Lives Across Time/Growing Up: Paths to Emotional Health & emotional Illness from Birth to 30 in 76 People

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Follow seventy-six children from birth to thirty to learn about their various developmental life paths and their influences. Children traverse continuous or discontinuous courses. This book describes their life stories, which may transform and enrich the reader's life. In working with these people, the authors heard something basic: stories people tell about themselves. While a life may fall into a group - share characteristics with others - the individual's story remains compelling: to group people is to some degree against psychoanalysis, a humanizing discipline. The authors allow the subjects to speak at length in their own voices, to bring themselves alive for the reader. It is the authors hope that they have been able to convey their awe about watching the inner worlds of children and that these stories may evolve in readers minds and hearts and thus be remembered.

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Chapter 1: Successes

ePub

Family exists only because somebody has a story, and knowing that story connects us to a history.

Fae Myenne Ng, Bone

IN 1963 WHEN Sylvia Brody and Sidney Axelrad began the Evolution of Character study, they asked the parents in the project what they most wanted for their newborns. Most simply wished for them to be happy and successful people. In 1994 we asked these same children, now adults, what would give them the greatest future happiness in the world, and they almost always said it would be raising a family with contented, confident and competent children. Thus in spite of the passage of a generation—a period that has seen many men become more involved in the lives of their children and many women more invested in what were formerly male quests for achievement outside of the family—the central wish remains the well-being of their offspring. Yet as with treks of old, the question remains how do you get there from here.

Raising children is still one of life's fundamental journeys. The dilemmas of how mothers and fathers should act with their children, so that their wishes for them become a reality, bedevil even the hardiest parents. The profusion of advice, research, and books about such questions as how much gratification and how much discipline to give a child, and how much difference it makes anyway, signifies our culture's preoccupation with doing the best by our youngsters. As child psychiatrists know, parents worry a great deal about raising their children because they seek help even when their children have no symptoms. They frequently come for consultations simply because they are anxious about how they and their children are doing in a chaotic society with more stimulation and less structure and authority than in the past.

 

Chapter 2: Childhood Distress Externalized

ePub

I've done new things, but whether I've changed inside I don't know,

Neil, 42 Up

WHEN A CHILD is distressed, there are basically two ways to manage distress: externalize it physically with emotionally driven behavior that reflects the child's inner unrest (often extremely restless, over-active, defiant or inattentive behavior), or turn suffering inward with a shutting down of physical expressions of feeling. Pain turned inward appears as depression, anxiety and fear, which over time frequently disfigure a child's developing personality: a sense of inadequacy, compulsivity, obsessiveness, and sometimes even compensatory grandiosity or arrogance can mark the behavior of these children.

Most children in distress are predominantly either externalizers or internalizers, however it is not unusual for children to shift back and forth from turning suffering inward to acting it out, until a child's unhappiness settles into a relatively stable balance of symptoms and personality distortions. This process—like the compacting of layers of sand and clay into sedimentary rock over geologic time—occurred in the children in our study in their twenties, although for most of the children distinguishing features of their adult personalities were well prefigured, sometimes even apparent by seven years of age.

 

Chapter 3: Childhood Distress Internalized

ePub

All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story.

Isak Dinesen

UNLIKE THEIR MORE dramatic counterparts who act out their distress in childhood, there is a large group of youngsters who hold their conflicts, unhappiness and tension largely within their minds and bodies. They are not the defiant children, the social butterflies, the constantly moving, the flittingly attentive, the garrulous, or the oft injured of the last chapter. Nor are they among those whose problems and inner conflicts bring them into clashes with teachers, peers and parents. Rather they are the internalizers whose struggle is with themselves, and their most frequent symptoms in childhood are depression, anxiety and fearfulness.

Children, especially young ones, have a hard time finding words for their emotions; while adolescents—who may have the vocabulary—are so driven to be independent of adults that they are typically too reluctant to open their feelings to grownups. But as adults, participants in our project were usually ready and able to speak lucidly of what they had been through in childhood. In the project population of 76 (34 girls and 42 boys), there were 22 (20%)—12 boys and 10 girls—with symptoms that were primarily of an internalizing nature in early childhood, as compared to the 8% described in the previous chapter who had externalizing emotional symptoms in childhood. In this chapter we will learn about three of the internalizers in detail. They show different internalizing mechanisms—marked by different forms of self-struggle, defense mechanisms, and management of feelings of love and anger—that resulted in specific symptoms such as depression, and in specific personality formations such as obsessive-compulsiveness and pathological narcissism. Although the three mostly suffered inwardly in childhood, each one also lashed out at times. Their lives also illustrate processes seen in the whole group of internalizing children and provide a picture of the family experiences that are fertile ground for producing these problems.

