On many occasions parents ask me questions like this:
- “When I finally got custody of my young daughter from my ex-wife, I discovered that she had been sexual abused by the ex’s boyfriend on several occasions. I’m heartbroken about this, and that she has to keep reliving it with each therapist.”
- “My son, Jason, is eight, and I made the decision to get legal custody of him, because my ex-wife had been neglecting him, and even yelled at him regularly. I’m finding it difficult to deal with the consequences of what she did to him.”
I see people who have been traumatized in every way you can think of, and many more besides. If I were to tell you some of the stories I’ve heard, you’d think I was exaggerating so preposterously that it wouldn’t be suitable even for a novel or movie.
After becoming intimately acquainted with the lives of thousands of traumatized people, I keep learning what I have written in many places: A child’s need for unconditional love—the real thing, without disappointment, irritation, or controlling—is as important to them as food and air. Without that love, their pain is intolerable and taints their perceptions and feelings about everything. Sure, they walk and talk and even look healthy in many cases, but it’s just a shell, a kind of waking death.
And I’ve learned that when a child is in significant pain—as evidenced by their behavior—there may be many peripheral responses running around, but at the center of the maelstrom is always the primary wound of not having a sufficient supply—including duration, quantity, and consistency—of Real Love.
But virtually never do we as a people recognize this central wound, because the professionals who have the responsibility for diagnosis and treatment were—and continue to be—similarly traumatized themselves. They were not unconditionally loved as children either, they are not loved as adults now, and as a result they don’t know that Real Love is even a possibility. In that condition, how could they possibly identify the lack of Real Love in a child? Impossible.
So the child bounces around from one therapist or physician or specialty practitioner or institution to another, eventually acquiring a list of diagnoses that is mind-numbing, confusing, and even crippling. I personally have seen children with one or more of the following, to name just a few: ADD and all its variants, autism in its ever-increasing spectrum, PTSD, abandonment issues, ODD, separation anxiety, dependent personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and on and on.
In every case, I have taught the parents how to love the child unconditionally. The first step is ALWAYS for the parents themselves to find people who can love them—the parents— unconditionally. Almost without variation they can find this only from people thoroughly trained to do this. If you are a parent, you simply cannot give what you don’t have yourself, including love. It is a prevalent and harmful myth that you can love yourself, but again, you can’t give what you don’t have, even to yourself. Self-acceptance is possible, but it’s not the same as self-love.
IF parents diligently and consistently follow the instructions they are given about finding and feeling love for themselves, and then love AND teach their children as described in the book Real Love in Parenting, I have NEVER seen an instance where the child did not improve or even experience complete disappearance of their symptoms. Really, but it takes quite the commitment on the part of the parents.
Last year a tall, muscular, twenty-year-old man emerged from a group of people near me, threw his arms around me, squeezed the breath out of me, and wept as he said, “Thank you.” Seeing the surprise and confusion in my eyes, he said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” When I admitted that I did not, he described how his mother had brought him to see me when he was about six years old. He was in a “special school” at the time, with the diagnoses of ADD, full-blown autism, dyslexia, and some kind of violent personality disorder, specific type not specified. He was on at least three medications.
I taught his mother how to find unconditional love from others, and then how to love her son and teach him to live in a much happier way. No, it wasn’t especially easy, but his sainted mother did not waiver in her commitment to do what was recommended. Within a few months the child’s behavior changed dramatically. No longer was he a problem at home or school. He lost the requisite behaviors to qualify for any of his previous diagnoses, including autism, and was placed in a “normal” school. When I saw him at age twenty, he was on his way to officer training school for the Marines, having graduated from high school with honors.
I was a surgeon for twenty years and worked in emergency rooms for six years. Occasionally I saw a child who was seriously ill, but whose diagnosis was not immediately apparent. I learned that we could spend days doing tests to exactly specify the diagnosis, during which time the child’s condition worsened, or we could begin by administering some obvious treatments that couldn’t hurt and statistically were likely to help.
I couldn’t count how many children became entirely well with this form of treatment before we arrived at the exact diagnosis, and this is also true with children in emotional or psychological pain. Before analyzing such children to death—to specify exactly how the wounds occurred—we can LOVE them, and they’ll begin to improve.
The lack of love is at the root of all the other problems anyway. Children respond to love like a drowning child responds to air. The response is miraculous. Parents have doubts only because they were not loved unconditionally themselves, and because they never saw it, it’s natural that they would doubt its existence. But what do we have to lose by trying it?
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