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September 11, 2022


The biggest sin against children is one that we can prevent! How we parent our children can enormously influence how they turn out as positive, successful people or self-destructive failures.

The seven deadly sins are a failure of parenting by our parents and by their parents, and by their parents, parents, etc., etc. Now, we have a chance to stop this deadly cycle and to start empowering our children by protecting them from The Seven Deadly Sins.


The first of the Seven Deadly Sins is the double bind. Two kinds of double binds are double bind messages and double bind situations.  Double binds make a person confused about what they are feeling.  When a person cannot identify their feelings, it becomes impossible to make wise choices based on those feelings. And what happens when there are fewer and fewer identifiable feelings from which to choose, and what is left are only destructive feelings?  The more confused our feelings become, the more disruptive our behavior becomes.

The double bind message is when you are presented with two opposite, unacceptable, or threatening messages.  For example, the parent who smiles while he tells his child how angry he is.  Which do you respond to, the smile or the anger?  Or there is the mother who spanks the child and says with an angry tone of voice, “Mother loves you.”  Which do you respond to, the spanking and angry voice or the words?

Other double-bind messages are: “Go on out and have a good time.  My bad heart is acting up, but I’ll be fine.”  Cliched words of advice and wisdom can contain double-bind messages: “Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone.”  “If you can’t do a job right, don’t do it at all.” Versus “If at first, you do not succeed try, try, again.” You give double-bind messages with statements such as, “That’s a dumb way to feel.”  “You shouldn’t feel that way.”  Still, others are, “Big boys don’t cry.” “Nice girls don’t get angry.” The problem is that you are creating contradictory feelings in the child.

The double-bind situation is where a person is put into a position where any choice will be unacceptable.  Children caught in the middle of divorcing parents, who are competing for their child’s loyalty and affection, will often give the child crazy-maker choices.  The child is expected to view the ex-spouse with the same anger and rejection as the parent.  The message is, “If you loved me, you would not love your mother.”   Whether the child chooses his feelings or if he chooses the feelings expected of him by the parent, he is the loser.  So, then the parent gives the child another double-bind situation, “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about!”

An example of an adult double-bind situation: A woman’s new husband and her teenage son were constantly fighting.  The only choices that seemed available were to kick out her son or to kick out her new husband.  Both were unacceptable.  The woman experienced a period when she had a brief psychotic episode, was “crazy,” and had to be placed in the hospital.

The second Deadly Sin is one in which we tell the child that what they feel is not what they feel.  A child only knows that something is inside of him, a feeling prodding him for attention.  In the same way that we must teach a child the names of objects in his world, such as a chair, table, or desk, he must be taught appropriate names for what he feels.  However, instead, we come up with messages such as, “Jump up, that didn’t hurt,” “You’re not mad at Mother, you love Mother,” and “You don’t hate your brother, you love him,” “Nice girls don’t get angry.  Pretty is as pretty does.”

Another way we teach children to repress what they feel is by teaching them that anger is a sin, that sexual feelings are evil, etc., thereby turning everyday life experiences into double-bind situations. “Sex is dirty, save it for the one you love.” Everyone, at some time in their lives, will experience anger or sexual feelings.  These feelings are natural occurrences for all humans. Feelings are not good or bad; they just ARE.  When you are no longer aware of what you are feeling because you have repressed them or do not know what you are feeling, then you cannot make logical (good) choices.

The third Deadly Sin is the use of putdowns.  We put people down in many ways.  We call them names: “You’re dumb!”  “You’re stupid!” “You’re a bad boy!”    “You’re my favorite little dumb dumb!”  Some of the most emotionally violent programs on TV use put-down humor. Some older programs that used putdowns were Groucho Marx’s later programs, Don Rickles, and Everybody Loves Raymond.  Sarcasm, ranking, and playing dozens are all forms of putdown commonly misused as humor.  “That’s real smart!  You wanna try for two?”  All of us have doubts about our abilities, talents, and looks. When we are the victims of putdowns, especially from significant people in our lives, our self-concept can be significantly shaken, and we feel powerless and a little bit crazy.

When someone comes up to talk to you, and you turn away or ignore the person completely, you have just given that person a powerful message of how low their importance is to you.  Another type of putdown is when you discount the person’s feelings: “You think that was bad!  When I was your age, I had no socks or shoes and had to walk through the snow barefoot!” “That is not real love. It’s just a crush.  You’ll get over it.  It’s no big deal.” “That wasn’t a hard spanking; when I was your age, I used to get it with a razor strap.” “You think you’ve got it bad! Wait ‘til you grow up.  Then you’ll know what real trouble is all about.”  “A pretty girl like you couldn’t have any real problems.”

