I spend a lot of time thinking about, and looking for, cause and effect. Today, though, I saw that I don't have one particular page dedicated to the topic, so now I do.
Today I was thinking about how Thomas Gordon said "Parents are blamed but not trained." I agreed with that for a long time. But now I think it might be more accurate to say:
Parents are neither blamed nor trained.
I say this because it seems there is a trend to stop "blaming" parents. For example, teen suicide and teen depression rarely is connected to parenting. Instead the teens are said to have "chemical imbalances." Our 15 years of work in youth suicide prevention, though, has shown us a very clear cause and effect relationship between parenting and emotional problems.
More specifically, we believe abuse, in particular emotional abuse, directly causes emotional problems in children and teenagers, and these problems stay with them. We believe a child needs the parents to fill his or her emotional needs and if the parent does not do that well, the child will be emotionally damaged to some degree.
In the popular book called The Four Agreements, by Miguel Ruiz, there is a story of a mother who hurts her daughter deeply by the words she shouts at her. The mother says: "Shut up! You have an ugly voice. Can you just shut up!"
The author tell us, though, that the mother is not to blame because the mother "didn't know the power" of her words. In fact, when the story is read closely, the author even seems to suggest that the girl is more responsible than the mother.
The author says, "the daughter believed what her mother said, and in that moment she made an agreement with herself."
By this it seems to shift the responsibility for what happened to the girl from the mother to the girl since the girl is the one who "made an agreement with herself."
The author continues, "After that she no longer sang, because she believed her voice was ugly and would bother anyone who heard it. She became shy at school, and if she was asked to sing, she refused. Even speaking to others became difficult for her."
The author then says, "Everything changed in the little girl because of this new agreement She believed she must repress her emotions in order to be accepted and loved." I want to emphasize these words "because of this new agreement." The words "because of" imply a cause and effect relationship. So by my reading of this story, it appears the author is saying that the cause of the girl becoming shy and having difficulty speaking to others was the "agreement" she made with herself, not because of what the mother had said.
The author also does not tell us that the mother ever apologized for what she said. Nor does it seem that the mother noticed that her daughter had stopped singing and had become afraid to express her emotions. If we consider the word "responsible" means "the ability to respond," then it seems fair to say that the mother had the greatest ability to respond to what she had done and what changes she, as the mother and the one who was probably closest to her daughter, might have noticed in the girl. Besides apologizing, she could have reassured her daughter that she had a beautiful voice and she could have encouraged her to keep singing.
Another important point is that as a society we place a huge amount of trust in parents. We literally trust them with the responsibility for the lives of their children, not to mention their emotional health. To say this another way, as a society we depend on the parents to fill the needs, including the emotional and self-esteem needs, of children and teenagers. If the parents do not do this job satisfactorily, all of society later pays the price in one way or another.
Something else bothers me about turning a blind eye to cause and effect. When a child or teenager is being abused or neglected, it is important that they are helped to find a supportive, nurturing place to live. If society believes that parents are not the cause of their offspring's psychological problems, society will not be likely to take the necessary action to separate the cause from the effect, in other words, to remove the child or teen from the abusive or neglectful home.
Some parents are clearly abusive, yet parenting is still, for many, a sacred topic. In comparison, if a husband is abusive to a wife, most people would advise that the wife get away from the abusive husband. With an abusive parent, however, it is much more common for people to advise the abused child, or adult child, to stay in the relationship, to keep trying, to work things out and to forgive the parents, while accepting that the parents did "the best they could."
Another difference in the two relationships is that people will also recommend that the abusive husband get help in the form of training and education. Yet in comparison, this recommendation is still extremely rare when it comes to abusive or dysfunctional parents. Further, it is probably even more rare for such parents to accept and follow any recommendations to get help. I say this because in my experience, such parents are very likely to be feeling defensive about any acceptance of responsibility. Therefore, they are probably not feeling very open to seeking help. I think this is even more true of parents than of husbands, perhaps because the parents know deep down that they are the ones who actually are most responsible.
Still one more difference in comparing abusive husbands and abusive parents is the set of beliefs society has about parenting. For example, if a husband says "I think I need to get help because I am often yelling at and trying to control my wife," many people will support him in his efforts and admire him for his admission. On the other hand. if a parent said, "You know, I am always yelling at and trying to control my kids," many people will still say, "Oh, don't worry about it. That is just normal. Your kids will grow out of it. I'm sure you are doing the best you can and you aren't doing anything wrong."
I believe the common advice given to children and adult children to accept and forgive their parents is well-intentioned. But I also believe it is, at times, very unhelpful. The more society holds on to the idea that parents are not to blame, the longer the abuse and neglect will remain in our society.
