Personality Development in a Child Without a Family

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As much as a child needs to become somewhat independent from the family during its development, it is so dangerous for its mental development if it is deprived of the emotional warmth of a healthy family environment at the beginning of its life. The lack of a family in the first years of life hinders the development of a child’s personality in all its components. Goldfarb and others examined the wards of orphanages and showed that in their mental development, what suffers most is the children’s speech, with the ability to express themselves lagging behind more than the ability to understand other people’s speech. In addition to speech, the social functions of the child and its adaptability to the environment are the most damaged.

Children who develop without a family, i.e. in a children’s institution where they do not have an adequate replacement for their parents or are not accepted with sufficient sympathy, remain permanently impaired in their emotional functions. These are people who are not capable of any close interpersonal relationships. They don’t have any deeper feelings so they can’t genuinely take an interest in other people nor can they befriend anyone.

Characteristic in this sense is the example of a 17-year-old girl, an orphan – a “child without a name” -, grew up in orphanages, changing nine of them. When we spoke to her about her difficulties in adapting to the environment, she said:

“I don’t love anyone, because no one loves me either.”

In this way, she spontaneously expressed the essence of a person who developed without parental love. Such people are usually inaccessible, repulsive to the environment, intolerant of being approached emotionally. They are regularly indifferent to situations that make other people happy or sad; they do not show affective understanding for other people. Emotionally deficient people often avoid work, find it difficult to concentrate on any systematic and long-lasting activity, and are sometimes prone to antisocial behavior, especially theft.

These are all symptoms of psychopathic personality development. Among people who grew up without a family, individuals with a complete defect of conscience and ethics are much more common than among people who have developed mentally in the family. That is why Bowlby believes that the absence of the family, especially the mother, in the first five years of life is the main cause of delinquent behavior in children’s later life. And Kemp found that in one group of prostitutes, one third did not have a family, but developed in very bad emotional circumstances, without the possibility of a stronger identification with anyone.

There is often a striking contradiction in the behavior of institutional children: they are affectively poor, indifferent, and at the same time unusually eager for tenderness. That’s why they just stick to the person who appears among them and shows at least a little attention. But this contradiction is only apparent. Many emotionally indifferent people, admittedly, crave tenderness but are nevertheless completely incapable of accepting or reciprocating it.

It should be noted that the lack of a family environment in the first years of life hinders the intellectual development of the child. This is indicated by the already mentioned lag of such a child in the formation of speech. Goldfarb emphasizes that institutional children are poorly capable of creating concepts, and L. Bender adds that the lack of a concept of time is particularly noticeable in institutional children. This is why such children have a hard time remembering past experiences, make little use of the same and do not know how to use them to set goals in the future. The conscious material that such a child has at its disposal in its flow of thought and in its imagination is very superficial, poor, and shows a tendency to react only to immediate stimuli and experiences. Awareness of one’s “self” in such children is very stunted because identification is also limited and unstable.

Early deformation of the personality in the sense of psychopathy due to the absence of the family cannot later be significantly corrected by family life or other positive influences around the family. The older such a child is, the harder it is to change anything in its personality. Just as severe rickets in the earliest childhood can make a person a dwarf or a hunchback for life, even when they are later stung by huge amounts of vitamin D, so a person remains mentally disabled for life if they are deprived of a normal family environment in the first years of life. This shortcoming cannot be compensated for later.

Therefore, psychohygiene seeks to enable a child to stay without their own family in someone else’s family. Experience shows that the average, emotionally healthy family always provides a child with many more opportunities for proper mental growth than a children’s home. Therefore, efforts are made to place a child without a family, an orphan, a neglected illegitimate child, etc., who has been accepted by a children’s institution, as soon as possible in another family, which can adopt him or her, or take him/her for a fee from the social security service (foster family). At the same time, it is necessary, of course, to pay attention to the motives of the family that takes someone else’s child and what the emotional relations are in it. It happens that adoptive parents or foster parents take advantage of a child when it grows up, e.g., as a domestic servant, or completely neglect it by abusing the material means they receive for its subsistence. Extremely neurotic people, or psychopathic personalities, are not capable of providing a positive upbringing to someone else’s child.

Some orphans still stay in orphanages. In order to mitigate as much as possible the negative impact of the lack of a family, we try to make life in the institution as similar as possible to the way of life in the family. There is a growing acceptance that children’s homes should be built in the form of pavilions that mimic family houses, or that the living space in a larger building be arranged in such a way that the home is organized in the form of a number of smaller apartments. Then no more than 5 to 6 children of both sexes and different ages can be accommodated in one apartment, i.e. pavilion. Two educators are with them, preferably of different sexes, who take turns in the care. Children from such a “family” are given various duties and small responsibilities, similar to a natural family. In this way, a situation is created that is as similar as possible to a family situation, in order to build as close emotional relationships as possible between the members of that small community. In some countries (Switzerland, Austria) entire settlements are built in this way, the so-called “Children’s villages”.