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Aug 19, 2022

Adolescence is a time of distance from the family of origin and identification with a peer group. So what are the perils and benefits of attachment during this developmental period?



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[Music] welcome into the psych with mike library this is dr michael mahon i am here with
mr brett newcomb hello i have too many pens well you know freud has an explanation
for that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar that's what they say but sometimes not huh
how are you today i'm good so anything uh new and exciting going on in your life
not a thing yeah life is just bland is that well bland or just
stable good yeah yeah yeah so not blank life is good yeah life is good and you're wearing a pink shirt today for
anybody who is watching you on the youtubes i've always liked the color pink do you yeah
you don't feel uh conscientious in a pink shirt
no yeah well i always feel conscientious uh conspicuous is it oh well well can't
you i mean yeah conspicuous yes or or uh
uh what would what would you call it if you were were worried about what other people thought not conscientious
well yeah okay anyway it doesn't matter all right so uh good segue though
yes because we we're going to talk about um
attachment i would say that's because i'm a professional exactly uh you know
that the foundation of what i believe in
psychotherapy is emotional regulation i believe that that emotional regulation
is the result of how you are how you internalize the external objects
so you're the quality of the relationship with the primary caregiver when the child is young
and we talk a lot about how childhood trauma and this emotional regulation
developmental process can cause issues when the child is developing one
of the things that we've never talked about and i found an article about it and then i thought oh yeah we definitely should talk about this
is how does this affect the developmental process during adolescence
and i know that you were talking about this morning that
when you were young you felt like that
the movers and shakers of the peer group that
you were associated with didn't really give you a lot of positive
feedback no uh if that's what you heard i didn't say it clearly okay
i grew up in a large suburban high school yeah when i got to high school and adolescence
that was very cast organized i grew up in a southern town where
your social standing could be measured by how far away from the railroad tracks you lived the closer that you lived to
the railroad tracks the poorer and less socially acceptable your family was
but when they put us in high school they lumped us all together so people had to have identifiers we had groups that we
belong to we had letterman jackets for band and for athletics and debate team
and and what have you to find little sub categories and clicks and so on
i was acutely aware of how all that played out when i was in high school because i read all the time
and i had a curiosity about how does this work and what i was telling you is that by
definition i was relegated to the lower socioeconomic
community because of where i lived what my father did for a living how much money we had those kind of things
but intellectually i was put in accelerated classes so i was mixed in with
kids from the upper social spectrum who who tended to get put in those accelerated classes
and i was commenting that it used to frustrate the heck out of me because sometimes i would tell a joke
that i thought was funny and they would all sneer about how low class i was and
how horrible it was that i told that joke and it wasn't couth and you know nobody would laugh and
everybody act like they smelled something bad and then later over the course of the next day or two i would hear various
ones of those individuals tell that joke and have it laughed at as if it was
hysterical because they were telling it within their own social subgroup
so there was no cross-boundary there that had to be acknowledged but you
have said many times that you didn't feel as though the quality of the emotional
relationship that you had with your primary caregivers growing up was positive
yeah and did you feel as though that impacted you
during adolescence when you were in junior high school or high school i don't know that i thought about
it that until years later uh when i was in junior high in high school
what i and that's probably fair i don't know that anybody does that that anybody i
mean i don't i was obviously not consciously aware of the quality of the
relationship that i had with my primary caregivers and the effect that that had in high school i know that during high
school i felt profoundly like
the things that i knew from my family of origin didn't make any sense
in the context of things that i was learning in high school so i grew up
in a violent alcoholic family one of the rules of the alcoholic family is you never talk
outside of home about home you don't talk about what happened at home last
night you don't talk about the way your father behaves or your mother behaves or any of that stuff you just don't say anything about it
so because i read all the time i learned i remember vividly in the third grade
that you could read and go away somewhere and so i could read a story
about something in ancient history or something in another country and transport myself to that place and
be caught up in that book and not be in the environment that i was in so i read
voraciously most nights i read a book in overnight just read all night
a lot of nights and uh would try to incorporate within my personality
