The taboo of violence and the need for parental authority, Part 2

Violence is inherent to human condition. It is born of the frustration of our omnipotence, our vital energy. This violence that we want to restrain and ignore, has a price to be paid. The inevitable circulation of this violence means that if the parents do not take responsibility for it, it comes to the child who does not have the psychic means to contain it, in the form of rage first and then of aggression against himself. Self-injury is a very visible form, but there are also risky behaviors and the ideomotor slowing of depression. In this context, to show authority is to take responsibility for the violence and to discharge the child by offering him a framework that relieves him of his uneasiness, his physical feelings of unease.

The need for parental authority

It is precisely here that parental authority is necessary. You have to understand that there is a circulation of violence, if you refuse the responsibility that is yours in its sharing and its balance, too much violence will come out somewhere in the tantrums of your children that reflect the malaise where they are. Parental authority demands violence, if only in coercion. It is impossible to escape, and one must understand its necessity to assume it without guilt. Parental authority relieves the child of the responsibility of violence, and therefore of the guilt that is his in the fantasy of his omnipotent and destructive violence. This frees him from his guilt. The second effect is that he survives the frustration of his restrained anger. He gradually internalizes parental control and controls his frustrations and impulses. The framework that is thus defined for him helps him to structure himself.

Parents may have different reasons for refusing their responsibility for parental authority. Some may want to take a stand against the model of their own parents because they have abused their parental authority and have been excessively violent in their corrections. Sometimes these memories of children are also exaggerated, and they forget that this parental authority that they reject a posteriori allowed them to be the adults they are today. Sometimes parents are afraid of losing the love of their children if they are harsh. The bond between a child and his parents is so strong that even abused children (and I’m not talking about authority here, but abuse) love their parents. It is not a question of beating them, but of exercising reasonable violence to contain the child’s violence and to release him from his responsibility and the guilt that accompanies it.

A parent cannot be his child’s friend, he has a responsibility to assume that places him in a de facto unequal position. Finally, the last scenario concerns parents who feel that something is not working but choose to ignore it by ideology. The “positive parenting” that preaches the abandonment of parental authority and coercion is nonsense that does not respect the nature of the child. The young human is born immature with a natural need for guidance and education. Parental authority meets this need. You can see it in other mammals in the wild, and human being is a mammal among others. The ideal of a mature human being is a goal towards which to tend, if you forget the steps to climb or do not want to see them, you stay down.

Again, it is not a question of beating your children, but of correcting them. If you feel angry, or “go off the rails”, do not run wild on your children with the excuse of exercising parental authority. This is not to condone parental abuse either. If, as a parent, you are afraid of your own violence, count to three aloud. It will give you time to calm down and recover before you exercise your authority with reason. With time, the correction will not be necessary, counting will be enough. The goal is to allow the child to internalize this parental control. When the child grows up, an explanation can take over as long as acceptance of frustration is gained.

When the process goes on without too much trouble, around the age of 7, the child completes his individuation. He is no longer rationally the creator of the world and consequently his parents become truly mortal. Nightmares express the terror of their disappearance and with them the important libidinal investment he has placed in them and which would be a loss of vital energy of such importance that the survival of the child’s ego seems compromised. In my practice, I was able to note that if we explain to children that we are all energy and that the energy never disappears but changes, even if we do not know how and we cannot have any more contact with those we love, this simple explanation satisfies them enough for the nightmares to cease. The conviction that energy is not lost, even for the self, but just transformed, no longer threatens libidinal investment and the ego.

The taboo of violence and the need for parental authority

Violence is inherent to human condition. It is born of the frustration of our omnipotence, our vital energy. This violence that we want to restrain and ignore, has a price to be paid. The inevitable circulation of this violence means that if the parents do not take responsibility for it, it comes to the child who does not have the psychic means to contain it, in the form of rage first and then of aggression against himself. Self-injury is a very visible form, but there are also risky behaviors and the ideomotor slowing of depression.

