Why do you pick up a baby who is crying? As you read these next two blogs, there are a few other important rules of development for you to consider that are relevant to this question.
- Excessive stress, trauma, or abuse will get individuals stuck at or regress to those earlier stages of development of those experiences.
- Developmental energy that has been denied or diverted will reassert itself at later stages.
- Resiliency allows for skipped, rushed, incomplete, stalled, regressed, or suppressed development to be re-stimulated in the organism.
- Satiation of developmental needs allows movement on to the next developmental challenge
Why do you pick up a baby who is crying? The baby is in distress over discomfort, hunger, being startled, and so forth. Babies in distress who are not attended to, slide into despair. You can hear the difference in their cry. Unaddressed or not responded to, the baby feels stress and in the extreme, may experience it as traumatic. Also stressful and potentially traumatic is neglect which is a subset of abuse.
Why do you pick up a baby who is crying? Because babies do not know how to self-soothe. You pick up the baby to soothe him or her so that he/she doesn’t go into despair, which ignites a whole set of other emotional and psychological issues potentially. (Starting to sound relevant for teenagers and others?).
Why do you pick up a baby who is crying? Because as you soothe the baby, the baby learns how to self-soothe. He/she eventually learns to rock him/herself gently the way you rock him/her. He/she eventually learns to caress him/herself around his/her face and body, the way you caress him/her. He/she eventually learns to murmur in the same tone (but in baby language) the gentle nurturing sounds that he/she has heard from you. Babies learn how to self-soothe by being soothed by loving caretakers. This is their developmental challenge in these early critical periods. Their developmental energy is oriented to get soothing and learn to self-soothe. Until this energy or need is satiated, they will continue to return to it. (Can you think of others who need to learn how self-soothe? How about everyone!).
Babies that are soothed learn and are modeled behaviors in these critical periods that they eventually use to soothe others as they grow older. (What did your teenagers learn or observe about self-soothing as babies?).
Babies that learn how to self-soothe become children, teenagers, and adults who know how to self-soothe and know how to soothe others.
Babies that DO NOT learn how to self-soothe become children, teenagers, and adults who DO NOT know how to self-soothe or soothe others. (Know any teenager…or adults that don’t know how to self-soothe? How do they do in life?).
Children who do not know how to self-soothe, will act out to gain the fourth cousin twice removed of nurturing- that is, negative attention. They take the negative attention because that is all they feel they can get. And you need to celebrate their acting out, because their acting out is a cry for help. The cry for help although the baby or child may not know it, is also a cry of hope. Babies that stop crying have lost hope. This can result in the failure to thrive syndrome. Children who stop acting out have also lost hope and may slide deeply into depression. The stress and perhaps, trauma of being neglected becomes pervasive. (Know any teenagers who crave negative attention? Know any teenagers who act out to gain attention? Know any teenagers who have lost hope in their lives?).
And why is this blog written for adults and parents dealing with teenagers? And others who may deal with adolescents with other compulsive and addictive self-destructive behaviors? And why might the principles from this blog be useful in interacting with, teaching, or parenting them… or perhaps if YOU are the someone with unhealthy behaviors?
Why? Because teenagers and adults who do not know how to self-soothe, will use alcohol, drugs, sex, food, self-injury, and any number of other dysfunctional behaviors in order to self-soothe. Their behavior may be called infantile and immature which is indicative of them getting stuck at or regressing to the pleasure-oriented egocentric stage of infancy and very early childhood. At these early stages, they had either no or minor capacity to get their needs met, and were dependent on grabbing self-indulgently or whining for adult’s giving them what they wanted. Their sense of self was singular and they didn’t readily consider anyone else’s needs… or past experiences or future consequences- NOW! At any age, they can lose hope. Whereas adults guide and compensate for their errors during childhood, as teenagers they can fall into patterns of short-term gratuitous or hedonistic behaviors that can be self-destructive. Long-term goals or dreams irrelevant as young children, can become further irrelevant with life experiences and views of hopelessness and helplessness in adolescence when they should start to be more realistic.
Teenagers and adults who do not know how to self-soothe, will get into a relationship with another- it could be you- the family member, friend, and/or professional, and demand that you always perfectly soothe them when they are in need. Or, they may fall in “love” to find someone to soothe them. And, if for some reason, you or the romantic love-of-their-life fail to soothe them when their distress spirals immediately into despair, they will lash out and punish you for your betrayal. This can be borderline personality disorder tendencies in action. This type of behavior can become endemic in problematic romantic relationships. Or, they- the teenagers or adults may not know how to soothe YOU or others effectively or appropriately. Other personality disorders may arise from the same issues.
Parents who do not know how to self-soothe will often overcompensate soothing for their children as they seek to prevent their children suffering the despair they experienced. They do this often despite their children not feeling the same despair. The consequence of this may be narcissistic and entitled (spoiled) children and teenagers who proceed with problems into a second generation- their own intimacy relationships. And perhaps, into a third generations with their own children. This can contribute to the development of another generation of addiction-prone individuals or people prone to unhealthy self-soothing behaviors.
Why do you pick up a baby who is crying? Because this is how they learn that in the big wide world, there is someone who cares that he/she is in distress.
Why do you pick up a baby who is crying? Because this is the fundamental behavior of all those wonderful attachment theories.
Why do some people advocate letting them “cry it out?” On a humorous note, I recall research that came out a few years ago, that the tone and pitch of a baby’s cry is designed to bug the heck out of us! Duh! That makes us want to get the baby not to cry of course. Some people advocate letting babies “cry it out” because they are focusing on a practical problem and focusing on the behavior itself. It’s a legitimate problem to be handled in any number of ways. But it needs to be handled so that babies and the children, teenagers, and adults they become can have secure attachment.
