The Clare Spark Blog

November 19, 2012

Abandonment anxiety and “moderation”

Over the weekend, I discovered that my computer had been hacked. It set me into waves of panic. The panic was about abandonment, and the subject leads me back to certain themes on my website that have been discussed at length: attachment theory, panic attacks, the neutral state, rival conceptions of managing conflict, and the psychiatry wars between Freudians, Jungians, and anti-“talking cure” pill-dispensers.

As my Facebook friends are aware, I live in Southern California, which is home for New Age mystics and those who seek “healing” of conflicts that have lodged in the material body, or, worse, conflicts that are omnipresent in the (mis-named) “body politic.” It is to these latter seekers after “peace of mind” that this blog is mostly addressed.

It has long been my position that traumas inflicted in early childhood can never be healed, no matter how much insight into family dynamics, the poor parenting skills of our caretakers, or knowledge of world, national, and local history. For instance, I could dwell on women as particularly susceptible to abandonment fears, but men have abandonment fears too, whether they go beyond the typical feminine fear of aging and being dumped for a younger woman, or not.

This blog is not consoling, except in one respect: as mature persons looking at conflict inside or outside our own psyches, we may learn to manage conflicts, even if they can never be resolved. In the public sphere, we should beware of politicians and pundits who preach the opposite: that a neutral, artful, manipulative mediator can get warring parties to agree on compromise.

We are facing two particularly unresolvable conflicts today: 1. Israel and the Palestinians; and 2. Republicans and Democrats (the political parties not only have divergent views on capitalism, but are internally incoherent). The term “moderation” is a favorite conception of psychological warfare practitioners. “Moderation” is something that every healthy person strives for, but the word is too abstract, taken by itself, to be useful.

When we look to “moderation” are we talking about the portions of pasta that we consume, or “compromising” with the person with a gun or missile pointed at our home? We have seen how ineffectual appeasement has been in the past, while through the 1930s, Hitler constantly tested the democracies who were loath to embark upon another war after the war-weariness that ensued after the Great War. There are times when the enemy must be resisted and defeated, not pacified.

Families and family histories are a different matter. Paraphrasing Tolstoy, each family is miserable in its own unique way, whether over political differences, memories of past injuries, generational conflict, sibling rivalry, or marital strife. Liberals recommend better “communication skills” as if these techniques actually soothed the savage beast that often emerges at such moments as Thanksgiving or similar holidays. Some religions advise “forgiveness” as if such a gesture would confer “closure”, restoring a harmony that never existed, maybe not even in the womb.

My own view is that no amount of appeasement, compromise, or reparations can cure ancient hurts, but that self-knowledge (including knowledge of those organs where rage is stored), knowledge of our relatives’ sore spots, and particular needs, are skills that everyone can acquire in time. “Healing,” like the sentimental songs that the Yankee Doodle Society have reconstructed, is a utopian fantasy, but wise management of irreconcilable conflict is realizable.

Happy Thanksgiving, and work on your deep breathing. (For a different take on Thanksgiving, see Especially timely given the new Spielberg movie on Lincoln.)


  1. […] Fifth, the flashback to the Second Inaugural Address, coming immediately after the assassination serves to bind the Nation as an organic entity. This is the most reactionary feature of the movie. In truth, we remain fragmented, and neo-Confederate flags still fly. By relying upon Doris Kearn Goodwin’s book, Spielberg portrayed Lincoln as the moderate man who could unite warring factions, even within his own party. I.e., all conflicts are reconcilable. The irony is the American Civil War (the “irrepressible conflict”) as the primary locale for this “moderate” strategy of manipulation and compromise. (See, or […]

    Pingback by LINCOLN (the movie) as propaganda « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — February 11, 2013 @ 4:54 pm | Reply

  2. “It has long been my position that traumas inflicted in early childhood can never be healed,….. ‘

    I’ve just started to read Plutarch’s Lives (recommended by Roger Kimball). Early on, still in the Introduction, this stood out:

    “[Coriolanus’] example shows us that the loss of a father, even though it may impose other disadvantages on a boy, does not prevent him from living a virtuous or a distinguished life, and that it is only worthless men who seek to excuse that deterioration of their character by pleading neglect in their early years”.

    On the other hand, there’s that famous line from “West Side Story”: “I’m depraved on account of I’m deprived”. And life was simpler, it was easier to tell right from wrong, in Plutarch’s time. And not all of us have Colriolanus’ (and others) character. And there’s a difference between neglect and abuse.

    If only life consisted of easy questions.

    Comment by lectorconstans — November 20, 2012 @ 10:25 pm | Reply

  3. That is very moving

    Comment by Kathryn — November 19, 2012 @ 10:24 pm | Reply

    • Attachment theory (see John Bowlby’s book) suggests that the failure of a strong bond between mother and infant leaves lifelong scars that affect the psyche forever. I believe that neglect is a form of abuse. It is harder, perhaps, to criticize our parents for their deficiencies, after they are dead for the need to idealize them or to hold on to their better qualities is powerful. I am not suggesting that any of this applies to lectorconstans.

      Comment by clarespark — November 20, 2012 @ 10:30 pm | Reply

      • Yes,I am familiar with Bowlby’s work.Yet many people still think infants have no feelings such as jealousy or grief.

        Comment by Kate — November 21, 2012 @ 10:51 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: