In my first book, Cobwebs and Ugly Wallpaper, I wrote chapter called “Raising Victims” about the habits and behaviors we parents can sometimes get into with our children which can breed in them adult tendencies towards victimhood; things we might do like having poor boundaries with them and angry, controlling behaviors which make US feel better in the moment but which train THEM to be treated this way by other people later on in their lives.
BUT right now I want to look at a slightly different angle on “Raising Victims”.
I want to look at the effects of childhood trauma not on how the child gets trained to being treated by others, but, instead, on the later development of their own habits and lifestyle choices which will contribute to adult health problems, shortened longevity, and quality of life issues; choices like diet, activity level, alcohol consumption, drug use, etc.
In other words, I want to look at how we ultimately become victims to ourselves.
If you’ve followed some of my previous blogs or read any of my books, you know how much I emphasize the deleterious effects of disconnects from others on our emotional health and the things we do to try to feel reconnected or ‘alive’ again.
For example, a wife doesn’t feel emotionally connected to her husband and uses “retail therapy” in order to fill in the emptiness that the disconnect creates.
Or the man who doesn’t feel particularly connected to anybody in his life and uses pornography or alcohol to fill in the emptiness.
The examples are many, and they include all of us eventually; it’s just a matter of finding the right set of circumstances and flavor of acting out behaviors.
But if we look at the very beginnings of disconnectedness in our lives, it starts in those earliest years of childhood when we’re not feeling connected to our original caregivers, usually the parents.
What makes a child feel connected?
Being Listened to.
Being Asked some open-ended questions about what they are telling us.
And saving our Comments or opinions for after we’ve done those first three things first.
My LVAC® Technique puts this in mnemonic form so it’s easy to remember: It stands for Listen, Validate, Ask, Comment, and it forces us to connect more and create fewer disconnects.
It works not only with our children, but also with our spouses, our neighbors, and others.
The point is that where there is disconnect, there will eventually exist behaviors and habits which we will use to fill the emptiness created by the disconnect.
This happens all the time.
In all of us.
No matter how subtle.
These habits and behaviors are often of momentary pleasure, but not what we actually want long-term.
The ultimate forms of disconnect in childhood are created by frank abuse (emotional, physical, sexual) and neglect.
And there are many, MANY roads to these situations and they happen in ALL sorts of families, even the ones who “look good” on the outside.
Furthermore, it is often true that, other than in cases of frank abuse, parents don’t even know that they’re setting their kids up for these feelings of disconnect:
Johnny: “Dad, come here and check this out.”
Dad: “Not right now Johnny, I’m busy.”
Of course if does because we do it all the time!
And that in and of itself is no crime! BUT, constant dosages of “Not right now Johnny”, or, “No!”, start to add up to a lack of feeling truly connected to the parent.
Disconnect creeps in. Destructive behaviors will eventually develop to fill it.
Or how about:
Sally: “I’m scared about what will happen in school tomorrow in math class.”
Mom: “Well, you should have studied then, shouldn’t you have?! Instead of spending all that time on Facebook!”
Now, most of us would agree that mom IS correct here, but where’s the empathy? (Before all you folks jump down my throat, yes, I DO understand that maybe this was the billionth time Sally has done this, etc.) But let’s also be careful about the temptation to ALWAYS blame or Comment immediately without first showing some empathy and understanding, otherwise…
The problem is, we love our children so much that we often Comment before we’ve truly Listened to and Validated their feelings.
But remember, it’s not any ONE particular episode; it’s the steady accumulation which causes disconnects to occur.
And the more disconnected that child feels from us today, the greater the emptiness they will feel inside themselves later on, and the more they will develop habits and behaviors which will be destructive to their health, quality of life, and longevity—habits and behaviors which will help them feel momentary relief from the pain or numbness or emptiness of the disconnects within.
Whether they eventually call it “boredom” or “frustration” or “anxiety”, the problem is that food, alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, gambling, risk taking, thrill seeking, etc., will then be used to temporarily make them feel better.
And then will come the weight issues, the cholesterol and type II diabetes problems, the liver and kidney issues, cancers of various kinds, heart attacks, strokes, and the list goes on and on.
The unhealthy habits and behaviors of our lives as “grown-ups” become the vestiges of our early childhood disconnects from traumas that occur in childhood, both large and small.
And I want you to know that there is a direct connection between these habits and behaviors—meant to ease the pain and fill in the emptiness of the disconnects within us—and eventual health problems, quality of life factors, and lifespan itself.
So, yes, let’s most definitely study and examine the relationships between diet, lifestyle choices, substance abuse, and various “stressors” and our overall health—an approach which we term Primary Prevention in the medical profession.
BUT let’s also look further back to the emotional traumas and the ensuing disconnects of childhood which play such a major role in laying the foundation of PAIN which we try to dull or escape by making unhealthy choices in these areas in adulthood.
And before you say, “But that’s all in the past—I’m over it now”, please let me add: You may THINK that you’re over it, but examine your habits and behaviors—especially the unhealthy or destructive ones—and THAT’S where your pain is still hiding, alive and well, my friend.
Many wishes for your continued healing,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First).