosed as a sociopath ;P

      Lol. Nice.

      you read more and realise that there are people you have things in common with...

      That’s why I was careful to say “my personal life”. Of course I’ve found minds that I seem to share traits in common with. M.E. is one, for instance. But the article mentions peer groups and family of origin, particularly parents. I have never seen my inner world clearly and unambiguously reflected in any of the people I’ve known in my own life, family especially. It can be disorienting going through life feeling like an alien masquerading as a human. Especially in my younger days, when I behaved in much more stereotypically sociopathic ways.

      Delete
    6. For me it was dissappointing but I assumed it and gave me a less idyllic vision of what a family is, which I am very glad about because it help me not taking a life path that would not have been the right thing for me. I could not imagine a better life than a childfree life. Globally, I think it helped me becoming a more independent person, choosing the things I really want and thinking by myself.

      Jessi

      Delete
    7. I could not imagine a better life than a childfree life. Globally, I think it helped me becoming a more independent person, choosing the things I really want and thinking by myself.

      See, now THIS I respect. Highly, as a matter of fact. You know what works for you and you didn’t let any notions of traditional gender roles muddy the waters. Kudos!

      Delete
    8. That is what I liked from my spath initially. I thought he was genuinely free and authentic, but then I saw he was just partially genuinely free and authentic. That is to say that he was not free nor authentic, he was a slave of his public image and he was faking most of the time. Then I lost respect for him.

      Jessi

      Delete
  4. This is one reason why many empathic women who truly love their children
    refuse to remarry once the first marriage ends. We've all heard stories
    of "wicked step-parents. The fact of the matter is, many step parents do
    NOT want to care for other people's progeny. There is something that
    instinctully irks them about having to expend energy and resources to care
    for their spouce's child from another person.
    One example of this can be seen when a mother of a white child takes up
    with a man of another race. There is nothing more infuriating to the new
    husband then the presence of the previous child who represents the oppress-
    or race. A number a years ago, a white woman and her new Africian-American boyfriend placed her child from the prior marriage on a dock
    by a lake and put the car in neutral much like Susan Smith. There was
    also a case in Time Magazine (a little squib actually) that told the
    saga of a boy that was beaten over a protracted period of time. The
    system simply failed him. His body was dismembered and placed in a suit-
    case. The blood trail led to it.
    So the empath mother who truly loves her children will place thier
    welfare ahead of a few minautes of pleasure. Do without men! Only another
    woman knows how a woman needs to be touched. But beware of the "butch"
    types. Pound for pound they're just as bad as the men.
    I'd also like to speak on the Enneagram. There's no need to be a sociopath any more. You can look into the Enneagram Institute and discover your true type. Take the test. Most sociopaths or either #3 or
    #7. An example of a 3 would be most "horn-dog" politicans like Clinton.
    An example of a 7 would be most "shock jocks" like Howard Stern. When
    you know what your true type, you can discover what the healthiest
    expression of that type is, and cast off your chains.
    Regarding, the movies:
    Best movie about plight of being sociopath's relative: "Falling Down"
    (1962)
    Best movie about what becomes of sociopath if he/she doesn't tone it down
    "Cool Hand Luke" (1967)
    Best movie about sociopath in the presence of psychotics: "One Flew Over
    The CooCu's Nest (1975)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I must say again, I enjoy reading your opinions.

      I must also add that I am maybe the exception. I willingly care for my husband's three children full time along with my daughter. I do it because they need a mom/friend/female pressance. I love them and wouldn't think of leaving them. They've helped me more than I've helped them. Its hard and somedays I cry and feel like I'm the worst stepmom ever. But here's to carrying on.

      :)

      Delete
    2. From the standpoint of evolutionary psychology a woman caring for a mans children from a different partner works, it occurs in the natural world with pack animals all the time. However a man who raises another mans is furthering a genetic line not their own. In the wild male animals typically kill or drive out any offspring not their own upon taking over a pack.

      Delete
    3. Happily we are more evolved than wild animals.

