Friday, May 21, 2021

Stages of Development

 

Morris Massey coined the phrase "What you are is where you were when," and in doing so helped bring the importance of early development into the mainstream. The trend of recognizing and honoring children's growth and learning started well before with Maria Montessori in 1897. Erick Erickson built on her research and methods with his recognition of the importance of lifes many developmental stages. These can be a very helpful tool in figuring where things may have gone wrong and where to begin to put them right.

Dysfunctional families are usually a result of co-dependency;  "A type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement, or network of family, friends, etc. and fixation on others for sustenance, approval, identity, and so on" (Wikipedia). The Wiki quoted also identifies thirty dysfunctional behavior patterns and dynamics, and sixty signs of unhealthy parenting. No wonder there are so many problems in families and society today!

The Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families main text, "the Big Red Book,"  describes how we create lifelong thought and behavior patterns due to an abusive and neglectful family system in our youth. The abuse, neglect, and resulting patterns can be so prevalent and pervasive they appear normal and natural to family members.

To hide problems within the family and from others rules of don't talk, don't trust, don't feel, and don't look, don't listen, don't heal are created, and punishment is often quick and severe should they be broken. This textbook of family trauma also states that we unknowingly, subconsciously are doomed to recreate these sad and sick patterns through-out our lives in hopes of resolving them, and often with the people least equipped and likely to do so. And so it continues, unless and until we break the rules and awaken from the insanity.

With deep looking, listening, and feeling in safe communities of people where we can talk, trust, and focus on our issues, we can at last break the cycle to find insight, understanding, and wisdom. With this foundation of well being we can utilize newfound tools as skilful means to find and further healing. We may then find awareness, enlightenment, and transformation by unlocking our past and clearing out destructive baggage.

As you read this and things come up for you, we urge you to take time to explore and process thoughts and emotions. Take notes if something strikes you deeply, or if you think it deserves more attention at other times with family, friends, or others. The point is to see what's in the attic, the closet, and the baggage. To find out what is meaningful for you, and where you might find hope, help, and healing. Coming from a strong background and healing in twelve step recovery program meetings, step studies, and retreats, and its emphasis on concurrent community, counseling, and therapy, we know it is an option worth exploring.

From birth to two years may be the most important stage; basic trust vs. mistrust. Here reliable feeding, affection, affirmation, and attention help us feel the world is a safe and welcoming place. Abuse, neglect, and abandonment here can leave deep wounds, at times too deep to reach full understanding and healing. These poor souls may become withdrawn, suspicious, frustrated, and have great difficulty bonding through-out life.

A friend once shares that he was sometimes left in his crib and dirty diaper the whole day or tied up in the yard like a dog. Another felt her family life was a battle ground as family members were often fighting verbally and physically. Whether we experience neglect or abuse many come to see the world as cold and lonely, or angry and painful, or both. In twelve step recovery we learn to think of our birth parents as the means of our birth, but our true parent as a loving Higher Power we can access to re-parent ourselves with gentleness, kindness, caring, and love. 

Did we learn emotional stability, faith in our environment and future, or suspicion, uncertainty, and fear? Were our physical and mental needs met when we reached or cried out, or were we ignored and cursed? Did our wonder and appreciation of the world and others open up and expand, or did we shut down and close up? This is the most basic level of our development, so very important for our outlook on the rest of the stages and our life in general. We learn to talk here, so our innate expressiveness is a revealing window to this stage. Are we open and verbal, quiet and closed, or domineering and aggressive in our speech?

Early childhood is recognized as age two to four years and is marked by a development of autonomy vs. shame (self sufficiency vs. dependency). The question here; is it okay to be me.? Children in this stage can learn adequacy and personal control over physical skills through toilet training, dressing and feeding themselves, or may become saddled with sometimes extreme shame for not achieving these on others time schedule. One friend shares how when he wet his pants as a child, his mother laid out newspapers in the middle of the room, circled his relatives around him, and said "okay, now you can pee!" As you may guess, he was crushed.

On the other hand, another friend shares a picture of herself in a high chair with a bowl of cereal on her head. Unlike the first example, the family thought it was hilarious, as expressed by the wide smile on her face. Many understand this situation vividly, as they recall themselves or their own children dressing, eating, and otherwise readying for the day. For some it is or was a time of helping each other and getting a good start. For others a time of yelling, criticism, and other stresses.

