Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Child Abuse and Child Development: Acausal Syncrhronicity As A Principle For Harmonious Approaches to Human Suffering

Much of my posting energy has been diverted of late into a number of threads at the Broken Yogi Fan Club, and other forums at Lightmind. There's an oversized rambling thread on Ramana and the Religion of Atman, and another Lightmind Thread on Buddhism and Karma discussing acausality that's gotten way too much of my attention of late. I've thought of compiling some excerts from these lengthy posts here at my blog so that people don't have to wade through all the back and forth, but I haven't had the time yet.

Instead, I'd like to respond to a brief, presumably sarcastic comment by Aurelius on the post   "Harmonizing With Evil":
Thanks for the article. I now know that working to help abused children as well as mentally handicapped children is really part of the illusion, or rather, my disharmonius mind - which will probably only perpetuate that illusory condition of theirs as well. Keep spreading the word!
I take it that not everyone is favorably disposed towards my ideas on acausal synchronicity, in part because of a common assumption that I am trying to dismiss the reality of suffering as an illusion. The fault is certainly mine, in that I've been discussing this topic largely in the abstract, and not describing the practical application or origin of these ideas in much specific detail. Since the topic of children is quite dear to my heart, I use this comment as an opportunity to get specific and practical.

Aurelius is of course right to imply that I view human suffering, including that of abused children, to be based in an illusion, but it's not true that I dismiss it on that basis, or see any work to help others as a part of the illusion. To the contrary, unless we understand that our suffering is the result of a number of deeply held and persistent illusions we have little hope of bringing it to an end. But Aurelious is right that I think not all efforts to help one another, including children, are in fact productive and useful. Those which help to dispel our illusions are indeed helpful, but those which perpetuate and reinforce these illusions are actually harmful, regardless of how well-intentioned we might be.

Child abuse is one of the most egregious and all too common sources of human misery. One thing about it must be made clear from the outset, however: it is virtually the poster-child for the patterns of human misery and illusion. The way we treat children is the primary means by which human misery and its attendant illusions are passed on from generation to generation, and fortunately it is also the primary means by which love is passed on as well. If we don't understand the process of how this occurs, we are condemned to do this in ignorance, and perpetuate the problems that have been passed on to us, and which we unwittingly pass on to others, and to ignore the real solution to this cycle of torment, which is right in front of our noses.

I'm particularly interested in this topic in that I not only have raised two children to adulthood myself, but my wife and I ran a daycare for pre-school children for over a dozen years, during which time we cared for at one time or another probably at least a couple of hundred children. I had a great deal of direct contact with children in their most formative years, and got to observe and interact with them on such a personal, intimate level that I think I understand children quite well. We didn't work with abused children per se, but the principles of childhood are pretty much the same everywhere, and I did a fair amount of research on the subject of child abuse.

One thing that needs to be emphasized about child abuse is that what it comes down to is one of the essential illusions of human misery. It's not that the abuse itself is an illusion, but the persistence of its effects requires that the child become delusional in the process. When a child is abused, several factors immediately spring into action. For one, the child cannot comprehend what is happening to them on any conceptual level. They react on a purely sensual and visceral level - as they do with almost everything. Their response to abuse varies, but in general there is a defensive withdrawal, because children simply cannot physically or verbally defend themselves against abuse. This psychological withdrawal is a protective mechanism that has physiological correlates. Because it occurs in an early stage of the human developmental process, it tends to interfere with that process. The result is often a spiralling pattern of self-reinforcing misery which is extremely difficult to penetrate, much less cure.

The abused child's development is interrupted and shaped by their abuse, and even when the abuse ends, the defensive reactions tend to persist. This is where the problem of illusion becomes most intense, because what this process makes clear is that the child is driven by abuse into an illusory world of one kind or another, in which the feeling of being abused becomes the basis for much of their mind and life, even when the abuse itself is absent. The child, and the adult the child grows into, is shaped by the persistence of these internal patterns when their cause is no longer present. Thus, to look upon child abuse as a simple cause and effect system is foolhardy and unable to deal with the reality of how these illusions come about, and how they can be alleviated.

A good deal of my ideas on acausal synchronicity originally  came about from observing and taking care of young children. One thing I observed about children is that they do not have much of a concept of cause and effect, and they do not respond to adults who think that's how they operate, or how the world operates. Adults, unfortunately, tend to see the world as a series of causes and effects, and they think that if they act in a certain way, it will cause children to respond effectively, as if that's what children are - an effect of some series of causes. Adults who care for children - and by that I mean parents and other family members, as well as teachers and caregivers - are constantly trying to get children to behave to act in a manner they want. To induce this behavior, adults use various methods which amount to simplistic cause and effect mechanisms. The most common are reward and punishment. The adult either promises a reward of some kind, or threatens a punishment. The most common kind of child abuse occurs when the punishment is excessive, which generally happens because punishment itself is a pretty ineffective means for producing the kind of effects it seeks to produce, and persisting in punishment as a method often escalates into a pattern of abuse that is very difficult to break. The more one punishes the child, the more aberrant the child becomes, and the more one persists in the punishment cycle, the worse the situation gets.

