More on the genetics theory of mental illness

davidrochester left a comment that sums it all up for me. I’ve made similar comments throughout my blog but he does it so beautifully and concisely I must highlight it in a post…

Bottom line in my book, abuse is not always recognized because sometimes it’s subtle. Also the subtle forms of abuse need not be an excuse to fuel fire against poor lost souls doing their best but still harming delicate psyches. We need to learn to heal. And that means well-intentioned parents sometimes need to take a deep look at themselves as see how they might be participating in hurting their children. With love and compassion, both for themselves and their children…

Then of course there is the blatant evil abuse that happens…but no one tends to deny that shit.

davidrochester’s comment in response to this post:

I think someone else earlier in your thread may have said something very similar to what I’m going to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, because the blindness of attributing so much mental and emotional “illness” to genetic factors almost makes me start to foam at the mouth.

Yes, mental and emotional illness runs in families. And why? Because emotionally and physically abusive parenting is passed from generation to generation. Many, many people are suffering the emotional and psychological fallout from having been parented by emotionally absent, emotionally abusive parents; by codependents, alcoholics, narcissists. It has been conclusively proven that long-term trauma damages the brain. This is NOT a form of “hereditary” mental illness, except insofar as it is inflicted repeatedly, generationally.

PTSD is a hugely misunderstood phenomenon. It is frequently misdiagnosed as clinical depression, bipolar disorders, and in extreme cases, even as schizophrenia.

I do think that genetics or internal wiring plays a small part in this, in that people are predisposed to produce and metabolize chemicals differently — and this can be seen in something as simple as the fact that people respond differently to prescription medication. But I don’t think that necessarily translates to mental and emotional illness being “hereditary.” If you think you’re doomed by a genetic bullet, IMO, you’re much less likely to seize the reins of your destiny. (emphasis mine)

And I say this after having been diagnosed with severe clinical depression at the age of ten, and misdiagnosed with several other things before I was finally correctly diagnosed with a severe form of dissociative trauma disorder, which I am now working on, successfully, with no drug therapy whatsoever, having voluntarily taken myself off meds five years ago, after being told, repeatedly, that I would be dependent on drugs for the rest of my life because clinical depression clearly runs in my family.

Sorry, no. Child abuse runs in my family, but it is largely denied and/or ignored.

It also amazes me that when psychotropics or other drugs don’t work for people, the immediate strategy is to try another drug, or more of the drug, rather than perhaps considering that the patient’s condition is one that does not respond to drugs. This is how we have ended up with so many “psychotropic zombies,” as I think of them. I don’t know whether clinicians just aren’t trained to ask the right questions … of course it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s going on with someone who has repressed memories, or who is simply in complete denial about the truth of his or her life … most people will go to great lengths to avoid admitting a terrible childhood, especially in regard to emotional abuse, which is subtle, and often consists of repeated invalidation of the child, creating an adult who is reluctant to speak about feelings. But my point is that we need a shift in mental health philosophy, to consider that there may be more to a situation than meets the eye, and drugging someone into submission is not the most effective way to heal that person. (emphasis mine)

Sorry for the long comment; this is, as you can probably tell, a major hot button for me.

Thank you David,

I’m still recovering and am tired…so glad you did my work for me!!

For more on trauma as cause of “mental illness,” see here for a video by John Breeding.

49 thoughts on “More on the genetics theory of mental illness

  1. Marian wrote:
    “…Someone asked me the other day in a comment on my Danish blog, what I thought would be required in order to make a difference to a system that is as reluctant to change as all systems usually are. Not just the mental health system.

    IMO: Helping ourselves, and, even more important, helping each other. Social accountability…”

    Well, quite, who wants to be part of a system, wherein one’s only role is that of scapegoat and boogeyman? There’s no upside for the person diagnosed as mentally ill.

    Fuck the system – it should turn its high-powered perception on itself.



  2. Sally: “It’s the entire system, not just random isolated parents that contributes to these problems.” – My words.

    Someone asked me the other day in a comment on my Danish blog, what I thought would be required in order to make a difference to a system that is as reluctant to change as all systems usually are. Not just the mental health system.

    IMO: Helping ourselves, and, even more important, helping each other. Social accountability. For our kids, for each other. “…[T]he system would be forced to change.” (David, #43) Exactly.

    Great comments. And a great initiative, David!


  3. Thanks. 🙂 There’s no way in Hell that I would ever be able to handle full-time parenting, and for that reason, I will not be having children, but — I’ve volunteered for mentoring organizations, I’ve participated in school literacy programs, and I babysit my best friend’s children when I can. I think some people figure that small contributions don’t make a difference, but they really do; I know we all remember teachers or adults who weren’t parents who had a big impact on us when we were kids. Even if we can’t be a parent, we can be that adult. It’s just a question of figuring out the best way to offer that resource, I think.


  4. it’s as socially irresponsible for a childless person to disclaim all responsibility for children in this world as it is for someone to bring an unwanted child into the world.

    Love that idea David. I love children but chose, wisely, I think, not to have them as I would not be a healthy parent, BUT, I am a good babysitter and would love to homeschool kids…

    what an awesome idea to float out there….


  5. Absolutely, Sally … if we never talk about it, how will we ever fix it?

    I have an idea I’ve been rolling around in what passes for my brain for quite a while now … to organize childless folks with resources of time and knowledge to help and support home-schooling parents. I think this is a problem that people without children cannot afford to ignore; it’s as socially irresponsible for a childless person to disclaim all responsibility for children in this world as it is for someone to bring an unwanted child into the world.