This is not to say that we should punish parents. In fact, quite the contrary. I believe parents need training, starting long before they become parents. Punishment only adds to pain and unmet needs. To paraphrase Thomas Gordon, punishment is need-depriving as opposed to need fulfilling. The answer then is education and training, beginning with children and teens.
It is encouraging to see that more and more people are becoming aware that a) punishment doesn't work very well and b) we all need training in what can be called social and emotional skills.
We at EQI believe people need education and training in these areas, for example:
There is something else which has been bothering me recently. I have been reading up on what is called Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and while I agree with many of the ideas, one thing troubles me quite a bit. For example, the NVC ideas hold that a person can't really feel rejected. They say feeling rejected is not really a feeling, but rather a thought or an evaluation. The benefit to viewing it this way, they seem to say, is that if you say you feel rejected, then you are, at least partially, "blaming" someone else. I see some value to this but the idea also troubles me for the following reason.
Imagine a baby who is literally rejected by his parents. In other words, the mother gives birth, and the parents sees that that the baby is "ugly" or cries too much, so they literally abandon the baby, leaving it to die.
I would say that when they walked away from the baby and did not come back, the parents did in fact actually cause the baby to feel scared and more specifically, rejected and abandoned. The baby might not have the words to express itself, but I believe there are certain areas of the brain which are activated from specific stimuli. The founder of NVC, Marshall Rosenberg, says that "what others say and do may be the stimulus, but never the cause of our feelings." But if certain brain cells are stimulated by something for the first time in my life, and the result is that I feel pain or fear, isn't it fair to say that the stimulus was also the cause?
Maybe we could fairly say that later in life when something "triggers" past pain or past fears, we are responding more to the past than to the present. Again, I do see some value in this so we can be conscious to separate the two. But when we consider the life of a child, who is constantly stimulated and re-stimulated by things or her parents do, it seems useful to be clear that the parents have "caused" the child to feel what it feels.
Consider a home where the parent repeatedly rejects important aspects of the child or teen. For example, they reject a their child's hair, clothes, music, friends, beliefs, opinions, and even their feelings. Then consider that these parents tell the child to "leave and never come back," as some parents do actually say. In such a case, it would seem to be a factually true statement if the child or teen were to say "I feel rejected by my parents."
It also seems very useful to say "I feel rejected," for the following two reasons. 1. It helps us remember how rejection feels, how much it hurts. 2. It reminds us of our unmet need, which is for acceptance. Each time we say "I feel rejected," we connect with the specific feeling of rejection and the associated memories. This helps remind us empathize with others who are feeling rejected, whether or not they actually say "I feel rejected."
Studies also show, by the way, that social rejection is very similar to actual physical pain. See article
I think also of the saying "the straw that broke the camel's back."
What if someone were to come along, seeing the camel crippled on the ground and ask, "How did this happen?" Or, "What caused the camel's back to break"?
It might be factually accurate to say the last straw did not cause the camel's back to break. Obviously, had the camel been carrying just that one straw, it would not have caused the broken back. But it might also be factually correct to say that the last straw did cause the camel's back to break. After all, the back was not broken before the last straw was added.
How, then, does this help us think about the expression "I feel rejected"? Well, I believe it helps us see the connection between cause and effect, and between stimulus and cause. It seems Dr. Rosenberg would say that the last straw was the stimulus but not the cause of the broken back. I suggest, however, that if we agree with Dr. Rosenberg, it would also imply that none of the other pieces of straw were the cause either. In fact, it seems we would have to say that a) the pre-existing pile straw didn't cause the broken back, and b) neither did the last straw! So nothing caused the broken back!
My partner said this reminded her of the expression which goes something like this
This, of course, is not too helpful. So I would suggest we keep trying to sort out all the pieces of straws, not to mention identifying who put them there. The goal is not to blame, but to understand.
And the goal is to prevent. And to heal.
A few words now on the topic of healing...
Let's consider the case of a human being who has been badly hurt, whose emotional back has been broken, let's say. I believe it will help that person heal if we can help him or her identify all the pieces of straw, and all the people who kept piling the straw on their back.
It will help them heal because they will understand, probably for the first time, that there was nothing originally wrong with their back, either at birth or as a young child.
This is so important I will repeat it:
It is my very sincere conviction, based on years of direct work with both abused and "normal" children and teenagers, that we must keep looking for cause and effect. And as we find it, we must help others see it and understand it.
Thanks you for reading and caring.
S. P. Hein
We also have a page on parenting.
|Excerpt from The Four Agreements - Miguel Ruiz
was a woman, for example, who was intelligent and had a
and Effect, Parenting, Positive Thinking, Invalidation,
Here is a letter from a parent: