Last month we posted the preface from César Tort’s book The Return of Quetzalcoatl. Here’s the first chapter of the book, with an introductory note from the author.
Author’s note to Gates of Vienna readers:
This is the first chapter of my fourth book in a series of five books that deals with the subject of how child abuse results in catastrophic adult mentation and behavior. As mentioned in the July 27 preface, for this edition I have excluded two historical chapters about my forefathers. Following Lloyd deMause’s advice to “follow the mothers,” in the missing chapters I recount how my female ancestors, including my own mother, were treated by their mothers. Despite the exclusion, in this chapter I will let some passages about my family drip through.
A fair amount of my previous books deals with a family tragedy (which is why I became interested in child abuse as a subject). However, I confess I feel uncomfortable about including the passages on the subject in this entry. Family stories may strike Gates of Vienna readers as completely detached from the thesis I am trying to advance: why childrearing studies are relevant in the counter-jihad movement. Nonetheless, contrary to what I have chosen to do with the two excluded chapters, I am not going to censor those family passages from the present chapter. While the removed chapters (see here) would make little sense for readers who have not read my previous three books, I wish that Gates of Vienna readers should know the flavor, at least, of what I have written in those autobiographical books.
Thus let me apologize for the snippets of family analysis included in the text below, pieces that are quite unlike the rest of the text that will be appearing in the forthcoming weeks in Gates of Vienna. Incidentally, the sentences in brackets do not appear in the original, still unpublished, manuscript in Spanish.
The Return of Quetzalcoatl: Chapter 1
by César Tort
A class with Colin Ross
Silvia [my mother] was a time bomb awaiting the opportunity of unleashing on others the fury stocked inside of her. My individualism always represented a danger and thus had to be destroyed. She could not conceive of me taking a liberty, and in that way reminding her of how she herself had been subjugated as a child, and robbed of her own liberty. In order to avoid feeling her pain through contemplating an explosive and sparkling liberty that, compared to the life she endured, we breathed in Palenque [“Palenque” was our home street in Mexico City], she had to torment her first-born son as soon as he reached adolescence. She did it, and to such a level as to handicap him. When I saw the film Song for a Raggy Boy I understood her better, through the character of the prefect of an Irish boarding school who kills the school’s most rebellious boy. Seeing the film I thought that the murderous priest could not tolerate the liberty and independence that he must have lacked in his own childhood. Even though my mother did not kill me, she did with me what Stalin’s torturers did: making the prisoner believe that the world was against him, including the beloved ones of the prisoner.
But what in the human mind makes us pick on innocents? Although I approached the subject in my previous book, the time has come to present a rigorous scientific base for better understanding mental disorders. The best text I have read on this subject appears in the book The Trauma Model by Colin Ross, whom I introduced already in my second book when talking about the unfortunate life of David Helfgott [see e.g., the Academy Award-winning film Shine].
The problem of attachment to the perpetrator
Attachment theory, originally developed by John Bowlby, is one of the most fruitful platforms with which to explain human psychological development. Evolution always chooses its available mechanisms for its use, and since every living creature has the imperative to survive, hominids developed an unconscious structure to maintain the illusion of parental love even when there really is none. Perhaps the most popularly accessible way in which we can imagine presenting what attachment is, is through a modern fairy tale: Steven Spielberg’s film Artificial Intelligence. I’m referring to the scenes in which the father, Henry, warns the mother, Monica, not to imprint their adoptive son David with the program of affective attachment, if she is not completely sure that she will want to reciprocate the love that David would profess, since the program is irreversible (“The robot child’s love would be sealed — in a sense hardwired — and we’d be part of him forever”). After some time Monica reads to David the seven magic words that imprint him (“What were those words for, Mommy?”).
The platform which Ross is standing on in order to understand mental disorders is what he calls “the problem of attachment to the perpetrator.” We can visualize the enormous emotional attachment the human baby feels toward the parent by remembering the veneration that, despite her conduct, Leonor and Josefina always professed to their mother, María [my grandmother, my godmother and my grand-grandmother respectively: the subject of the unpublished chapters]. Such attachment is the problem. In his book, Colin Ross wrote:
– – – – – – – – –
I defined the problem, in the mid-1990s, in the context of the false memory war.
In order to defend myself against the attacks by hostile colleagues, I sought solid ground on which to build fortifications. It seemed like the theory of evolution offered a good starting point. What is the basic goal of all organisms according to the theory of evolution? To survive and reproduce. This is true from amoeba on up to mammals. Who will dispute that all organisms want to survive and replicate? This seemed like safe ground.
Dragonflies, grasshoppers, salamanders and alligators do not have families. They do not send cards on Mother’s Day. Things are different if you are a bird or mammal. Birds and mammals are absolutely dependent on adult caretakers for their survival for a period after birth, which ranges from weeks to decades depending on the species. For human parents, it seems like the period of dependency lasts over thirty years. In some species, if the nursing mother dies, the child dies. But in others, including elephants, if the nursing mother dies, a female relative takes over the care of the young one, and the child survives. In elephants there is a built-in Child Protective Services, and there is a sociology of attachment.