    Anyway, my thought is that some people don’t homeschool due to lack of support and resources. If there were a better way to network and organize homeschooling parents, and people who are not parents but who want to help out, I think we could make massive changes in how children are educated.

    For example, I am perfectly qualified to teach elementary/middle-school level French, Spanish, or German, which is something a lot of homeschooled kids may not get (frankly, they’re unlikely to get it in many public schools). I’d be happy to volunteer this resource to a parent who might be able to use it, especially since I have a flexible work schedule. The question is how to organize it, and how to organize it safely. Once you get adults volunteering to work with kids, you have safety issues; even the most benign organizations run extensive background checks on volunteers, and for a good reason. So — should it be a group of people who are all personally known to each other? And on and on with the practical questions. But — if nobody ever starts to think about it, it won’t ever be accomplished. The bottom line stands firm: we are all responsible for how our children are being misused and lost in the educational system, regardless of whether we have children in that system.


  6. Gianna,

    Thanks for the kind words. Back at you. Sometimes kindness is worth a 1000 klonipin prescriptions;).


    I agree with a lot of what you write. I have friends who home school, one of whom is a certified teacher. The system is in many instances broken. And I agree with the idea that every child should be a wanted child. There are no easy answers, but the fact we’re at least a part of a community that is asking hard questions is a good thing.


  7. I agree completely with what Sally is saying, but I’d also add this as food for thought: the choice to have a child is a huge, lifelong responsibility. People should know, before they have kids, the parameters and ramifications of the world they are bringing them into.

    A loving parent is not necessarily an effective parent. I have a couple of blogging pals who do have kids who don’t fit the system, who have been diagnosed with ADHD and other
    “conditions,” and who choose to homeschool those children so that they are not broken by the educational system and by inappropriate peer groups. Before they even had children, they made sure that they had the time and financial resources to pursue this option, should it become necessary. These are not wealthy people; they’re folks who live on virtually nothing so that they can provide their children with an alternative to the school system. In several cases, the kids were fine once they got past middle school age, and were able to go to a traditional high school, where they flourished socially and academically.

    I guess what I’m saying is that ideally, people wouldn’t have kids without putting a massive amount of thought into what they’re going to do if they have a child who doesn’t quite “fit.” Of course life happens to people, and the best laid plans don’t work out, and people have children they weren’t expecting to have, etc. A loving parent is better than no parent at all. But. Parenting is a much bigger and wide-reaching job than most people think about prior to having kids. Loving a child really isn’t enough, unfortunately, and it never has been … part of parenting is helping the child to understand and feel at ease with his place in the world. A hundred years ago, that part of parenting involved teaching a trade or skill to your child, or finding someone to help with that. Funny, the parallel to home-schooling. 🙂 But my point is that even loving parents rely too much on the system to place their children in the world. The system isn’t equipped to do that, for a significant number of kids. So — a loving parent will be prepared, IMO, to take the child out of the system. That’s part of what being a loving parent is … making extraordinary sacrifices for your child, who is absolutely at the mercy of the circumstances he is in.

    Sorry if this sounds unnecessarily harsh; I don’t mean it to. Now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I have friends who are parents to young school-aged children, and I see the lengths they’re prepared to go to in order to keep those children physically, intellectually, and emotionally safe in the world. It’s more than just love; it’s love, good planning, intelligence, and effective awareness of options. These are not wealthy people by any means. And it has occurred to me, many times, that every child deserves that kind of parenting. If every child had it, the system would be forced to change.


  8. Sally,
    thanks for those beautiful thoughts….they add a much needed dimension to the conversation…

    I so completely believe it’s not about individual parents (most of the time) and because sometimes it’s not clearly stated parents who love their children very much get defensive, and frankly that’s understandable…

    thanks again..and so good to hear from you…

    I hope you are well..
    love to you.


  9. Great thread. I too once thought that the biological model was a great breakthrough, but it’s not. Sure sometimes drugs can temporarily make a person feel better, but in the long run the problem is systemic. People are being labeled everything from bipolar to schizophrenic to adhd to depressed to ocd in epidemic proportions while economies fail in unprecedented numbers.

    It’s the entire system, not just random isolated parents that contributes to these problems. I believe that different humans are born with different temperaments and society ideally would celebrate these differences, would learn to cooperate rather than control, but that’s not what we have now, particularly in western society.

    We have schools that force children to all fit to one mold so that parents are sometimes forced to behave in ways they don’t like to get their kids to follow rules the parents themselves know are wrong. No one disputes that here in the US our educational system is pretty much in the toilet. And parents often have no choice but to work two jobs simply to keep food in their kids’ mouths leaving little time for parenting. These parents rarely get to choose rewarding work but instead are forced to take what is available and bear and pass on the psychological price of underpayed unrewarding work.

    So with diagnoses spreading like wildfire, no system changes are suggested though the current world of work and education is often criticized as dehumanizing. Instead we tell people in distress that they’re not weak just genetically defective when there’s no basis for that assertion, and we call this progress. It’s not progress to say that some people are just born crazy, it’s saying the same thing again.