Why do you pick up a baby who is crying? Because a cry of discomfort also is a cry of need. If adults or parents don’t respond to the cry, the “cry it out” advocates are correct… the baby will stop crying. The baby will stop crying because beyond the cry being a cry of discomfort, it also becomes a cry of hope. When babies, children, teenagers, and adults lose hope, they don’t cry out anymore. Crying out, acting out, and other behaviors are the cries to caregivers (personal and professional) that need to be responded to.
This is how to understand this issue for parents, teachers, and other human services professionals… to people… to anyone! They get it. At the core, it’s still about attachment. Addiction including alcoholism and drug addiction, plus other unhealthy self-soothing behaviors can have many roots. Not the least of these are the attachment anxiety- the attachment despair one may feel from feeling insignificant, abandoned, and alone in the world. And from having felt that for years and decades since infancy and early childhood.
Four Key Things to Learn
Everyone- children and especially, teenagers becoming adults must learn four key things, which can be considered the direction of their developmental energy:
- They must learn how to be alone. As much as good people: boyfriends and girlfriends, friends, family, fellow 12-steppers, church members, and so forth can give support, there inevitably will be times when one is alone. Being alone is not intrinsically horrific, but can be quite wonderful if one is good with oneself. Be aware if your teenager is comfortable with being alone. This is not isolating oneself, but an ability to both be social and be alone at other times.
- They learn how to alone without being lonely. As stated, being alone can be great- a time to reflect, to consolidate, or to commune with one’s inner soul. However, some individuals struggle to be alone without being lonely. Loneliness happens. And, it can happen a lot with teenagers struggling with their identity while wanting to and trying to fit in among adolescent peer communities.
- They need to learn how to be lonely without getting desperate. As attachment anxiety (or attachment despair), trauma is re-triggered, and/or real and existential fears and anxieties amplify when alone and lonely, some individuals become desperate. How deeply does your teenager feel the loneliness? Does he or she go into an intense funk of sadness, anxiety- that is, despair versus upset? Upset is more tolerable and one knows that it is transitory rather than thinking it is inevitable and permanent.
- And most importantly since the cycle and sequence of this dynamic is often powerful and not readily amenable to conscious restriction or muting, they need to learn how to be desperate without being STUPID! In kinder language, they need to learn how to be desperate without making bad choices: using alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, spending, getting into and tolerating toxic relationships, or other destructive behaviors to self-soothe the intense emotional and psychic pain. It is not being alone, lonely, or desperate that makes life crazy and unmanageable. It is the bad choices made when desperate. Note that this is not teenagers making a mistake- even a really bad mistake, but them compulsively repeating a self-destructive PATTERN of bad mistakes. Or, repeating the mistakes despite knowing ahead of time from prior experiences that they are bad choices
Being able to not make bad choices is not the same as becoming able to make good choices. The inability or difficulty in making good choices is in a sense, a later life challenge- a later focus of the teenager’s personal process. It is the consequences of bad choices and prior bad choices that make someone’s (the teenager’s and his or her parents’) life crazy and out of control
How does someone become desperate and not make bad choices? There are only two ways for one to do this. First, is practice! Everyone, including the teenager must practice feeling the desperation and not make bad choices. Avoiding the desperation eventually fails to work. Essentially or to a large degree, alcohol, drugs, crazy romances, and other compulsive behaviors were attempts at avoiding feeling desperation. People need to perhaps not make good choices yet, but definitely not continue to date the needy, toxic, and/or erratic dramatic boyfriend or girlfriend, call ones dealer, go to corner liquor store, download some porn, or overeat. Teenagers, in particular must practice suffering through it. No fun and certainly, no magic. Suffer and survive. And then, suffer some more and still survive. Then do it again. However, how does anyone and especially a developmentally immature adolescent acquire the capacity to suffer through desperation? By being able to self-soothe. When in that place of anxiety, desperation, traumatic intensity, profound loneliness, or other psychic pit (whether intrinsic to adolescent development or situationally), the emotionally volatile teenager’s ability to self-soothe is key
Why do you pick up a baby who is crying? You pick up the baby to soothe him or her, to give the baby models of how to soothe others in all of their future including intimate relationships, and so that baby can learn to self-soothe. You pick up the baby to armor and empower him or her for the turmoils of life and relationships to come when baby will be alone, lonely, and desperate
Why do you pick up your baby who is crying? Not that baby, but THAT baby!
You- the adult or parent pick up the baby… the scared little boy… the overwhelmed little girl within yourself to soothe him or her. This may be you- the adult or parent providing the attachment figure “picking” up your inner child, but eventually. Eventually, it has to you who may have your own attachment challenges “picking” yourself up to soothe.
Why do you pick up a baby who is crying? You pick up that inner self- that baby within, so you don’t pick up only on the negativity of your teenager- focusing on only what is wrong or not perfect, your fear of being inadequate as a parent- on failing to protect your child or teenager as you were not protected… so you don’t pick a fight with the teenager. You pick up your feelings, so you don’t pick up the bottle of beer, the chocolate, the line of coke, the latest porn offering, the second serving, the Visa card…
That is why. Why, you pick up a baby who is crying. And why, we’re talking about babies to parents and adults invested in their teenagers! The work of how remains difficult and challenging. Hopefully, this perspective and these principles resonate with you- the parent or invested adult to empower more effective relationships and processing with teenagers. Give yourself a hug! More about attachment styles in the next blog and more about why some teenagers and adults repeatedly date jerks!