Have you ever wondered how two children raised in the same home can be so unique and individualistic? How can one child be reverently quiet and withdrawn, while another–produced and raised by the same parents–is noisy and self-assertive? Extending the questions further, what determines the various personality patterns of human beings? Why is one mankind and gentle while another is mean and hateful?What are the ingredients from which such lifelong personality characteristics are constructed in a young child?
These questions could represent the most important subject matter in human experience, and their answers may be the most useful. Why? Because the art of good parenthood begins with the fundamental skill of being able to get behind the eyes of the child–seeing what he sees, feeling what he feels, hoping what he hopes. It is this awareness of his world that permits a parent (or teacher or grandparent) to hold the child when he is threatened, love him when he is lonely, teach him when he is inquisitive, or discipline him when he knows he is wrong. The success of the entire parent-child relationship depends on this perceptive skill. How often do teenagers complain, “My parents don’t understand me!” They are pronouncing judgment on their parents’ inability to “mind read” as I’ve described. But how can this ability be attained? It is acquired by developing an understanding of the meaning of behavior, which is the objective of this discussion.
The Role of Self-Esteem
A portion of the human temperament is apparently predetermined by heredity, although the real heavyweight in shaping the personality is related to the quest for self-esteem. You see, damage to the ego (loss of self-worth)actually equals or exceeds the pain of physical discomfort in intensity. In fact, I have seen people experiencing extreme physical pain, and I have witnessed others whose self-esteem had completely crumbled. I believe the latter is worse! It gnaws on the soul through the conscious mind by day and in the dreams by night. So painful is its effect that our entire emotional apparatus is designed to protect us from its oppression. In other words, a sizable proportion of all human activity is devoted to the task of shielding us from the inner pain of inferiority. I believe this is the most dominant force in life, even exceeding the power of sex in its influence. Therefore, if we are to understand the meaning of behavior in our boys and girls, husband or wife, friends and neighbors–and even our enemies–then we must begin by investigating the ways human beings typically cope with self-doubts and personal inadequacies.
The remainder of this booklet is devoted to the six most common ways children (and adults) cope with inferiority. I don’t want to overstate my case, but I believe these six personality patterns offer the most direct and accurate explanation of human behavior that I have seen. Most children adopt one or more of these avenues of defense. Each parent is encouraged to look within the following pages for the footprints of his own child, and while doing so, he might even find the sand-filled remnants of his own tracks.
Pattern l: “I’ll Withdraw”
One of the most common ways of dealing with inadequacy and inferiority is to surrender, completely and totally.The individual who chooses this approach has concluded in his own mind that he is inferior. He measures his worth according to the attributes we have discussed (and others), making this reluctant admission to himself: “Yes, its true! I am a failure, just as I feared. Even now people are laughing at me. Where can I hide?”
Having accepted his own unworthiness, which was his first mistake, he is forced to guard his wounded ego from further damage. Thus, “caution” becomes his watchword. He withdraws into a shell of silence and loneliness, choosing to take no chances nor assume any unnecessary emotional risks. He would never initiate a conversation, nor speak in a group, nor enter a contest, nor ask for a date, nor run for election, nor even defend his honor when it is trampled. From the early years on through life, he copes with inferiority by projecting a defensive meekness, having learned that the best way to save his face is to button his lip. As the comedian, Jackie Vernon once said, “The meek shall inherit the earth because they’ll be too timid to refuse it.”
Every school classroom is populated by several children who have admitted defeat to themselves. In the elementary grades, they sit year after year in silence with eyes cast downward. Their peers know them as “shy” or”quiet,” but seldom understand their true feelings. The withdrawing child is usually misjudged in two major ways:
Since he is quiet, reserved and unresponsive, he is frequently assumed to be stuck-up and snobbish. Imagine that! The child (and adult) who is most overwhelmed with his own inferiority is blamed for thinking too highly of himself. How little we understand each other!
Because the withdrawing individual seldom speaks, itis assumed that he isn’t thinking. Quite the opposite, his mind whirls with thoughts and feelings just like yours and mine. But he learns very early in life that the safest defense is to keep his mouth shut. (This system often backfires for a boy, however, since he becomes the unprotected target of the local bully.)