The taboo of violence

Violence is natural and an integral part of our human condition, and it is a good thing. This violence is intrinsically linked to our life drive, to our vital energy, our libido. This violence we observe as something normal in animal behavior for its survival, to defend itself, to feed or even to reproduce. This violence we have been taught to hate and ignore in ourselves to be better socialized, forgetting that socialization is a domestication that aims to break this vital drive of the individual, to deny his omnipotence. There is a balance to be found here, and above all an acceptance which requires first to acknowledge it.

The omnipotence of the newborn exists in the fact that for him, he is not born into the world but it is the world that is born for him. There is no differentiation at the origin. He exists only through all his feelings and the world among them. When the need arises, if his mother is slow to answer, the child hallucinates the answer to his feeling of lack. For example, he will suck his thumb to hallucinate the breast or bottle that comes to him to satisfy his feelings of discomfort related to hunger. The most important thing for this little “social” being is especially the relationship. From birth, the child is taken into the relationship, in particular to his mother. The relationship is vital to the survival of the newborn who is made to overcome its absence by hallucination. From the gap between hallucination and reality, the baby gradually becomes aware of the existence of his mother outside of him. It is the lack and frustration of his omnipotence, tempered and acceptable, that will allow the child to do the psychic work that will gradually lead him to differentiate himself from his mother, to differentiate his ego and the other. Omnipotence also persists and safeguards the continuity of its being.

Nature is thus made that the hormonal game usually leads the mother to a “transient madness”, to a “primary maternal preoccupation” that makes her obsessed exclusively by her newborn and puts herself at his disposal. There is a subtle tuning where the mother puts herself at the level of her child, for example by amplifying the stimuli (voice, gesture, etc.) to share with him the pleasure experienced as a satisfactory extension of his omnipotence, “good”, but inevitably always a little “bad”, a gradient of feelings of discomfort that represents so many small touches of frustration to his omnipotence. This frustration brings him to the world by imposing on him something else by nature that the pleasure inherent to his omnipotence, the different that allows him to differentiate himself at the same time as his mother. Individuation is essentially a more or less successful frustration of omnipotence.

Now there are times when the hallucination is no longer enough, when the discomfort is so unbearable that it is exteriorized by cries and anger. When you hurt, you shout the same way, but you can have an action on the world to channel your omnipotence and remedy that pain in general. The baby cannot have direct action on the world to calm his discomfort, the frustration of his omnipotence is experienced as an attack on his ability to survive. Without the other, the child could not survive. When we look at an angry baby, we are impressed by the violence that he releases compared to his small person. It does not matter because a baby does not have the physical strength that could inflict damage around him, but imagine the same degree of rage in a teenager who has physical strength and no ability to bear the frustration, no control of oneself, one’s impulses … and you have a juvenile delinquent image.

When the baby has already started to form a maternal object outside of him, he has the feeling that his discomfort comes from the absence of his mother that he could not “create”, and so somehow that he destroyed. The anger of frustration turns into guilt for destroying the beloved mother. This negative image of the maternal object is a loss of the libido that the child has invested in it, a loss of a part of his vital energy, an attack on his survival. The violence born from the frustration of the omnipotence then becomes punitive and is turned against the self in a deflation, a depression. If this situation is temporary and the satisfactory answer arrives to put an end to the malaise, if the frustration is given by homeopathic dose, the child comes out with a consolidated omnipotence but also with a better control of his frustrations because he did experience that they will not destroy him.

In cases where the situation lasts too long, an “infantile depression” is structured with two possible outcomes depending on the duration. In the best case, the child grows up with “belly rage”, rebelling against any form of authority, and without graduation to his tantrums system on-off. Any frustration sounds like an attack on his survival. In the other case, the child has gone to the self-punitive stage. He sees himself as bad, bad because he feels this violence in him and is afraid of himself, afraid to destroy those he loves. He remains frozen in the slowing of depression, stopping himself from living in an attempt to protect those he loves. In both cases, children are afraid of their own violence, which they see through the prism of omnipotence as destructive and dangerous for their parents.

