Saturday, May 22, 2010

When Selfishness Isn't a Choice

More than ever before, giving presentations this past week has resulted in a lot of learning for me. The questions that were asked and the comments made were very insightful and required me to ponder a lot of different issues. One of them is just a single thought that gives me new perspective into my children.

I have been incredible shocked at how "selfish" my children have always been. From the time they moved in, the majority of them have been clearly focused on themselves and their world, not seeming to have the ability to consider how their actions were impacting someone else or how the people around them felt. This one issue has irritated and plagued me for years and it seems that the older the kids get the worse it is, especially those entering adulthood.

It occurred to me this week, and I'm not sure why, that maybe I have some kids who ONLY have the ability to manage their own life and that anything else is more than they can handle. If my brain was disorganized and cells were missing, I might only have the mental capacity to take care of myself. The things that I think are simple things, like planning my unstructured time, organizing my social life (though that isn't too complex because we don't have many friends), making sure my clothes and body are clean... all the things that just happen naturally for me, may consume much more energy for my kids.

Maybe they aren't choosing to be selfish, maybe they simply do not have any more room in their brains to care or worry about the people around them. My feelings are not even registering in their minds. Sometimes a few them even act like they are surprised to see me -- as if they have forgotten they have parents sometimes.

This is one more reason why I really need to get my feelings out of the picture and realize their own success based on that which they are capable.

Could it be that there are children and adults out there who because of mental illness, organic brain damage due to prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, or a history of abuse, trauma, neglect and attachment issues, simply CANNOT be anything but what we as society view as selfish?

And if that is the case, is it fair for me to expect more?


GB's Mom said...

There are people out there who, for whatever reason, struggle to manage their own lives and do not have the capacity to to any more then that. And no, it is not fair to expect more at of these people. The trick is figuring out the can'ts from the wont's. Figure that out and you will change mental health dervices as we know them.

Linda said...

With RAD every decision a child makes is about their survival so all their decisions look selfish to us. But since day one that's what they've had to do because they didn't have anyone to take care of them and it's as much a part of them and their daily life as breathing. Knowing the reason and living with the behavior are two different things, though.

Anonymous said...

Older Kid's doctor told me this is one of the main "symptoms" of personality disorders--the complete inability to focus on anything other than oneself. It is not their fault.

I felt better when I learned that. It is good to know that my kids are not this way on purpose.

Lee said...

You articulated so well what I have wondered about from time to time. My eldest is very non neuro typical and though he can care about big concepts that don't require emotional investment (i.e. global warming) he has no capacity to reach out with empathy. If I tripped and fell in front of him he would say "well you shouldn't have done that." "Are you OK" would not register. It isn't meanness with him, just how he orders a world that often overwhelms him. But it can and sometimes does FEEL mean to not receive a hand up off the floor or a query as to ones state of being.