THE WIRE MONKEYS AMONGST US
In Harry Harlow’s horrific experiments with monkeys and “wire-mothers,” he demonstrated the permanent damage done by the absence of a healthy emotional bond with one’s caregiver.
And my life experience not only affirms the permanent damage, it also demonstrates that a care-giver bond based on severely restricted, conditional love continues to inflict damage through childhood and adolescence. Carrying right on into adulthood.
Men and women with types of personality disorders that manifest in cruelty and selfishness raise children who are emotionally wounded and shame-based AND who struggle to navigate the world because they lack the nurturing that enables them to engage in the give and take of love in relationships.
Parents who have personality disorders that cause them to lack empathy, withhold love from their children, and “shower” them with passive-aggressive cruelty are loosely similar to Harlow’s “wire mothers,” as they leave their children deeply insecure, afraid, anxious, socially avoidant, unable to self-soothe, and despondent.
Joan Crawford provided a prime example of just such a parent, as portrayed in “Mommie Dearest”
“No… wire… hangers. What’s wire hangers doing in this closet when I told you: no wire hangers EVER?”
“Oh, you lost again.”
“It’s not fair. You’re bigger than I am, it’s not fair to win twice.”
“AH, but nobody ever said life was fair, Tina. I’m bigger and I’m faster. I will always beat you.”
At 51, I am still recovering from my own “wire-monkey” experience that has plagued nearly every relationship in my life in some fashion. Some in very devastating ways, for the other person and/or for me. Until I began learning a healthy, spiritually fit way to interact with other people in this world through years of AA, cognitive therapy, and attachment theory-based therapy, my life was one disaster after another.
In conjunction with learning how to bond and have healthy relationships, I am also learning to stop blaming the “wire-monkeys”,” as their behavior was driven by their sickness, not malice aforethought.
Forgiveness is essential. And I have forgiven. But not forgotten. Each day, some more intense than others, I get painful reminders of their “sins” as old feelings and thought/behavior patterns resurface, threatening to cause a relapse with my Bipolar Disorder, plunging me into another downward spiral.
While the damage is permanent, and the challenge ongoing, one can still learn to thrive. It’s like being an emotional amputee. The limb never grows back, but there are great prosthetics to be had. And life can be very good.
One day at a time, by the grace of God, I am no longer suffering like Harlow’s monkeys. I am thriving!