Each person decides in early childhood how he will live and how he will die… His trivial behaviour may be decided by reason, but his important decisions have already been made: what kind of person he will marry, how many children he will have, what kind of bed he will die in… It is incredible to think, at first, that man’s fate, all his nobility and all his degradation, is decided by a child no more than six years old, and usually three… (but) it is very easy to believe by looking at what is happening in the world today, and what happened yesterday, and seeing what will happen tomorrow.
This quote from Eric Berne is astonishingly accurate, at least as it applies in my own life. It rings eerily and hauntingly true in my mind; something that I will return to later.
We can ask, or should ask, what environmental influences could encourage a child to formulate a future life pattern with such a degree of inevitability? What positive or negative role models and parental guidance or abuse, would result in such a powerful, life determining decision?
In Australia, we have had three Prime Ministers who claimed to have known they were going to achieve that office from a very young age. Did they have positive life affirming parents? Did the parents nurture an attitude conducive to the formulation of such a clear and definite ambition? Very likely yes!
Esther Vilar in her seminal work The Manipulated Man, states that every girl will decide before she is 12 if she will live her life as a prostitute or not. The corollary of this is that every boy decides at a similar or earlier age if he will engage with prostitutes informally, or in formalised relationships such as marriage, or not. Or if he will be subordinate or dominant in his dealings with women. And if he will be truly a free individual or a vassal to women and gynocentrism generally.
Popular culture is riddled with the portrayal of gender roles that not only offer young girls and boys inducement to accept gynocentric stereotypes, but positively encourage them by way of peer pressure. Romance novels of the kind popular with pubescent girls often displace totally any healthy balanced discussion offered by adults on such subjects. Boys receive messages that they are inferior to girls in almost every way. This phenomena appears to be increasing due to the destructive ravages of feminism.
Even the most casual of observers will observe that popular culture perpetuates psychological conditioning that life fairy tales initiate in early life. There is widespread acceptance by adults that both these phases are “normal” and are nothing to worry about.
This is reinforced and manipulated in the most venal manner imaginable by marketing, advertising and commercial media. There is almost a subliminal, unconscious, revenge motive activated here by responsible adults. Adults who claim to love their children. Almost an attitude of “after all, we had to work our way through all of that stuff, why shouldn’t they?”
The resilience of the human spirit is a marvellous thing! Happily, many young people have a balance of reasonable to good parental environment at home and some outside association and guidance from healthy friends and adults; sufficiently so for them to navigate the maze of deception and false values that they are assaulted with from all directions daily.
But when the home life is a toxic, adversarial environment, the baseline of rational mental health is not established and offered. When and if it is occasionally glimpsed through the fog of bad behaviour and striven for, all efforts to attain it can be sabotaged by neurotic (or worse) parents in a few harsh damaging words.
Enter here specifically adverse conditioning which will influence greatly, or actually shape later life patterns and outcomes adversely.
My own Mother was a sociopath; that is the short, blunt, painful story. My most enduring memory of her in my early life was her repeatedly screaming in my face, completely hysterically. She would rant about how poor we were and would always be. In actual life, I don’t think we were any more poorer or richer than most of the average post war population were in Australia at the time, certainly not the people that I knew our family associated with.
Just to remind the reader, I was very young perhaps only 5 or 6 years of age. This performance, or rather assault, was a regular feature of my younger life and had a profoundly punishing effect on me. I used to have nightmares about these sessions, continuing on into adult life. I lived in near constant fear and anxiety of the next screaming session. These sessions usually reduced me to shaking and crying quietly when I was alone later in my bedroom.
My Mother had another mantra that she would assail me with, but with less intensity. She would insist in an advisory way, as if to prepare me in some way, that I would never be able to work like other boys will be able to. I would not have a good job etc.
These tirades has such a profound negative effect on me that I can distinctly recall forming my life-determining decision of the type that Eric Berne refers to so insightfully in the quote above. I can recall the actual words I used way back then and I am acutely aware of their now proven consequence.
I knew that I would be poor and not have a good job. I would not be able to afford a house and family. I would live alone.
I am now 71 years of age, and my life is just like the above on all three counts!
How much can I attribute this profoundly negative life script to my own neurotic personality and how much to my Mother’s horrible conditioning I dare not speculate on. Or do they merge together, no longer being indistinguishable? Suffice it to say at least, that her truly psychotic rants must certainly have had significant influence on me in this regard.
The trauma of being kidnapped off the street while walking home from school at six years of age, did nothing to alleviate this for me. A woman completely unknown to me ambushed me while I was crossing a golf links on my regular route home. She held me prisoner over night and beat me and abused me for most of the night without even a glass of water. I was only found and liberated the next morning. This woman was never charged, and I was led to understand she went onto snatch another boy off the street again. Sadly, he was not found for a long time, rumour had it that it was for many weeks!