Preschool age of four to five years is marked by a sense of initiative vs. guilt where we ask; is it okay for me to do, move, and act? If things go well this is the stage of courage, creativity, and adventure as we learn to play alone and with others, count, and make judgments. This can be a time of exploring of fun as we learn to play games, have fun, and sing and dance. One friend shares how she was stifled so feels a tightening constriction in her chest and throat when she needs to speak her truth.

In preschool we get our first chance at art through finger and brush painting in broad strokes on a large canvas. Colored pencils, crayons, markers, and coloring books may become available as well. The artistic influence may grow and flourish or be criticized and denied. This time can also be marked by aggressiveness through yelling, throwing, and hitting. A friend at this young age went on an adventure and walked to his cousins house. When it got dark his cousins parents took him home, but no one missed him or cared to mention his disappearance.

The span of age of five to twelve is the stage of competence and proficiency vs. inferiority and defeat. Now neighbors and others at school come into play as we learn skills of reading, writing, and many others. Sports, band, and other groups affect us as well. In this larger community we are exposed to a much wider range of people and their issues, some supportive but others bullying and judgmental. We now learn morals, industriousness, and using our bodies to their fullest as we ask ourselves; can I make it in the world of people and things?

 Some become inspired self starters, while others languish in feelings of lethargy and unworthiness. If the child is helped to master appropriate skills, self confidence soars. These strong roots grow strong wings to explore what we can do and do well. Excessive criticism and micromanagement here can cause long term feelings of weakness, inferiority, and low self esteem.

Adolescence is ages thirteen to nineteen, and the time of finding our identity or suffering from identity confusion and crisis. Now friends, role models, and other social relationships have the most affect on us as we decide; Who am I and who can I be? Careers, sexuality, drugs, and other responsibilities put pressure on us as we move towards and into adulthood. Teenagers are always anxious to fit in to their peer group, so being shunned or seen as an outsider or dweeb, geek, dork, etc. can be devastating.

This is a very fragile time as evidenced by the very high rates of drug abuse, crime, and suicide among teenagers. Teens also have the highest chance of being killed in car crashes, another indication of how today's teens have a lot of responsibility even though their maturity is still quite limited. Looking back on childhood we see many were pushed into roles such as sports or scholastic star, good or bad child, scapegoat, nature child, wounded, orphan, or needy child that persist through-out childhood and beyond. Do any of these roles resonate for you?

Twenty to twenty nine is considered early adulthood, and the stage of love and intimacy vs. isolation and loneliness. Relationships with mates and friends are foremost as we ponder; Can I love and be loved? We sense the complexity of relationships and learn about kindness, tenderness, and warmth. This stage is extending in our times as young adults struggle with school debt and the cost of marriage, homes, and children due to the economic situation and its many manifestations.

Romantic, college, and work relationships take on a new urgency as we look for purpose and meaning in another stressful and challenging time. Thankfully we normally have youthful energy, vitality, and resilience to help us through. This is also a time for very important decisions as we chose where to live, careers, and mates. Mistakes here are difficult and troublesome, as many young adults lack support of family, friends, and others.

Adulthood age thirty to sixty five is marked by generativity vs. stagnation as we hopefully find a mate, create a comfortable home, and build a family and career. Stagnation and isolation are unfortunately on the rise as younger adults are stuck with parents or room-mates much longer. Work and family life are most important as we ask; Can I make my life count?

The need to create or nurture things that have significant meaning and will outlast us arises and comes into focus at home, work, and other situations. Unfortunately this is also too often the time of divorce and separation as families shatter and dissolve. As hard as it is on adults, children may take it very hard and react with shock, denial, anger, and bargaining just as those facing death or other great losses.

Financial burdens may abound here as well as we face the costs of daycare, schools, homes, cars, healthcare, and so on. Maturity and/or dysfunction may be accelerated as we deal with the pressure and complexity of this very busy and stressful stage of life. Healthy supportive community can be a great blessing here if we have that luxury as  grandparents, siblings, or others lend a hand. If not, we are wise to find ways to create that loving and helpful community, and give back in ways we are able. 

Beyond sixty five is old age and a sense of integrity vs. despair. Can we look back on life and feel fulfilled, satisfied, and at peace, or is there regret, disappointment, and despair? Hopefully there is success and wisdom enough to meet the challenges of mental, physical, financial, and other declines and prepare for death. Here we ask ourselves if we have lived a meaningful life; was it worth it? 

