As you can see from the last blog, many circumstances preventing adequate parenting are simply unavoidable. One of the most familiar cases in my experience is that of having a large family, where parents struggle to find time to meet the needs of their children. Frequently, in such cases clusters of children form within the family some with maternal figures taking care of younger siblings. Due to modern life and financial necessity, increasingly either one or both parents have no option but to work long hours and are reluctantly absent from their children’s lives. Despite the pressure of time, it is, nonetheless, vital to make time for children and most parents strive to do this.
We must, however, recognise that not all circumstances are unavoidable. While we appreciate that parents do the best they can for their children, we also have to accept that there are parents who deliberately harm them. This may be cultural in some societies where human development is poorly understood or there is a misplaced idea of what parenting is. This is most evident in subsistence economies, where corporal punishment is seen as the optimum way to bring about obedience to ensure the survival of the family.
Unfortunately, childhood neglect may also be due to abusive parenting in so-called enlightened societies. It is quite prevalent in modern well-developed countries. Have you ever, for example, wondered why Adolf Hitler behaved in such a monstrous way and was responsible for the deaths of millions, or why Stalin had millions murdered without any shred of remorse? These are extreme cases, of course, but they illustrate a point. Alice Miller in her book, For Your Own Good. The Roots of Violence in Child-rearing, paints an interesting portrait of Hitler. He was a dutiful child, who had a very distressing childhood. Instead of being emotionally nurtured, he was from a very young age, frequently humiliated and beaten by his father, Alois. He was eighteen when his mother, Klara, died from breast cancer, and by that stage would have permanently benefitted from any emotional maternal warmth she might have given him. But, his father’s savagery was so consistent that she could never lessen to any significant extent the psychological damage inflicted on him. But, there may also have been maternal shortcomings. Alice Miller challenges the idea that Hitler was loved by his mother, but perhaps was spoiled, an ultimately devastating experience in itself. Many parents confuse spoiling with love, but it is a trauma which comes to fruition in adult life. That, however, was the least of Hitler’s worries as he endured the cruelty of his father. As in almost all cases of childhood abuse there was a transgenerational factor involved. Hitler’s father was born outside of wedlock into poverty and was separated from his mother, Maria Anna Schicklgruber, when he was five years old. There is also the possibility that Alois’s father was partly Jewish. Hitler was aware of this and uncertainty about one’s ancestry can cause anxiety in itself and the possibility of a Jewish ancestry enraged him. Hence, six million Jewish people perished.
Hitler suffered severe fear of abandonment as an adult, even when he was Fuhrer. There is plenty of evidence of his nightmares, cries of terror and shrieks in the night at the image of his long dead father, even when at the pinnacle of his power. He feared the Jews, he feared medicine (even though he allowed his doctor to heavily medicate him as he got older and more stressed), he feared heights, he feared being poisoned and had a food taster, and he feared death, although he committed suicide.
It is more than likely that Hitler suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his childhood. Certainly he has some of the symptoms of PTSD, which is an intense anxiety reaction caused by adverse circumstances including childhood neglect. For example, the mistreatment by his father was beyond the norm of suffering, and Hitler became emotionally dissociated from others, apart from his terrifying dreams, he suffered from insomnia and was subjected to mood swings, he had poor concentration, he was devoid of emotions apart from rage and anger and he frequently relived the emotional trauma of childhood as he tried to sleep. Laurence Rees in his book, The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, rightly states that his main characteristic was his ‘capacity to hate.’ Hitler’s description in Mein Kampf of a three year old child witnessing the brutal behaviour of the father against the mother undoubtedly refers to his own experience. A battered mother, filled with fear, cannot protect her child from a brutal father. Ultimately the massive childhood trauma, stored in his psyche as a child, eventually emerged and as Alice Miller puts it ‘the child who was once persecuted now becomes the persecutor.’ And millions died.
From this section of the blog I hope you now understand fear of abandonment coming from insecure attachment. Equally important, if you are a parent, especially of young children, you will realise how you can ensure (or choose to ensure) their mental health and mental wellbeing by meeting their dependency needs of love, affection, attention and direction. I do not believe that there can be a more invaluable contribution to the mental health of your descendants than this. Further I would add that if you are the child of controlling parent(s) you may have inherited some controlling tendencies that accompany your fear of abandonment. Acknowledge this and take steps to heal it so that you will more easily be able to meet the dependency needs of your children. The final chapter in this book looks in some detail at how to heal issues that come from an insecure attachment, including fear of abandonment.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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