An excerpt from Barbara Findeisen's upcoming book "First Impressions."
There are many explanations of what might drive an adult to kill a child: drugs, poverty, insanity, divorce. What is given scant support is the emotional pain of the perpetrator. Early abuse from the womb forward, which has never been dealt with, has the power to produce a blind killing rage. Perhaps because of our empathy for the child and our anger and shock, we are not able to see the pain of the persecutor.
Though there is statistical evidence linking childhood abuse with later adult violence, it is rarely seen as a major contributing factor in child abuse and severe neglect. I contend that it is the major contributor. Severely damaged children may grow into adults who seem to function. They grow up, go to school, have children, but their tentative hold on a carefully crafted reality leaves them forever at risk for a breakdown or an explosion of repressed, uncontrolled
emotions. The wholesale use of prescribed medication is to prevent such dangerous occasions, which is helpful, but masking symptoms may be confused with healing.
One only needs to review the case of Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who
murdered her five children when she was "off medication," to understand the temporary lock medications have on unresolved emotional pain. The media abounds with stories of violent acts committed by people who neglected their medication or who were given the "wrong dose" or "wrong
prescription." Such tales reinforce the medical and drug companies' importance and position as necessary and sole protectors of our safety and mental health. If medication might have saved Andrea Yates' children that sunny morning in Texas, I say, "Yes, by all means, take your medication." I would add, "please, seek therapy to heal the pain from your own wounds."
My position is that medications are a temporary solution to a very old problem but there are more lasting solutions to old pain. It can be remembered, re-experienced, and drained of emotional charges so it will not be acted out on innocent children. True, it requires more time, more compassion and patience. It also requires therapists who are not afraid of feelings, who have dealt with at least some of their own unresolved early pain. It requires courageous therapists and clients and a safe, supportive environment. For the most part, hospitals and institutions do not provide it.
Barbara Findeisen, MA, MFT, is president
of the STAR Foundation and director of the STAR Program . A graduate of Stanford University, Barbara has been in private practice since 1972. She is president of the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH) and is internationally recognized for her work in pre- and perinatal psychology and regressive psychotherapy.
This article appeared in the Fall 2002 IPA Newsletter.