There is perhaps no greater priority in childhood
than to acquire an education:
it’s in the early years
that we have to push ourselves with special vigour
to learn the lessons, and acquire the experience,
this gonna help us to successfully manoeuvre
around the pitfalls of adult life.
By studying hard and intelligently,
we’ll have the best chance of avoiding a middle-age of
confusion and resignation, regret and sorrow.
困惑 无奈 后悔和痛苦
The clue to a successful adult life
– we’re repeatedly told – lies in childhood education.
It’s for this reason that we send weary children out into the world
on dark winter mornings with full rucksacks
in order to spend the day studying
coordinate geometry and indefinite articles,
the social impact of religious and economic changes under Edward VI
and the place of Aristotle’s philosophy in Dante’s Inferno.
But there is one very striking detail to note in our approach.
The one subject that almost certainly has the most to teach us
in terms of its capacity to help us skirt adult dangers
and guide us to fulfilment,
the subject that far more than any other
has the decisive power to liberate us,
this subject is not taught
in any school or college anywhere on the planet.
A further irony is that this unstudied subject
is one that we nevertheless live through every day of our early years,
it is part of our palpable experience,
unfolding all around us,
as invisible as air and as hard to touch as time.
The missing subject is, of course, our childhood itself.
We can sum up its importance like this:
our chances of leading a fulfilled adult life
depend overwhelmingly on our knowledge of,
and engagement with, the nature of our own childhoods,
because it is in this period
that the dominant share of our adult identity is being moulded
and our characteristic expectations and responses set.
We will spend some 25,000 hours
in the company of our parents by the age of eighteen,
a span which ends up determining
how we think of relationships and of sex,
how we approach work, ambition and success,
what we think of ourselves
(especially whether we can like or must abhor who we are),
what we should assume of strangers and friends
and how much happiness we believe we deserve
and could plausibly attain.
and without anyone necessarily having meant ill,
our childhoods will have been, to put it nicely, complicated.
The expectations that will have formed in those years
about who we are, what relationships can be like
and what the world might want to give us
will have been marked by a range of what could be termed ‘distortions’
– departures from reality and an ideal of mental health and maturity.
Something or indeed many things
will have gone slightly wrong
or developed in questionable directions –
leaving us in areas less than we might have been
and more scared and cowed than is practical.
We may, for example, have picked up a sense that
being sexual was incompatible with being a good person;
or that we had to lie about our interests in order to be loved.
We could have acquired an impression
that succeeding would incite the rivalry of a parent.
Or that we would need always to be funny and lighthearted
so as to buoy up a depressive adult we adored but feared for.
From our experiences,
we will then acquire expectations,
or internal ‘scripts’ and patterns of behaviour
that we play out unknowingly across adulthood.
Certain key people didn’t take us seriously back then:
now we tend to believe(but don’t notice ourselves believing)
that no one can.
We needed to try to fix an adult on whom we depended:
now we are drawn
(but don’t realise we are drawn)
to rescuing all those that we love.
We admired a parent who didn’t care much for us:
now we repeatedly (but unconsciously)
throw ourselves at distant and indifferent candidates.
One of the problems of our childhoods is
that they are usually surrounded by a misleading implication
that they might have been sane.
What goes on in the kitchen and in the car,
on holidays and in the bedroom
can seem beyond remark or reflection.
For a long time, we have nothing to compare our life against.
It’s just reality in our eyes,
rather than a very peculiar desperately harmful version of it
filled with unique slants and outright dangers.
For many years, it can seem almost normal
that dad lies slumped in his chair in quiet despair,
that mum is often crying
or that we’ve been labelled the unworthy one.
It can seem normal that every challenge is a catastrophe
or that every hope is destroyed by cynicism.
There’s nothing to alert us to the oddity of
a seven year old having to cheer up a parent
because of the difficulties of her relationship with the other parent.
Unfortunately, the last thing that the oddest parents will ever tell you
is that they are odd.
the most bizzare adults
are most heavily invested in thinking of themselves,
and being known to others as normal.
It’s in the nature of madness
to strive very hard not to be thought about.
This drift towards unthinking normalisation
is compounded by children’s natural urge
to think well of their parents,
even at the cost of looking after their own interests.
It is always – strangely – preferable for a child
to think of themselves as unworthy and deficient
than to acknowledge their parent as unstable and unfair.
The legacy of a difficult childhood
by which one really means a typical childhood –
– 以一个不同于他人的童年来说 –
spreads into every corner of adult life.
For decades, it can seem as though unhappiness and grief
must be the norm.
It may take until a person is deep into adulthood,
and might have messed up their career substantially
or gone through a string of frustrating relationships,
that they may become able to think about the connection
between what happened to them in the past
and how they are living as grown ups.
Slowly, they may see the debt
that their habit of trying fix their adult lovers
owes to a dynamic with an alcoholic mother.
Or over many hours of discussion,
they may realise that there need be no conflict
between being successful and being a good person –
contrary to what a disappointed father had once imputed.
The focus of present education
lies in understanding the outer world.
The system tells us
that we will finally and optimally have succeeded
when we grasp the laws of the universe and the history of humanity.
But in order properly to thrive,
we will also need to know something far closer to home.
Without a proper understanding of childhood,
it won’t matter how many fortunes we have made,
how stellar our reputation
or outwardly cheerful our families,
we will be doomed to founder on the rocks of
our own psychological complexities;
we will probably be sunk by
anxiety, a lack of trust, some kind of dread,
焦虑 缺乏信任 某种恐惧
paranoia, rage and self-loathing,
those widespread legacies of misunderstood childhoods.
Well meaning people sometimes wonder,
with considerable hope,
if Sigmund Freud has not after all
by now been proved ‘wrong’.
The tricky and humiliating answer is that no,
he never actually will be
in the substance of his insight.
Freud’s eternal contribution has been to alert us to the many ways
in which adult emotional lives sit on top of childhood experiences
– and how we are made sick by not knowing our own histories.
In a saner world, we would be left in no doubt
– and even partially alerted while we were living through them –
– 甚至在我们经受这些时也会略有所觉 –
that our childhoods hold the secrets to our identities.
We would know that the one subject we need to excel
at above all is one not yet flagged up by the school system
the subject called ‘My Childhood’,
and the sign that we have graduated in the topic with honours
is when at last we can know and think non-defensively
about how we are (in small ways and large)
a little bit mad,
and what exactly in the distant past
might have made us so.
Our book What Is Psychotherapy
tells us exactly what going through therapy is like
and why it is so important.
To find out more, follow the link on your screen now.
There is perhaps no greater priority in childhood