I believe we have much greater reason to be concerned about the withdrawing child–from a psychological point of view–than the more aggressive troublemaker. Children at both extremes often need adult intervention, but the surrenderer is much less likely to get it. He doesn’t bug anybody. He cooperates with his teacher and tries to avoid conflict with his peers. But his quiet manner is dangerously misleading. The adults in his life may fail to notice that his destructive self-image is rapidly solidifying and will never be pliable again. Considering all the alternative ways to cope with inferiority, withdrawal is probably the least effective and most painful. It is, in reality, no defense at all. The introspective adults who choose this approach are in a high-risk group for ulcers, migraine headaches, acute colitis, and other psychosomatic illnesses. Their caution prevents them from releasing the emotional tension trapped within, often resulting in a physical blowout somewhere inside.
As housewives, they pull within the walls of their homes, biting their nails, peeking out at the world going by, often weeping in loneliness. They live with depression, and too frequently their only ally is a bottle of booze, leading them down the road to secret alcoholism. A husband with the same response to his problems may become a henpecked milquetoast. Since he lacks the ego strength to lead the family, he must be content to follow in silence.All in all, withdrawing (in its extreme sense) is not a very successful approach to the problem of inferiority. In fact, of all the characteristics which distinguish those who will kill themselves as compared with those who will not, isolation and withdrawal are the most typical of suicidal behavior.
Pattern 2: “III Fight”
The identical feelings that motivate one child to withdraw from society will urge a more aggressive boy or girl to fight in response. Instead of surrendering to inferiority, like the withdrawing child, the fighter is angered by what he sees. He carries a chip on his shoulder and dares anyone to knock it off. He looks for any excuse to lash out and his temper can be triggered by the most insignificant provocation. If he is tough enough to back up his threats, he may become the terror of the playground.Later in life, he develops into a mean, temperamental old malcontent, always looking for a hassle with somebody–anybody. (My deepest sympathy goes to the person who is married to a confirmed fighter!)
Although inferiority is always discomforting, the fighter is less vulnerable to its impact than a withdrawn child. At least he has a defense, even if it is an antisocial one. The realization of this fact creates the climate for a dramatic personality reversal during the early teen years. Not infrequently, a quiet, timid childwill creep into adolescence as a cautious surrenderer. He has avoided conflict all through his life and has suffered accordingly. Then, during the natural antagonism of adolescence, he learns almost by accident that it hurts less to fight than to withdraw. And suddenly, this shy, meek youngster will become a hostile, aggressive fighter.His parents shake their heads in disbelief as their cooperative teenager declares total war on everyone in sight.
When the intensity of inferiority is greatest, the shift from withdrawing to fighting may involve violence and viciousness. Such was the case with Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of John F. Kennedy. He attempted to cope with his problems in numerous ways, but he was blocked at every turn. He was unsuccessful in all of his less aggressive attempts at coping. Finally, as it often does, his grief turned to anger. Please underscore this point: A sudden outburst of aggressive behavior is likely to occur any time a more passive approach has consistently failed to ease the severe pain of inferiority.
I have also been studying the childhood of the other convicted Kennedy assassin, Sirhan Sirhan. The background of this sad young man (who attended my church for a time) is remarkably similar in emotional tone to that of Oswald.According to Paul O’Neil’s account reported in Lifemagazine (June 21, 1968), Sirhan was “unstable and unhappy” throughout childhood. When his family first came to America, he was bothered by his own strangeness as a foreigner in the eyes of his classmates. Sirhan’s father, Bishara, “beat his children with sticks and fists when they disobeyed him and once held a hot iron to one of Sirhan’sheels.” Like Oswald, he was small in stature and never associated with girls through his entire school career.
It seems apparent that Sirhan’s method of dealing with inferiority was to withdraw and surrender. Quoting Life magazine further, “He was polite. He was quiet. He concentrated hard on his studies as a schoolboy and on an obscure religious philosophy as an adult.” Furthermore, he”kept out of trouble, blended as if he were transparent, into the student body of Pasadena’s John Muir High School.”This lad who was destined to become a calculating assassin was, of all things, a shy and unassuming student.