I was locked in a laundry cupboard half full of dirty laundry between beating sessions. To this day, I am unable to tolerate the smell of dirty laundry without feeling uncomfortable. Many house mates and partners have observed that I wash my clothes more often than normal. It took me 50 years to realise why.
My brother and I as young adults would later build houses for my Mother when she wanted to move or upgrade. We would drop jobs and travel to the location to work on them. She would often complain bitterly that the last house building went way over budget because we boys wasted too many nails! As she aged, she became increasingly bitter, anti-social and hostile. I did not see her for the last 20 years or more of her life, but she did tell my brother that we all had been written out of the will. Her estate was effectively squandered; the apparent motive was to ensure we children did not receive any of it. This needless to say, is consistent with her motive that I would be poor all my life.
I now experience a mixture of immense regret over wasted life energy and potential due to me adhering to this “script” in almost every way imaginable. I am burdened with guilt and shame about it. Guilt for how I betrayed those many folks that were disappointed and suffered because of my self-destructive neurosis; good people who truly believed in me and my many potentials. Guilt for the good women that I passed over for some other sociopath who would go onto further degrade my life and steal my child and property from me. Guilt for what I did to myself even.
I have been the traitor to my most worthy mentors. I have been the heart breaker to good women who showed themselves as likely worthy partners and who saw glimpses of the hidden me.
The curious paradox is that I have always been a person who others consider a “good person”. I am liked by many and form friendships readily and quickly. I have managed to live a life on the fringe of society as a bottom feeder, managing on my considerable skills and adaptive abilities. I did not turn into a criminal or anti-social person. Very few of the people in my life would know just how negative my unconscious attitude to life has been; I have been cleverly covert in this regard, living in effect, a double life. I am quite probably still just the same under my persona of apparent “normality”, or near normality ; I am too old now to test myself with new challenges and relationships to find out if I have changed or not!
I have experienced life long bouts of depression and one episode of major depression resulting in multiple suicide attempts. I was hospitalised for a couple of months after one serious attempt. Only when I became an adult was I able to realise that I had lived most of my childhood and early adult life in a fog of depression. Little wonder really!
School was always a good place to be as it was a bit of a refuge for me. I was lucky enough to be a bright student, one of the brightest in fact. This helped me to gain the attention, sympathy and understanding of some of the teachers. Although, on several memorable occasions, I was stunned into tears when one of the teachers would address me in way that expressed compassionate insight into my suffering. I was openly shocked that someone could talk to me in such an empathetic, kind and sensitive way. So much so, that I could not respond in any coherent way and could only burst into uncontrollable overwhelming tears in response. The experience revealed my emotional weakness and lack of experience which left me feeling totally exposed and defenceless. Kindness was, to me, an open threat! It is difficult to explain this feeling of being completely out of ones emotional comfort zone, but for exactly the opposite reasons that are commonly and correctly assumed would cause this response. I was accustomed only to intimidation, ridicule, common abuse and neglect.
For much of my life, I regretted deeply that I did not go back and find these kind, compassionate teachers and thank them whole heartedly. I excuse myself for not doing so to some extent, because I always feared that if I did so, I would not be able to make a coherent presentation to them without breaking down in tears, as I am now when I am writing this. Of course, I could have written to them. Much of this I am only now aware of and I had repressed most of it for a long time.
I admire the courage of many good authors I read on this site and others like it. Courage is one of my favourite and most admired virtues in others. It mirrors my comparative cowardice. It is this cowardice of mine that was a prime motivator during my suicide attempts. I saw myself as the quintessential coward not being able to learn to live life productively.
Of all the authors I have read, Karen Horney writes about this pattern of neurosis2 with superb insight, compassion and intelligence. All done with a notable lack of jargon and academic writing style.
My life these days is good. I have many good, kind and generous friends. I have creative and stimulating interests. I have a part time job at a school where I mix with teachers and students. I enjoy seeing young folks engaging with each other and with teachers in a healthy way, becoming their own individuals. I gain vicarious pleasure out of this observation; I even feel that it is actually healing me. These young people are demonstrating in action that growing up can be a positive enjoyable experience with a minimum of unnecessary stress and aggravation. Where and when stress or conflict arises, as it will, they have peers and adults who they can talk to and seek support.
There have been many times I have left very ordinary engagements at the school with a feeling that my emotions are very close to the surface, a bit too close for comfort sometimes. I am relieved on such occasions to “escape” without revealing them. For to do so would be unfair and confusing to any observer.
Throughout most of my adult life I have had a repeating dream pattern involving school in some way or another. Often around the theme that I had not finished school properly or had to repeat the last year, go back and do another exam or some variant on the school theme. So, having this little part time job in the local school is, quite literally, a dream come true!
These kinds of experience sustains an old man like me and they fill me with optimism for the human condition.