    What if schools with a high incidence of adhd actually changed to accommodate the kids with those labels? How can the problem of people needing a living wage and time to live and interact outside of their jobs be solved? These are the questions that need to be asked, the questions that must be asked as hordes more people, finding the current system unworkable, become labeled. What about our horrible, artificial diet?

    I think parents rarely are abusive intentionally but we live in a system that abuses people who must often unfairly control their children so that those children can survive in an unfairly repressive society.

    When we look to cure these problems with pills, we’re looking in the wrong place. Pills can be a temporary fix, but a very dangerous one.


  10. Stephany wrote:
    “Matt brings up a good point how others attempt to define us to make their world a comfortable place to exist…”

    Thanks. As I’ve bumbled through life, I’ve noticed not only others’ need to pigeonhole one, in order to understand how they might treat one, presumably, but also the tendency of people to impose their version of reality onto one.

    That is, some people want their world to be familiar, down to the smallest detail, and they need to be able to control that, which often means that they need to control anybody they are involved with. However, one is never permitted to enter such people’s worlds, in any real sense (ie, ask them why they find it necessary to air their grievances against one in really aggressive terms, and it is likely that such behaviour will be justified in terms of the extent of one’s own conduct, rather than dealing with the question, which dealt with the proportionality of the reaction).

    And so, on this piecemeal basis, one is slowly inducted into a person’s world. This is why I’m always deeply skeptical of the position of people who refuse to stand and discuss the underpinnings of their superficial behaviour with me: I have no wish to get dragged into their reality, incrementally, because by the time that one realizes that one doesn’t want to be there, the exit is either protracted, or painfully swift.



  11. I’ve been reading up on genetic variations lately, and how trauma processed in an unhealthy way will “turn on” unhealthy genes. The reverse is also true…peace will shut them back off, and the body will flow the way it was designed to flow. I was discussing this with another benzo friend today who has also learned that our predetermination is not our predestination. It’s all about the release of forgiveness.


  12. Metoo,

    I’m not accusing you of anything; simply giving my reaction to your comment, just as your comment about “the dark ages of psychology” was a reaction to what you’ve been reading here.

    My comment about language skill was, if you re-read it, critical more of me than of you. Based on the way you phrased your comment, you sounded critical of and judgmental about your child’s inability to develop in accordance with your “wishes and desires.” What I said is that I tend to overreact to certain types of language patterns that might not really be conveying what you truly meant to say. I think I am not the only reader of this blog who was badly parented by a narcissist; those of us who have this experience usually have highly reactive hot buttons around language that parents use that seems to suggest a need for a child to conform to expected or desired behavior. Often, such “desires” on the part of the parent are completely invalidating and cruel to the child. I didn’t say you were that kind of parent; I said that your language choice may have caused me to misread what you were saying.

    Some of us do have children, and some of us were children raised by people who firmly believed themselves to be appropriate or loving parents. It’s simply not right to say, as a blanket statement, that mental illness has a scientific and genetic explanation, when so many of us can directly trace mental and emotional illness right back to the ways we were parented. I would reiterate that none of us are saying that parenting is the only cause of mental and emotional illness. Some of us are saying it’s societal. Some are saying it’s nutritional. But I think all of us are saying that it’s something more than just genetic roulette.


  13. Meeto,

    If it were always a question of “bad parenting”, I would have to admit I was a bad parent….afterall, my own son became psychotic….for a short while….

    This was not my point…..I don’t think any of us have the luxury of deciding whether we’re good parents or bad parents….if/when our kids become psychotic…..

    When this happens, it’s a matter of learning to be a “better parent” – that’s all I was trying to say….

    The point about some parents not spending enough time with their kids….It’s just what I see out there….especially with many men….and, I find it very sad….

    On the “genetic” theory…..I find it distressing….mostly because it insists that these illnesses are lifelong, incurable, and in need of medical management – translation – drugs….

    I believe that there may be many factors that present themselves as “mental” that are tied to a variety of things – thryoid, adrenals, poor absorption, etc…..

    If this sounds like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth – so be it….at the end of the day, it’s a best-guess…..and, I think any of us who have been through this get to take a best guess….I simply don’t believe it’s good to label, nor good to tell someone they will never recover….because people do recover….all the time.

    Anyway, my intent was not to single you out in any way, only to express my thoughts and feelings, along with my passions in this area.



  14. David: I widely agree with you. That said, there’s one point where I disagree strongly: actually, I would be the first one to say, that there is no such thing as “genuine schizophrenia” in terms of a biological illness caused by defective genes. Even if there was, it wouldn’t be a mental illness, but a neurological one. Since there is no scientific evidence (and, indeed, not even a real chance for scientific evidence ever to be found) of any of the so-called “mental illnesses” to be brain diseases (i.e. neurological illnesses), neurology keeps its hands off the field, and, just like every other real medical speciality, looks down on psychiatry as a pseudo science, trying hard to legitimate itself by turning life problems into biological illnesses.

    So, my bottom line is, that all so-called “mental illness” actually is a form of “PTSD”, i.e. caused by trauma. It doesn’t need to be “poor parenting”, though. First of all, dysfunctioning doesn’t necessarily equal to what commonly is understood as “poor parenting”, and secondly, there is a reason why people develop dysfunctional communication patterns. It is not the individual alone, that is to be held accountable. It is society as a whole.

