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A Ramble On...

...theories and ideas that...

well, just didn't work. They seemed logical...books were published about them, magazine articles were written explaining them to people who don't read books, and talk show hosts pontificated about them in front of people who don't read at all. Some were harmless (they were about cosmology or the origin of the universe) and some devastated families and individuals. All of them were wrong.

Let's take the easiest first. The Steady-State Universe...somewhere out there, in between the furthest stars, elements were being manufactured to keep the density of the expanding universe the same. The universe would be around forever, comfortable and secure. The theory was beautiful as well, mathematically symmetrical. The only trouble was that astronomical observation showed it was dead wrong - we have a neurotic universe that started with a nasty bang. Except that recently...but life goes on. and maybe someday we'll know for sure.

Then there was the schizophrenogenic mother. Remember her? She was too diffident and cold, and didn't hold her babies right, and that's why they freaked out in their early twenties and heard voices that weren't there. What incredible cruelty to tell the mother of a desperately ill son or daughter that their condition was her fault! R. D. Laing, on no evidence other than his thinking so, declared schizophrenia to be a sane reaction to an insane society (or family). All of this would be fixed by the talking cure (no medicine required). Patients got sicker, but perhaps that's because they didn't really want to change.

We require new drugs to pass tests of safety and effectiveness before they are tried on vast numbers of people, but there are no such tests for fashionable therapies. America is just beginning to awaken from the nightmare of recovered memory therapy. Unhappy and can't figure out why? You must have been molested as a child (and you forgot), or perhaps abused by all those Satanists in your family. How do we know? Books have been published, and their writers were on television, and it feels so good to have the "aha!" - the long awaited explanation of your pain. There were always a few things wrong with the theory. Child molesters have a high recidivism rate...they tend, on average, to keep doing what they do. It seems improbable that they'd molest once and not again. Then there were those unfortunate clients, truly incest victims, who remembered most clearly. Why didn't they forget? And what about those Satanists? Nobody ever said anything like: "Well, I used to do that black mass stuff, and, yeah, we ate a few babies, but it got boring, and now I'm into nude volleyball." Satanism can't be that much fun. SOMEBODY must have quit and talked about it.

Successful malpractice suits were the alarm clock that ended the bad dream. One therapist paid a judgment of a million dollars to a family she'd torn apart by convincing her young client that she'd been impregnated by her father and aborted with a coat-hanger. A couple of years after the family was ruined financially and emotionally devastated, the girl was shown to be a virgin. Other cases involved patients with good insurance coverage, virtual prisoners of therapists who convinced them that lethal Satanists were lurking just beyond the clinic walls. Horrified jurors were generous with retributory settlements.

The therapists woke up. If a client remembered abuse that would leave physical traces, and these traces did not exist, it might be dangerous to the therapist's financial health. So a substitute was quickly found that left most of the therapeutic structure in place, but exposed the practitioner to far less risk. That substitute is so-called covert, or emotional, incest.

What is covert (emotional) incest? Although its discoverers' books (there are several) warn (but provide no evidence) that it's just as damaging as physical abuse, actual definition remains elusive and elastic. The number of clients suffering from its aftereffects is potentially equal to the population.

One handout designed for substance abuse professionals (who are not required to have any training in developmental psychology) condemned any discussion between parent and child of sexual topics (would that include the recent news from Washington?) as well as "seemingly accidental touching" (in the course of those full-body hugs that Bradshaw devotees are always giving, for example?) The handout warned that "rigid rules" about the dress of family members signaled this type of abuse, but did not explain exactly why or how. Do parents who "rigidly" insist that their sons eschew tattoos and skirts abuse their children?

Other writers claim that "excessive" emotional closeness of parent and child constitutes covert or emotional incest. A divorced mother who discussed her boyfriends, for example, with her adult daughter would be committing incest. According to this theory, a non-toxic Mom would spring the gentleman as a surprise step-father after the marriage ceremony. Should a teenager approach his mother or father for guidance about his sex life - and the parent not recoil in horror from the subject - incest would lurk beneath the couch on which they sat. Discreetly placing a marriage manual on the reference shelf is also incest; better to leave the whole subject to the school professionals. Cooking a meal together with a child, or going tandem to a movie on Saturday night is "spousifying" - only a step from incest if not the thing itself.

Of course, according to the theory, a victim of covert incest needs protracted therapy, as well as separation from the abusing parents. It's not the first time that parents have been blamed for children's ills - remember that schizophrenogenic mother! The only problem is that none of the above was ever proven. Somebody thought that certain activities were bad, and wrote a book about it which was promoted on a talk show; and it seemed to explain some people's unhappiness (at least for awhile), and so the theories must be true. Parents were bullied into silence, for who would speak out if accused of anything so vile.

Victimhood has become a source of pride, perhaps because we want credit for overcoming obstacles or need an excuse for not accomplishing as much in life as we had hoped. The domestic violence movement began by offering shelter and support to women who were in desperate danger, but it was not long before unhappy wives began intoning the mantra that emotional abuse was just as bad as physical. Yet there is one essential difference between emotional and physical abuse - if someone insults you, you needn't accept the hurt - you can laugh right in their face! If someone breaks your leg, you have no choice: you own that pain. And there is a relation between emotional and physical abuse - each act of physical abuse contains emotional abuse within it. Incest, real incest, is horrible, a perversion and betrayal, but definining other behaviors as incest does not make them so.

Beyond that satisfying moment of "aha!" what happens to the client, who came seeking relief from pain and "learned" that his pain was a result of toxic parenting or covert incest or some other nastiness for which he/she was not responsible? What of the client's depression, which might be helped by medication - except that the therapist says it would be "bad" and totally unnecessary, since all that's really needed is the courage to heal (and years of therapy)? What of the problems in love and work relationships that might be resolved by concentration on the "now" instead of "way back then."? How much does it cost the client to cut loose from family support? Suppose there were some other reason for the pain!

Someday we will look back and wonder how people ever believed the things they do, just as we wonder today why witches were burned in Massachusetts. Someday some other unproved theory will win the same unthinking acceptance once given to recovered memories of child sexual abuse. The danger is real - the traps are being set. But we can avoid becoming victims. Only ask why! Why did this truth, if truth it is, escape discovery throughout all previous history? Why should we believe what we are told? And never, never be afraid, even in the face of the most slick and persuasive explanation, to admit that fifty thousand years after the first Neanderthal used thought to help him find his food, there still exist dark, secret places in our minds where our conundrums - which were his conundrums, too - cry out for answers that are still unknown.

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