The Musings of an Elective Orphan

Sarah Brandis

Daddy Issues – Mind and Brain

I am just going through the word document of my ebook, The Breaking and Making of Me, and fixing up some typos from my first release.  Gah – editing!  While I was in the land of psychology meeting memoir, I wanted to post a little excerpt from the first chapter.  This is my take on why the things you learn while you are young stay with you forever, whether they are good or bad, right or wrong…

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On Kindle, Kobo, Sony, iBooks, Barnes & Noble.

“Maybe your Daddy didn’t love you enough”, sang George Michael in his 1997 song Star People.  Now songs of course are open to interpretation, but I think if you listen to the whole song it’s pretty clear the lyrics are having a pop at the parade of celebrities who ‘had a hard time’ growing up, but it ‘made them who they are today’, hungry for success.  But they of course have this problem of falling for the wrong guys/girls/party drugs etcetera because of the love they lacked in their childhood.  While I totally agree that these celebrities and their misery memoirs are sometimes nauseating, the lyrics also speak to me because ‘Daddy Issues’ are a genuine problem for many; not just the nauseatingly rich and all-over-your-TV types.  I am talking about the modern interpretation of ‘Daddy Issues’, not the original understanding known as the Electra Complex, proposed by Carl Jung in 1913.*1  I am not for a minute suggesting that so many women, myself included, harbor a secret desire to replace their own mother in their parents’ marital bed (gross).  I am speaking of the more modern concept that is now accepted, or at least not rejected by modern psychology, that girls who grow up without the love of a father figure will seek out male attention in later years to fill the void.  This attention is often of a sexual nature because, I think, as young adults this is an obvious and successful way to get attention.  And of course men suffer just as much from childhood neglect; and with men and women, either parent could be responsible.  But I am a girl with ‘Daddy Issues’.  There, I said it.

But how do we develop these issues, and why do they last a lifetime?  Neuroscience research tells us that the first seven years of life are the most ‘plastic’ for learning.  I will explain what this means in a very short and simple way.  We are born, our basic newborn brain has formed in the womb and pretty much all that has influenced it so far is genetics and the things that can cross the placenta (nutrients etc.).  From the moment of birth we are having all kinds of life experiences (sunshine, human interaction, crap daytime TV, anything and everything) and these experiences form new synaptic connections between the neurons in the brain (learning, basically).  Now not every connection will stay with you for life, there would be far too many to cope with (and your head would be enormous), so only connections that are used repeatedly become a permanent part of your adult brain.  There is a saying in neuroscience, “neurons that fire together, wire together”.  What this basically means is that repeating the same real world experience causes the same neuron-to-neuron (via synapse) communication, and the repetition of this cements the synaptic route.  The synaptic routes that don’t get repeated use are pruned away over time so that we don’t waste brain space learning unimportant things.  These two processes are known as plasticity and pruning, and a great deal of both occur before seven years of age.  To give you an example of how busy our brains are as youngsters; at two to three years of age the average child has approximately fifteen thousand synapses per neuron in the cerebral cortex, which is double the average number for an adult.  About half of those synaptic connections will be pruned away.  Knowing this has led me to wonder; if indeed your Daddy didn’t love you enough, perhaps plasticity and pruning could be a part of how and why some adults may carry their ‘Daddy Issues’ with them throughout their whole lives.  If you are repeatedly told that you are a naughty child whilst you are learning about yourself and the world around you, then the repetition of this could make it a hard fact in your mind and brain.  In my opinion you could be the strongest, most grounded adult, but if you learned that you were unloved at an early age, and these ‘Daddy doesn’t love me’ synapses survived the pruning where other synapses did not, then this could explain those nagging feelings of low self-worth that you never quite grow out of.   Just a thought.”

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2 comments on “Daddy Issues – Mind and Brain

  1. diahannreyes
    September 11, 2013

    Thanks for your brave honesty, Sarah! You are giving voice to so many other women’s stories by sharing your own and I really appreciate that.

  2. sarahbgoode
    September 14, 2013

    Thank you, that made me smile 🙂

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