    Matthew: I do write a lot, have always done so, and even used it as a “communication tool” during therapy, since talk was no option (for someone, who used to go right into a “catatonic stupor” as soon as other things than the weather were tried to be discussed). I’ve also started to use mindfulness and meditation (watching my mind “making noise”, producing thoughts) lately, and it helps a lot. It just takes so incredibly long a time. But when it comes down to it, I guess, it’s just me who’s impatient. Things have changed a great deal already, and they will keep on changing as long as I keep on working on them.


  15. metoo wrote:
    “wow. i can’t help but feel that these posts place things back in the dark ages of psychology where everything is the parent’s fault…”

    You may feel that, although that’s not necessarily the natural, or logical conclusion.

    It’s a truism to say that one doesn’t get a manual, when one’s children are born. As such, one’s starting point is received wisdom, and, possibly as a first thrust, the methodology that one’s parents vouchsafed, and their parents to them.

    As a parent, one may choose to acknowledge when one’s decisions do not result in success. Or one may proceed, ignoring the protests of one’s children, with a dismissive “you’ll do as you’re told,” or whatever. If one continually invalidates, in that way, one is heading for trouble, and, what’s more, one has chosen to believe that one’s children cannot teaching one anything. And that is the most foolish thing that one can do.



  16. Ouchy. Accused of bad parenting, lack of compassion and lack of language skills in one fell swoop. Seems like I wandered into someones’s dogma? I would try and explain what I meant, (which IS exactly what I said) but i sense an unfriendly and hostile environment. Best wishes to all.


  17. Marian wrote:
    “Me too, I hope you have some place where you can cry, Matthew!”

    Well, if you’re still labouring under the misapprehension that crying will identify you as a stupid person, then it’s not surprising that you’re unable to “really” cry. There’s a conflict there, as I perceive it: be stupid (as evidenced by your tears), or express what you’re experiencing in the best way that you know.

    In the end, if you know that nobody’s going to address themselves to your discomfort (and thus the thing that you’re discomfited by), then there’s no point in even drawing attention to it. This leaves you having to resolve everything on your own. Or “internalizing,” as it’s also known.

    But, then, of course, one still needs somebody to validate the solution that one has hit upon, which is easier said than done, given that everybody seems to be too busy trying to work out their own stuff! So one is left, struggling through life, using the solution that one has developed, which one believes to be effective, given the constraints that one has had placed on one; towhit: still believing that crying = stupidity.

    [shrug] If you’re going to take to repairing yourself, then you need to think about thought, and about how one thinks – the thought processes that one has, and to write them down, in sequence (this is an old trick, which Penny Parks uses, for one). When one sees these things written down – sees how one has been thinking – it’s sometimes easier to move on.



  18. I think there’s a huge difference between recognition and blame, and I also don’t think anyone here is saying that all mental illness is caused by parenting. I think there really is such a thing as genuine schizophrenia, for example, and that it’s unlikely to be caused by poor parenting. I have a cousin who is a textbook sociopath (I wish I were kidding about this) and I also doubt that the worst of her complete amorality was caused by poor parenting.

    I don’t blame my parents for what happened to me, though they are directly responsible for it. It is extremely easy to prove this; there was a point at which I was a normal child, and then a point at which I wasn’t, and the intervening events were all things directly related to how my parents handled my life. End of story. Pretty simple to figure out. If I were simply blaming them, I wouldn’t be doing anything further to overcome the problem.

    I know, from extended conversations with my mother, that she felt completely helpless during my childhood and adolescence, because she didn’t understand what was happening, and regarded herself as a loving and appropriate parent. She was so far in denial about our family situation that she could not have admitted her part in it even if she had tried.

    Of course every child is an individual, and born with temperaments and inclinations toward certain types of struggles.

    In regard to metoo’s comment, this stood out for me: watch as the temperament remains the same and develops shockingly independent of what your wishes or desires are?

    That sounds like the comment of a parent who is not, in fact, accepting a child, but who is trying to turn the child into something he or she is not. I suppose what metoo might have meant is that the desire is for a healthy child, and the child has developed in unhealthy ways. I tend to overreact to what may simply be other people’s lack of skill with language as a means of accurate expression. But I would have expressed this as: “…watch as the temperament remains the same, and your child is in pain, and is suffering despite everything you can think of to do?”

    Seems to me there’s a lack of compassion in metoo’s comment which may or may not be indicative of why that commenter is so threatened by the idea of parents contributing to mental and emotional illness in children.


  19. Marian,

    The name mispelling – don’t sweat the small stuff – thank you for your kind words.


    I empathize with what you are saying here
    As a dad, I ask my sons to forgive me….this may seem strange to some…a role-reversal of sorts….

    But, when I make mistakes as a dad….when I fall short – I ask them….and, I think they learn from this example – asking for others to forgive them…..making them stronger and better young men…..

    This is a role of a parent in my mind….to make your own kids stronger, healthier, “better” than yourself….

    We’re not perfect – our family….no family is perfect…ironically, I think learning to love each other through the imperfections is the key….and forgiveness is the only way to get there….



  20. I wish, I could have done something to make my folks reach the same insight in regard to themselves, so they could have set themselves free, too.

    yes, we all suffer in this. Not just the “identified patient” as some pop psychologist put it…again this is a societal disease…

    I would love to see my father open up and blossom and be able to love and cry and ask for forgiveness….he would get it in a hot second (actually he already has it), for he too was grossly hurt as a child and that child is still inside him hurting and blind.


