The horror and insanity of childhood : More insights from Alexander Lowen

Another emotion which Lowen addresses in his work of healing those from disturbed childhood is that of horror.  Lowen contrasts a feeling of horror that a child will experience witnessing violence or endless fights with a sense of terror which would associate to more life threatening events such as accidents.  When a child sees parents acting in a hostile way to each other or even to the child, a child cannot make sense of it and they may then assume the blame.   Lowen argues that many prisoners of childhood possess an unconscious fear of insanity, really what they come to see as insane are the strong feelings that they had to repress in a climate of lack of insensitivity to feeling, empathy or horror.

Sense and sanity go together.  Actions don’t always have to make sense.  There is room in our minds for nonsense.  But with nonsense, we know that it isn’t intended to make sense, so it doesn’t disturb our sense of reality.  When things that are supposed to make sense don’t, it feels like craziness.  When parents behave in an unloving way, the child feels that the situation is crazy.  It doesn’t make sense.  But can a child say to his (parent), “Look, you’re acting crazy : you’re supposed to love me”?  If the child did, the mother might answer, “I do love you, but you are a bad child.”  Good and bad are sophisticated concepts, which the child learns only slowly. The child’s immediate reaction is to think, “There must be something wrong with me.  I am crazy because I expect my mother to love me regardless of what I do.”  Since mother stands as the final arbiter of reality, the child must accept the mother’s position as sensible and sane.  The child’s nature feelings of longing and love are then seen as crazy.

A narcissistic parent as Lowen later points out is not capable of love.  It is not that they do not want to love, more that they never really learned how and they also repress their feelings, because early on they found the cost of having or expressing them was too painful and so they shut them down.  Where there is an inability on a parents part to express love then the child comes to feel it is their fault.  However the love they long for and the desire for it does not go away.  This is why in later years a person who was a victim of narcissistic parents may recover if they can form a bond with another attachment figure who will offer them the love they needed and never got in order that they can find the lovable self they lost.  However blockages against seeking such a healing attachment will remain for those of us affected due to fear and limitation in trusting and expressing feelings and a fear of their insanity or intensity.

However, Lowen reminds us it is only by expressing true feelings that someone can gain contact with the true self they had to repress in childhood in order to be accepted.  The defences that result are not only emotional and psychological, Lowen’s experience shows they are also muscular and bodily lodged.

The fear of expressing feelings for those of from such a childhood is that if we let go fully we would seem crazy, this is because the intensity of repressed feelings just grows over years.  It is not that the feelings are crazy at all, in fact once the true history is known all feelings make perfect sense.

A parent’s insanity, expressed in the denial of feeling, both terrifies and horrifies a child.

To complicate matters the parent often then requires the child to mirror them and respond to their needs.  In Lowen’s opinion

the underlying insanity of a narcissistic parent is more difficult for a child to handle that a parent’s outright nervous breakdown.  (in that situation the child knows who is crazy).  With a narcissistic parent, the façade of sanity confuses the child.  As a child, how can one be sure of oneself, one’s feelings, and one’s sensing in the face of a parent’s arrogance and seeming certainty?  What choice is there but to conform to the parent’s sense of reality?  Often it comes as a shock to a patient when I suggest that his or her parents’ behaviour showed some degree of craziness.  At first, most patients tend to deny the idea of parental insanity, perhaps because it might raise questions in their mind’s about their own sanity.  Some patients, are aware of the craziness….

As we grow out of such conditions of childhood we also tend to repress our realisation of the craziness, terror or horror.  We are then more that likely to act it out on the next generation or in our relationships.  If our needs were not met we may no longer even consciously feel the pain and we deny others feel it either.  Also what is terrifying or horrifying to a child may not be so to an adult and so an adult may lack the awareness that confronted with certain realities children do not yet have the maturity or insight to understand what they may need help and empathy with in order to be contained emotionally.

Lowen in his work also concentrates upon our biological and psychological needs of infants to be breast fed and feel close to our mother’s bodies.  Studies have show early maternal deprivation leads to a stunting of growth psychologically.  A loss of connection may led to infant depression and a tendency to turn away from connection or comfort.   A child also cannot fathom the lack of love and response they are just left to deal with the bodily impact.  Therefore the child’s sense of reality is upset.  If the deprivation is not life threatening the child will naturally adjust.  Deprivation is accepted as the natural state of things “but only after the child has waged and lost the battle for a human right.”

Being left to cry things out is also damaging and Lowen points out, no animal would fail to respond to an infant’s cry.  Babies left to cry themselves out eventually survive by learning to cut off the need for contact with the mother and her body.  Lowen sites this as a profound cause of borderline personality disturbances.

Violent reactions to crying also damage the child,

threats of abandonment or punishment are commonly employed.  In most cases of child abuse, the violence against the child is triggered by crying.  Isn’t that insane?  .. parents driven wild by a child’s crying … (are responding from their own earlier wounds).

parents may hit a child for crying and then the parents become monsters in the eyes of the child.

as adults we may fail to see this monstrosity because like the adult in the tale of the emporer’s new clothes, we have been seduced or threatened into denying the truth.

Children are deeply perceptive and as Lowen points out using case studies of patients they sense the distortion of reality on one hand while being taught to deny it by what the parents says.   This as Gregory Bateson has pointed out in his double bind theory of schizophrenia was what gave rise to illness, the parent acts a certain way while denying it to the child thus warping their sense of reality.  In reality the parent has learned to deny their own feelings and so tries to repress or erase any evidence of them in their own children as they see them as a sign of insanity.

This Fear of Insanity is what Lowen sees as underlying narcissistic conditions in general and is now so widespread in our society due to years of ongoing denial of feeling.  This fear of insanity will be covered in a following post.

Published by: emergingfromthedarknight

"The religious naturalist is provisioned with tales of natural emergence that are, to my mind, far more magical than traditional miracles. Emergence is inherent in everything that is alive, allowing our yearning for supernatural miracles to be subsumed by our joy in the countless miracles that surround us." Ursula Goodenough How to describe oneself? People are a mystery and there is so much more to us than just our particular experiences or occupations. I could write down a list of attributes and they still might not paint a complete picture pf Deborah Louise and in any case it would not be the full truth of me. I would say that my purpose here on Wordpress is to express some of my random experiences, thoughts and feelings, to share about my particular journey and explore some subjects dear to my heart, such as emotional recovery, healing and astrology while posting up some of the prose/poems which are an outgrowth of my labours with life, love and relationships. If anything I write touches you I would be so pleased to hear for the purpose of reaching out and expressung ourselves is hopefully to connect with each other and find where our souls meet.

Categories Uncategorized5 Comments

5 thoughts on “The horror and insanity of childhood : More insights from Alexander Lowen”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s