Next week, part two:

The need for parental authority

Christmas Blues & Family Stress


Christmas tree, decorations, gifts, the holiday atmosphere is synonymous with family reunions, fun and good mood.  Nevertheless, nostalgia, the anxious need to display a feigned and normal joy, the race for gifts and the end-of-year questioning mean that holidays can be stressful. Beyond its religious symbolism, Christmas confronts us with the relation to our own family whether it is near, geographically distant or simply absent. This period reminds people of their isolation and of their family dysfunctions. While everything sparkles around you, you have an exacerbated feeling of loneliness, of being out of step and wondering how to fight against this blow of blues.

When family bonds are lacking, the holidays exacerbate the feeling of loneliness.

The individual feels alone when he is with others, and when he is alone, he wants human contact. We resolve this dilemma using our loneliness to help us sort out the different bonds we weave in our life and nurture the affective bonds with those we love who make life worth living, despite our unconditional loneliness in the face of death. Our salvation goes through that hence the disappointment, depression even despair when it does not work. We do not exist alone, we need others to become individuals and it is only as an individual that we can love others.

In traditional societies, no one was ever alone, but the community had a scrutiny right over everything. We live in a society of individuals where the community and institutional framework tend to fade. Individual liberty aspires to self-sufficiency and absolute independence on the one hand, and to selective affinities, love and passion on the other, as never before in human history. That’s why the relationship to loneliness in our individualistic society is deeply ambiguous, both paradise and hell. We defend our private sphere in which no one has the right to intervene to protect our intimacy, but the price to pay is loneliness. Becoming aware of having made this choice can help to accept the counterpart.

The holiday’s family reunion revives family tensions.

The mutation of the family model means that the family has moved from a community group to a sum of individualities. Spousal relationships have become more fragile, but the relationships between parents / children and grandparents / grandchildren are highly invested. Intergenerational solidarity, help of all kinds, regular contacts are extremely dynamic and important in our daily lives. The family remains the best defense against loneliness.

That’s why for those who see their families once a year, there is the stress of seeing tensions emerge between political discussions and comparisons of respective successes. It’s the brother or sister with whom we have been in conflict for years, the parent who is always there to remind that one of his children still doesn’t have children or even a partner, the mother-in-law with whom we have always been in conflict, the mourning that punctuated everyone’s journey, etc. Christmas, in its dimension of gathering comes to crystallize all these sufferings and unspoken, and for some grown-up children to keep them in the certainty of being either the ugly duckling of the family, the one who is less successful than his eldest. Then for some, there is also the need to maintain appearances whatever the cost, sometimes at the price of a real somatization that makes it not just the feast that is indigestible. No one is unaware that the grievances that one tries to hide always end up coming out and often at the time of the dessert when the alcohol came to disinhibit most of the guests.

In which family we will choose to spend the holidays can become an insoluble puzzle sometimes that can bring strong tensions in couples. The necessity to communicate, to identify the needs and fears of each, can often help defuse tensions. Some couples have chosen to go elsewhere for holidays, a way to put the necessary distance and not having to choose at the risk of conflict with their parents. Or, we do not celebrate Christmas with family but Christmas with families: once with parents, once with grandparents, declinable as many times as there are parents in broken and reconstituted families. There is a kind of pluralization, of complexification of rites within families.

Mourning the ideal family is far from easy, but it is an essential psychic work or we risk seeing the same pains reappear at each holidays season. We must avoid having an idyllic vision that summarizes this period to the strengthening of family ties. There is an ambivalence between the joy of seeing the family and the difficulty of living together.

