Parent-Child Codependence and Emotional Child Abuse
Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis in Human Evolution
The Natural Order (Thesis)
The Destruction of the Natural Order (Antithesis)
The New Natural Order (Synthesis)
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—The Popular Confusion
—The Pitfalls of Emotional Entanglement
Emotional Child Abuse
—The Primary Abuse Etiology
I discuss parent-child codependence synonymously under the headers of cofusion, secondary fusion, pseudo-fusion or codependence. I also speak of symbiotoholism or symbiotoholic parents.
Codependence is a dependency problem that manifests in the parent-child relation typically for the first time after the critical mother-infant symbiosis, and thus as a general rule after the 18th month of the baby.
What is generally little known is the fact that even before the completion of the 18th month of the infant, mother and child are engaging in subtle communication about limits that typically reveals to what extent the mother is able and willing to grant the infant autonomy, or not. This early dialogue, that is most of the time nonverbal, has been found to deeply condition people for their later relational behavior patterns.
This is even more relevant in the mother-son relation than it is in the father-daughter relation because the matrix-provider has more power of the child, be it boy or girl, than the sperm-giver. This evaluation of the primal scene has been found both by Freudian Analysis and Transactional Analysis (TA), and it is not as such a matter of cultural conditioning, or compliance to either matriarchy or patriarchy.
Codependence is a major building block in the political and social entanglement scheme of what I came to call Oedipal Culture. Causative factors that have been revealed in my own and other research are:
- Mother did not really want the child;
- Mother is professionally over-engaged, lacking time for the infant;
- Lack of healthy physical interaction between parents and child;
- Overly strong career focus of parents, leaving child to babysitters;
- Insufficient eye contact in the mother-infant relation;
- Insufficient or no breast feeding;
- Insufficient tactile stimulation of the baby (tactile deprivation);
- Shame-based identity of the mother and resulting rejection behavior:
—when baby shows erotic behavior, and mother turns away regard;
—when baby touches their genitals, and mother takes their hands off;
—when baby seeks closeness with mother, she puts baby to sleep;
—when mother holds baby away from her body, to avoid touch;
—when mother constantly has ‘no time’ for intimate time with baby;
- father left family during pregnancy, after birth or not long thereafter;
- father, while still part of the family, is as good as never present;
- father refuses to take over any role in childcare;
- father is abusive toward mother and/or the child, etc.
In other words, codependence is a compensation reaction of entangled organisms that tries to heal a split that was caused by a lack of early intimacy.
The entanglement paradoxically comes about through a lack of physical closeness, and of communication, and through a general tactile deprivation of the child, also through non-physical factors such as parents’ thoughts being constantly focused on money and status or children generally relegated to receiving affection from secondary caretakers, babysitters, house teachers, and the like.
The entanglement specifically comes about through the fact of lacking autonomy of the child, and of lacking exposure to experiences and a social life outside of the family.
Details have been shown with abundant evidence by the long-term research of James W. Prescott, Ashley Montagu, Michel Odent, Frederick Leboyer, Alexander Lowen and others. The problem of codependence is for obvious reasons much more stringent in the individualistic and separative white Western culture than in highly sociable open societies such as African, South American or Asian cultures. Yet in these cultures today we face the problem in the middle and upper classes as well because they have adopted Western values and a lifestyle that clones most of the alienated Western behavior models, thereby shunning their own perennial wisdom that their elders still are knowledgeable about.
The Popular Confusion
There are many myths that distort and tear down naturally erotic but nonsexual relations between parents and children; these distorted popular views actually foster and purport codependence instead of helping in any way to avoid it. For example, and contrary to popular belief, the unhealthy codependence between parent and child is not created through too much of physical interaction and shared affection and tenderness, but in the contrary through touch hostility and prudishness.
For example, it has often been believed that a boy will develop a codependent relationship with his mother when he is ‘too close’ to her, or when he sleeps with his mother in the same bed. This is simply not true. The causes of mother-son codependence are often depicted in an overly simplified or even distorted manner. To begin with, it is not through abundant shared pleasure, affection, tenderness and touch that codependence comes about. It’s not through mother and son, or father and daughter, sleeping together, taking baths together, sharing nudity, and it’s not through their sharing a naturally sensual and erotic attraction for each other.