      Delete
    4. Typically, but the more we study evolutionary psychology the more we discover certain trends that are true for us and animals. For instance did you know that a large number of child abuse cases are done by a step parent, typically father.

      Delete
    5. You are ridiculous. There are plenty of people who would take care of step children. ARe you suggesting that a divorced mother with kids should not remarry or care about her own needs?

      Stupid.

      Also to insist that only women or fem women can take care of each other's needs is stupid as well.

      Delete
    6. I'm not arguing that there are good step parents out there. In fact most step parents are good parents. There is a big difference between saying "a large number of child abuse cases being perpetrated by a step parent" and saying "a large number of step parents abuse children". The first is fact, the second is ridiculous.

      And I am certainly not saying anything about what a divorced mother should or should not do, I was merely talking about evolutionary psychology. Nothing more or less.

      Delete
    7. How do you know where evolution goes? Maybe to make step-parents the new caring parents. Considering the divorce rate, that is becoming so common that it might point the evolutionary path. People decide what's next, not the past.

      Delete
    8. Anon 5:29 kind of describes my experience.
      I am a single mom of four who has slowly come to the conclusion that entering into a permanent partnership that involves living under the same roof will not happen for me for 8 years plus. Blended families are incredibly hard to pull off.
      And this comes from a woman who really likes men who has had multiple serious relationships. Marriage was discussed in several of them. Ultimately, though, I have come to the conclusion that there is not enough of me to be a good mom, stepmom, and wife all at once. I can do mom plus girlfriend, but the emotional needs of 4 children plus those of a man and his child (children) cause my overly empathic brain to melt because somebody always feels neglected and the guilt button is constantly activated, causing me to become less sane the further I get into a relationship. I chalk it up to overstimulation and have thought more than once that in complicated situations like that, my empathy is a liability.

      Delete
    9. @12:33
      I'm not saying I know where evolution is going. I enjoy the study of psychology and was sharing a portion of my knowledge that was relevant to the conversation.

      Delete
    10. May i ask ..if you had tons of money, Mach, would you ever consider getting a nanny?

      Delete
  5. "- Psychopathy, too, is often horizontal; most criminals are not raised by mobsters and must invent their own treachery -"

    “To illustrate, imagine if he had used a similar negatively slanted statement for gay horizontal identity "most kids are born to straight parents, so must invent their own perversion”

    Why to love someone should be a perversion? To betray someone it is a treachery.

    I found funny the Darwinist quote against plastic surgery ;)

    Should we see illness as part of diversity, respect a virus and let it kill us? We wisely eliminate or put away the “diversity” that harms us. The measuring stick is the damages.

    Xenophobia targets innocent individuals for some reasons and sociopaths targets innocent individuals for other reasons. What matters is both groups’ antisocial behaviors, which is what is prosecuted. The harmful actions in religious “cults”, if they do exist, are also prosecuted.

    I wonder for how long, Jamie, you are going to insist on equalizing a group which is rejected because of their actions of damage, with the victims of other aggressors.

    The matter with children is that they are not responsible of their actions, they are under development. There are easier children to deal with, some more complicated, some might be a disappointment for parents who created some unfair expectations, but that all lies in the topic of the not very rewarding sometimes parenting occupation. But those kids grow old, become adults and responsible for their conscious bad doing.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow. I'm finding it hard to believe this entire day went by, and Monica didn't post one time. What's up with that?

    ReplyDelete
  7. I got bored. Hi, Eden! How are you doing? Tell me about you!

    ReplyDelete
  8. @Eden
    Au contraire Eden, you don't see her in other alias's?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Come on Barbie, let's go partySeptember 22, 2013 at 3:34 PM

    My dick twinged with nervous excitement as I lifted the skirt on my new Barbie.

    ReplyDelete

Comments on posts over 14 days are SPAM filtered and may not show up right away or at all.

Join Amazon Prime - Watch Over 40,000 Movies

.

Comments are unmoderated. Blog owner is not responsible for third party content. By leaving comments on the blog, commenters give license to the blog owner to reprint attributed comments in any form.