(Note: This is Part 3 in a 3 part series covering Hard Versus Soft anarchism, the doctrine of Relationalism, and movement toward the Sensitive Society. This is my attempt to professionally reconcile the underlying truth of psychological findings with voluntaryist anarchism.)
“The evolution of culture is ultimately determined by the amount of love, understanding and freedom experienced by its children…Every abandonment, every betrayal, every hateful act towards children returns tenfold a few decades later upon the historical stage, while every empathic act that helps a child become what he or she wants to become, every expression of love toward children heals society and moves it in unexpected, wondrous new directions.”
As children, some of our parents inadvertently betrayed us.
They smothered us—suffocated our emotional expressiveness. Our feelings were subdued, dimmed until nearly blotted out. We were ridiculed, shamed, or routinely hit. We were hardly allowed to feel, to truly experience life, or explore our environments with security and freedom. We were dissuaded from being kids. Our emotional sensitivity and curiosity were methodically amputated.
This culling of our emotional selves has led to the creation of an antiseptic and cold society where many of us now have difficulty navigating relationships and pursuing love.
This happened not because our parents were necessarily evil, but because our culture embraced an anti-child mentality, which has elevated emotional sterility above everything. This prejudice and nastiness toward children and their inner lives has rightly been called “childism” by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl.
Childism has been factually expressed in the cultural agreement that children can be condescended to, talked down to, hit, controlled, manipulated, coerced, humiliated, on and on ad nauseum.
A Toca Boca Magazine articulated what it should be: “Childism is the radical notion that kids need to be respected as human beings. It states that despite differences in size, experience and power, adults and children are inherently of equal worth, and that kids’ perspectives and experiences should thus be considered on the same merits as those of adults.”
But in our culture, children are not treated as equal to adults as we experienced first hand. They are often treated horribly. Psychotherapist Alice Miller expressed how this disrespect for children manifests from one generation to the next:
“Children who are beaten will in turn give beatings, those who are intimidated will be intimidating, those who are humiliated will impose humiliation, and those whose souls are murdered will murder.”
What Have Parents Done; Intergenerational Echoing
Parents who reenact this vicious cycle of childist torment often follow culturally standardized ways of treating children. And they also employ emotionally injurious language when communicating.
When we were young, they told us to go to our rooms when we “misbehaved.” But they said much worse things: “If you keep crying, I will give you something to cry about,” or “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.” And threats like this: “Shut up. Do you want a spanking? You are annoying mommy and daddy.”
We responded by expressing anger or hatred. We would wail, shake our heads, and stamp about in uproarious agitation. But instead of letting us vent, our parents did everything in their power to punish us and squash our desire to exist as small human beings. And when worse came to worse, they just beat the emotion out of us.
In doing so, they damaged our internal regulation processes and offset our ability to cry, laugh, become livid, or love in healthy ways. They inflicted deep wounds that have stayed with us into adulthood, which has caused us trouble handling our intimate affairs.
These are a couple reasons why many of us are emotionally repressed or aggressive, why we are afraid to share aspects of ourselves with the people we love, and why we sometimes have no clue what we are feeling and what it means. It is the reason men often focus on masculinity and emotional denial, and why we see empathy and emotional sharing as weakness. It is why woman can become easily volatile or overly emote.
A Psychology Today article explored how early childhood experiences might bring this about in relationships:
“They (men) may experience an irresistible need to emotionally distance themselves from their wives whenever their partner exhibits the kind of behavior they can’t help but identify with their own parents‘ disapproval and rejection.”
It is this type of intergenerational echo that colors all future relationships, and what has also given the current world its violent and unstable character.
Ending Childism Starts with Us
In order to help mold society into something peaceful and emotionally salient, we all must be willing to let our children grow and feel. We cannot stop them from loving, venting, or raging as this causes a host of psychological problems.
We have to see our own prejudice and hatred toward our children, and start to put it under control, realize where it stems from. We have to grasp why we behave in the manner we do. This means we must come to terms with our own childhood.
If we do not, we will not be able to help our children. Thus, we will fall into the cycle of enacting vengeance on them.
Emotionally Focused Therapy Helps People Rediscover their Bonds
But how do we know that allowing children to feel and be emotionally free will help?
There is a form of couples therapy called “Emotionally Focused Therapy,” which was developed by Sue Johnson. It is a therapy that teaches adults within relationships how to understand and communicate feelings.
A large body of research has given it scientific validity as a helpful form of therapy. In Marriage and family therapy: a practice-oriented approach, Linda Metcalf said that 70–75% of couples move from distress to recovery, and that 90% show significant improvements.
This occurs because couples learn how to deal with their tumultuous emotional worlds and combat their old emotional injuries. This information is of vital importance, because as parents, we must understand and work with the emotional lives of our children instead of punishing them.
This not only means we must change and think differently about what it means to parent, but we must aid in the manufacture of a new culture, one that focuses on allowing children to have the freedom to express their sentiments.
Currently, children have not been given basic human rights. They have been abandoned and left to rot in the boneyard of emotional deprivation.
The Sensitive Society: Soft Anarchism, Soft Parenting
This new culture will be a sensitive society.
It is one that focuses on care and love of children through the mechanisms of relationships. It takes the basic tenets of soft anarchism and applies them to parenting. That is, we maintain a softer, more caring attitude and do not attempt to lord over our children as authority figures. We do not repeat the sins of the past.
This position is not that much different from peaceful parenting, except that development of the relationship between parent and child is considered the central component. The moral vectors are seen as subsidiary or peripheral, because sensitivism Seis predicated on not causing dysfunction or underdevelopment in the child.
Therefore, it not only means for parents to stop hitting, but for parents to also be kinder and gentler to their children, to treat them as equals, and have an authentic bond with them. Love and connection is the focus. It is key, because we now know that ignoring or squelching children’s emotional selves causes wide-ranging harm.
This means the parent also understands the emotional injuries that childism causes, and thus rejects all variations of anti-emotional or vengeance-based parenting. In Alice Miller’s words, the poisonous pedagogy is totally rejected and children are treated as human beings who possess dignity and decency.
Psychohistorian Loyd DeMause was right: our culture and us as parents will reap great rewards if we start responding to our children with empathy and compassion. If we allow them to experience the total grandeur of life in any way that they choose, we will begin building a more sensitive society—and we will kill every ounce of meanness and hatred that we developed growing up under the rule of neglectful and hurtful childism.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”