Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Limit Setting/Holding Love

One of the greatest books of Pediatric Psychiatry was Omnipotent Child by Thomas P. Millar, a West Vancouver Psychiatrist.  When I saw families years ago I used to recommend parents read this classic in combination with an equally great book by Alice Miller, called Drama of the Gifted Child,
Dr. Millar clearly demonstrated in his vast experience that many children were 'neglected' by parents who failed to limit set.  By contrast Psychoanalyst Alice Miller with her intense experience saw that abused children were often a product of being misunderstood 'gifted' children.  As a consequence of reading both books one could better navigate the fine line between smothering, mothering, and othering.
Children overly parented and protected were infantilized whereas children without parenting felt alien.  The happy medium was what each of these great authors sought to help parents and therapists find.
I loved learning as a psychiatrist that if I didn't set 'limits' and allowed a child to 'rage' out of control then I was giving the child the frightening experience of his being indeed the parent or the adult.  This was the essence of the book, Lord of the Flies.  If there is no 'limit' to a child's rage then indeed we are likely to cry "the horror, the horror' like Kurtz because at the most 'primitive' emotions are rawest and most open to dangerous expression.
There is merit in discipline.  Societies have developmental stages like individuals.  Maslow developped a hierarchy of needs showing the need for safety to precede self actualization.  Erik Erickson showed with his 8 fold developmental stages the importance of 'trust' before love.
A child especially an adolescent needs to feel safe in this world. If the child is indeed in control then as Dr. Millar explains so adeptly they develop 'omnipotence' which comes with 'fear' because if there is no one to stop my homicidal or suicidal rage then I'm alone.  Alice Miller points out that the gifted child seeks expression but nonetheless parents and society must 'limit' this expression for the betterment of the child and the family and society.
Even now there is ISIS refusing to accept international law, denying the role of the courts, setting up their own Lord of the Flies, primitive childish society with all the inherrent violence, chopping off of heads and caricatures of real states.  All around them the parent states of this cult and gang are together with military force limitting their expression.  This limit setting is little different from the limit setting that a parent does when a child wishes to bash another child's head with a rock.
So we all want to 'love' the child. Grandparents love that they can 'spoil' the child knowing that the parents will be left with the obligation of discipline.  Single parents often resolve their tyrant power position by leaving the 'discipline' to the state which involves 'child protection' and police and jails.  Historically the mother at home provided the child 'unconditional love' because the father who was the interface with the outside world provided 'conditional love'. In the great 50's classic of this , mother would tell her children 'wait till your father gets home'. If mother and father couldn't "control' a child's behaviour then the community in the form of child protection services, youth court and jails and police did, just as the militaries of the world are now addressing ISIS reign of terror.
I really would love to be in a world where England's Chamberlain was right and Hitler could be 'reasoned' with.  I grew up singing with the Beatles "all we need is love".  I am to this day working on forgiving the violence my school inflicted on children as a norm, the canings and strapping I received.  Of course, if I'd been a tad smarter I'd not of got caught and a tad brighter I'd not have lipped off at a teacher or two.
The fact is, the world's not perfect.  I think if the ISIS members had been better loved and children and had more breast feeding and less aggressive potty training they might 'do unto others as they would have done unto themselves' but I'm older. I've worked with thousands of people in a variety of centers and just find some are slow learners when it comes to limit setting.
One of my patients was a child who was an arsonist.  Despite the communities best efforts to protect themselves they simply could not get the parents 'to control' their 5 year old child so the town simply out of self preservation rejected the family after they had caused millions of dollars of damage.  The parents saw themselves and 'loving' yet the child was to all intents 'neglected' and only with massive arson projects could they get the attention they missed.
In the best of all possible worlds there would be no 'limit setting'. There would be no need for 'police' and 'social workers' and 'military' and 'judges'.  This would be called 'heaven' or 'paradise' but it's not reality.