presentation traits uh that i read in the books that the hero had
uh dialect dialogue information whatever
so i consciously created an identity a public persona for
being at school that was different from the person that i was at home
so do you do you know
did you know then have you thought about it in retrospect and do
you know now how you were able to come to that that realization for yourself where you
actually would read the books and then select specific personality traits
i think that's pretty unusual i don't know i only have my own experience right well
what i know is there was a a boy that went to it's almost like you re-parented yourself by reading the
books yeah yeah yeah yeah i think that's pretty unique i learned it from somebody else
there was a boy in the third grade that was bullied by everybody including myself
trying to fit in trying to socialize with that group of aggressive nine-year-old boys
and i noticed this kid would go out at recess and climb to the top of the jungle gym we had an old-fashioned
jungle gym in the playground and sit up there at recess and read a book and he would be out of reach of
everybody most of the boys would go off and play ball or tag or what have you and the girls would go off in little
groups and do whatever they did i kept watching him and so one day i asked him i said what are you doing and
he said i'm reading and i said why and he said because i'm not here
so i thought oh that's interesting and so then i got a couple books and read them and
started to realize i didn't have to be there either i could do it at home i mean my father could be in a drunken rage and breaking furniture and knocking
people around i could sit in my bedroom and read a book and not be afraid so so the article that i sent
is actually a science-based article and it talks about the attachment with the primary caregiver
the quality of that attachment and that's you know all goes into john bolby and mary ainsworth's
attachment theory so you have secure you have the ambivalent and then the resistant attachments and then the
disorganized we don't really look at disorganized much because that's pretty pathologic so the insecure attachments
are the ambivalent and then the resistant and then how that plays out during
adolescence but we know now that these attachments and specifically trauma
has a real biological impact on the development
of the brain physiological development and yet i think you and i both would say
that our histories with our families of origin were difficult traumatic
and yet i think we turned out pretty good so
clearly there are ways that you can compensate for that but then there are
some people who really struggle with that and then they get to adolescence and i just i i just weep
for the individuals that were like you and me that didn't find
some way of being able to transcend that so my father was married to
married five different times and in the course of my early childhood
regularly i mean when i was nine years old i came home and they'd all moved away yeah i mean the house was empty i
mean you tell that story and and and i know you to be a person who doesn't
tend towards a hyperbole no that's an absolute literal story i know and and and i just think of a nine-year-old
coming home from school and the house being empty and not knowing where in the world everybody went yeah i
thought we've been robbed it's just that's that's i i don't even know how to wrap my head around that well so but
that wasn't the point of i don't know what to say um
i want to say that i don't know who can't identify especially in infancy
who was the object in object relations theory
who provided the consistent nurturing presence in my life what i do know is that as i grew up
there were teachers and scout masters and coaches who
played significant periods of support
that gave me positive reinforcement and a sense of security about capacity yeah
about intelligence about performance about courage whatever and the books that i read
gave me an understanding for how to manipulate the environment at
home and differently manipulate the environment in school so that i felt more safe
and more capable of moving through
the social hierarchy one of my absolute expectations in high school because of
where i lived and the circumstances of small southern town was that i would get a college education
to be able to get a job that would pay me enough money to live in a different social custom level
uh so that's what i did i mean i knew i had to otherwise my my destiny uh was the
script that was written for me by generations of my family none of whom had ever gone to school right and and no one in my family ever
went to school and i and and i hear very profoundly what you're saying about there were teachers there were coaches
there were other persons adult persons in the environment that provided you with an example that
you could use in place of that external object you know i i
really felt like i was was bumbling through you know grade school and junior high
school and then uh you know went to high school and started playing football mostly because
i was trying to get my dad's attention yeah but every year that i played and i
tell people all the time the only thing that stopped me from being able to
play professional football is a general basic lack of coordination
i was i am not what you would consider an athlete but i
played every year and i worked hard and every year that i played football at the
end of the year i got the most improved player award which is what you give to
the guy right who who is not going to get it but and i was willing to do anything that a
coach asked me and and they and i won these awards and i really genuinely