But the reward cycle is also ineffective, generally speaking. It doesn't actually help the child to be led along by a series of carrots and sticks. A child who is led to think that rewards are the point of human behavior becomes just as deluded in their own way as the child who is raised through punishment and the threat thereof. Both are actually forms of abuse, in that they interrupt the genuine process of human development, and create illusory and harmful patterns of mind and life which persist well beyond children and into adulthood, producing frustrated and unhappy people who can't easily figure out where they went wrong, because the patterns they enact had no conceptual content to them originally, and the original impetus for them is no longer present. They are responding to memories, and memories are not what they seem, and often do not even accurately reflect the past, but are literally re-created by the child (and the adult the child grows into) through an imaginative process that becomes embedded in the psyche as a self-perpetuating organism that no longer depends on abuse itself.

In the psychological sense, the child (and even the adult) re-enacts the abuse they received, even when the abuser is no longer present. This is why children who have been abused tend to be self-destructive. They tend to take on the role of their own abuser, and often as a result become abusive themselves as they grow up. This is how abuse tends to replicate itself from generation to generation. As long as the process remains unconscious in us, its illusions are reinforced as "real", and cannot be broken. The process of healing from this cycle of abuse thus necessarily involves the breaking of these illusions. But since the primary form the illusion takes is one of cause and effect itself - the notion that past abuse has "caused" the child's present misery - no cause and effect approach to understanding it can alleviate it, but will in fact only reinforce it. Instead, a different kind of approach is necessary.

The problem with both reward and punishment methodologies is that they try to enforce a notion of cause and effect on the life of a child, who simply does not operate by such logic and its process.  The child lives in a world in which cause and effect is hardly noticed. Instead, the child lives by direct experience, sensation, intimacy, and relationship. That is what they respond to, what is real to them. The adult who is trying to get them to behave by introducing rewards and punishments is not relating to the child as they are, but trying to impose a system of thought upon them which is unnatural to them. The child is actually confused by this, and doesn't know what to do. What they really want is not rewards, but love, and if the only way they can get love is to do what the adult asks them, they will try to do that. But it introduces a conceptual problem to them, in that they don't really know what the adult wants, and they cannot figure out how to respond properly. They become frustrated and upset, and if the adult continues to operate by cause and effect notions of punishment and reward, the situation will only get worse.

The reality is that children respond to love, not rewards. They respond to attention itself, regardless of its form. If that attention takes the form of punishment and reward, they will respond to that, even if it doesn't make real sense to them, because they will take love in whatever form it comes to them, even if it is distorted and delusional love. But obviously if that love is delusional, it will lead them to develop their own delusions about love and how to get it. The child learns, step by step, that love is something that comes about through cause and effect, and thus, the child learns to become as delusional as the adults who raised them. But none of this is actually what the child wants, and so they also become deeply frustrated, and grow up to be frustrated adults.

What I learned in the process of taking care of children is that they simply don't naturally respond to cause and effect, they actually respond best to simple companionship and love. If you are trying to get a child to behave in a certain way, you won't be able to produce the results you want from any particular cause. You can't even think that way if you want to relate to the child genuinely. Instead, the best results come from not trying to get results at all, but from simply being intelligently present with the child, loving them without expecting results, and enjoying them as they are. Children are remarkably plastic, and they tend to take on the qualities of what they are around. Therefore, the best way to care for children is to simply be happy and loving yourself, and they will naturally be the same.  Children tend to model adults, rather than to respond to them as causes which will produce results. This is one way in which the principle of "harmonization" occurs on the simple human level of life.

The problem with abused children is that they have become stuck in illusions which persist in their own minds as internal realities. The idea that we can "cure" them of their problems through cause and effect methods is one of the biggest mistakes we can make. It simply does not work that way. Unfortunately, too many treatment programs for abused children persist in using reward and punishment systems of psychological behavorial modification, and this only reinforces the nature of the original problem. It may have a limited success in producing "better" behavior, but the internal frustration and suffering of the child is actually reinforced.

Children are actually very smart, though not in the conceptual sense. They can spot adult bullshit very quickly, and they will react accordingly. They are not fooled by cause and effect approaches, by reward and punishment. They instinctively react to these manipulative techniques. Abused children are no different. They don't recognize all adults who are "helping" them as genuine sources of help. If the adult isn't approaching them out of real love and genuine companionship, they will reject the adult. Often, the adult blames the child for this, which again only reinforces the pattern of abuse.

