Search This Blog

Friday, November 13, 2009

Imprinting Fear and Imposing Punishment

I cannot overstate what I am about to write here. Aside from your all encompassing ego, fear and punishment are the greatest barriers to achieving any kind of useful communication or healthy relationships. In fact, your fears will work hard to destroy the process. It will happen if you don't recognize it. And baby, it happens all the time.

Think of it like this. We have all seen animals, dogs and horses come to mind, that behave in odd ways. The great D. Wayne Lucas (thoroughbred horse racing trainer) says that as juveniles-some horses act out or were improperly "imprinted." They rear at the starting gate, get into race trouble, or some times they find a way to lose. Very often that behavior never changes. So what does he mean by "imprinting?"

Imprinting is a reference to the psychological memory of the horse. And don't think for a second that only applies to horses.

As children, we are taught very much like animals by our parents. When we are good, we are showered with love and kindness. If we do not meet our parents' expectations we are disciplined or punished. Punishment does not feel good and it comes at varying levels. At the low range, it might be as simple as asking us to do something over or behave differently in some firm sort of way. At the other extreme, we may be subjected to actual physical abuse and unfortunately that sometimes can lead to serious injury or death.

It is the seriousness of our punishment that we receive as children that is imprinted on us.

Some 97% of all prison inmates report being abused as children. Serious and damaging abuse. And yet, we all accept that abuse is not an excuse for a life of crime, don't we?

Let's examine some common punishments. There are the soft non threatening methods, such as asking a child to do something over. There are the more serious forms of punishment. Scolding, belittling, calling children names, lazy and worthless. Comparing their behavior to the good siblings, the "successful" ones. Public shame and embarrassment in front of others. Abandonment and rejection. Isolation. Grounding. Perhaps it manifests itself in anger, and angry scoldings are coupled with physical pain. Spankings, using belts, cords, or coat hangers are meted out. Sometimes we are slapped. Sometimes we are burned or locked into closets. Sometimes this abuse is so severe that it is carried out in a regular or ritualized fashion. Some children are subjected to sexual abuse with no escape.

Punishment then becomes key to our imprinting. We are imprinted with psychological and emotional pain when we "act" badly. And we learn quickly to avoid pain and punishment. In fact we will go to tremendous lengths to avoid feeling that pain. We have been imprinted that punishment is bad. We never forget. And just like that young horse, those fears that led to our punishment get pushed into the subconscious for the rest of our lives. We are afraid that all of those nasty things that our parents or teachers taught us were true. We don't want others to see them. So we hide them. From everybody and ourselves. Yet we still act out.

So we march our imprinted selves out into the world with all of those hidden fears. We try to have relationships with others but they fail. We go to great lengths to avoid punishment. We lie, we cheat, we refuse to communicate, and we treat ourselves and others badly. We are as critical of others as our teachers were to us. We rationalize, justify, and reject responsibility. We judge and we laugh at people making them feel bad so that we can feel better. We are doing precisely what was taught to us. We fear punishment or criticism. And admitting, that we are all fear driven creatures, is fearful in itself. We don't want to expose ourselves and be condemned for that. Or be called whiners or babies.

But most often, what we never do-is get honest with ourselves. We fail to understand that all of those deep seated fears are causing us to not communicate, to withdraw. We refuse to self examine. We don't tell anyone about that stuff. But you know what? That never works, and ultimately, all that fear and frustration spill over. We get angry, hostile, and we think everyone else is behaving badly. We blame the ones we love. Very often, if not always- because of the imprinting we received. Our experience.

That is our baggage. And suppressing it or denying it's existence damages our relationships. We are doomed to keep repeating the same behavior over and over again until one day when we get conscious. We get the courage to accept that it is time to start examining ourselves instead of everyone else. If that day comes for you, it is a day of beauty and discovery.

We can begin to see how ritualized hatred and abuse can spawn somebody that commits rape or murder. We can begin to see why a child of incest or abuse does not trust men and has a series of failed relationships and divorce. We can see why a child that could never do anything right, someone that was labeled and scolded harshly, became angry and hostile. These things are not mysteries. They do not require your condemnation or hate. We don't have to hate these things together to understand them. Instead we work on repairing them.

Imprinting fear and avoiding punishment are real. They have great cause and effect in all of us- every day in our lives. Refusing to acknowledge fear will not make it better or cause it to go away. Or make your relationships better. It simply doesn't work that way.

There is only one solution. You must recognize how fear is manifesting itself in your relationships, behavior, and actions. Do you take it personally when someone cuts you off in traffic? Do you get angry when a mother refuses to take her screaming child out of an event where people are trying to listen? On an airplane? Do you get upset because your girlfriend refuses to discipline her children? Ultimately, it is your fear and thus your perceptions of those events that cause your emotional disturbance. It has nothing to do with anyone else. It never does.