 

Chapter 4: Promise Lost

ePub

No telling what shape the troubles would take, how they'd appear, how severe they'd be. Life hung in the balance, no telling what might be.

Mairtin O'Cadhain, Road to Bright City

EACH CHILD'S BIRTH is a new beginning. Through their children, parents can recast their own lives with opportunities they themselves didn't have. They can watch their children grow in ways that are excitingly novel and reassuringly familiar. Anything is possible. To be a parent is to be entranced with one's child's promise. To be a developmental researcher is also to be entranced with children and their possibilities. The original team of researchers in the Brody study gauged each child's promise based on the quality of the care the mother gave her infant. In their minds, the mother-child relationship came first. In the first year, if a mother nurtured with sensitivity and good organization but was not over-controlling, the researchers predicted that the child had the best chance of growing well and successfully.

 

Chapter 5: Expectation Exceeded

ePub

You can play with me, you can hold my hand

We can skip down to the pretzel man

You can wear my mommy's shoes, wear my daddy's hat

You can even laugh at me, but don't you push me down,

Woody Guthrie, “Don't You Push Me Down”

HOW ARE SOME children able to lift themselves above adversity and say “no” to being pushed down? In our study, there were nine men and women who had this capacity. They began life with mothers and fathers whose parenting was less than favorable (Group B) in the eyes of the researchers. Their outcome was not predicted to be good. However, at 30 years of age these children, now adults, have lives that are going very well. How this shift came about is the subject of this chapter.

We study the lives of two participants closely, and the other seven briefly. The seven women and two men who did better than expected—these children of Group B mothers and fathers—represent 18% of the 50 children whose parenting was considered unfavorable in infancy. Now as adults, they have Global Assessment of Functioning scores at the highest level (91 or above), indicating that they have “no symptoms…superior functioning…and that life's problems never seem to get out of hand.” The essence of their success reveals something of the elixir of a healthy emotional life.

 

Chapter 6: Family Counts

ePub

What's past is prologue.

Shakespeare, The Tempest

SHORTLY AFTER ALL the participants in the study had been interviewed, we found ourselves one fall day walking along a little-used country road and wondering what we would discover when we looked at the childhood films and read the histories of the people we had just met. As we were walking, we noticed suddenly that there were apples lying in the ditch at the edge of the road. In clumps of two or three, or just one or two every few feet, some still red and others turning gold, the apples glowed as they softened in the sun. There were no apple trees in sight, however, just a steep hill that rose from the side of the road. Curious, we climbed up the hill and at its crest found a meadow with an old abandoned orchard. The apples along the road had rolled all the way down from the trees at the edge of the orchard. Further back where the ground was flat, fallen apples lay neatly under the trees, their sweet cider smell saturating the air on that hot day. We were reminded of the adage, “The fruit does not fall far from the tree.” To our minds that saying previously had meant that children turn out much like their parents. On this day in the country, we also saw how the fruit can roll a very long way from the tree, especially if the tree itself is leaning or on uneven ground.

 

Appendix: Methods and Measurements: The Statistical Relationship between Mothering in Infancy, Childhood Experience, and Adult Mental Health in the Group of 76

ePub

The Statistical Relationship between Mothering in Infancy, Childhood Experience, and Adult Mental Health in the Group of 76

Introduction

IN THE EARLIER followups of the participants—at 1 year of age, 7 years, and 18 years—Brody and her colleagues reported that children who received the most satisfactory parenting showed more robust emotional growth than their counterparts who received less satisfactory parenting. But as the children grew older the statistical relationship between parenting and outcome became attenuated.

This appendix provides the core findings from the 76 now adult participants relevant to the question of how infancy nurturing, childhood family experience, and traumatic experiences prior to age 18, relate to adult mental health.

Methodology from Birth to Age 18

In 1963 and 1964 parents-to-be responded to requests for volunteers for a study of child development in their prenatal clinics and doctors’ offices. The families came from all socioeconomic groups and a wide range of ethnicities, the majority being middleclass (Hollingshead and Redlich, 1958) and Caucasian.

 

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