Attachment is like the migration of birds. It is built in, deep in our brain stems and DNA. The infant bird or mammal does not engage in a cognitive, analytical process to assess the cost-benefit of attachment. It just happens. It’s biology. The fundamental developmental task of the human infant is attachment. You will and you must attach. This is true at all levels of the organism. You must attach in order to survive biologically, but also in order to thrive and grow at emotional, intellectual, interpersonal and at all possible levels.
We know the consequences of failure to attach from several sources. The first is the third world orphanage. Orphan babies may have an adequate intake of protein, carbohydrate and fat, and may have their diapers changed regularly, but if they are starved for love, stimulation, attention, and affection, they are damaged developmentally. Their growth is stunted at all levels, including basic pediatric developmental norms.
In the text quoted above, I have eliminated all the ellipses, as I have done with the other quotations below. Ross goes on to explain the body of scientific evidence on the effects of abuse in the offspring of primates: “The Harlow monkey experiments, for instance, are systematic studies of abuse and neglect. Little monkeys cling desperately to their unresponsive wire-and-cloth mothers because they are trying to solve the problem of attachment to the perpetrator, in this case the perpetrator of neglect.” He also mentions experimental evidence that profound neglect and sensory isolation during early infancy physically damage the brain in a measurable way: “The mammal raised in such an environment has fewer dendritic connections between the nerve cells in its brain than the mammal which grew up in a ‘culturally rich’ environment.” It is in this context that Ross states that it is developmental suicide to fail to attach, and “at all costs and under the highest imperative, the young mammal must attach.” He then writes:
In a sense, we all have the problem of attachment to the perpetrator. None of us have absolutely secure attachment. We all hate our parents for some reason, but love them at the same time. This is the normal human condition. But there is a large group of children who have the problem of attachment to the perpetrator to a huge degree. They have it to such a large degree, it is really a qualitatively different problem, I think. These are the children in chronic trauma families. The trauma is a variable mix of emotional, verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
The locus of control shift
For psychiatrists Theodore Lidz, Silvano Arieti and, in a less systematic way, Loren Mosher [cited extensively in my previous books], in schizophrenogenic families not only one but both parents failed terribly. If the problem of attachment to the perpetrator is a cornerstone in understanding the trauma model of mental disorders, there is yet another one. Though the number one imperative for birds (and in previous times, the dinosaurs) and mammals is to attach, in abusive families the child makes use of another built-in reflex: to recoil from pain. Ross explains what he calls “The locus of control shift” (in psychology, “locus of control” is known jargon).
The scientific foundation of the locus of control shift is Piaget and developmental psychology. We know several things about the cognition of children age two to seven. I summarize this as “kids think like kids.” Young children are self-centered. They are at the center of the world, and everything revolves around them. They cause everything in the world [“locus shift”] and they do so through magical causality. They do not use rational, analytical, adult cognitive strategies and vocabulary.
Imagine a relatively normal family with a four year-old daughter. One day, the parents decide to split up and dad moves out. What is true for this little girl? She is sad. Using normal childhood cognition, the little girl constructs a theory to explain her field observation: “Daddy doesn’t live here anymore because I didn’t keep my bedroom tidy”.
This is really a dumb theory. It is wrong, incorrect, inaccurate, mistaken and preposterous. This is how normal kids think. But there is more to it than that. The little girl thinks to herself, “I’m OK. I’m not powerless. I’m in charge. I’m in control. And I have hope for the future. Why? Because I have a plan. All I have to do is to tidy up my bedroom and daddy will move back in. I feel OK now”.
The little girl has shifted the locus of control from inside her parents, where it really is, to inside herself. She has thereby created an illusion of power, control and mastery which is developmentally protective [of the attachment].
Ross explains that this is normal and happens in many non-abusive, though dysfunctional, families. He then explains what happens in extremely abusive families:
Now consider another four year-old girl living in a major trauma family. She has the problem of attachment to the perpetrator big time. What is true of this little girl?
This other girl is powerless, helpless, trapped, and overwhelmed. She can’t stop the abuse, she can’t escape it, and she can’t predict it. She is trapped in her family societal denial, her age, threats, physical violence, family rules and double binds. How does the little girl cope? She shifts the locus of control.
The child says to herself, “I’m not powerless, helpless and overwhelmed. I’m in charge here. I’m making the abuse happen. The reason I’m abused is because I’m bad. How do I know this is true? Because only a bad little girl would be abused by her parents.”
A delicious exemplification of the locus of control shift in the film A.I. is the dialogue that David has with his Teddy bear. After Monica has abandoned him in the forest David tells his little friend that the situation is under his control. He only has to find the blue fairy so that she may turn him into a real boy and his mom will love him again…
In contrast to fairy tales, in the real world instances of the locus of control shift are sordid. In incest victims, the ideation that everything is the fault of the girl herself is all too frequent. I cannot forget the account of a woman who told her therapist that, when she was a girl, she took baths immediately after her father used her sexually. The girl felt that since she, not her father was the dirty one and that her body was the dirty factor that aroused the father’s appetite, she had to “fix” her little body.
