I’ve become podcast crazed since a recent talk with a friend. I have a love of learning about what drives us as people to do the things we do and believe what we believe, and just finished listening to an episode of Hidden Brain entitled Creature Comforts. Besides learning the amazing and redemptive fact that, yes, there are other viable adults out there who still love their childhood blankets–and I now come out as one who would cuddle my favorite childhood blanket from my grandma if I didn’t think it might fall apart–I also learned about a guy named Harry Harlow.
Harry Harlow was an American psychologist who proved psychologists wrong who believed that the less touch a child received the better. Apparently the teaching of the time was that parental touching and comforting of infants and children would “ruin their moral fiber.”
My 50s era parents seemed to operate under the same belief that affection was unnecessary. I’d like to believe they were merely a decade or so behind the times, though the more likely scenario is that my siblings and I had a mother who didn’t appear to find us interesting once we learned to talk, and a father who was affectionate in what I’ll just refer to as Inappropriate Ways. (Ahem.)
The safe port in the storm of crazy that was my childhood was my maternal grandma, who made the lovely satiny yellow blanket for my fifth birthday. When I touch it the endorphins roll in and my heart says AHHH. It represents Safety. It represents Comfort.
Back to Harlow. Some of his experiments were ugly and created enemies. One example was when he showed the effects of isolation on baby monkeys, with only their rudimentary needs being met without affectionate interactions. I too was angry for those innocent monkeys when I heard this–especially when I realized I have long battled with the loss of hope and feeling of despair this horrible experiment built into them.
My early childhood experiences helped chisel the Lie into my bones that I’m of little consequence. After all, if I wasn’t worth the attention and affection from the mother who should have loved me, how much worth could I have? Why would I deserve to be treated with affection and respect by anyone?
I have a better idea at this point in my life of the struggles my mother had with her own moods and emotions and anger, that those things weren’t really about me. Oh, I’m still angry at times that Safety wasn’t written into my bones rather than Never-Safe. That Comforted wasn’t built in rather than Alone. But I’m working to let go of what wasn’t provided and learn to provide those things for myself.
Touch is a huge need for me, affectionate touch. I’m a hugger. I gladly receive hugs and I love to give hugs. In fact, it’s a bit of a joke with my adult children, how much I like to lean into them and hold on.
What will I do for myself today? I will remind myself that even if important others didn’t build into me Safety or Comfort I can allow those Lies to be erased from my bones. For me personally, I have a loving God who is always there for me, and I’m learning to be there for myself too. And as I practice being present and aware in my own life I can build my own Safety and Comfort.
The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: My beverage today is water and lots of it because it’s WARM!
Did you have someone let you down in the early days by withholding affectionate touch and along with that a sense of safety? How are you learning to be your own safe place?