Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fleeting emotions

My sister and sister-in-law have several children that are the same ages as each other. Children all have different personalities, but I have also seen some trends in how these particular children act based on their mothers' parenting styles. My sister is a little emotionally detached herself and is not an overly emotional parent. Her parenting style fosters independence. Her children go places by themselves before they are in the double digits of age. The children have a lot of autonomy, responsibilities, and experience real consequences for their actions. My sister-in-law is more the typical, doting mother. She is anxious and her children live in a safe bubble of love and protection. When her children speak, we stop and listen. They get choices about certain things like what to eat for dinner, but most of the time they are being told what to do from hour to hour. It's easy to see that there is not a one-style-fits-all approach to parenting. Both approaches have their plusses and minuses.

I am grateful for the way I was raised. Some people have called it borderline (or just plain) abusive, but to me it was mainly characterized by freedom and creativity. Even the unpredictable outbursts from my parents had a use, they helped bond me and my siblings together in a way that is still remarkably tight into adulthood. We got along not just because we had to, but because we wanted to -- everyone recognized that it was better that way. We would play music together, play games together, play sports together, and do projects together -- all of which we recognized would have been impossible to do alone. Together we were better, stronger, and happier than we were as individuals. Consequently, my family does certain things very well. We're very good at subjugating our will to the utilitarian needs of the whole. We joke that we're a little like the Borg from Star Trek -- assimilation for the needs of the hive. That might sound like a nightmare for some, but it's really efficient and no one ever feels like they're held hostage to the potential drama and demands of divas and tyrants. Each member of the family has their role and expertise, and the rest of us defer to them on those points when we're together. Because this state is completely voluntary, we're also careful to make sure that no one gets overly disgruntled and opts out completely. If someone is feeling put upon, we address the issue openly and efficiently. People who cheat get informal social sanctions, typically in the form of my sister's wrath. But to make things work this way, no one is really allowed to take things personally or have "unreasonable" emotional reactions and expect to have those feelings validated. Someone can be upset and cry and no one will give him a hard time about it, but unless he can verbalize his problem and propose a solution, no one is really invested in anyone's fleeting emotions.

My sister's family is the only one that approximates this approach with her own children. The results are interesting. Her children are definitely more ruthless, calculating, and calloused than most of their peers (more than they should be?). But they're also really easy to reason with. They understand better than a lot of adults that just because they are feeling an emotion does not mean that it was caused by any particular thing or person -- that they can't control what happens to them, but they actually do have a lot of control over how they feel about things or how they interpret those feelings. They learn this from their parents. When my sister is in a bad mood, she tells her children that she's just "grumpy," so they shouldn't take her reactions personally. My niece picked up on this phrase when she was just a toddler. If you asked her why she was sad, she would frequently say "I'm not sad, I'm just grumpy." She meant that there was nothing in particular that she wanted solved, she was just not feeling happy and to leave her alone about it. My sister's family even plays at emotions, taking "grumpy" family photos the same way that some families take silly photos. They understand that their emotions are labile and often fleeting. The children are not as offended when people don't take their emotions "seriously" because they understand the difference between raw emotional reactions and actual problems that can be verbalized.

I'm sure this isn't the only way to teach children this particular skill and maybe this approach would be impossible for most parents to pull off or would harm most children more than it would help. But I thought that it was an interesting approach, and would be helpful to serve as common ground for parents of sociopaths (particularly if the sociopathic child had normal siblings). 


  1. don't fuck with this pussy

  2. Kids today that are independent, can solve problems on their own, and don't need to ask 14 of their friends how they should feel about something are often call anti-social. It makes one wonder what anti-social kids were like 100 or 200 years ago.

    1. I find the type of question you ask interesting too. Here is someone looking at the genesis of the History of the Antisocial Personality Disorder.

      Full disclosure I am quite a bit influenced by Michel Foucault.

      Do "normal kids" always ask others how they should feel? Wouldn't that make them pretty similar to a psychopath imitating other's feelings?

    2. Similar only in the way of the outcome. Imitating. The process is very much different, as they (me) do it in a less direct way, most of the time. If it is more direct, it will include interactions, pushing, prodding & manipulating for different reactions to learn, adapt and act. Although that's a very general and simplified summary.

  3. M.E., you are an educated rational individual, reasonabily well off,
    and don't have to concern yourself with daily survival issues.
    If your fortunes should suddenly fall, it's reasonable expect that you
    would recieve help from your numerious realitives. And you're also
    pretty and female. If you should "dissapear," you would be missed.
    Anotherwords, fate + self discipline dealt you a better hand then most.
    It's always possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There
    is no such thing as 100% safety. But you are one of the realitively few
    sucess stories.
    I'm glad you're flourishing-for now, but there's simply now way to
    make an inflexible "science" out of raising kids.

  4. i remember a shrink asking me how i feel after i told him i'm a sociopath
    i did not answer i was just looking for his reaction
    i read later that's a classic test to see if you are a psychopath

    1. Haha
      "I bet a really good liar" works as a similar test. You often just get the suppression of that gloater look no matter what their response is.

    2. Interesting idea to go to a shrink with a premade self-diagnosis. Had you also already decided what would be the best treatment? Or was all you wanted to see was a specialist's reaction. What was it?

    3. seks drugs and rock'n roll

    4. i actualy went back to him fater i got the diagnosis (couple of years ago)
      seen a cople of shrinks never really interested in what they had to say untill i started doing my own research i wanted to know what he had to say about it i was not looking for confirmation
      got confirmation about a year later

  5. ME-
    Your sister is teaching emotional intelligence to her kids by owning her "grumpiness". That takes a level of self awareness and humility that many "do gooder" parents don't possess. Allowing/encouraging self reliance is an incredible gift to give a child because of the level of mastery it allows them to feel when they succeed without the help of a helicopter parent.
    That being said, I am struck by the thought that parents and kids shape each other. My first child has forced me to throw out everything I thought was "good parenting" and try to understand her as a person. Your sister in law probably has temperamentally different kids from your sister and there may be a bit of "Which came first- the chicken or egg?" phenomena going on. Raising kids is hard and anyone with more than one (or even one child who is not "easy") will recognize that there's no one size fits all parenting prescription.
    That being said, it sounds like you have a really cool family. It strikes me as an environment where narcissism is inhibited and kids are allowed to make mistakes.

  6. Where is Monica these days? Did she change her name?

  7. sounds pretty social for a sociopath.

  8. That was an interesting comment a couple of post up about going to the shrink and being asked how you felt about being a sociopath and what his response was to your response. I had a very similar experience, of course I knew going there was not going to change anything but I too wanted a diagnosis so I went. I received a similar experience. I was asked how I felt when my mother died and at the same time was estranged from my only close relative( a recent event). I had to repeat the question once or twice and couldn't really give an answer?? I think then he asked if I just felt numb and I answered yes to that as I didn't no how to answer as I didn't feel much but it was also a very dysfunctional situation. I am not sure what to think of shrinks, I don't think he ever really figured me out but found me interesting he said.

  9. Fantastic work and very well-written article. I will recommend reading it to all my friends |


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