Language as traumatic for the child.
In the earlier blog I talked about trauma and psychotherapy with the child. When parents bring their child in they often think that their child’s suffering must be connected to a trauma, which is typically understood as ‘accidental.’ If trauma is ‘accidental,’ it would imply that it can be avoided, and that there are some children who can escape it. However, trauma is 'structural.' This means that also children who have not suffered an ‘accidental’ trauma can sometimes get stuck, and might at times benefit from psychotherapeutic work.
Indeed, one can say that entering into language for a child is puzzling, even traumatic. Language is at first completely incomprehensible to the child and full of equivocations. The words of adults are for the child full of impasses and ambiguities that cannot be resolved, and the affectif charge often adds anoteher puzzling dimension. The child's attempt to make sense of this, or to question the adult can be complex, puzzling, and lead to a cascade of mutual misunderstandings between parent and child. Parents often think that communication is straightforward: a word is a word and means a thing, and they might gloss over the fundamental dimension of misunderstanding that is structural to human interaction. Often the implicit question goes unnoticed. In my work with children and parents it is crucial for me to explore what parts of language might be puzzling the child to the extent that it gets in the way of his or her development. And what might be the implicit questions that are connected with this piece of language which are not being heard.
A little girl yells in a bout of frustration, angry at her mom: this is my house, leave my house, leave me alone. These words shock and hurt the mother: They are the exact repetition of the words her father had used when the couple was going through a divorce but still living together in difficult circumstances. The mother’s affective response to these words was one of pain, sadness, feeling rejected by her daughter. She took the words literally as a real desire of the little girl really for her mother to leave her. This lead to a response of the mother moving away from the child, leaving the child feeling abandoned, in despair, clinging to the leg of her mother, who became increasingly frustrated with the apparently illogical behavior of the child.
It is clear that those strong words the girl heard spoken by her father at age 2, 5 had a big impact. The threat of her mother being sent out of the house must have been a scary, but maybe even fascinating thought –leaving her alone with her daddy. In her anger with her mother, she expressed the same movement of rejection, she had seen her dad express to her mom. However, although she spoke those words, she was clinging to her mother’s leg, clearly not wanting her mother to go. One could think that maybe the example of her dad being angry with her mom was the only model she had, and that was how she expressed her anger. But there might be more at stake. We might see that expressing them in a moment of anger to her mother also implies an expression of puzzlement with those words. It might be a question regarding their parents’ relationship ending, and wondering about their fights, and about her place in this story. Are the fights between her and the mother also going to end in her mother leaving her? Would her dad ever say such a thing to her, if he would get mad at her? When she yells this at her mom, could it mean: Dad was right to send you out of the house. I wish I could just be with him, and not have to bother with you. At dad’s house batteries never die…’
In my work with parents I hope that they can start to see that what their child says can have many layers to it, it is not one dimensional. When a relationship is stuck or a child is stuck, and the parent does not understand the child, or might be stuck in a limited understanding of the child, psychotherapeutic work can help start exploring a different approach that might open up the relationship between the parent and the child, or might help the child get unstuck.
In my work with the young child I help the child in the process of making sense of the enigmatic language of the adults that surround him or her, and I offer him a place where he can start to find his own place in the for him possibly confusing world of language.
To schedule an appointment, call An at (530) 321-2970