In the contrary, if these elements were causative factors in the etiology of codependence, any abundantly sensual mothering or fathering would lead to entrapping children in pseudo-incestuous relations. But this is not the case. If a mother is fully erotically present for her boy, without being incestuous, and embraces him sensually while giving him at the same time the necessary amount of autonomy according to his age and abilities, the boy will easily liquidate his Oedipus Complex and develop his fully functional heterosexuality; he will then project his libido upon peer girls of his age, or approximately of his age.
The same is true in the father-daughter relation with regard to the girl-child’s mastering the Electra Complex and projecting her sexual feelings upon peers boys.
There are many false signals in today’s popular culture and vulgarized psychological publications. These false signals lead to parents’ becoming more and more insecure as to the role physical affection plays in parenting. This makes that parents are more or less constantly bombarded with ambiguous messages with the result that many parents retreat physically from their children, thereby inclosing them in atrocious feelings of abandonment, loneliness and despair.
As a result of 1960s American pediatrics that advocated physical separation between parents and child which in the meantime is seen as a fundamental error, many of today’s parents had a deprivatory childhood themselves and became dysfunctional parents of their own children. A long-term bestseller on the list of child-torture books from this generation of misguided pediatrics is the parenting manual by Dr. Benjamin Spock that is still today a leading guide for many parents — to the detriment of their children.
In the contrary, it is through the absence of the father together with a shame-based identification in the mother-son relation that mother-son codependence is brought about. The reason for the more dramatic constellation in the mother-son relation has to do with the greater psychic fragility of the human male in general, and with the simple fact that it’s the mother who is the matrix, not the father, in particular. If we want to add one more problem complex, which I did not research, it’s the codependent mother-daughter relation.
By contrast, father-child care in our culture is seldom codependent simply because the father is most of the time absent. And this is, then, also one of the causative factors in mother-son codependence. But apart from this, there are singular cases of father-daughter codependence and they are marked by the fact that the father exceedingly overprotects the girl-child to an extent to virtually keep her ‘away from life.’ As I have seen it in some families, this can bring about absurd constellations and relationships that symbolically express that the child is no more allowed to walk on their own feet, but on the feet of the father, so as to be ‘protected of the harshness of life.’
The problem is much more manifest in white Western culture than in any of non-Western and tribal (native) cultures. My research has shown that virtually the only cultures that do not have the problem are tribal cultures, that is most native populations around the world. One important element in this etiology that has hardly been elucidated by research is that these children experience terrible loneliness during their childhood and youth.
The Pitfalls of Emotional Entanglement
Another important insight about mother-child codependence is that it deprives the child, typically the boy, of the time and care needed for developing his true and individual intelligence, his own intrinsic gifts and talents.
Men who grow up entangled with their mothers are caught in a net of stiffening responsibilities, or obligations, or what is felt as such, which impedes them from really thinking of themselves, and minding their own business. The result is that they hardly think their projects through to the end, having no time and rest for vision-building, constantly harassed by their demanding mothers, threatened as they are with love denial or even financial starving in case they disobey and begin to live their own lives.
In this sense, it can be said that the son bears the cross for the sins committed by his mother, and it’s really a sin to suffocate a young man’s energies and intelligence by throwing one’s weight around as a mother and disregarding his fragility as a man.
In this sense, many women in our society need to be educated what right motherhood is about, and even more so, what wrong motherhood is. Not only is the Oedipussi subject to ridicule and humiliation, he is also one of the major actors on the stage of child-focused sexual crime.
—Ödipussi is the title of a television series by the German humorist, author and filmmaker Loriot.
Our mass media depict the truth in a distorted manner, suggesting with their politically correct rhetoric a boy had to care for his mom eternally, if he’s a ‘good boy.’ These views have to be judged perverse, as they are really putting nature upside down. Childhood is transitory. Period.
