Disconnection, Detachment, & Lost Joiners


My good friend, Dr. Ken Larsen, has started an interesting discussion on the William Glasser International Linked-in discussion group.   He points out that these mass murder offenders are not just loners, but they are “failed joiners.”   He correctly relates it to what Dr. Glasser calls “detachment” when one has failed to connect with others.  It isn’t so much that they don’t want to connect.  They just don’t have much luck doing so for any number of reasons.  They don’t feel like they fit in with others.


There are several different situations that occur behind closed doors that can and will lead to a child’s detachment or poor connection with or from others.  In most cases, these situations are the result of what is going on with the parent’s life such as financial problems, infidelity, unwanted pregnancy (parent or child), terminal illness, the death in the family, or any other major stressor within the family.  But the most common and seemingly the most damaging is that of alcohol and drug addiction.  .  . the effects of which affect no less than four other people besides the addicted person and is found in one out of every four families.


There is a phenomenological result of a genetic bond that children have with their parents rooted in the need for survival, love and belonging.  Children know that they need their parents in order to survive.  But what if  the parent(s) is not all-knowing, all-loving, and all-giving, or is lacking in their own needs?  The child will often create a false perception to help them feel more safe and secure in a world of lies, angry outbursts, violence, broken promises, sexual abuse, depression, hallucinations, irrational behavior,  unhappiness, and unconsciousness.  While one parent is using drugs or alcohol, the other parent either joins them in using or else is totally lost as to how to deal with the family’s stress.  The other parent often creates such behaviors as depressing, angering, over-eating or not eating, anxieting, and fibromyalgiac aches and pains that lead to the use of opiate pain relieving drugs and addiction.  Now the child has two parents who are not doing well which only further adds to the child’s insecurity and fear .

 Children  create a connection with their parens in  what Robert Firestone refers to as The Fantasy Bond . . . a self-created perception of seeing those who are responsible for their welfare and wellbeing as being “normal” loving  and caring parents even when they may not be such.  While the parents are not getting their needs met in the marriage or their own lives, they cannot possibly meet the developmental needs of the child very well.  The child then becomes creative and learns to self-nourish and develops his/her own adolescent survival techniques.  While these survival techniques tend to work to some extent, they tend to fall apart as the child gets older.


The need for our genetic basic needs are so strong that when not afforded by parents, a child will create their own world and perception of what is needed to get these needs met.  They see their parent’s behavior as being normal and typical of what all parents do in all families.  Then they take the disowned or unwanted parental behaviors and internalize them as being their own bad behavior.   “It’s not their fault.  It’s all because of me.”  Under all of this is the fear of what will become of them if the parent(s) is having difficulties in their own life.  The child quickly learns the three rules of living in their dysfunctional family that carries over into their social world and leads to disconnectedness.



  1. Don’t talk.

  2. Don’t trust

  3. Don’t Feel

Young children are needy and they require love, belonging, security, and acceptance to feel safe  and welcome in the world.   In the home where the parent(s) are going through stressful times and are needy themselves, this is the time where often the child is shamed for being needy.  “Can’t you see that I have enough problems of my own than to have to worry about your piddly problems?  All you ever do is think about yourself!”  This leads towards the child shutting down as far as relying on a parent to get their future needs met and they develop their own survival techniques manifested in such behaviors as:



  1. Overachieving, being super responsible, and feeling guilty if they enjoy themselves for very long; being super serious and a “take charge” stance in social situations.   They harbor a lot of masked anger that erupts from time to time.  They tend burn out early life with anxiety and/or poor health.  They often performs duties around the home that the parents should be doing but don’t.  This results in pats on the back and recognition for their efforts that only reinforce the child’s behavior.

  2. Acting out with behaviors that get attention even though the consequences may be punitive.  This child grows up angry.  This child knows something is not right but doesn’t know what it is that isn’t working or what it is no one is talking about.  S/he is seeking acceptance.

