It was the holidays. Family was gathered. They were clumped together in small groups in adjoining rooms. Where the father stood with his eldest son in the kitchen, the view was open into the main areas of the upstairs. The rest of the family milled about or were seated, many of them in conversations that overlapped across the open space. The mood was appropriately festive.
Everything seemed fine. There was laughter and smiles. Looking into the living room, the father saw his young granddaughter using pens and markers to draw a picture. The paper was sitting on an expensive ornamental rug. Having warned about this previously, he made a critical comment to his son, the father of the girl. That is how it began. The son didn’t respond, but the daughter-in-law did.
The daughter-in-law, who always heard everything anyone else said, typically became defensive of her daughter. The father, who usually avoided confrontation, didn’t back off this time. It wasn’t long before she was yelling. The granddaughter, sitting on the floor at her mother’s feet, was apparently oblivious to all that was happening; or else used to ignoring her mother’s tirades.
The child’s appearance of equanimity would not last long. The mother was now fuming mad. Glaring at her father-in-law, she grabbed her daughter by the wrist, yanked her up, and screamed, “You’re traumatizing her!” The girl, indeed, began crying. If she was not traumatized then, she would over her childhood learn to be traumatized. It was an important lesson to be internalized. It was a rite of passage into adulthood.
As the child’s head is hit at each boundary marker in the feudal custom of beating the bounds, egoic individuality also has to be imprinted through pain and suffering, abuse and fear. The most important point is not only that the boundaries of self must not be forgotten but that they must be associated with the earliest experiences of being hurt by those who are supposed to protect and care for the child.
Self-consciousness is defined by betrayal. The first demarcation to be established between self and other is the separation between child and mother. Then the child too can become an individual, if at first with the help of a favorite blankie or teddy bear. Then the proper social order will be ensured, the social order where everyone is alone, even when together. The greatest threat to society is the child who grows up never learning this. But this child did learn.
Now the holidays can continue. The incident will slip away, just something that happened. To keep the peace, a covenant of silence will seal the shared memory. Later in life, the child won’t recall what happened and no one will tell her about it. All she will have is a gnawing sense of anxiety, of mistrust. To help her fit into this society of other damaged individuals, she will go to therapy, take her meds, and keep her head down. Buried in the unconscious, a child still sits on the rug lost in drawing.