The French child psychoanalyst and therapist Françoise Dolto has analyzed this problem in the mother-son relation, in her book Psychoanalysis and Pediatrics (1971), and she writes:
There are boys who stay lovingly fixated upon their mothers; their behavior is characterized by the fact that they do not attempt to ‘seduce’ any other woman. If the father is alive, the two men are constantly disputing, for the fact that the boy does not detach himself from his mother and searches out other love and sex objects proves that the boy has not liquidated — in a friendship of equality with his father — his pre-oedipal homosexuality. He will therefore prepare for getting ‘in trouble’ with his father through his difficult and provocative behavior.
When the father has left and the young boy ‘dedicates himself’ to his mother, this behavior can be accompanied by real social sublimations, which are associated with the activities derived from the repression of genital and procreative sexuality, but this boy cannot behave sexually and affectively like an adult. He suffers from inferiority feelings toward men that he unconsciously identifies with his father; he can also be a hyper-genital who is always avid to get new sex partners toward whom he will never build real attachment, but he will show impotent in relations with any woman he really loves, because this is associated in his unconscious with the tabooed incestuous object. (Id., 88, translation mine)
The messages those boys and young men are typically bombarded with by their mothers are, for example:
- You are egoistic!
- You are like your father …!
- You are like my brother …!
- Think a little of your mother …!
- I’m always sitting at home, can’t you show me around a little!
- You should have more gratitude for your mother …!
And when the boy is on the right track and really develops a unique genuine interest, mother will have enough reasons to tell him that he’s inadequate for it:
- Why do you spend so much time for this, it leads nowhere!
- Stay with your feet on the ground, you have grandiose ideas …!
- Like your father, big mouth and little essence …!
- Others have done that before you, so where’s the point?!
- You better spend your time taking care of your old mother!
- Why don’t you follow my advice, you are just stubborn!?
- I always told you, but you know everything better …!
Much evil in the world done by men has its roots here, in a stiffening mother-son relation that deprived the boy for years of his vital energies, blocking his emotional flow to a point of self-forgetfulness.
This is, then, the reason why these men one day explode, so to speak, for thinking of themselves for one time, and do something horrible to a woman, a little girl, or an elder. And who goes to jail is always the boy, then a man, and not his mother. And that, in my humble opinion, should be changed. Women are to be made responsible for being abusive as mothers, not only men, as fathers!
Women always claim to not being given enough responsibility under patriarchy, but most women bluntly deny their abusive attitudes toward their sons in our society, which is an abuse of responsibility, an abuse of power. However, this abuse is hidden for the most part, and often veiled behind feminist activism, a career or what I came to call a victim attitude. Women always cry for abuse when it’s about them, never when it’s about the sons they drive into madness, suicide, child rape or even murder. And here our laws have to change, definitely!
Of course, in clinical and psychotherapeutic practice, codependence does not in the first place manifest as a parent-child problem, but as a husband-spouse problem, and that is why it comes up in marriage counseling and family therapy. And that is exactly what makes it so intricate and difficult to cure it in the therapeutic setting. What many practitioners overlook is that the problem does not originate in the partner relation but in the earlier parent-child relations that both partners experienced and that they project, as a matter of unconscious automatisms, upon their partner. We all project our parent of the opposite sex upon our spouse or husband, only that there are two essentially different ways of doing that, a conscious way based on the letting-go of the parent (mourning), or an unconscious way based on entanglement, confusion and hate-love.
In the Freudian terminology of the Oedipus Complex, the first alternative corresponds to what Freud called a liquidated Oedipus and the second corresponds to what Freud called an unresolved Oedipus.
Emotional Child Abuse
Christopher Bagley writes in his book Child Abusers: Research and Treatment (2003):
Emotional abuse causes the most long-term harm to children, although combinations of emotional with physical and/or sexual abuse cause the most harm to long-term mental health.
What is emotional abuse, emotional incest or covert incest? I observed that today many men have a sadistically tained relationships with women, which is something like a revenge reaction or compensation for the codependence they went through with their emotionally abusive mothers. Unconsciously, they want to punish their mothers for the constant humiliations, the constant withdrawal of affection, and the utterly conditioned love they received and the painful lack of autonomy that is the sad reality in this kind of exclusive relationships.