After high school graduation, young Sirhan began a desperate search for adequacy–which was no more successful than had been the quest of Lee Harvey Oswald. Because of his very short stature, he had a burning desire to race thoroughbred horses. Becoming a successful jockey offered the brightest hope for achieving self-respect, and he invested every ounce of energy in pursuit of that dream. He applied for a job at Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, but the officials there saw quickly that he lacked the reflexes and experience to handle the temperamental animals.Instead, he was given a job as a “hot walker” and exercise boy, the least respectable job on the track. (A “hotwalker” leads the horses around the track after they have been running.) Even more humiliating was the fact that Sirhan frequently fell off his mount, earning him the title of “real estate buyer” in the jargon of the horsemen.Finally, he was severely thrown from a filly and was taken to a nearby hospital, where the attendants found him
furious. His humiliation was complete, and he raged at everyone who tried to treat him. Sirhan gave up horses that day; he had failed to reach his most cherished dream. He hadn’t even come close.
Shortly thereafter he suffered the crowning blow.Sirhan identified himself completely with the Arab cause in the Six Day War against Israel. Thus, the crushing Arab defeat became his personal loss, agitating him beyond containment. At this point, perhaps before, the “quiet,” “polite,” young man who “kept out of trouble” became a fighter.
In summary, both Kennedy assassins, Oswald and Sirhan, appear to have followed the same well-trodden pathway:
They experienced deep-seated feelings of inferiority.They sought to cope by withdrawal and surrender.Their vain attempts to achieve adequacy were miserable failures.They exploded in violence.
This pattern fits Dr. Karl Menninger’s description fora typical assassin, cited in Albert Rosenfeld’s article
“The Psychobiology of Violence” in the issue of Life mentioned above:
“An anonymous, faceless, embittered man who feels self-important and ambitious. He also feels unloved, lonely and alienated. He wants desperately to be somebody but never makes it….”
Dr. Menninger was certainly on target with regard to Oswald and Sirhan. These two extremes were reported here to illustrate the dramatic shift from a passive coping behavior pattern to a more violent one.
The movement from withdrawal to aggression can be seen in other less deadly instances throughout our society. In my opinion, this principle is behind the tremendous hostility that fuels the Women’s Liberation movement.Several decades ago, our society foolishly began to devalue the importance of being a wife and mother. American women were made to feel unneeded and unnecessary–and even foolish–in this homemaking role. “I’m just a housewife,” they were taught to say. The burning message of inferiority was preached by the media and even through the attitudes of husbands, yet the responsibilities of children and the home made it impossible for women to escape. Suddenly, the sense of unworthiness initiated an emotion-charged reversal from acceptance to aggression. It is most unfortunate that wives and mothers were not given the status and respect that their position deserves, precipitating the angry movement that now threatens to undermine the American family.
In summary, fighting is a second important way of dealing with inferiority, accounting for a certain proportion of the violence that now permeates our society.It produces much of the antagonism of adolescence and is likely to appear whenever less aggressive personality patterns fail to reduce the pain of inferiority.
Pattern 3: “I’ll Be a Clown”
Another very common way to deal with inferiority is to laugh it off. By making an enormous joke of everything, the clown conceals the self-doubt that churns inside. Phyllis Diller, the frazzled-hair comedienne, has made a fortune by laughing at her physical disaster! She said she had the first peek-a-boo dress–first people would peek, and then they’d boo! (Incidentally, it would be a mistake to think Miss Diller does not care about her looks. By her own
account, she was a shy, inadequate, withdrawing individual during her younger days, constantly aware of her unattractiveness. Then suddenly, she discovered a less painful and more lucrative way of coping: through self-effacing laughter. The role she now plays on stage certainly does not represent her true feelings, as revealed by the face-lifting she recently underwent. “I had begun to look horrible. Not funny-horrible–just bad,” she explained.)