attribute that to profoundly changing my conceptualization
of myself because i wasn't getting that anywhere else and i don't know what would have
happened to me if i hadn't done that so i i'm thinking in particular and it's just it's a good
time to have this conversation because a lot of conversations out right now about teachers yeah and the role that teachers
play in society i had several teachers in high school in particular
that reached out to me and said you have these abilities you have to learn how to
navigate it so that you can get something out of it one of whom was the school librarian
and i became a volunteer library assistant and became the president of the arkansas junior librarians
association through her support and auspices which means nothing
to anybody now but it meant a lot to me then mm-hmm uh 50 years after i graduated my high
school i went to a high school reunion first time i'd gone back 50 years later so i'm having dinner with
some friends and we were talking about school and i said well mrs carpenter elaine carpenter mrs carpenter was such
a significant person in my life i wish i had been able to tell her that and somebody said well you still can't i
said what do you mean i thought she was dead no she's not dead so i called her mm-hmm and i said i want
to tell you you steered my life into the survival lane
and you helped me become a teacher and you have helped me reach other kids and
i want you to know that 50 years after you worked with me your lessons are still echoing into generations of kids
you've never met five years later i heard from one of her
sons she had died and he said i just want to let you know my mother
uh became senile to the end of her life toward the end of her life there were very few memories that she could hold
and she held the memory of your phone call wow and it she repeated it to me every day
the last few weeks of her life about how important that phone call was and what it meant to her
that you had called her and you told her she was that seminal in your life yeah
and that's what i want to say is if you have a teacher who has touched
your life who has reached you at whatever level of education let them know
tell them because they do an incredible service to all of us and
they need more respect so let's take our break and when we come back i'm going to tell you my story all right
oh because i was your teacher yes [Laughter] hey everybody dr michael mahon here from
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it's friday it's psych with mike okay we're back so you know
uh i hadn't originally thought about this in the context of the current
societal uh zeitgeist but you're you're absolutely right this is a great time to
and this wasn't why i had originally thought about this topic but you but this is a great great segue or great
avenue to go down you know my son is a teacher my son is a teacher in the
school that you started your teaching career yeah which is amazing to me
but uh so i i have a great and respect for teachers and i i don't know why
while you were telling this story this came to me i do not remember i remember the name of
the all the names of every football coach i ever had i do not remember the name of a single teacher save two
when i was living in granite city illinois going to washington elementary school
which doesn't exist anymore there were two teachers there that i actually remember mr dixon and mr
swabota i know these are real people because downstairs in my workshop i actually
have a ruler that has swaboda written on the back of
it that was a ruler that he gave me when i was in fourth or fifth grade and
the reason why these names stay with me is because we were having a
discussion in a class about
origins and mr dixon had who taught social studies was talking
about you know origins and he was asking kids in the class
what is your family origin and he got to me and i
said i've known jim beam i said you know i don't think i have an origin and he said
your last name is mahan and i said yeah he said that's irish and that was the first
time that anybody had ever given me any kind of a compass
to be able to think about in terms of who i was
and and and that changed my foundational perception of
myself finally i could say oh my family comes from ireland i'd never known that no one in my family ever
talked about such things yeah so then mr swabota taught math
but i would go to summer school every year not because i had to i made great grades
but because i didn't have anything else to do so back if i walked to school every day
which is what we did back then they would let me go to school and so over the summer i would just walk
to school because i didn't have anything else to do and i would hang out there and in mr swabo's class we didn't have
air conditioning and so we would open all of the windows and turn on these gigantic fans and sit on
the floor and turn out all of the lights and during summer school mr swabota
would read to us the hardy boys and nancy drew mysteries
and i would go every day just to be able to go
and sit on the floor and have him read to us that's one of the more important things that parents can do yeah
and and my kids will tell you to this day that there was not a single day that
went by in either one of their lives that they can remember from the time that they were born until they started
school when i did not read to them that's really important and i was i i
these memories that that that i i hadn't thought about these things until you were telling me this and you're
absolutely right those were seminal things that's the impact of teachers and
so whatever people think about teachers right now in our society and i can't even imagine a more difficult time to be