The main problem in our culture is the mother-son relation and as good as all our social and relational problems flow out from this major distortion. Many men project their early ambiguous feelings toward their mothers later on their spouses, girlfriends, and even little girls they encounter, with the result that the ambivalent and hardly conscious aggression they foster toward their mothers is projected outward in society, and creates havoc in man-woman and man-girl relationships. This aggression in men comes about through the combination of lacking autonomy in their boyhood, absence of the father, demanding attitude of the mother for the son to stay at home, strict education with frequent humiliating punishment, isolation from peers through motherly overprotection, attitude to enclose the boy in an exclusive, intimate and emotionally abusive relation, victim attitude of the mother, and the explicit or hidden demonization of the boy’s peer relations, friendships and social life.
A way out could be a certain persistence of the boy in the face of such a situation, and a firmness to be developed on his part that insists on his right to maintain relationships with peers, teens and adults other than tutelary figures and family, and that he asks for a certain amount of free time, every weekend, for going out alone, and unmonitored.
This could give the young male the opportunity to speak about his emotional pressures, about the humiliation he suffers and his confused feelings, especially when the boy turns into adolescence and these feelings of aggression start to get sexualized and become more or less violent sexual urges. While generally, with overprotected youngsters, a problem of acceptance will occur at the beginning in any group relation and a certain hostility may be experienced at the start, it can only be beneficial for young people to leave their nest from time to time to search out peer company and also adult males and females, who may be in state to support the young boy in his rightful quest for autonomy and respect.
The advice that I give for such cases is to strengthen personal autonomy, and to get into an inner dialogue with the shadow, and the inner child, in order to unveil the hidden distortions in the mother-son relation that has been internalized and that can be gradually rendered conscious through this kind of work. The result of my thirty years of research on abuse and sexual paraphilias is that these sexual distortions result from mother-son codependence that has reached a level of gravity to be qualified as emotional abuse, and which is to be seen as one of the biggest relational problems of our times.
The Primary Abuse Etiology
Unfortunately, Western psychiatry only very recently began to get a hint of this, and when I started my research, back in 1985, there was not yet any book published on emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is now considered as the worst and most long-term form of abuse, as it’s of all abuse etiologies the primary etiology.
Sexual abuse is only one of several consequences of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse has become something like my research specialty and even now, I discovered, only very few books are published about it, while whole libraries have been written about sexual abuse. Contrary to most psychiatrists, I came to believe that the long-term psychic strain and fixations sexual abuse causes is not typically related to the sexual experience, if there was any, but to the following factors that are, or are not, present in such cases:
- Suddenness of the experience or child was trapped;
- Behavior was conflicting with the social code or family attitude;
- Entrapment effect that led to immediate anxiety;
- Debasing attitude of the type ‘I can have all females I want;’
- Impossibility after the experience to talk to anybody about it.
Much could be changed socially if anti-abuse social work could be based on these research insights instead of going on with tearing in the dirt pedoerotic sexuality, as this is the common public rhetoric in today’s postmodern international consumer culture. Here the focus is obviously wrong, as authors such as Stevi Jackson, a feminist activist, and Alayne Yates, an American child psychologist, have shown in their books.
The focus must be on fighting coercion, violence, and entrapment, not sexuality, and Western society should eventually learn to accept all forms of sexual behavior as a non-vulgar, non-harmful, non-debasing and creative human activity. Sexuality, after all, is a form of communication, and it’s a social, not an asocial activity.
What Western culture does is to distort and pervert children’s emotional life virtually from the cradle, and the Freudian myth of the Oedipus Complex has pretty much contributed to this distortion of the natural psychosexual growth of the child.
Children do not grow through being codependent ersatz partners of their parents, and yet this is exactly what the present culture is doing with them, imprisoning them in the nuclear family and depriving them of the whole bunch of hairy folk they were hitherto exposed to, when still living in the extended family and also a good part of the day in the street, without being constantly monitored and followed up.
The present structure virtually breeds violence, and this on a worldwide scale because the Western educational paradigm is exported all over the world within global consumer culture.
Please see the references attached to this part of the book.