Being a clown is a particularly useful approach for the individual with a very obvious facial flaw. How would you deal, for example, with Jimmy Durante’s nose if it were stuck on the edge of your face? Everywhere you went, people would look at it and laugh. All through childhood you would be hounded about that “pound of flesh” out in front. What could you do, stay furious at the whole world? Would you beat up everyone who snickered at it? Your best bet would be to learn to laugh about it. Accordingly, most comedians get their “training” during childhood, when being a clown presents itself as a useful response to inferiority.Jonathan Winters admits that his humor is a defense against childhood hurts. His parents were divorced when he was seven, and he used to cry when alone because other children said he had no father. Winters now recognizes the wisdom of Thackeray’s observation that “Humor is the mistress of tears.” 10
Not only did inferiority play a key role in the training of many comedians, this subject continues to provide their favorite source of humorous material. Rodney Dangerfield, for example, has based his entire act on the line, “I don’t get no respect!” Joan Rivers jokes incessantly about her ugliness as a girl. She said she was such a “dog” that her father had to throw a bone down the aisle to get her married. But in my opinion, the comedian who makes the most effective use of inferiority is the scrawny introvert, Woody Allen. The following story fromWoody’s childhood comes alive when he tells it:
Woody was on his way to his violin lesson when he passed the pool hall where “Floyd” and his friends hung out. They were stealing hubcaps (from moving cars). Floyd called Woody an insulting name as he passed, and being a”cocky kid,” Woody announced that he didn’t take that from anybody! He put down his violin and said, “If you want to address me, you will call me Master Haywood Allen!” Woody said he spent that winter in a wheelchair. A team of doctors labored to remove a violin from his skull. His only good fortune was that it wasn’t a cello.
Hasn’t every boy in the world been tyrannized by”Floyd” sometime during childhood? He was certainly well-represented in my hometown. Every schoolteacher is well acquainted with clowns in her classroom. The board of education assigns at least one per class to make sure that she earns each dollar of her salary! These skilled disrupters are usually boys, often have reading or other academic problems, may be small in stature, and will do anything for a laugh (eat worms, risk expulsion from school, hang by one toe from a tree, etc.). Their parents are usually unappreciative of the humor and may never recognize that the clown, the fighter, and the surrendered all have one important thing in common: inferiority.
Pattern 4: “I’ll Deny Reality”
I worked with the teacher of Jeff, a seven-year-old child who wore heavy leather gloves to school every day. Hewas rarely seen without his gloves, even on the warmest days. His teacher insisted that he remove them when in the classroom because he could scarcely hold a pencil with the thickly padded fingers. But the moment Jeff was sent to recess or lunch, the gloves made their reappearance. Jeff’steacher could not understand the motive for this behavior; all through the school year he never wavered in his desire to wear those hot, cumbersome gloves. In discussing the matter with me, she casually mentioned that this boy was the only black child in a room full of white children. His
feelings were seemingly obvious at that point. When wearing a long sleeve shirt or coat, the only black skin Jeff could see was on his hands. By wearing the gloves, he hid the
feature that marked him as different from every other child in his room.
Jeff was, in effect, denying reality. He refused to see or think about the source of his inadequacy. His approach is one of the favorite coping behaviors in our society. It is primarily responsible for the enormous problem of alcoholism in this country! There are more than9 million known alcoholics in America today. One out of every four citizens is a close family member of a confirmed alcoholic. What better example of emotional escape can there be than living in a drunken stupor most of the time?
There are other convenient ways to deny reality for a short trip. Undoubtedly, this need for temporary escape plays a key role in the drug abuse phenomenon that has swept through the younger generation. Massive self-doubt simply can’t be ignored. It must be handled in some manner, and for the young, the most direct resolution comes in the form of a capsule or syringe. My work with lifelong addicts in the Federal Narcotics Symposium, Los Angeles, confirmed my suspicion of the part played by inferiority in their dependence on drugs.There is one other convenient way to deny painful reality: through psychotic experience. The psychotic individual merely pulls down a mental shade and creates his own dream world. (Psychosis has other causes, as well, involving emotional and/or biochemical difficulties.) He”copes” with his problems by refusing to believe they are there. This experience, inappropriately called mental illness, is the most unfortunate alternative available for adoption.
