How Unloving Parents Generate Self-Hating Children – Free Ebook

(1) A central fact about early childhood 
is that babies are born into the world  

entirely at the mercy of others. They have 
no native strength, intelligence or utility,  

they cannot fight or complain, 
walk away or argue their case,  

their survival depends solely on their 
capacity to look up from their cots with vast,  

innocent, beautiful eyes and charm their 
parents into caring for them. It’s their  

power to attract love that ensures they will 
be fed and clothed, protected and kept alive.w

(2) In exchange for this nurture, young children 
readily offer their parents or caregivers  

unconditional admiration. They naturally adore 
and are boundlessly impressed by those who pick  

them up and bathe them, warm their milk and 
change their sheets. They are in awe at these  

giant people who know how to turn on a washing 
machine and kick a ball over a tree. There  

is – at this stage – no innate desire whatever 
to question or doubt figures of authority.

(3) Given what is at stake, it follows 
that small children are instinctively,  

hugely sensitive to how well they are doing at 
getting their admired protectors on their side.  

If they feel they are loved, they can relax 
into themselves and get on with the many other  

pressing priorities of early childhood: working 
out how to eat solids, figuring out what a plug  

socket is, how a button functions, what 
words are and how soap bubbles form.

(4) But if love is in more restricted supply, 
the picture grows a whole lot more complicated.  

There are childhoods in which, for a variety of 
reasons, parents fail to be charmed as they might  

be. They leave the baby to scream, they shout at 
one another, there might be violence and hysteria,  

lethargic despair and terror. The young child 
knows instinctively it is in grave danger,  

if the situation is not somehow corrected, in 
extremis, it may be left on a hillside to die.

(5) At this point, our biology initiates a 
desperate yet darkly logical process. The  

young child starts to try a lot harder. It 
redoubles its efforts to charm, to be good,  

to do what could be expected of it, 
to smile and to ingratiate itself.  

It wonders what may be wrong with itself to 
explain the parental disapproval and harm – and  

doesn’t feel any alternative but to search in 
its own character and behaviour for answers.

(6) At the same time, the child resists what 
might – from an adult perspective – seem like  

the obvious move: to get annoyed with and 
blame the adults in the vicinity who are  

not looking after it as they should. But 
such a bold thought does not belong to the  

defencelessness of the early years. We are in no 
position to mount a challenge to our protectors  

when we can hardly reach the door handle, 
let alone turn on a tap; we need to have  

our own front door key and bank account before 
cynicism is a realistic option. It is far more  

intuitive to wonder why we are horrid than to 
complain of being unfairly and unkindly treated.

(7) Small children therefore naturally turn 
injury done to them into dislike of themselves.  

They ask not so much ‘Why does my parent fail to 
care for me?’ as ‘How might I have failed this  

admirable person?’ They hate themselves rather 
than doubt those who should be protecting them,  

shame replaces anger. It feels, 
on balance, like the safer option.

(8) A vicious spiral of self- hatred then 
sets in. The unloved growing child wonders  

constantly about their faults. Their 
parent may be alcoholic, narcissistic,  

sadistic or depressed; they 
may never cook a proper meal  

or shout intemperately from their bedroom, 
but none of that matters in the slightest.  

The parent cannot be envisaged as anything other 
than substantially impressive. To explain the  

lack of love from the paragons of parenthood, 
it must be that the child is an awful person,  

they must be stupid and mean, selfish and slow, 
physically repulsive and irritating and shallow.

(9) As childhood gets left behind, 
much of this dynamic is forgotten.  

The adolescent and young adult overlooks exactly 
what went on, they cannot necessarily think  

clearly of the early years – and parental 
figures may be keen that they never do so.  

The former child can’t tell any more that their 
feeling of shame has specific origins, it can feel  

like something they might have been born with, a 
natural phenomenon, like bad weather or the flu.

(10) Liberation awaits us when we dare to 
take on board a highly implausible idea:  

that our self-hatred, far from being inevitable, 
is an internalisation of early deprivation  

and that far from needing to revere 
and admire those who denied us love,  

we are in a position to understand, to 
question, to be annoyed and to mourn what we  

did not receive. We are not so despicable after 
all, we’ve just – till now – lacked any better  

ideas to explain why we didn’t manage to charm 
those who should have loved us from the start.

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