If we are fortunate, we are able to give back to our family, friends, and communities in very skillful ways. Should we find our greatest longings are yet unfulfilled, there may still be time, talent, and finances available to fill the void. The past saw our older generations as a very valuable resource. That point of view was lost for a time as older Americans where pushed aside, but is regaining validity as we look to those who have gone before for guidance, knowledge, and inspiration.

Going through these stages we hope has been an eye opener and revelation of what was gained, what was lost, and what is yet to come. Knowing this we can work to compensate for losses and missed opportunities through lovingly re-parenting ourselves and finding and utilizing supportive communities along the way. We can't go it alone. We weren't built that way. We are social creatures and will only thrive to our fullest through deep, caring, and profound connections with others.

Acknowledging  and understanding how the stages of development played out in our in our lives can be very helpful, for if any were missed or denied they may haunt us the rest of our lives. Conversely, resolving them in the present the best as we can, we may yet find true fulfillment, love and happiness. As mentioned earlier, twelve step programs can be a great help to recognize and resolve these issues, build community, and find ways to give back the help and healing we have received. 

Copyrights 11/17

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Dysfunctional Families

 Many, perhaps most of us grew up in a dysfunctional home. The situation often continues in schools, businesses, government, any situation where people interact. As we explore dysfunctional families try to think of where these attributes play out for you and others in all manner of situations. Feel free to stop and consider any thoughts or emotions that come up. Dysfunctional families (and organizations) are known for regular conflict, bad behavior, abuse, and neglect among parents and family members. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness may affect members and problems can become so common they seem normal.

One parent is often abusive with the other enabling or ignoring their actions, so leaving the child to assume blame. This dynamic may be holding the family together but is sometimes unstable and the family may crumble due to loss of a job, home, physical or mental illness. Dysfunctional families pervade all classes regardless of status. Historically family problems were ignored or kept secret until just a few decades ago as children were forced to cope alone. Experiences with dysfunction cause family members to acquire common features and behaviors that enable and reinforce the situation.

Some features of the dysfunction are nearly universal such as: denying neglectful or abusive behavior, poor boundaries, extreme conflicts, unfair treatment, and lack of empathy towards some family members. Other common but less universal aspects are jealousy and controlling behaviors, lack of family time, disowning or avoiding family members, adultery, promiscuity, or incest. Other examples are family members holding grudges, lack of contact with extended family, parents not speaking up or helping to resolve conflicts, and immigrants having difficulty with changing cultures and times. Also many children are afraid of their parents or talking about family problems, especially outside the home.

The Adult Children of Alcoholics and dysfunctional families program (ACA) lists common traits such as: becoming approval seekers and losing our identity, being frightened by angry people and personal criticism, becoming alcoholics, marrying them or both, or finding other compulsive personalities, living as a victim, having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, getting guilt feelings for standing up for themselves, confusing love and pity, stuffing feelings from traumatic childhoods, losing the ability to feel or express feelings, judging themselves harshly, very low self-esteem, becoming dependent personalities terrified of abandonment, becoming para-alcoholics who take on the characteristics of the disease, and being reactors rather than actors.

There are many signs of dysfunctional families and unhealthy parenting such as: unrealistic expectations, ridicule, conditional love, disrespect, intolerance for emotions, isolation, stifling speech, being under or overprotective, apathy, belittling, shame, bitterness, hypocrisy, lack of forgiveness, judgment, criticism, double standards, mixed messages, absentee parents, broken promises, gender prejudice, under or over exposure to sexuality, faulty discipline, unpredictable emotions, blaming, and excessive or unfair arguing.

Beyond these features, traits, and signs of family dysfunction are parenting styles and dynamics such as: manipulating kids as messengers, pawns, and spies between warring parents (triangulation), ruling by fear and conditional love, using children to get their own needs met, abusing verbally, physically, mentally, and sexually, insisting on perfectionism, forcing harsh and inflexible discipline and values, favoritism, and withholding love, support, necessities, sympathy, praise, attention, and supervision.

This continues with abuse between siblings, extended family and others, abandonment, micro-managing, secretive and false fronting (highly regarded and functional in community but dysfunctional at home), paranoia (irrational and persistent fears, anger, accusations), isolating (can't go out and others can't come over), expecting children to take care of themselves, siblings and parents attacking others, babying older children, ignoring sexuality (puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, curiosity, anatomy, romance, etc), and Munchausen syndrome.