  21. Well said, Gianna and Duanne!

    Me neither, I don’t want to play the blame game, even if it might look that way, though. The thing is, that if I was to say that, no, my parents, my environment, weren’t to be made accountable (in contrast to blame), I would at the same time deny myself, and my own experience. I won’t do that (anymore).

    I fully acknowledge, that my parents did the best they knew. It was just not good enough, and if I had the chance, I would do everything to make them understand that. Not to revenge myself on them, and make them feel miserable with guilt – which they, as a matter of fact, already felt, although unconsciously – for the rest of their lives, but to give them the opportunity to change and develop personally.

    Blaming genes, “a ‘disease’ larger than self”, as Duanne put it, doesn’t change anything. On the contrary. It only ensures the person in crisis as well as his/her surroundings to stay stuck in helpless and hopeless rigidness, yes.

    Things started to change dramatically for me, the moment, I took responsibility for myself (or: the moment, I’d got enabled to do so, that is). Which enabled me to take that responsibility was the awareness of the fact that it was not some strange disease beyond my control, that had caused all my problems, but me myself. As the “disease” was nothing but my reaction to my life story. This insight set me free, and I wish, I could have done something to make my folks reach the same isight in regard to themselves, so they could have set themselves free, too.


  22. Meeto,

    My comment was not directed at anyone….I was only trying to say that we are in such desparate search for answers, and I think there are some obvious ones right in front of us….

    Yes, I am a parent, and I have seen child development in front of my own two eyes – starting from being in the room where both of my boys were born, through many phases of each of there lives….And yes, they are different – each of them – like night and day in many ways….

    On the point of “mental illness” – our oldest went through a diagnosis of “juvenile bipolar” – it took many months of study – herbs and nutrients to come up with the right mix for him….and, family therapy for a couple of years…..but, for us what worked – was more time with him – every night, as a matter of fact – time with my own son – lots of it….time for him to talk…..for me to listen, and love him while he went through what can only be described as the ultimate challenge to a human soul – a disconnection from self and others…..

    And, we had spent many hours before this time in his life – doing all kinds of things….What I was trying to say is not that parents are to blame, as much as parents can take an active role in prevention, and an active role in healing…..

    I studied some of the more “dark age” psychology you refer to in grad school, but have to part ways with you – in the “genetics” theory…..this may seem “new”, but actually, I see it soon going into the “dark ages” – it proves nothing – it may not “blame” anyone, but leaves everyone somehow “hopeless” and “helpless” against a “disease” that is larger than self, and larger than families… such thing exists…..the spirit of an individual, and the love of a family have great capacities to do the “impossible”… do combinations of many healing “therapies”, not the least of which is the love between a father and son….

    Our son went from a psychotic state almost three years ago, to being symptom free for the past two and a half years – not with “dark age” psychology, nor with “new age” genetic understanding…..with something that helped much more than both…..something that came from getting to know another part of him….a deeper understanding of who he was….in his darkest hours…..I wouldn’t have traded the experience….

    This comment is not sent to cause any further friction….I simply have to say the “genetic” theories are not what they presume to be – they have little, if any “science” behind them…..and will soon enter the “dark ages” themselves, as we learn about the key role nutrients play in our brains, and good relationships play in our minds – in our lives.



  23. No one is saying there is a direct correlation of parents causing mental illness in all cases, though occasionally it certainly cannot be denied. When people read material like the above in that way I suspect they are projecting and they are afraid.

    And yes, I’ve watched children develop “mental illness.” Not my own children but I’ve seen poor parenting skills be part of the problem some of the time (note I do not say evil, cruel parents are the problem…)

    other times abuse can come from outside the family….children are exposed to lots of people other than their immediate family.

    Some parents you might be able to say are to blame, but more often it’s the nature of human frailty. The parents as much as the children’s.

    this is not about blaming. it’s about being able to look at deep patterns of behavior—patterns that we don’t recognize and bringing them to light and healing them.

    this is a societal problem not the problem of any given set of parents…

    but we do have to start healing by looking at ourselves.

    I must look at myself. I do not blame my parents, traumatized though I was. I am now responsible.

    This is not a blame game. The sooner people stop being defensive the sooner we can all heal.


  24. wow. i can’t help but feel that these posts place things back in the dark ages of psychology where everything is the parent’s fault. do any of you have children? have you witnessed child development and how independent it is of you. How children are born with certain temperaments and how they as individuals become more and more of what they were when they were born? have you watched a child develop mental illness? Have you been there 100% to help a child develop and grow in a positive way and watch as the temperament remains the same and develops shockingly independent of what your wishes or desires are? Mental illness is not simply imposed on the child by parents. There is a scientific genetic basis for mental illness.


  25. Absolutely Duane!

    you said:

    And, for boys – just hanging out is great….going fishing or camping….spending time playing sports…..and, of course talking – about all kinds of things…..Amazing the things that go on in a young person’s head – the things they want/need to talk about….

    I know you are a dad of two boys, but all of the above is equally important for girls. Casual low-key time spent with parents or other nurturing adults is a must for all kids, boys and girls!


  26. Gianna,

    I think one of the more “subtle” forms of abuse is neglect….Too many kids have very little time with their parents….they are pushed to the periphery of their parents lives….careers, finances, other things seem to get in the way….

    I wonder how many kids are dying for time with their parents….someone to talk to – who has a real interest in listening, and spending time….