The fourth of the Seven Deadly Sins is that others are always more important than you are.  A few years ago, in a local hospital emergency room, a young boy with a broken leg was crying softly to himself.  His father approached him and said, “Now, you mustn’t cry. You’re upsetting your mother.”  In other words, everyone else’s feelings are more important than yours.  Many have heard, “You’ll do it because I told you to do it!”  Here again, no explanation and the reinforcement that parents are more important.  The child is treated as a second-class citizen with no power to control or change anything in his life.

Once you have a person trapped in a double bind and have confused them about what they feel and convinced them that they are not important, you can assure their perpetual neurotic or crazy behavior by convincing and then re-enforcing in the person’s mind that they are powerless to change anything in their lives.

The fifth of our Seven Deadly Sins reinforces the child’s powerlessness.  You can do this quite often in a very subtle way by rescuing them and making all their decisions.  Not too long ago, I had a young mother in my office with a little girl about 2-1/2 years old.  The little girl was afraid of almost everything in her world, including her own shadow.  Children are not born feeling powerless.  This is a feeling, as is guilt, learned from their parents.

As I observed them, a small child of less than a year old crawled up to the little girl, who immediately began screaming, “Baby is going to get me!  Baby is going to get me!”  The mother walked over, picked up the little girl, and said, “Now, now, don’t cry.  The baby isn’t going to hurt you.  The baby loves you.”  The mother took her little girl a short distance away and placed her back on the floor.  The baby again crawled towards the little girl, the girl screamed, and the mother picked her up with reassuring words and again moved the girl away from the baby.

My grandpa used to say, “What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say.”  From the little girl’s perspective, “Mother came over to pick me up and rescue me from the baby each time I screamed.  The baby must be bad and will hurt me.”

Another less subtle example is the parent who needs to control their child’s life and environment.  “The next time this comes up, you will do what I tell you, or you are really going to get it.”  When you rescue children from messes they may have gotten into, it teaches them that there are no consequences to behavior and that they are powerless to control or shape anything in their environment.

Over and over, I see parents reinforcing their children’s feelings of powerlessness.  They are not allowed to pick out what clothes they will wear that day.  Some parents force children to eat when they are not hungry, “You eat everything on your plate, or you will have to eat it for breakfast.”  By making all the decisions for our children and by constantly rescuing them, they learn to believe that they are too dumb, too weak, and too powerless to learn to take care of themselves and that they will never be able to make even the easiest decisions.  They become afraid of change, fearful of growth, and afraid of life.

The sixth and most destructive of Deadly Sins you can give your children is conditional love. The use of conditional love can create the most obedient children. The conditional love message is, “If you don’t mind me, I won’t love you.”  This message is acted out when the parent withdraws from or withholds the expression of love from the child until obedience is obtained.  Sometimes it is done as the child approaches the parent, and the parent ignores or rejects him to punish him for disobedience.

Children who are the victims of this punishment become terrified that their parents might leave them.  They fear being left alone, even for short periods and will go to extreme lengths to “guarantee” that they will not be rejected.  These children become extremely well-mannered and reserved, with very few friends. They are content to play alone for unusually long periods, even though other children are around.  Research indicates that these children tend to run a very high risk of suicide and homicidal behaviors in later years, but because of fear of not being loved, they are extremely well mannered!

In the Seventh Sin, parents teach children that the world is a dangerous, unsafe, threatening place to be and that the people in the world are unsafe and dangerous and that we must protect ourselves from everything and everybody.

The Seventh Sin against children is the guarantee.  Once you have confused the child and convinced him that he is unimportant and powerless, the next goal is to ensure that he will be too afraid to check with others to find out if the world is different from what he has been taught.  He is afraid to check out his perception of himself and those around him.  “People will use you, take advantage of you, and then leave you alone and isolated.” “Women are all gold diggers who are out to use you.” “Everybody lies. There are no honest people.” “Men only want one thing.”

This Seventh Sin establishes in the mind of the child that the only safe response is withdrawal from all people, from the world, and society.  There will be no change in their perception of their surroundings because there is no new information coming in to question or raise doubts about all the previous crazy- makers.

From time to time, we have received or been given some of these crazy makers.  The degree to which we affect or are affected by others with crazy-making messages depends upon the frequency and length of time the crazy-making messages have been given.

In many ways, these Seven Deadly Sins are like accumulated poisons.  Their effect can range from a low self-image to bizarre and crazy behavior that would require institutionalization.  My question is: “Is what you are doing getting you what you want in the long run?”  “Is this what you want your children to be?”  “Is this how I want to control my relationships with my children?”


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