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  • (1) A central fact about early childhood  is that babies are born into the world  

  • entirely at the mercy of others. They have  no native strength, intelligence or utility,  

  • they cannot fight or complainwalk away or argue their case,  

  • their survival depends solely on their  capacity to look up from their cots with vast,  

  • innocent, beautiful eyes and charm their  parents into caring for them. It's their  

  • power to attract love that ensures they will  be fed and clothed, protected and kept alive.w

  • (2) In exchange for this nurture, young children  readily offer their parents or caregivers  

  • unconditional admiration. They naturally adore  and are boundlessly impressed by those who pick  

  • them up and bathe them, warm their milk and  change their sheets. They are in awe at these  

  • giant people who know how to turn on a washing  machine and kick a ball over a tree. There  

  • is - at this stage - no innate desire whatever  to question or doubt figures of authority.

  • (3) Given what is at stake, it follows  that small children are instinctively,  

  • hugely sensitive to how well they are doing at  getting their admired protectors on their side.  

  • If they feel they are loved, they can relax  into themselves and get on with the many other  

  • pressing priorities of early childhood: working  out how to eat solids, figuring out what a plug  

  • socket is, how a button functions, what  words are and how soap bubbles form.

  • (4) But if love is in more restricted supplythe picture grows a whole lot more complicated.  

  • There are childhoods in which, for a variety of  reasons, parents fail to be charmed as they might  

  • be. They leave the baby to scream, they shout at  one another, there might be violence and hysteria,  

  • lethargic despair and terror. The young child  knows instinctively it is in grave danger,  

  • if the situation is not somehow corrected, in  extremis, it may be left on a hillside to die.

  • (5) At this point, our biology initiatesdesperate yet darkly logical process. The  

  • young child starts to try a lot harder. It  redoubles its efforts to charm, to be good,  

  • to do what could be expected of itto smile and to ingratiate itself.  

  • It wonders what may be wrong with itself to  explain the parental disapproval and harm - and  

  • doesn't feel any alternative but to search in  its own character and behaviour for answers.

  • (6) At the same time, the child resists what  might - from an adult perspective - seem like  

  • the obvious move: to get annoyed with and  blame the adults in the vicinity who are  

  • not looking after it as they should. But  such a bold thought does not belong to the  

  • defencelessness of the early years. We are in no  position to mount a challenge to our protectors  

  • when we can hardly reach the door handlelet alone turn on a tap; we need to have  

  • our own front door key and bank account before  cynicism is a realistic option. It is far more  

  • intuitive to wonder why we are horrid than to  complain of being unfairly and unkindly treated.

  • (7) Small children therefore naturally turn  injury done to them into dislike of themselves.  

  • They ask not so much 'Why does my parent fail to  care for me?' as 'How might I have failed this  

  • admirable person?' They hate themselves rather  than doubt those who should be protecting them,  

  • shame replaces anger. It feelson balance, like the safer option.

  • (8) A vicious spiral of self- hatred then  sets in. The unloved growing child wonders  

  • constantly about their faults. Their  parent may be alcoholic, narcissistic,  

  • sadistic or depressed; they  may never cook a proper meal  

  • or shout intemperately from their bedroombut none of that matters in the slightest.  

  • The parent cannot be envisaged as anything other  than substantially impressive. To explain the  

  • lack of love from the paragons of parenthoodit must be that the child is an awful person,  

  • they must be stupid and mean, selfish and slowphysically repulsive and irritating and shallow.

  • (9) As childhood gets left behindmuch of this dynamic is forgotten.  

  • The adolescent and young adult overlooks exactly  what went on, they cannot necessarily think  

  • clearly of the early years - and parental  figures may be keen that they never do so.  

  • The former child can't tell any more that their  feeling of shame has specific origins, it can feel  

  • like something they might have been born with, a  natural phenomenon, like bad weather or the flu.

  • (10) Liberation awaits us when we dare to  take on board a highly implausible idea:  

  • that our self-hatred, far from being inevitableis an internalisation of early deprivation  

  • and that far from needing to revere  and admire those who denied us love,  

  • we are in a position to understand, to  question, to be annoyed and to mourn what we  

  • did not receive. We are not so despicable after  all, we've just - till now - lacked any better  

  • ideas to explain why we didn't manage to charm  those who should have loved us from the start.

(1) A central fact about early childhood  is that babies are born into the world  

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How Unloving Parents Generate Self-Hating Children

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    Summer posted on 2021/03/24
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