    And, for boys – just hanging out is great….going fishing or camping….spending time playing sports…..and, of course talking – about all kinds of things…..Amazing the things that go on in a young person’s head – the things they want/need to talk about….



  27. good for you Stephany,
    I think most of us at one time or another have been silenced and whether that is the extent of the abuse or whether there has been much more does not diminish the damage that silencing does.


  28. Matt brings up a good point how others attempt to define us to make their world a comfortable place to exist; yet often it is not our world, or anything to do with who we are. I was reduced to silence in my ex-marriage, and in essence it was a silencing of my spirit and soul, that I struggle to recover now. I allowed another person’s opinion of me to silence me. No more. I cry, I talk and I won’t stop!


  29. Annie:
    1. Those of us who have managed to not only remember and accept having been abused/traumatized in one way or the other, but who also reject non-proven gene- and neurotransmitter theories, regarding our problems a result of abuse/trauma rather than defective genes, well, that’s what the “experts” call “anecdotal” in contrast to “scientific”. Thus, it is of minor interest to a real scientist (and that’s what they like to think, they are), if of any at all.

    2. Don’t underestimate the political dimension of this. Abuse is never only a private thing. People become abusive, because they live in an abusive environment. To acknowledge that a society is as abusive as to cause such extreme reactions as “psychosis”, and, in addition, to acknowledge that the same society’s dysfunctioning causes an increasing number of its members to react in a generally dysfunctional way (“depression”, “ADHD”, etc.), can’t but have political consequences for this society, questioning its alleged well-functioning. We don’t want to question the perfection of our society, do we?!


  30. Gianna, You have once again provided such a thought provoking post and I benefit from your work. I found myself wondering, wouldn’t it be exciting if researchers approached some of these issues by collecting the posts and comments you and others provide. Just a thought since there do not seem to be any absolute answers. Thanks for your work. Annie


  31. Matthew: “one might as well demand that she lift the Taj Mahal on the palm of her hand” – right on.

    It wasn’t so strange though. She was a thorough narcissist. She wasn’t able to really love anyone. She needed and (ab)used others. But always only for these others’ own good, of course! With the best of intentions. But at the same time, she was afraid of the others she needed. So, in order to meet her needs, I was required to change my behaviour (and deny my own emotions, thoughts, etc.). Fear and need – the perfect breeding ground for double binds…

    I still struggle somewhat with what I call “croc tears”. The tears are there, like in “crying”, but the feeling isn’t quite. Nor is the release, I have an idea but not the full experience of. Must be wonderful, yes. – Me too, I hope you have some place where you can cry, Matthew!


  32. wow…I’m sorry Matt…crying is such a wonderful release as far as I’m concerned.

    I hope you find a place where you can cry with abandon when you need to….


  33. PS We’re all victims, of this. I don’t cry in front of my wife, anymore, because I know she regards it as weak (because she has told me so, explicitly), and despises me for it. Naturally, I don’t regard myself as weak, nor despicable, but if that reality pleases my wife, then that will be the one that she can “enjoy”: I shan’t disabuse her – I tried, but something more powerful than my persuasive capabilities is controlling her.



  34. Marian wrote:
    “…Instead, she’d explain to me, in her very loving and caring manner, why it actually was stupid of me to cry, and that it made her feel sad, too…”

    I get you, I think: if something was happening that wasn’t liked, then somehow, it was one’s fault. I guess, for your mum, sadness was real, and was caused by certain events, no matter what. I imagine it would never have occurred to her that sadness is a choice that she had made, for herself (although she had probably been “taught” that sadness was the appropriate reaction to given events).

    It probably also never occurred to her that it might not be stupid to cry, because, if one chooses to internalize one’s sadness, how in the world is anybody to know that one is sad? They won’t, but if your mum didn’t like to see you crying – if she chose sadness as her reaction (and who knows what depth of sadness, and thus how painful to her), then the obvious solution for her was to have you not cry, irrespective of whether that solved your problem (it couldn’t – how could it?). And one way of doing that would be to make crying synonymous with stupidity – nobody wishes to be stupid, so one chooses to hide one’s sadness, instead.

    Strange: your mum was prepared to encourage (require?), you to change your behaviour, but the idea that she should change hers never occurred to her. I doubt that she imagined it possible, in fact. As I wrote, I strongly suspect that she believed her reaction to be a fact, real, immutable; that everybody would experience that reaction, given the stimuli. As such, it would be impossible for her to change – one might as well demand that she lift the Taj Mahal on the palm of her hand. This response had probably been with her so long that she had forgotten that there were other emotions that one might experience: compassion, for example.

    Do you know, some of the brightest people I’ve ever met have believed themselves to be stupid. And they believe this, because nobody has ever taken the time to countermand years of being told that they are. So even if they accomplish the most remarkable things, it will never be enough. Never, because they choose not to consider the possibility that just because somebody says a thing, does not make it true. Nor do they consider the possibility that while one person may regard a certain thing as stupid, another person may regard it as a stroke of genius.



  35. As mentioned, I think, they simply are scared. In order to be able to really “see” another person, and not get overwhelmed, you have to be quite balanced yourself. How many of those working in the mental health profession have worked on their own issues, and are balanced enough to not risk a breakdown themselves when confronted with themselves and their own issues (through the mirror of another human being)?