The fact is, limit setting is a holding form of love.  My parents set rules for me to learn in the home so that I would be prepared for the rules that I would encounter in school and society. Now I've lived in different countries and travelled extensively and am thankful that I was taught so lovingly that there were rules and consequences.
Watching a birds nest recently in a presentation of time lapse photograph with the camera mounted nearby I noted that most of the chicks with little encouragement left the nest but one really didn't do that well.  The parents were by all accounts 'abusive' and 'bullying' but nonetheless the chick was literally 'kicked' out of the nest.  Begrudgingly it flew and appeared happy like the first chick which had appeared to want to fly from the very start.
Some of this is development.  Some of it's resources.  Obviously Adolf Hitler might have needed a few decades of all the mothers in the world teaching him potty training so that he wouldn't be damaged. The fact is he got the best perhaps his mother and his society could offer at the time.  ISIS leaders obviously needed more time on the breast but didn't get it.  Maybe each of them with a few decades in prison and full time with Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu might lose their passion for chopping off others heads coupled with their adolescent sadistic selfie addiction.  The issue is then 'resource management'.  How much is everyone willing to pay and this question of 'economics' is really tied to the idea of what the 'military budget' should be.  Are the threats external or internal. Should there be more education internally on police or education and health care?
Obviously I believe in limit setting and holding love.  I believe there's a need for balance.  I like moderation. However, I think often I'm surrounded by really stupid people who believe 'all we need is love' and somehow think that the undisciplined masses produce free love and goodness rather than chaos and hysteria.  Am I the only one who saw how the hippy communes collectively collapsed.  I don't think we're going to be a better place when everyone smokes marijuana and we can all hang out at the beach.  I for one am thankful for parents and police and teachers and doctors  and the military and the politicians and accountants. I'm aware that I appreciate 'limits' and stop doing things because I don't want negative consequences. I don't think this is odd. I think it's human.  If I started chopping off my neighbours heads (and some of them really aren't using them) I understand that the community would 'limit' me just like they would a child who took a knife to the playground and began slashing the other children.
I know it's politically correct to sound like an idiot but I even believe the politically correct in a community don't deserve to have their heads removed from their bodies.  Community is about making the most for the most in a  utilitarian sense and involves 'exclusivity' and 'inclusivity'.  If I don't 'limit set' my dog, ie stop him humping your little girl, there's a good chance that a higher power will stop my dog's behaviour.
Because I love my dog, I set limits to his behaviour and clean up his shit. Ideally in time I'll get him to work his paws around those little green baggies so he can pick up his own shit. But I accept for now I'm probably going to have to be the one to do the scooping.  I suspect there's more likelihood my dog will learn how to clean up his own shit than ISIS and the likes will. I still have hope.


Dr. John A. Gatell, MD said...

Very well written with obviously a gifted author !

Dr. John A. Gatell, MD said...

Oops...Very well written by a gifted author !

Dr. John A. Gatell, MD said...

Thank you so much sharing your insights and knowledge about 'set limits' by learning social discipline. IMHO, I believe like my college professor of ego psychology noted in a lecture one day: "Kids if there is one I would like you to take out of this course, is that you can never love a child too much." I am sure he meant to add : with conditional and un-conditional love. Hitler was an extreme example of a sociopathic narcissistic sado-masochistic borderline as well as having bipolar depression with later Parkinsonian dementia. This was a result of his father with the same horrific madness resulting in an abusive sadistic alcoholic over-disciplinarian - probably. bipolar as well, and abused by his Germanic "Black and White" borderline thinking, not uncommon in his Germanic culture of "Germanic thinking". And, as a result a brilliant hypnotically persuasive and compulsive liar - like most of history's psychotic leaders.

Dr. John A. Gatell, MD said...

William, I really loved your article. Thank you again !

haykind said...

Thank you, Dr. Gatell. You are very generous. Thanks for sharing. I agree with you on Hitler. I've been blessed with great teachers who shared their gifts of observation like you have.