Let me emphasize the impact of feelings of inferiority within a society: Whenever the keys to self-esteem are seemingly out of reach for a large percentage of the people, as in twentieth-century America, then widespread”mental illness,” neuroticism, hatred, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence and social disorder will certainly occur.Personal worth is not something human beings are free to take or leave. We must have it and when it is unattainable, everybody suffers.
Many of the seemingly unsolvable social problems we are now facing represent desperate but unsuccessful attempts to cope with inferiority. When the incidence of self-doubt is greatest, accompanied by the unavailability of acceptable solutions, then the probability of irresistible social disorder is maximized.
Pattern 5: “I’ll Conform”
One of the great American myths is that we are a nation of rugged individualists. We really have ourselves fooled at this point. We like to think of ourselves as Abraham Lincoln’s, Patrick Henrys and cowboys, standing tall and courageous in the face of social rejection. But that image is palpably uncharacteristic of most of us. In truth, we are a nation of social cowards. It seems to me that a major proportion of our energy is expended in trying to be like everyone else, cringing in fear of true individuality. Dean Martin once said, “Show me a man who doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear, and I’ll show you a dummy who gets beat up a lot!” In our case, however, we are not afraid of being beaten up; it is ridicule and rejection that motivate our concern.
Conformity, then, presents itself as the fifth personality pattern in response to inferiority. Those who adopt it may be social doormats, afraid to express their own opinions. They seek to be liked by everyone, regardless of the expense to their own convictions and beliefs. For adolescents, whom I’ve already described, the urge to conform dictates most of their activity for a period of 10or more years. Accordingly, adolescent behavior is the most contagious phenomenon shared from one human being to another. Last year, for example, a teenage choir was singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in a live performance. During a high point in the emotional presentation, one youngster near the front row fainted and crumpled to the floor. The director went on with his performance, but the suggestion of fainting had been planted in 52 impressionable heads. Boom! The second singer went down. Boom! Boom! Two more hit the deck. The mania spread like wildfire. Five more vocalists blanched, buckled and disappeared from the back row. When the director finally reached the last “Glory, Glory Hallelujah!” 20members of his choir were out cold on the floor. That, folks, is conformity at its best.
Conformity also combines with denial of reality in inspiring the drug-abuse problem among the young. For this reason, I’m sorry to say, narcotics usage among teenagers will not be conquered by better education regarding its hazards. The kids already know the consequences of drug usage–probably better than we do. They are not deaf, and their use of narcotics is usually done in spite of the obvious price tag. Though we have to support our educational efforts with the young (it is our only hope for change), the drug problem will continue until it is no longer fashionable to “trip out.” When it becomes disgraceful to use drugs, the epidemic will be over–but not a minute sooner.
Conformity plays such a key role in our social life that an entire book could be written on this subject alone.Suffice to say at this point, however, that it offers a readily available response to inadequacy and low self-esteem.
Pattern 6: “111 Compensate”
I have presented five approaches to inferiority that comprise the most common personality patterns today. The selection of a particular pattern, however, may not be a matter of personal choice. It has always been surprising for me to observe how rigidly society dictates which of the five approaches an individual is expected to pursue.
Everyone knows, for example, that the fat person is supposed to be a jolly clown. It would seem strange to see him fight or withdraw because we’ve come to expect smiles on the faces of our pudgy friends. On the other hand, a redhead is told of his “hot temper” from his early days and is expected to be a fighter. A girl with a weak chin and soft voice is molded into the withdrawing pattern, whether she likes it or not. A teenager is required to conform, fight, and perhaps deny reality (in fact, adolescents can play all five roles in confusing array because their personalities are in a state of reevaluation and change).This dramatic social force, then, stamps its indelible image on our psyche and, surprisingly, we do what we’retold! Someone has said:
We are not what we think we are… We are not even what others think we are… We are what we think others think we are.