    Kraepelin saw this, well, lack of competence I’d actually call it, and, in consequence, he forbade the staff to talk with the “patients”. Instead of engaging more qualified staff/reforming their professional training. – He was a powerful man, and could have done it. But I guess, he had unsolved issues himself. so… – Well, and this is where we are, still today.


  36. Fantastic discussion folks! Thanks so much…

    I wanted to address something david said:

    I’d like to add that part of the difficulty in diagnosing childhood trauma definitely has to do with the victim’s ability to rationalize and deny it. For many of us, the only way to survive repeated invalidation, coercion, or similar emotional abuse from a primary caregiver is to compartmentalize and “forget” the experience. This is why, I think, it is so crucial for clinicians to be trained to recognize when a patient’s presentation doesn’t add up.

    Well…really I just wanted to highlight it. I don’t actually have anything to add!! It’s just so damn true!!

    I’ve said probably hundreds of times now on this blog that while I was in social work working with the “severe and persistent mentally ill” at least 80 percent were clear that they’d been abused and the rest I figured had something going on as you are suggesting.

    The horrifying thing is NO ONE did a darn thing about it and being that I was not a therapist I was not qualified to do anything about it. It’s not really that people don’t know, it’s more like they’ve got their heads up their “arse.” Why, I don’t know or understand…

    It’s a tragedy though.


  37. Even the dysfunctioning can be subtle, and almost invisible, on the surface. It doesn’t need to be a setting where your folks have to struggle for everyday survival, where alcohol abuse and your mother getting battered on a daily basis is on. Material wants were unknown to my folks. So was substance abuse, physical abuse, screaming and shouting etc., as mentioned. We were the ideal family. We were the Joneses. And even more than that. On the surface. The problem was, that neither one of my parents, both coming from emotionally dysfunctional families themselves, knew how to handle emotions. So, emotions were dangerous, and had to get nipped in the bud. And so they were. Not even that in a clear, unmistakable way, though. My mother was the perfect mother. Loving and caring to a fault. Of course, she’d never have said something like: “Stop crying!” Nope. Instead, she’d explain to me, in her very loving and caring manner, why it actually was stupid of me to cry, and that it made her feel sad, too. No matter how high you turned up the heat, it was just freezing at our home.


  38. As I clicked on the comment box, I think I knew what I was going to say, but now everything seems to be competing for priority, and won’t assume a rational (to my mind), order. People only behave as they do, because they haven’t been taught anything better – I think davidrochester has already said that, in some form, or other.

    One has parents, then, who are trying to balance a whole bunch of interests: putting food on the table, dealing with workplace politics, trying to maintain a relationship with their spouse, “keeping up with the Joneses,” bringing up their children “the right way,” and so on. Nobody ever explains how any of this is done, and yet some people seem to know how to do it, which must mean that they’re better those who don’t. Isn’t it funny how we assume that those who look successful, in some sense, must be “complete” in all other ways, too?

    So, let’s say that one’s parents (whose own parents weren’t particularly good at any of the things that I’ve listed), have also failed to develop an effective strategy for these things, which they might teach their children. No life skills, in other words. They’re trying their best, God Damn It, but they just can’t work out how it is that they should stop their boss from bullying them, or their spouse from shouting at them, or their kids from running amok, and the promotion that they were going for went to somebody younger, and better qualified, so no pay rise, and next door’s just had a swimming pool built. And so it goes on. All these things that one is shit at, and no time to stop and try to get just one of them right.

    Behaviour’s learnt, all right. And so, as the child of a person who’s struggling, in this way, one gets beaten, because one’s parent can’t work out a better way of getting one to comply with society’s rules; and if nothing else, one’s parents are going to have the illusion of success, as in “oh, yes, Johnny’s a great kid – never in trouble, always does his homework, always says “please,” and “thank you.” Great kid!” Except that Johnny’s very fucking nearly suicidal, because he hasn’t got a fucking clue what people want from him. He gets beaten for saying stuff; he gets beaten for being clumsy and breaking stuff; he gets beaten for shouting angrily, when the world is being unfair to him; but he is never, never allowed to use violence, himself, because violence is wrong – that’s what society says. Everything is stacked against him: if anybody is found to be in the wrong, then it’s always him, and when he’s found to be at fault, he seems to get punished disproportionate to the supposed offence, and he may not just say “stop, I want to explain how you’ve got it wrong, I want you to believe that I’m good” because nobody gives a fuck.

    Hurray for people who listen.



  39. I’m honored by your choosing to quote me on this extremely important issue, Gianna.

    I’d like to add that part of the difficulty in diagnosing childhood trauma definitely has to do with the victim’s ability to rationalize and deny it. For many of us, the only way to survive repeated invalidation, coercion, or similar emotional abuse from a primary caregiver is to compartmentalize and “forget” the experience. This is why, I think, it is so crucial for clinicians to be trained to recognize when a patient’s presentation doesn’t add up.

    I also agree completely that nutrition and self-care habits can make a huge impact on management of PTSD. Many of us who have PTSD are suffering from toxic adrenaline/cortisol overload, for one thing, which can be soothed (if not entirely mitigated) by diet. Researching which vitamins, minerals, etc. are used up/drained by stress can make a big difference in taking care of a depleted body, and of course a depleted body affects the functioning of the brain.

