What are the challenges to parenting a child who is very different from her parents; whose characteristics and identity are shared more horizontally with a peer group instead of vertically with the nuclear family? From thousands of hours of interviews with parents and children, the author examines 10 sorts of childhood differences: autism, deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, disability, schizophrenia, delinquency, transgender, conception by rape, and genius. Each chapter traces how the particular difference or disability becomes an identity, and what that means for the parents and their child, who are often influenced by debates from identity politics and the disability rights movement. In the many reviews of his books, a word often associated with Solomon’s writing is “humane,” and it fits. Solomon finds universals in these difficult stories, and writes eloquently about themes of parental love and parental gratitude. There are sensitive discussions about mainstreaming, inclusion, institutionalization, the value of different lives, and various other decisions facing these families. Solomon is familiar with and frequently uses psychodynamic theory to provide insight into these relationships.
In a recent article in The Atlantic, James Burgo writes about shame, and how our society is moving away from shaming towards tolerance and diversity. He also recommends Far from the Tree in the following quote from the article.
Andrew Solomon’s powerful new book Far From the Tree is the most recent expression of this anti-shame zeitgeist. He details the often heroic efforts of parents to make sure their children don’t suffer from the shame usually associated with a disability or sexual difference. Instead, they view their condition as an equal alternative to “normal,” and nothing to be ashamed of. Solomon writes with passion and empathy about their struggles to develop feelings of self-worth by rejecting the shame of social stigma and embracing pride.
Andrew Solomon’s first book, “The Noonday Demon,” is about depression and won a National Book Award. “Far From the Tree” made it to the NYT Book Review’s ten best list for 2012.
At the end of her life, Steve Luxenberg’s mother, Beth Luxenberg, revealed to a therapist that she was not an only child, but had a sister who was institutionalized when very young. The author finds out about this when, as his mother’s executor, he receives a maintenance bill from a cemetery for “Annie.” Using his skills as an investigative reporter the author digs into his family’s past to find out why he was never told about his Aunt Annie. Although his mother raised her children to be direct, honest and truthful, there were secrets kept by one generation from another. When Luxenberg discovers that his aunt was institutionalized as an adult, not as a child, and that she lived with his mother for almost 20 years, he is more determined to find out the reason for the secrecy. The investigation revisits the operations of large, state-run mental hospitals and their policy role. The search proceeds from his mother’s doctors and therapists to family members, neighbors, and some sympathetic state officials. The author realizes that his Aunt’s story is just one of thousands of stories of disabled people who were committed to institutions in the first half of the twentieth century without what we would consider today a proper hearing.
Ultimately, the reason for his mother’s secrecy were many: the stigma of mental illness, the history of our nation’s response to the disabled and mentally ill, the intergenerational trauma of the holocaust, and the shame of poverty.
Recently Received in the CPC Library
Aron, Lewis and Adrienne Harris. Relational Psychoanalysis. Volume 4, Expansion of Theory
Volume 4 carries on the legacy of this rich and diversified psychoanalytic approach by taking a fresh look at recent developments in relational theory. Included here are chapters on sexuality and gender, race and class, identity and self, thirdness, the transitional subject, the body, and more.
Aron, Lewis and Adrienne Harris. Relational Psychoanalysis. Volume 5, Evolution of a Process.
Volume 5 covers transference and countertransference, engagement, dissociation and self-states, analytic impasses, privacy and disclosure, enactments, improvisation, development, and more. Thoughtful, capacious, and integrative, this new volume places the leading edge of relational thought close at hand, and pushes the boundaries of the relational turn that much closer to the horizon.
Bechdel, Allison. Are You My Mother? and Fun Home
Alison Bechdel is the author of the strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” which appeared in several alternative publications from 1983-2008. Her two graphic memoirs are the subject of a previous blog on this website.
Oliner, Marion Michel. Psychic Reality in Context: Perspectives on Psychoanalysis, Personal History and Trauma
This book spans the author’s work over the last fifteen years on the impact of external reality on psychic reality. During this period many analysts, especially in the English-speaking countries and Germany, where historic events loomed large in the lives of their patients, have turned from the exclusive emphasis on psychic reality to greater attention to the traumatic impact of external reality. (From the Publisher’s Description)
Tustin, Francis. Autism and Child Psychosis Karnac 1995 and Tustin, Francis Encounters with Autistic States : A Memorial Tribute to Frances Tustin 1997
Francis Tustin trained at the Tavistock Clinic under John Bowlby. She came to America in the 1950s and began to work with and study autistic children, producing some of the earliest articles on the condition. The Frances Tustin Memorial Trust awards an annual prize for papers addressing the treatment of autistic states in children, adolescents or adults.
Yeomans, Frank E., Clarkins, John F., Kernberg, Otto F. Transference-Focused Therapy for Borderline Patients.
In this remarkable volume, Yeomans, Clarkin, and Kernberg have accomplished the impossible by combining a highly sophisticated theory of psychopathology and technique with a practical handbook for the treatment of borderline patients. The reader will find here a concise review of a psychoanalytic approach to understanding borderline personality organization. The clinician will also find a detailed step-by-step guide to the complex process of turning the emotionally intense and often chaotic interactions generated by these patients into useful psychotherapeutic dialogue. While this book presents itself as A Primer of Transference-Focused Psychotherapy for the Borderline Patient, it has much to offer psychodynamic psychotherapists at all levels of experience in their treatment of patients at all levels of personality organization. (Elizabeth L. Auchincloss, M.D., Weill Medical College of Cornell University)