This article is inspired by a fellow PGAL subscriber, who thought the lessons from a book titled, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog were applicable for PGAL, because PGAL focuses so much on the importance of building community. This book shares stories from a world renowned child psychiatrist and explains what traumatized children can teach us about loss, love, and healing.
Bruce Perry, the author and psychologist, explains that children need love from an early age and if they don’t receive it, they can actually die and if not, be severely handicapped throughout their entire life. Literally, kids can “fail to thrive” and experience symptoms similar to aspergers, stunted growth, smaller brains, and severe emotional problems that manifest as ADD, depression, lower intelligence, and anxiety. This is caused by an overload of the stress systems in the brain.
The crux of this book is threefold
- No matter the age of the person, the steps to healing tend to resemble what they didn’t receive in their childhood. The author describes much older boys needing to be cuddled and soothed, because they never experienced it as new born infants, and how it allowed their brains to begin developing again. The science behind it is astounding.
- Not everyone has the same emotional states and some children are more sensitive than others. An event that from an adults perspective may seem harmless may be extremely traumatic for a child. This is why adults should always ask the important questions (see this article).
- People don’t think their way into healing, they are loved and accepted into healing and require a support network of people who allow a person to be vulnerable and loved unconditionally. Medication, although often needed and in no way shameful or unnecessary, can often mask the root cause of the problem.
As you will see, these are also issues for everyone, particularly in modern society.
Why is this so important?
Parents or authority figures often double down and punish more severely the older a child gets, because they need to “grow up,” which often makes matters worse and parents aren’t able to comprehend and feel like failures.
The other reason this is so important is the older someone gets, the harder it is to build community. As society becomes more specialized and people get married older and less often, authentic community becomes increasingly difficult to build and maintain. People crave community like oxygen, but unlike oxygen deprivation, the effects of community deprivation slowly creep into your life. The author sums this up extremely well:
For countless generations humans lived in small groups made up of 40 to 150 people, most of whom were closely related to each other and lived communally. As late as the year 1500, the average family group in Europe consisted of roughly twenty people whose lives were intimately connected on a daily basis. But by 1850 that number was down to 10 living in close proximity, and in 1960 the number was just five. In the year 2000 the average size of a household was less than four and a shocking 26 percent of Americans live alone.
As technology has advanced, we have gotten farther and farther away from the environment for which evolution shaped us. The world we live in now is biologically disrespectful; it does not take into account many of our most basic human needs and often pulls us away from healthy activities and toward those that are harmful. My field, unfortunately, has been part of that trend.
For years mental health professionals taught people that they could be psychologically healthy without social support, that “unless you love yourself, no one else will love you.” Women were told that they didn’t need men and vice versa. People without any relationships were believed to be as healthy as those who had many. These ideas contradict the fundamental biology of the human species. We are social mammals and could never have survived without deeply interconnected and interdependent human contact. The truth is, you cannot love your unless you have been loved and are loved. The capacity to love cannot be built in isolation.
In a society where the majority are suffering from depression, anxiety, ADD, or something else, it is time we begin to talk about building community the way we talk about building our muscles.