Conspiracy Chickens Roosting

Conspiracy definition: “the act of conspiring together” 

The Coronavirus crisis has been fertile ground for the conspiracy theorists among us. Yesterday 260 people died from the virus in the UK, but some people still refuse to take it seriously. Before, they were bores, now they’re dangerous, to themselves and their communities.

There seems to be a high concentration of conspiracy enthusiasts in Notting Hill and North Kensington – I’ve listened to them banging on for years, with fantasies about global control from the masons to the Illuminati to alien lizards. The focus on outlandish, sci-fi conspiracies is troubles me, especially when there are so many actual conspiracies in the world that they could give their energy to.

Actual conspiracies are usually plans to increase wealth or power for a small group, with destruction, violence or misery for other resulting…

The conspiracy of corporations and governments to permit our environment to be destroyed to increase profits and power for a very few people; this same precise environmental vandalism could explain the emergence of deadly modern-day viruses including COVID-19; there is an ongoing conspiracy to overthrow the Venezuelan government; the overturning of Bolivian democracy; the NSA spying revelations; the Iraq war logs; on a subtler level there is the establishment-media coalescence around discrediting Jeremy Corbyn or the political and legal steps taken by the UK government to keep selling arms to Saudi Arabia, prolonging the humanitarian disaster in the Yemen. Much closer to home, there are enough examples of local authorities being in bed with property developers while residents suffer in inadequate homes…  

But these actual cases are too real for the theorists. They’re parochial, mundane, too closely associated with ‘mainstream’ activism or they present too much of a real-life challenge: a call to action to actually do something to oppose the injustice. But this implies effort, collaboration with others and, potentially, defeat. Easier to hide behind a phantom.

The conspiracy theorists, a loose collective of manipulators and naïve lost souls, focus on vast global plots carried out by unknowable diabolical masterminds: the American government carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks; ‘chemtrails’ are poisoning us all; “they” (aka Jews) control the media, financial and government systems; Wikileaks is “Zionist propaganda” and many serious losses of life (including the Grenfell Tower fire) are put down to ‘crisis actors’.    

(Email sent in December 2010, during a week of revelations via Wikileaks that embarrassed the US and UK and saw the arrest of publisher Julian Assange in London. His arrest was not the focus of the conspiracy theorists)

Their stories have always been absurd, desperate, ill-judged and offensive, and now they have seized on the Coronavirus…

Creeping Fascism

The conspiracy theorists have never been able to explain why they don’t act to protect themselves and the people around them from the menaces that surround us. Hardcore theorists will never acknowledge the work of journalists, publishers or whistle-blowers in exposing real conspiracies; they will dismiss these heroic people as government (or lizard) stooges and dismiss anybody who supports them in the same way they dismiss those who question their fabrications: “narrow-minded”. This phrase is the weapon of choice, as nobody wants to be called narrow-minded, so while we scramble for a comeback they change the subject away from their responsibility to provide evidence.

This message came through yesterday on a local Coronavirus WhatsApp group:

Not for the NARROW minded

The video it linked to was a sprawling, unhinged, pro-Trump orgy of fascist nonsense:

Screencap from

I had only paid any attention to the group because somebody I care about dearly had posted something and when I’d clicked on it, it had turned out to be a racist, pro-Trump propaganda piece attempting to cast doubt on the veracity of the known threat of COVID-19:

Screencap from

Now, this friend is neither racist nor fascist and is pretty much the opposite of the greasy-looking, dead-eyed propagandists in the screengrab above. But she had been hoodwinked into believing this stuff can help explain the Coronavirus outbreak, having been softened up by years of ‘chemtrails’ conspiracies and a sense that some obscured force, beyond our grasp is out there manipulating us all.

Like the oily men above, the leaders of the conspiracy theory movement share other characteristics. They all speak with a similar tone, using a strong and defensive pitch. It doesn’t require a polygraph or body language, vocal, or psychological analysis to approximate their pathology: these people are emotionally shutdown, deeply hurt liars acting out childhood pain on the biggest, most ridiculous stage available to them. Sound familiar?  


But with the Coronavirus, the chickens are home to roost. Years of spending cuts (incidentally, the cuts are of no interest to the conspiracy theorists) mean the NHS is stretched to its limit and the police numbers aren’t there to administer the lockdown effectively. The chickens, too scared to face reality, double down on their beliefs.

The popularity of conspiracy theories means millions of people are not taking this crisis seriously. The harmless have become the dangerous. Now preyed upon by the fascist right, their overwhelmed minds hear only the narrative that they want to hear: the narrative that absolves them of any need to act over the Coronavirus and, worse, of all responsibility to their community. Instead, pathetically and perilously, they self-elevate themselves as an elite group who know what’s really going on…

These people, and I’m sure I have friends among them, are unlikely to be distancing or isolating. Their children will be roaming free, spreading the virus, parents sitting back on social media absorbing and regurgitating the hateful propaganda, perhaps sneering as us non-believers miss their point entirely. You could even call it a conspiracy to spread the virus.

