Monday, February 22, 2010

Personality and parenting

I'm doing some work training over the next couple of weeks and part of the first session was theories about personality development.

This is one of my interest areas and I have a dream of working more in the area of personality and what are currently called 'personality disorders'.

Our homework is to try explaining to a layperson one theory of personality disorder development. I need to do this verbally, but I'm also going to write about it here to develop my discussion and ideas further.

Some people call personality disorders, self disorders, because those with the diagnosis usually have difficulties in what is called self - ie. identity, feeling in control, being able to understand and connect their own emotions, thoughts and experiences.

Biosocial theory is not complicated, and is based, to some degree, on the concept of nature vs.nurture. It acknowledges the influence of both nature and nurture on personality development.

All children are born with a particular temperament - and some will be very emotionally sensitive - both sensitive to the emotion of those around them and experiencing strong emotion internally. Some parents deal well with this, either because they themselves are quite emotionally sensitive or they are just attuned to their child and develop helpful responses. Others find it more difficult and need to work at developing helpful ways to nurture their child.

In some cases, these emotionally sensitive children will be raised in an environment which is 'invalidating'. Their emotional experience will be ignored, negated or in some cases, the abuse they experience will create emotional turmoil that they cannot interpret and make sense of.

The interraction of emotionally sensitive child, and sustained invalidation over time, can lead to poor development of self and personality 'disorder'.

This is sobering news for parents, especially those of us who are good at critically evaluating our own parenting and wondering whether it might just not be 'good enough'*. For me, I hope it is a reminder of the importance of positive interractions and explicit praise with my children.

For people who get diagnosed with a personality or self disorder, beginning to understand the origins of their struggles and behaviour may be a key to unlocking the door to growth and recovery.

*'Good-enough mothering' is not perfect - rather it is children having their needs reasonably well met. (This is based on Winnicott's ideas)

photo from stock.xchng

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sacrificial love

My mother-in-law has a close friend who shops with her. They are both retired and love to spend their time hunting for bargains. It is easy to think about my mother-in-law and her friend in a narrow way and forget that they are women who have led rich lives and were once 38 year old women like me. That they have seen life through the glasses that I now wear.

My mother-in-law's friend was a foster mother because she married later in life and never had any children. She and her husband raised 2 children for 10 years each, among a number of children placed with them for shorter times. When those children turned 16 they returned to see their biological parents. They never returned to live with their foster parents. One, they do not know where he is and the other lives interstate with some contact by telephone.

I do not know all the circumstances and can only guess at the lives those children have lived. But when I think of having a child live in my family for 10 years, loving them and caring for their needs, then no longer having close contact with them and not seeing their children. When I think of that I am struck by the sacrifice of that parental love. To give so freely and not be able to reap the benefits that so many parents take for granted as they grow older.

It is so easy to see a person with the narrow perspective of being a bit-player in the drama of my life. People can seem insignificant or unremarkable, but only because I am self-absorbed and preoccupied with me and mine. May I never forget the precious blessings I have in my life, but I pray that I will not be so transfixed that I ignore or underestimate the people around me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I had such high hopes for being a parent. So many things I know or have worked that should make me such a good parent. Oh, how much I thought I knew before I had children who could answer me intelligently.

Every day I see a new mistake and realise how clumsy I am. Not only that, my children are real people with their own minds, wills and decisions. I cannot make them into what I want them to be. This is all quite unsettling!

the Power of an Indestructible Life

Jesus is our high priest, not because he comes from the right family. He is our high priest because he defeated death - he was indestructible! (Hebrews 7:16)

Not all people have a concept of what a priest does - (or if they do it is stained and corrupted by a connection with children being abused). But I think everyone wants someone on their side, someone who will stand up for them when they have to plead their case or tell their story.

The writer of Hebrews calls the Jewish priests, or their interceding work, weak and useless, because it cannot change lives. Jesus brings a better hope - he is not weak or useless, he is indestructible and perfect forever (Hebrews 7:28)

I see so many people who need that. And I need that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Opinions are like grandparents...

everybody has them and they're just a bit more rascist than you're comfortable with.

(Thankyou Newsjack, BBC4)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

the pain stops here

Being powerless to stop pain is discouraging. Sometimes I think it is impossible for people to change. People don't even think that things can be different or better. CS Lewis talked about us being like children who happily play in a puddle of mud when we are being offered a trip to go to the beach.

Some people are so broken that we do not know where to start to help them be healed. Again I need to remind myself that what is impossible for me is possible for God.

I have been looking at this book by Parker Palmer, since I heard it mentioned by Rob Bell. This is the beginning of a really interesting passage about the difference between the cross and other philosophies which carry on pain rather than solve the problem of pain.

'the cross says, "The pain stops here." The way of the cross is a way of absorbing pain, not passing it on, a way that transforms pain from destructive impulse into creative power. When Jesus accepted the cross, his death opened up a channel for the redeeming power of love.'

Parker Palmer, The Promise of Paradox.

He reflects on two illusions, we have, which must die, for us to be channels of this redeeming love.

The false self - this is the me that is proud and in control

False conceptions about the world - the idea that the world is evil and separate from us rather than accepting that we are part of the world's evil.

'Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either - but right through every human heart - and through all human hearts...'
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago.

Beck's triad, a cognitive model to understand depressive thoughts, encompasses negative thoughts about the self, the world and the future. I wonder if we have to give up a false view of the future, too. Without the cross, the future is something to be anxious about, to grasp at and plan obsessively. The cross allows us to stop our attempts to control what is to come, and gives true hope for redemption and change.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Book obsessed

I spent Australia Day reading a book. That may sound mundane, but it isn't very often that I get to read a book right through in a short time. This (Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert) was an easy read because of the conversational style and flowing stories.
Gilbert's search was founded in despair but lead to some interesting self-discovery. She seemed to learn a lot about grace through religious ritual. The God she talks about seems either distant or a part of herself, at different times in the book. Her guru and the guru's teacher have gained more of her affection, than God.
The book is definitely more about the author, than about God (understandably) and it is not a journey which will focus people on the God who made everything and loves each one of us. It helps make the point that there is more to life than Western materialism, but I don't think it inspires awe of God.
Although she obviously felt that the culmination of her journey was in Bali (the `love' part of the title) I found the book began to drift into self-indulgence, then. I started to want her to go home and stop being so self-satisfied.
I am still trying to encapsulate what I wished was in the book. I found that instead of relationship with God being an end in itself, it was a means to having a more fulfilled human life. Finding a connection with God and learning to meditate allowed Gilbert to `move on' from previous losses or failed relationships to a more fulfilling human partnership. Somehow that is not enough of a reason to see her journey as an example to follow.