But there are graver cases, even, than sexual abuse. According to Ross, in near-psychotic families:
The locus of control shift is like an evil transfusion. All the evil inside the perpetrator has been transfused into the self, making the perpetrator good and safe to attach to. The locus of control shift helps to solve the problem of attachment to the perpetrator. The two are intertwined with each other.
Although Silvano Arieti made similar pronouncements half a century before, these two principles as elaborated by Ross are the true cornerstones to understand the edifice of this work. As I mentioned in my second book, when I visited the clinic of Ross in Dallas as an observer, I had the opportunity to observe the therapies undergone by some adult women. I remember a lady in particular who said that if her husband hit her it may be because she, not her husband, behaved naughtily. In his book Ross mentions cases of already grown daughters, now patients of his psychiatric clinic, who harm themselves. These self-harmers in real life exemplify the paradigm of the girl mentioned by Ross: evil has been transfused to the mind of the victim, who hurts herself because she believes she is wicked. In my previous book I said that in the film The Piano Teacher a mother totally absorbs the life of her daughter, who in turn redirects the hate she feels toward her mother by cutting herself in the genital area until bleeding profusely: a practice that, as we will see in the next section, is identical to the pre-Hispanic sacrificial practice of spilling the blood of one’s own genitals.
A relatively lesser case of this kind was that of my cousin Sabina, the grandchild of my aunt Herminia [mentioned in my previous autobiographical book]. When Sabina was sixteen she showed me a series of drawings that she did. They represented women completely chopping off their limbs, and she herself, Sabina, used to cut her forearm, albeit superficially. When I asked her why she did it she confided in me the abuses inflicted on her at home. Like mine, hers was a skewed family in which the co-dependent father, my cousin Héctor, limited himself to scolding her, obeying passively the mental system of a semi-disturbed mother, his wife. Because of the dilemma in which every human being finds her- or himself, that to maintain attachment to one’s parents at all costs, Sabina could not express her anger outwards: she directed it inwards by superficial cutting and through fantasizing about the major mutilations which found expression in her drawings.
Since by nature we males have more physical force than women, it is common that we physically displace the anger, whose unconscious roots are our early care-takers, towards beating others. But women also in their own ways displace their anger externally. As we have seen [unpublished chapters], the grandmother of Sabina and one of her sisters had Josefina, their little sister, shaved clean in a barber shop, most probably as a displacement for the repressed anger they felt towards their authoritarian education. And many years later, it was Herminia who called on the family’s priest to sabotage the career of their younger sister Leonor [my late grandmother]. Just like many people trapped in their emotionally primitive generations, neither then nor afterwards did my aunt Herminia settle accounts with her mother. That was unthinkable. She died in 2001, and it may be worth saying that at the end of her life the little old woman suffered from mental crises and suicidal ideation.
In his brief class Ross showed us why, however abusive our parents, a Stockholm syndrome elevated to the nth degree makes us see our parents as good attachment objects. The little child is like a plant that cannot but unfold towards the sun to survive. Since even after marriage and independence the adult child very rarely reverts in her psyche the locus of control shift to the original source, she remains psychically disturbed. For Lloyd deMause, this kind of super-Stockholm syndrome from parents to children and from children to grandchildren is the major flaw of the human mind, the curse of Homo sapiens that results in an alter ego in which all of the malignancy of the perpetrator has been transfused to the ego of the victim. In a divided self this entity strives for either (1) substituting, through the locus of control shift, the unconscious anger felt towards the parents on herself with self-harming, addictions, anorexia or other sorts of destructive behavior, and/or (2) harming their partner or the next generation of children. In any case the cause of this process is the total incapability of judging and processing inside ourselves the behavior of the parent: the problem of attachment to the perpetrator. It is the second of these cases, the outward displacement, which concerns us when analyzing my mother.
In my previous books I used a rather extreme example. For the genocidal mind the evildoers never were the tormenting parents to which the Germans of the latter nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century had to attach. Rather, the Jewry had the control of the world and had to be destroyed. In my case, my mother diabolized me as anti-Semites diabolized their scapegoats, and in turn I diabolized Elvira: a focalized or directional displacement toward a single person [the subject of my third book, The Chingada Indian Girl]. I did at eleven what my mother did in her forties. Silvia displaced the locus of control because she, just like my godmother, never perceived who had really harmed her in life. On the contrary: in July 2008 she confessed to me that she was very grateful that three persons: her grandmother María, godmother [Josefina] and her mother had been the guiding stars in her life. Her biggest attachment and consequent idealization was, naturally, toward her mother. Likewise, Leonor and my [late] godmother Josefina never perceived who subjugated them, in spite of the fact that the subjugator ruined the career of the former and impeded the marrying of the latter, in order to make her daughter take care of her as an old woman.
Josefina attached to María in the department of Magdalena #7-1 where the two lived alone (1960)
Something similar could be said about María with respect to her mother. Through generations these women could never feel the truth about their lives, much less apprehend, process and overcome it.
I martyred [our servant girl] Elvira for a few months. My mother’s rage would haunt me throughout my teens. As Robert Walser said, there are mothers who choose a favorite from among their children: a favorite child they may stone with their kisses and whose existence they ultimately threaten.
©2008 César Tort