    I also agree that degrees of PTSD depend on the support the child has. In my own case, I was completey socially rejected and ostracized at school, as well as being parented by an abusive alcoholic narcissist and my seemingly loving but really collaborative codependent mother. As an only child, the full brunt of my father’s manipulative cruelty fell on me, as well as inappropriate responsibility for my mother’s emotional well-being; and on top of that, I endured peer abuse on a daily basis at school, up to and including another child actively trying to kill me. I then went on to be sexually stalked for two years at college by a sociopathic gay man in my dorm who assaulted me more than once. Amazingly, after having related this basic story to more than one psychologist, I was repeatedly diagnosed with depression rather than with any form of trauma disorder.

    I just kind of have to wonder whether part of the criteria for taking an advanced degree in psychology is a practical demonstration of just how far the candidate can stick his head up his or her respective arse.


  40. Marian,
    Yes, Freud had it right for a while…it’s really a shame…he set back trauma theory (especially sexual abuse) in very serious ways just as he was about to bust it all open.


  41. “all my (let’s call them PTSD) symptoms get worse if I don’t take care of my body/mind/spirit….”

    Same here. I totally agree that nutrition, exercise etc. are extremely important in regard to mental distress, and its healing.

    “and let’s face it. some people go through horrendous trauma and don’t have issues like some of us have had…something makes us sensitive…”

    Something, I forgot to comment on above. Also: Why do some people’s “PTSD” look like “schizophrenia”, while other’s look like “depression”, or “OCD”, or whatever? Analytical theory says, that it depends on which developmental state someone is in, when abuse starts. The earlier in your personal development (Kristeva says, younger than 6 months) abuse starts, and the more persistent it is carried out, the more likely it is, that the abused later on in life will react “psychotic”. Another important factor, and the reason why some people never experience “mental illness” in spite of having been abused, traumatized, is that just one single person (family member, friend, whatever) who really loves you, and who you can trust unconditionally, can “save” you.

    I guess, most people have never really been asked about their life story. Not other than peripherally, at least. Society doesn’t want to hear about this stuff. It’s too scary.

    At first, Freud kept the theory, that everything his “patients” told him about having been abused was true, and the reason for their problems. Later on, his friend Wilhelm Fliess, a child abuser himself (!), convinced Freud, that it just couldn’t be true, that honourable members of society (like himself) were such bastards in private (like himself). That was, when things started to go wrong for Freud, in regard to his theories.


  42. Dear susan,
    I hope you feel better soon. Take it slow and easy, okay? Cymbalta is the worst of the AD’s along with Paxil and Effexor to get off of.

    Let me know if I can help you out….

    feel free to email me.


  43. Great comment and great links, Marian, thanks…

    Yes, I agree PTSD is the only real mental illness….but I also think that those with a likelihood of developing PTSD may be more likely to have food sensitivities and other physical issues that make one more susceptible. And some of those people may not have PTSD but do have mental distress.

    I’m not talking chemical inbalance or genetics…I’m talking simple things that can be healed by eating right and avoiding foods that make one unwell…

    all my (let’s call them PTSD) symptoms get worse if I don’t take care of my body/mind/spirit….

    and let’s face it. some people go through horrendous trauma and don’t have issues like some of us have had…something makes us sensitive…

    Oh…and yeah, Marian, no one ever asked about the trauma in my life until about a year ago!! After being in the psychiatric system in one way or another for over 20 years!!

    and with gross physical and emotional abuse at the hands of my father, two date rapes while still a teenager and then horrendous abuse in psych hospitals…my trauma runs deep.


  44. “who is simply in complete denial about the truth of his or her life …”

    Analysts like Lacan and Kristeva have stated that this is the difference between what previously was called “neurosis”, and what is called “psychosis”. The “neurotic” individual represses, while the “psychotic” one denies. It is the reason, why “psychosis” for a long time was regarded as not being treatable with analysis (or psychotherapy), because it is enormously demanding – both in regard to time and emotionally – to dig up something, that never has made it to the level of consciousness (in contrast to something, that once was consciously experienced, but then repressed).

    The meta-study by Hammersley and Read clearly shows how huge a role abuse and trauma play in the development of “psychosis”. They found, that about 70% of all the individuals labelled with “schizophrenia”, they checked up on, had been physically abused during childhood.

    They also found, that quite a number of people never were asked about their childhood by the mental health profession.

    “abuse is not always recognized because sometimes it’s subtle”

    Here’s an article about the more subtle kind of abuse.

    Take a look at the diagnostic criteria for “PTSD”, and compare them to those for “schizophrenia”, or “bipolar disorder”, or or or… and see the striking resemblance.

    IMO, there is only one “mental illness”: “PTSD”. Unless someone experiences psychological symptoms because of a physical condition – but then it’s no mental illness.

    Personally, I never was physically abused, nor was I screamed and shouted at or called names – other than in a “caring”, “loving” context (“Oh, you little fool!”). What a wonderful childhood I must have had! But why couldn’t I remember the joy (nor the anger, sadness, or fear), that I must have experienced? Why would I experience crises, every now and then? Lots of whys like these. The answer: because my childhood was pervaded with abuse. Purely emotional abuse, that was carried out in an extraordinarily subtle way. So, I’m one of the 30 remaining per cent, that the Hammersley/Read-study doesn’t cover.


  45. I’ve bookmarked this piece for further reading today.

    Right now I cannot stop vomiting from my daily dose of Cymbalta.

    In two weeks I start tapering down. You are an inspiration to me Gianna, with your story on becoming med free.

    Take care and best wishes to you, hubby and the beautiful Kali.


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