It Helps to Know How Troubles Start

To understand and help our teenager's actions, we need to understand the feelings from his past and his present that push him and make him do what he does. Particularly do we need to understand his feelings about himself. These color his behavior more than anything else.

Almost always, liking or not liking oneself reaches back into childhood's first five or six years. Old feelings carried over in the unconscious mind crop out in adolescent feelings of selfbelittlement, in feelings of being unworthy and "bad." Many of these old feelings, then, join with feelings which are rising freshly at this time of life.

In the beginning, as far as the baby is concerned, everything has to do with his body. Your baby, like other babies, craved nothing so much as the body satisfactions that came with being cuddled and fed. Perhaps, though, 'way back when he was cradle size he was told, "No, no!" if he made hungry demands, since the belief then held that it was necessary to feed babies by the clock. If he cried, craving the body pleasure of feeding at an off-scheduled time, he was "bad." And so one of the first snapshot impressions he got of himself left a mind picture:

Baby is "bad" for wanting BODY PLEASURE.

Furthermore, because he failed to get the emotional nourishment he needed, baby grew angry. Perhaps he screamed, and he was scolded or in some fashion greeted with irritation. This made a second mind picture:

Baby is "bad" for BEING MAD.

A little while later when he was toilet-trained, again focus was on his body.

To a small child elimination is a great achievement. It is also a pleasurable act. Watch a baby having an evacuation. His whole body wriggles in delight. If we made him feel he was dirty, or if we imposed toilet training on him so early that he was uncomfortable trying to do what we asked before muscles and mind were quite ready, we took enjoyment away from him.

He wanted to go on performing his body functions for a while, at least until his muscles were readier, in more primitive and pleasurable fashion. So again anger arose. And again came the two pictures: baby is "bad" for wanting body pleasure of such a primitive nature, and baby is "bad" for being mad.

As he went on, other body pleasures may also have come into the field and were interfered with. Possibly his thumb was taken out of his mouth when sucking it felt good to him, or body explorations that felt pleasant were stopped in the belief that this was necessary.

Coupled with these things, you also had to do things that were unpleasant or painful when he was hurt or sick.

In his mind he may have put these various happenings together. As many children do, he may have added them up in his own fancy and in his own fashion to mean, quite mistakenly, that your ministrations were a kind of punishment.

Then the picture in his mind was blown up to enlarged dimensions. He was sure he was "bad."

He wanted his pleasure and he wanted to bring out his anger.

But he wanted also to avoid your displeasure.

He grew afraid of his body with its "bad" impulses. He might lose you if he showed his feelings. He was in a corner. He had to do something about himself.

By this time he wished to pattern himself after you and in a way be you. This offered him one "out." He gradually became a kind of mother or father to himself. Even when he was quite little, after you said "No, no!" to him, you may have noticed him going around shaking his head and saying "No, no!" to himself. He was being you even then. But he became more you as he grew. And here more trouble may have entered the scene.

In his imagined badness, he often fancied that you were more of an ogre than you were in reality. He became more condemnatory and stricter with himself than you ever were with him. And he often resented you mightily for what he imagined you were. He hated you soundly for it. This added itself to his former anger. And he hated himself for hating you.

He hated himself and he feared himself also. He feared what his hostility made him impulsively want to do. For inside of himself his anger was shaping primitive fantasies of revenge. Perhaps he was wishing to bite and devour or to soil and smear and use his body as a weapon in any way that he could. Then he blamed himself doubly for his feelings and more than ever felt himself "bad."

This much for the story of how it began--his feeling of not liking himself. Away back it started from two rugged roots: He was bad because of the push of his body for pleasure. He was bad because of the push of his hostile urges. The sense of not liking himself spread then apace with the branching out of imaginings as these grew from the two roots planted in his earliest years.

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