There is great truth in this statement. Each of us evaluates what we believe other people are thinking about us, and then we often play that prescribed role. This explains why we wear a very different “face” with different groups. A doctor may be an unsmiling professional with his patients, being reserved and wise in their presence. They “see” him that way and he complies. That evening, however, he is reunited with his former college friends who remember him as a post-adolescent screwball. His personality may oscillate 180 degrees between afternoon and night, being totally unrecognizable if seen by an amazed patient. Similarly, most of us are what we think others think we are. This makes inferiority more difficult to treat because we not only must change a person’s self-concept, but also his concept of what everyone else thinks, too. The double aspects of that assignment are often overlooked by therapists. Now we come to the final point. The five personality patterns described in the preceding pages are more or less maladaptive. They offer momentary methods of coping with inferiority, but the self-doubt lingers. There is a better alternative–compensation. And unconscious reasoning of a compensator goes like this:
I refuse to be drowned in a sea of inferiority. I can achieve adequacy through success if I work hard at it. Therefore, I will pour all my energy into basketball (or painting, or sewing, or politics, or graduate school, or gardening, or motherhood, or salesmanship, or Wall Street– or for a child, elementary school, or piano playing, or baton-twirling or football).
This kind of compensation provides the emotional energy for virtually every kind of successful human behavior, as described earlier. In a famous study by Victor and Mildred Goertzel, entitled Cradles of Eminence, the home backgrounds of 400 highly successful people were investigated. These 400 subjects were individuals who had made it to the top. They were men and women whose names you would recognize as brilliant or outstanding in their respective fields (Churchill, Gandhi, F.D. Roosevelt, Schweitzer, Einstein, Freud, etc.). The intensive investigation into their early home lives yielded some surprising findings:
Three-fourths of the children were troubled by poverty; by a broken home; by rejecting, over-possessive, estranged, or dominating parents; by financial ups and downs; by physical handicaps; or by parental dissatisfaction over the children’s school failures or vocational choices. – Seventy-four of 85 writers of fiction or drama and 16 of 20 poets came from homes where, as children, they saw tense psychological dramas played out by their parents.
Handicaps such as blindness; deafness; being crippled, sickly, homely, undersized, overweight; or having a speech defect occurred in the childhoods of over one-fourth of the sample.
It seems very apparent that the need to compensate for their disadvantages was a major factor in their struggle for personal achievement. It may even have been the determining factor. There have been thousands, perhaps millions, of inadequate persons who used compensation to achieve esteem and confidence.
Perhaps the most classic illustration is seen in the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady. Being orphaned at 10, she underwent a childhood of utter anguish. She was very homely and never felt she really belonged to anybody. According to Victor Wilson, New house News Service, “She was a rather humorless introvert, a young woman unbelievably shy, unable to overcome her personal insecurity and with a conviction of her own inadequacy.” The world knows, however, that Mrs. Roosevelt did rise above her emotional shackles. As Wilson said, “. . . from some inner wellspring, Mrs. Roosevelt summoned a tough, unyielding courage, tempered by remarkable self-control and self-discipline….” That “inner wellspring” has another appropriate name: compensation!
Obviously, one’s attitude toward a handicap determines its impact on his life. It has become popular to blame adverse circumstances for irresponsible behavior; i.e., poverty causes crime, broken homes produce juvenile delinquents, a sick society imposes drug addiction on its youth. This fallacious reasoning removes all responsibility from the shoulders of the individual. The excuse is hollow. We must each decide what we will do with inner inferiority or outer hardship.
Admittedly, it requires courage to triumph despite unfavorable odds. Compensation takes guts. The easier path is to wallow in self-pity–to freak-out on drugs–to hate the world–to run–to withdraw–to compromise. Regardless of the ultimate course of action, however, the choice is ours alone and no one can remove it from us. Hardship does not determine our behavior, but it clearly influences it.
As I have already discussed in the fourth pattern of behavior, parents can open the door to responsible “choices” by giving their children the means by which to compensate, beginning during their middle childhood years. If they do not accomplish that vital parental task, they increase the probability that their children will adopt one of the other less successful patterns of behavior. Of the six alternatives, compensating is by far the best bet for your child.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS.