  3. Withdrawing and spending free time in self-absorbed activities . . . having only one, or two at the most, friends . . . connecting with objects more than people . . . feel loved and wanted by their pets and animals more than by humans . . . extremely shy and timid with very poor social skills due to lack of socializing.  This child grows up feeling wounded.  This is a true disconnecter or lost joiner. 

  4. Being occasionally irresponsible and making a joke out of everything as a means of “maintaining their own sanity.”  Rather than fret and worry, they make a joke out of bad situations and don’t seem to take it seriously.  This child grows up feeling many different emotions of happiness, sadness, and anger at any given time.  Feeling powerless, they choose to make a joke of adversity.

All children and adult children have a Fantasy Bond with their parents to some degree or another.  However, the more dysfunctional the family, the stronger is the bond.  For example, try to tell a child that their father is an alcoholic or drug addict would lead to an angry response and denial and even possible physical retribution for even thinking such a thing.  What is truly amazing is that the child has often considered this accusation to be a possibility in the past but then quickly dismissed it.  To admit otherwise would only add further anxiety and shatter the Fantasy Bond they have with the parent.   This all appears to be rooted in the need for security (survival), love and belonging.


I describe the role children develop in their families as being similar to that of the person who sits in front of their TV set, flipping through channels until something appears that looks like it might be interesting to watch.  After finding such a program, they sit back prepared to watch it for their enjoyment and no sooner do they begin watching, the screen flashes the words, “The End.” 


Disappointed, the viewer says or thinks, “What the hell was THAT all about?”  The reason it didn’t make much sense is because they didn’t see the beginning or the middle of the story.  They only saw the end.   There was a lot of drama going on in our parent’s lives before we were even born.  And if we don’t know the beginning or the middle of our parent’s drama, the family story doesn’t make much sense.  We only know the end which is the part where we enter into the family drama.  However, since we just entered, we struggle to keep the drama going rather than having it end.


What the child does next  is watch the drama going on all around them and then, by trial and error, finds a role that will allow the drama to continue without adding more drama or creating more tension and unhappiness within the family script, often failing miserably.  The trial and error roles often add more stress in the family drama.  Each new role by each new player is different than the other roles so as to avoid competition for the same roles among family members.  However, competition can and will exist while reaching the role that meets the genetic needs of the child.  Incidentally, the role that a child develops in their own family is the role they maintain when dealing with others outside the family and when they marry and have thier own family.  They are drawn to others who will allow them to continue their role with the least amount of variance or conflict.


As long as a child lives in an alcohol or drug affected family, any and all measures to assist the child will be severely hampered.   And what exists throughout the family’s interactions is unreasonable resentments that carry over into social interaction.  The family, itself, suffers a familial anosognosia: They cannot  see or recognize what others can see so obviously.  But in so many cases, the obvious is not even seen by anyone outside the family due to the family’s ability to hide what is going on behind closed doors and further protected by the Judeo/Christian fourth commandment of Honor thy Father and Mother.  But when one feels they can no longer tolerate thier own unhappiness, they may lash out at society, in general, and then society labels them as mentally ill.


As stated earlier, there are many reasons that cause family discord and unmet developmental/basic needs.  Alcohol and drug addiction appear to be the most common of those causes.   In a perfect world, the answer would lie in much of what Dr. Nancy Buck ( http://www.psychologytoday.com/experts/nancy-s-buck-phd) is doing with her “Peaceful Parenting” work.   Not only do we need to make mental health a public health issue, we need to make successful parenting a public health issue.  Doing so would free up teachers, counselors, therapists, law enforcement personnel, and other professionals to focus on other concerns.   It would also free up our prison system population, stopping the high cost of medical treatment, ever-increasing taxes directed towards paying for police protection, prisons, school drop-outs, medical treatment for the uninsured, drug/alcohol treatment, State funded mental illness programs,  and the increase of government involvement attempting to control human behavior.


I welcome any method that helps people lead happy and successful lives athat would also help people not need my services.  It is far easier to approach the problems from where they begin than to deal with them after they occur.  If individuals cannot make healthy connections within their own family, how can they possibly make healthy connections in society?

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