The effects on children are many, but we feel listing them may help you to learn when, where, why, how, and by who you were affected. Children may grow up too slowly or too quickly ("little adults" or "big kids"), suffer from mental illness (depression, anxiety, rage, etc.), become addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, gambling, spending, food, entertainment, pornography, etc, become a bully, victim, or sex offender, deny their situation, have difficulty forming and keeping healthy relationships, become overly shy, introverted, and isolated, develop speech, sleep, and eating disorders, become a criminal, and have low self esteem and self image.

These children also may have trouble in school, lack good self care and hygiene, self harm or attempt suicide, be disorganized, rebel against parents and other authority figures, abuse their parents (particularly when older), be selfish, uncaring, and reckless, run away from home, partner, marry, or have children too young and with other abusive, neglectful, dysfunctional persons, become homeless, poverty stricken, uneducated, join cults, gangs, and fundamentalists, move far from family or cut off contact, and perpetuate these behaviors in marriages, work situations, friendships, and especially with their own children.

Truly not a pretty picture, yet there is hope, help, healing, and happiness on the other side. The first step is awareness, as we must face it and feel it to heal it, so this is a necessary step on the road to recovery and resolution. We must honestly and deeply acknowledge what has happened and how it has affected us. However, it is imperative this is done in a safe situation, with safe people, and in a proper way. For instance, it is said we must have an inner loving parent ready to take the inner child into our arms as it may have been carrying intense pain, confusion, and sorrow for years or decades and lash out when tending festering mental, emotional, sexual, and spiritual wounds.

As hard as it may have for you to read and imagine this inventory it may have been nothing compared to the pain and suffering you have lived with for years or decades with these issues. We at Cowboy Dharma applaud you for making it this far, yet this is only be the beginning. Read on and see if you can find the people, tools, and environments to realize the hope, help, healing, and happiness that we and countless others have. We are sure you will be amazed at what is possible. To continue on, simply click the back arrow to take you back to where you were in the Inner Child Sanity File or click here to return to the beginning of that post.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Humanity & Community

 So far we have talked about our elemental nature beginning with stars and planets, then the basics of life with the life forms of plants, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals and so forth. Next we explored the nature of God, or Higher Power, our spiritual nature. This is followed by the various aspects of our human nature of child, adult, and parent, or leader. Each one of these is an amazing and glorious story in itself, a smaller universe of intelligence, wonder, and beauty. 

Yet if we group them together and explore them in the light of their relation to each other and as a whole they become an ever more incredible and fantastic story. For instance, if we look at basic nature in all the life forms across the earth and time in it's diversity, abundance, tenaciousness, and beauty we can't help but be awestruck. So too our human nature, not only as we grow from child to adult and parent, but as tribes, communities, societies, cultures, races, and nations. 

Mankind has done so many wonderful things, we have a multitude of reasons to be proud of our accomplishments. If we look to the arts of architecture, sculpture, literature, painting, music, performing, and film, or the sciences of astronomy, biology, ecology, chemistry, geology, psychology, and physics we find even more worlds of amazement to be explored and appreciated. These are the realm of human nature, and help us understand our relationship to each other and the world. 

The Sanity Files are structured to deal with these in two parts. The first part is organized first as creation of the universe, then life, and then our various human natures. The Higher Power that came first and created everything is placed in the middle, as the center and source of all else.The second part of the Sanity Files that follow are also aspects of human nature, but these are activities such as art, music, and science. These are our toolbox of what we use to express ourselves to celebrate and share this wondrous gift that is humanity.

The story of humanity is long and complicated, and although there have been innumerable wonderful achievements, unfortunately our history has a large number of things to be ashamed of as well. Hopefully as our world shrinks due to the transportation, information, and communication revolutions we will summon our better angels to carry us forward. That is what Cowboy Dharma is all about, and in the second half of the Sanity Files we hope to find more ways to do just that. All aboard!


Monday, September 14, 2020

Do Plants, Insects, Reptiles, and Fish Think?

An article in Science magazine by Elizabeth Pennisi entitled: "Once considered outlandish, the idea that plants help their relatives is taking root" states that for people and many other animals, family matters. "Look at how an ant will ruthlessly attack competing ants but rescue an injured nest mate. Family feelings may stir in plants as well. Plants lack the nervous system that enable animals to recognize kin, so how can they know their relatives?