I’m interested in your statement that angry, hostile behavior is most often a response to inferiority. Can you give some other examples of this motivating force?
That is an easy question to answer. In fact, anger has become the accepted way of dealing with feelings of inferiority today. In addition to the Women’s Liberation movement, which I’ve mentioned, prolonged inferiority powers the angry black civil rights movement (“Black is Beautiful”), as well as the Gay Liberation movement, the Chicano movement (Brown Berets), and the Jewish Defense League, among others. Inferiority even motivates wars and international politics. What did Hitler tell the German people in 1939? He assured them that their loss in WorldWar I was the fault of their leaders; they were really superior human beings. He was capitalizing on their inferiority as a defeated, humiliated people. I suspect that their willingness to fight was more motivated by this new pride than any other factor. The 1973 Arab attack on Israel was primarily intended to avenge their disgraceful loss in the Six Day War of 1967. The world scoffed at the Arab impotence, which was more intolerable than the loss of land or the death and destruction they sustained. One Arab journalist was quoted in Time magazine (October 22, 1973)shortly after the 1973 war began: “It doesn’t matter if the Israelis eventually counterattack and drive us back. What matters is that the world now no longer will laugh at us.”
Recent evidence even suggests that inferiority is the major force behind the rampaging incidence of rape today.If sexual intercourse was the only objective of a rapist, then he could find satisfaction with a prostitute. But something else is involved. Most rapists apparently want to humiliate their victims. Having been unsuccessful with girls through adolescence and young adulthood, they seek sexual superiority by disgracing and exploiting defenseless women.
How about aggressive violence in American classrooms, which has been increasing steadily in recent years? Can it be attributed to the frustration of inferiority? I’m inclined to believe so. And what better explanation can there be for the vandalism that destroys millions of dollars worth of school property each year? The educators impose inadequacy on the students by day and suffer their retaliation under the cover of night.
The examples are legion. That is why I have contended that social chaos in all its forms can be laid at the door of inadequacy and inferiority. There are numerous other
causes, of course, but none so powerful.
You said a person acts according to the way he thinks he is seen. Can parents use this principle to train their children?
Certainly. If you let a child know you think he is lazy, sloppy, untruthful, unpleasant and thoughtless, he’ll probably prove you are right. Obviously, it is better to make him stretch to reach a positive image than stoop to match one at ground level.
My son is only three, and he’s still extremely shy. He won’t let anyone hold him but his own family, and he can’t even look a stranger in the eye. How can I pull him out?
At his age, shyness is nothing to worry about. He is retreating to the safety of the familiar because he is threatened by the new. That’s a reasonable maneuver. It would be a mistake for you to tear him loose from the security of your arms too quickly, although you should begin to move in that direction. If shyness and bashfulness
continue unchecked through this next year, I would recommend that you utilize the time honored approach of nursery school to help with the task. It would be wise to introduce him gradually to a good preschool program, accomplished in four distinct steps:
Talk about the exciting things he will soon do in preschool. Try to whet his appetite during the two weeks prior to entry.
Take him to visit the teacher at least twice, perhaps on consecutive days when no other children are involved. Tip off the teacher as to the name of his dog or cat and other familiar topics they can discuss.
Let him observe the other children in play from the sidelines with you standing nearby. No interaction with other children is required on this day.
The fourth step brings “plunge-in” day–even if he yells bloody murder when you leave. His peers will do the rest.
In short, shyness in a three-year-old is not unusual and does not warrant concern. If it does become necessary to pry him loose in the years that follow, it will be accomplished more successfully by nudging rather than ripping his moorings.
Specifically, would you rather your own child “withdraw” or “fight”?
That question is like asking if I would rather my child have the mumps or the measles. They are both diseases and I prefer neither. Extreme withdrawal and extreme aggression are both signs of emotional pressure. If forced to choose between these two patterns of behavior, however, I would take the fighter. His discomfort is likely to be more manageable.