The best "treatment" for abused children, therefore, is a simple human environment of love and acceptance, not punishment and reward. Children are like young plants who simply need the basic requirements of sunshine, nutrition, water, and fresh air. If you give them what they actually need, they will grow; if not, they won't. Abused children have a more difficult time making use of these things, however. They have internal illusions that prevent their "nutrient uptake", so to speak. They have been corrupted by adults who are fixated in cause and effect relationships, and that corruption has tainted the child and prevented their natural growth from occurring. The solution to this is not to further exacerbate the original problem by teaching them a more "effective" way to engage in cause and effect relationships, but to resort instead to an acausal, simple and loving relationship. They need to be restored to their natural relationship to things, which is not one of cause and effect, but of direct sensual enjoyment.

Even adults who have been abused as children - which in some respects includes all of us, in one way or another - are not helped much by delving into the causes of their problems, which usually boils down to finding some childhood memories of traumatic events or relationships that we can point to as the "cause" of our problems. This way of looking at things only reinforces the illusion of cause and effect however, which simply isn't how our psyche actually works. The more obsessed we become with rooting out the causes of our traumatized minds, the less able we actually are to deal with the real problem, which is the persistence of an illusion in our own minds in the present. The real problem is not in the past causes, but the present illusion which we re-enact in our unconscious and subconscious minds, unaware that we are doing so. We tend to blame those people or events who hurt us in the past, not recognizing that whatever truth there may be to that, we are the ones hurting ourselves in the present. We are re-enacting these past hurts in an almost ritualistic way in our own minds, keeping them alive and fresh and raw, and responding to the world as if the abuse were still going on, which it actually is in many respects, at least within our own psyche.

Freud was of course the major popularizer of this notion that our psychological problems have causes in early childhood trauma or abuse, and can be alleviated by effective "treatment". But Freud's method was a rather cold and austere one, an analytic process that tended to be disassociated from the real needs of the patient, and the results were not terribly impressive. There's a lot to criticize in his and many other psychological methods of analysis and treatment, but one of the primary problems is that of thinking of the process in cause and effect terms. Jung pointed this out when he admitted that he didn't think he'd ever actually cured a single patient. He observed that at some point in the treatment process, the individual just grew out of his old problems. It's not that he ever actually figured out and solved his problems, or that Jung's brilliance located the cause and removed it, it's that the patient simply was able to find the space to grow, and the old problem became obsolete. Jung used this insight to re-formulate his entire psychological approach to one of helping the patient to find the space to return to a process of natural growth, rather than one of cause and effect cures.

This is a critical insight in the "treatment" of anyone's problems, including that of abused children. One cannot actually cure these problems, or figure them out, or produce a particular effect through any series of causal methods. None of that actually works, however well-meaning it is. What needs to occur is that the child or adult needs to be restored to their own natural developmental process, which has been interrupted by the various cause and effect patterns which persist in their minds. They need to be restored to a present relationship to the world. They need to harmonize, so to speak, even with their own abusive past, and not view the past as a cause that has produced an effect, but as an illusion that cannot affect them in the present. They need to create the conditions in their own psyche which positively correlate with their own growth, which is not the result of a series of causes, but which is natural to them. They need to be open to love, and to actually give and receive love in the present. This is facilitated simply by being around people who give and receive love themselves, and are not looking to produce effects through some causal method. They don't even look upon love as a cause which will produce effects, but as a natural, inherent pattern of their own mind and life.

If love is withheld because some desired effect is not evident, it is turned into a cause, or the effect of a cause. When this happens, love collapses. It no longer has any real power, but is subject to manipulation and corruption. The mind then becomes disharmonious, and not only will that disharmony persist, it will spread. Those who wish to help children whose minds are disharmonious must themselves know how to harmonize with them. This will help children learn how to have harmonious minds, through the principle of synchronicity, not cause and effect. The method of "harmonizing with evil" is not merely an abstraction, it's a necessity. The admonition to "love our enemies" is the real principle of psychological treatment, not the location of some cause, some abuser or some series of abuses, which we think caused us to become disharmonious, and the countering of this cause with a series of counter-causes, aimed at producing a positive effect. All of that is part of the original problem, which was to depart from the acausal process of developmental growth. Returning to that acausal approach is what can genuinely help us, because it allows the psyche to grow out of its old problems, rather than to persist in trying to remove their cause. By concentrating on the supposed cause of our problems, the abuse or the abuser, we only become more deeply stuck. We need to let go of that illusion, and return ourselves to the present, where we can actually find the necessary love and strength to grow beyond our past.