Nostalgia of an enchanted childhood memory

Affliction for some, happiness for others, Christmas is also the reactivation of emotional memories related to childhood. The Christmas spirit is also this ability to find your inner child’s soul, to marvel at the enchanted windows, or puppets that come alive. Nevertheless for some, Christmas trees and garlands can leave a feeling of sadness, even anxiety in the face of the collective hysteria and shopping frenzy. We want to relive this Christmas, whether lived or fantasized by the child we once were, and find our idealized family matrix.  The belief in Santa Claus and the imaginary function that it represents, the excitement of opening his gifts at the foot of the tree, all which is gone. Growing up forced each on of us to give up his beliefs, and the image of the good Santa Claus bringing presents is far from being that of the good protective father.

The end of the year is also a time of reflection on the past year. Choices and decisions that have been made or not, pleasant or unpleasant events that have occurred throughout the months are reviewed. Corresponding to the winter solstice when the light prevails over the darkness, it allows for a time of mourning and of hope for the new year still full of possibilities and promises.

Consumption and spiritual thirst

The loss of Christmas’ religious meaning could explain the increasing number of people affected by the Christmas blues. Everyone in his Christmas preparation thinks about gifts budget, recipes, decoration, exchange of checks, etc., but we forget the midnight mass. There is a loss of meaning and a real gap between what society proposes and the needs of the individual. At Christmas it’s difficult to get out of the surrounding materialism, of the consumerism that can’t fill our spiritual thirst. Debauchery of consumption makes us focus on everything we lack. Whether we are a believer or not, the sacred dimension of Christmas can be seen as an attempt to get closer to this fairy and magical symbol that is the Christmas spirit. The famous Christmas spirit is not dead, it just needs to be recreated in accordance with what we are living today.

Consider Christmas differently

Some people do not find their place in the middle of these blissful faces and feel all the more isolated in this universe of widespread commodification where the commercial dimension has exploded. During this holiday season, the fear of disappointment, of not being up to scratch or of being criticized is very strong. The pressure of gifts and the organization of holiday meals, often puts the budget in rout while requiring imagination. So why not to reinvent the rules in our context?

Make Christmas a personalized holiday, create your decorations from recycled packaging materials. You will have the pleasure of creativity, the happiness of doing something with your hands, and a sense of accomplishment in saving the planet. Far from the superficiality of malls, up-cycling will give you a sense of accomplishment. If you have children, they will enjoy admiring their work on display too. The money saved with DIY decorations could be gifted to a person in need, like the elderly we see doing odd jobs in Singapore. Do it with your children as an exercise of compassion and respect. Find the Christmas spirit again, a universal love, make Christmas more meaningful for you and your children.

It’s important to understand why we reject Christmas and New Year festivities

There is no magic recipe to approach the festivities in joy but there may be ways to make this emotional period a meeting place with oneself and with those we love. Reflecting on our fears and what we want to discuss with our family is a great start. Being aware of all the anxiety factors will help keep them at bay mentally. Take care of yourself, if you are happy you will help relax the atmosphere, give back meaning and find the Christmas spirit.

If you feel that despite these tips, you apprehend the holiday season, discussing with a psychologist can help you see things more clearly. What’s important is that you too find your happiness in this holiday season. You can contact Dr. Elefant-yanni, Clinical Psychologist / Psychotherapist, by clicking this link.


Back to school!

First day at the nursery, kindergarten, elementary school or college: all these first times make us grow. These back to school times are as many rites of passage, symbolic points of rupture allowing our children to gain in maturity and autonomy. However as parents, we have to accept them as well… It can stir feelings of uncertainty and joy all at the same time. If these steps are a source of stress or concern for our children, they are also a cause of concern for us parents. Accepting that your child is growing is never easy…

How can we help our children understand this step? How, as a parent, can live it to the best?

If you have reason for concern, Dr. Elefant-Yanni, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, specializing in children, can hear you out and help you through this crucial time in your child’s development and your relationship. Contact us now!