A Terror of Butterflies: Notes on Child Psychology

Freud introduced the idea that neuroses in adulthood have their roots in childhood trauma, and despite the fact that Freud's theories are now much more important to philosophy and literature departments in universities than psychology itself, we still basically think he's right about that connection - go through something traumatic as a kid, grow up, have what we now call issues.

It's been fun for me as someone who knows whole half-dozens of things about Freud to watch Plan C growing up.  The man couldn't have been more wrong about the whole idea that the infant is perfectly happy until it is forced to confront its separation from its mother (a stage usually associated with the development of language); that one is complete bullshit, as anyone who's been around a screaming infant vs. a relatively content toddler could tell you.  But, the trauma thing is more surprising to me.  From what I've seen, trauma or fear or even a peculiar kind of low-grade phobia seems built in, even without an actual event to trigger it.

Example: butterflies.

Plan C is terrified of butterflies.  She frequently reassures B or me as we put her to bed that we shouldn't worry, the butterflies won't get her, or, she tells us when she wakes up that there were butterflies in her room.  When she plays with her little people they have whole conversations about how the butterflies are going to get them.  This is a big part of her mental life.

Now, I am here to tell you that she was never attacked, molested, or harrassed by a single butterfly.  Not ONE.  She has other things she's afraid of for no reason as well, most immediately other kinds of bugs (albeit none as panic-inducing as butterflies.)  The point here is that it's almost like fear just welled up in her sometime after she turned 2 and found something to purchase on; the butterflies aren't the important things, it's just that it was butterflies where her innate terror focused. 

It's friggin' interesting.

(Watch, she'll grow up to be an entomologist who only eats nectar.)

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