a teacher and i think about this with my son every day i mean if if somebody walked into a school that my
son were teaching at with a gun i i don't know what i would do well it's not that's not the only issue
you also have the issues about he's a social science teacher does he use critical race theory uh what does he
teach about the transgendered and other sexual orientations or realities what does he
teach about what's going on in our society because there's rage in the community about how what
should be taught and how it should be taught and how pathetic teachers are and how they're all on some kind of liberal
agenda and change the world and destroy christianity and so on i i think it's a
horrible time to be a teacher but i would also say thank god for the teachers absolutely
who were seminal in my life i mean yeah i i don't even know
and thank god for the opportunity to tell elaine carpenter what yeah it meant to me well i was just thinking you know i
i don't think i could find these gentlemen i i may try and and see if i can
can can discover uh uh but you know just the the fact that this is
all coming back to me is making me recognize that you are absolutely right
in those fam when those family of origins are not good where are you getting somewhere to go
yeah and and thank god that you and i had teachers in
our lives let's also make the point coaches our teachers yeah and if you had coaches who encouraged you and got more
out of you than you would normally give that needs to be acknowledged and validated yeah yeah yeah yeah mr
jennings and mr robbie do that my coaches were debate coaches yes i know because you're so much more intellectual
than i am uh more verbally verbally astute i think yeah yeah and you know what but
i mean we're obviously i'm making light of that and i shouldn't because there's no question that choir debate
those kinds of pursuits are just as legitimate as playing football
or soccer or baseball amen yeah but uh
okay so i i teach college i
i call myself a professor well the college calls me a professor um i don't think of myself as a teacher i
don't feel did you feel like that teaching college was the same as teaching high school
teaching is teaching the content
is what you present but what you do is make connections with your students
and open windows for them maybe i feel like it's different because i feel like by
the time they get to me in college most of that
formulative development has already taken place i don't feel like i'm probably making the
same kind of impact because
if you're the second third or fourth grade you have a very limited range of access
to world experiences the older you get if you're in the 10th 11th and 12th grade and that's same
thing with doing counseling with adolescents they can find other
reference points to pay attention to and other things to invest themselves in than you and your opinion of them and by
the time they're in graduate school that's even a broader challenge yeah so
you have the opportunity you present your material you're committed to knowing what you know and you're offering that to the people
that say i want to know what you know but it's still the dance of relationship
and the effort to open windows in their mind
but i think that both of us then are saying that
these individuals who are spending time with our children
in these classrooms from first grade until high school
are the people who have the ability to potentially correct
damage that may be being done to those individuals in their families of origin yes yeah absolutely and that any teacher
who might be hearing this and and hopefully this will be disseminated broadly and other and lots of teachers
will hear it any teacher that's hearing this do not take that for granted don't
undersell the potential impact of that because you have two people who had horrible family
of origin stories who are sitting here saying that we attribute our ability to
have transcended that to the teachers that we knew in our lives yeah
and and that's i i just can't imagine something that is more profound than
that i wish more people saw it that way so
do you think that that's what caused you to want to be a teacher absolutely oh okay
i don't think i ever knew that yeah and not that one no no yeah yeah yeah two or three other
teachers did the debate coach but i'm saying teacher you had a much more
profound understanding that these teachers had given you something that you didn't get
from your family of origin then i did until i was much older
i'll have to accept your analysis there well but i'm saying because it drove you to want to be a teacher absolutely yeah
and and i'll tell you i love teaching high school as much the day i quit teaching high school 20
years down the road as i did the day i started yeah but i don't think i would teach high school today yeah
yeah it's changed too much it's changed too much and and uh it's just amazing to me
there's too many agendas too many uh righteously indignant people and people
managing headphones hedge funds are just making out like
robber barons and we can't pay teachers a living wage that's unbelievable it's you know we we
our culture doesn't value it no we've we need to have a come to jesus meeting
about what we think the priorities are in life but that's not
a topic for this show for today all right hopefully uh people enjoyed that and if you are a teacher and you
have a perspective that you would like to share with us we would certainly be open to that you can get us
psych with as always the music that appears in psych with mike is written and performed by mr benjamin the
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