Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Invisible Child

Invisibility is a survival strategy sometimes observed in victims of childhood abuse. In their earliest years, many children, probably due to a generalization of subjectivity arising from imperfectly or incompletely formed self boundaries, believe themselves invisible whenever they close their eyes. In abused children, this belief may never be completely overcome. The magical eye-closing of childhood modulates into a more realistic desire to render oneself invisible to potential abusers (i.e., the world) by concealing oneself or ‘hiding in plain sight.’ Strategies of concealment include hiding behind furniture or curtains, closing oneself inside closets, crawling under tables, beds, etc. More subtle techniques of ‘plain sight’ concealment include standing near or against the walls of a room; rarely speaking, even when spoken to; walking quietly, rarely gesturing, refraining from expressions of emotion, etc. In general, the child avoids any action or activity that might draw attention to himself. He keeps his gaze lowered or unfocused and often ‘freezes’ his face into a neutral, inscrutable mask. If these symptoms become fossilized and persist into adulthood, they will tend to ensure social failure in mature life. This is a classic example of the ‘winner loses’ phenomenon, in which a successful childhood adaptation enables the child to survive into an adulthood of abject failure caused by that same adaptation. The former ‘invisible child’ will tend to be an extremely alienated adult with few or no friends or intimate relationships and limited economic prospects. (His inability to ‘project himself’ in job interviews, for example, will often lead him into a life of underemployment and its consequent frustrations.) A ‘successful’ strategy of invisibility will also commonly provoke episodes of silent infantile rage whenever it functions ‘too well’: when people accidentally bump into the victim, for example, and excuse themselves by saying, “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.” The invisible adult will attempt to control his resultant rage at an unseeing world by turning the anger inward. Nothing is more visible than an indignant, self-righteous ranter, so the invisible man silently swallows his anger and smolders inside, burning away more of himself every time the world bumps against him. The invisibility that arguably saved him as a child thus becomes the adult's living death; the years that should have been his life pass by as a long, slow suicide. Life provides many paths to hell-in-the-mind; this is one of them.

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