The notion that plants really do care for their peers in a quiet plant-y way is taking root. Some species constrain how far their roots spread, others change how many flowers they produce, and a few tilt or shift their leaves to minimize shading of neighboring plants, favoring related individuals. Plants not only sense light or dark, but also with whom they are interacting with.  One practical application is a Chinese study that reported that rice planted with kin grows better and improves crop yields".

Another researcher found fir trees feed kin and warn them about insect attacks. Researchers proved that plants distinguish their roots from others, and then found they could also pick out and favor kin. With strangers the plants greatly expanded their root system to maximize using resources, but with relatives, they held competitive urges in check to leave more room for kin to get nutrients and water.

Injured sagebrush was found to release volatile chemicals that stimulate neighbor bushes to make chemicals that are toxic to their shared enemies. Ecologist Richard Karban says "We are learning that plants are capable of so much more sophisticated behavior than we had thought, it's really cool stuff!" Forestry researcher Suzanne Simard found Birch and fir trees communicating underground in the language of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, water, defense signals, and other chemicals and hormones.

An article in Greater Good Magazine by Alex Dixon and Jeremy Smith shows how cooperation is very often a stronger influence than competition.  In the article Danny Grunbaum, an oceanographer and pioneer in revealing the ways that ocean life cooperates in order to survive stated: "Violence in evolution is greatly overestimated. We see animals fighting with each other in lots of nature documentaries, but we are really only seeing a small sliver of time. Much more of the time they're cooperating with each other and respecting boundaries. Cooperation doesn't mean the absence of conflict. It means rules for negotiating conflicts in a way that resolves them."

The article further states there is a tremendous amount of cooperation in nature. In fact cooperation is part of our nature, and right down to the cellular level. The reason being that it is one of the most important and beneficial behaviors on earth. From biological building blocks, cooperation goes to every level of the animal kingdom.

For instance, ants have evolved a three lane two-way traffic system. Two lanes going out and one returning in the middle so they don't have to cross oncoming traffic. They can move faster and thus forage much better this way. These ants inspire robotic scientists in their designs, including extra-terrestrial probes, cleaning floors, and moving products in a warehouse.

Birds help each other by calling when predators are near. This makes them a more vulnerable target so other birds come and mob the predator. Those birds who try and cheat the system are eventually ignored. Bats must feed every two days to survive but hunger is rare because they share - but only if the favor is returned. By sharing only one in four bats die each year (rather than four out of five).

Research suggests that even for humans our first instinct is to cooperate, not compete. In the 21st century, our need to cooperate is more critical than ever. That is because our society is becoming so much more integrated communication is happening much more quickly all over the world.

An article in Nature magazine by Alison Abbott entitled "Animal Behavior: Inside the Cunning, Caring and Greedy Minds of Fish", she reveals that fish cooperate, cheat and punish.  In the article she describes how Redouan Bshary has challenged ideas about brain evolution:

Fish cooperate by smaller fish cleaning larger ones. Sometimes the small fish will take a bite of their hosts mucus skin and the hosts will chase the cleaner to teach him a lesson. But if reprimanded for bad behavior they will massage the backs of their host with their fins to regain favor. Cleaner fish would also have better behavior if they are being watched by other potential hosts. He also found the cleaner fish would work much more fairly in mated pairs as the male will chase the female if she slacks off.

He also found grouper fish will entice eels from their lairs to swim together. The eel will flush fish out of the reef so they both can catch more fish. He tried a test for primates that presents food on differently colored plates, one of which was permanent and the other temporary. The challenge was to eat the food on the temporary plate before it disappeared. A big surprise came when he switched which plate was temporary and the fish actually learned more quickly than the primates which one was best.

Following this revelation, primate scientist Frans de Waal of Emory University was compelled to say, "Primate chauvinism has declined somewhat as we now have to recognize that many species have smart intelligence". 

What is the lesson here? That yes, plants, insects, fish, perhaps all life cooperate with each other. So instead of "Survival of the fittest" we can also see life as "Survival of the kindest".  Charles Darwin came to this conclusion later in life as he watched his children grow up and saw cooperation become apparent in nature. This is good news for all of us, a good reason to believe love does conquer all.