Instead of humouring them, we should have shut them up years ago. This cult, a poisonous blend of the calculating and the witless, will be responsible for avoidable deaths in Britain in the coming days. 


by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Thanks to JC for the edits and support x


Death’s Merry Dance

(Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal)


I see dystopia unfolding

like a map being unfurled in a storm

In hysteria-panic a new chaotic world emerging

the big bang in reverse…


Unlike the fall of Saigon

no choppers overhead

ferrying the defeated to board ships of hope…!


I’m left writing futile words

trying to make sense of it…

Tavener’s song for Athene

a fitting soundtrack, my own lament…


Trapped inside my crazy head

yet somehow loving the madness

for this asylum belongs to me


finally finding my purpose

sitting amongst the insane

playing never-ending games of chequers…

Sanctuary! Sanctuary! They cry…


Bells cease ringing – clocks backward spinning

naked bodies smeared with wode

run crazed into battle

fighting the Legion of the damned

whom they will slaughter without pity

for all showed themselves heartless…


Butchered entrails worn like scarves

necklaces of ears

dangle between Amazon women’s breasts

strong – proud – justified

For it is all now over

pretence finally vanquished

the Truth left hanging

haunting, blowing in the wind…


Mankind returning to live inside spiritual caves

to be slowly fossilised like their endless dreams…

Only the innocent left, stirring the broth of lost souls

forever trapped in this cauldron of death…


I, like Colonel Kurtz, shuffle into the darkness

to quietly await my assassin…

Knowing I will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven 

but surely the most grateful………….




M C Bolton,  March 2020

@MarkCBolton1 @UrbanDandyLDN


Photo from

North Kensington: Urgent Awakening to Reality

Published with permission: “People have got to take this seriously x”


When prime minister Johnson announced new measures and recommendations aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus last night (Monday 23rd) I thought the message was clear: the government will maintain certain freedoms, but we all need to do our bit – if we don’t, then harsher, more dictatorial measures are inevitable. I thought this would be widely understood, but judging by what I saw on Ladbroke Grove today, I was completely wrong. Without an urgent awakening to reality, our remaining freedoms will be lost and we will be on full lockdown. And in these surreal times, we might need to rely on the most unlikely sources to help us through.

Socialism is Here

Overwhelmed by crisis, Johnson and his cabinet mutate daily into Britain’s first socialist government, exercising extensive state power in the face of COVID-19. The Tories are now adopting policies unthinkable to them a few weeks ago such as nationalisation and increased social security. Capitalism as we knew it is over, sweeping emergency socialist policies prop up the economy and society – austerity is gone. 

But this is no social democracy. It is a country in a state of emergency in which the now all-powerful government have spent so long waving flags while cutting back essential services – nurses, doctors, police –  that they have left us all enfeebled.

North Kensington

Given that the health service is teetering on the brink, it is all the more important that citizens do their bit to stop the spread of a virus which has killed 87 people in this country in the last 24 hours alone.

I headed for Ladbroke Grove Sainsburys (the big one) this morning, expecting queues, restricted numbers in the store and all manner of measures to ensure social distancing following Johnson’s announcement. I braced for a lengthy visit, but it was no different to any other day: no queue, no system, no layout changes, no gloves or masks for the staff, just Sainsbury’s making money hand over fist.

Worse, the customers were not observing social distancing at all. The elderly mixed with the very young, people blocked aisles, chatted or reached across to grab something from a shelf. I zig-zagged, tried to anticipate, to swerve, trapped in a game in which nobody else knew the rules.

I found the manager smoking outside and told him he needed to change things urgently. It was immediately clear that this was a man not paid to think or take initiative, no matter the crisis. Orders are given down from above and are followed. The result is that his Sainsbury’s Superstore an incubator for coronavirus. 

The manager said there is a message about social distancing “on the floor as you walk in” and that messages were going out “now and again on the tannoy”.


The government needs to take over the supermarkets and guarantee the safe distribution of food. Johnson’s advice to order food online makes no sense. The supermarkets have no delivery slots available and many, like Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury’s, don’t provide a Click & Collect service.

People will die as a result of social distancing not being enforced in buildings run for shareholders’ profits. If you think this is alarmist, you haven’t read our previous blog from Madrid.  

RBKC Role?

If the government does nationalise the supermarkets or take over food distribution, it is likely it would delegate supervision of this to local councils. For many in North Kensington, this would be a prospect to stir trauma. Before, during and since the last crisis in the area (Grenfell), the local authority has proved itself to be insensitive and incompetent in its dealings with residents. 

As it stands, Sainsbury’s and the rest are breeding places for coronavirus, unwilling to take the government’s lead to protect us and relying instead on customers – many of whom are ignorant to the seriousness of the situation – to enforce social distancing. Unlike the corporations, Kensington and Chelsea council is a public body, bound by law to its duty of care to its residents.

As unpalatable as it may seem now, RBKC could be the better bet if a more stringent lockdown is announced. Aside from venues for funerals, food shops would be Britain’s last functioning public spaces. This would present the council with a huge responsibility and the chance to finally get it right during a time of crisis in North Kensington. 


By Tom Charles


From Madrid

My name is Marta and I live in lockdown in Madrid with my husband and our three children aged 14, 17 and 19.

From 2012 to 2014 we lived in North Kensington, London. As the Coronavirus transforms everyday reality in these two cities, I send a contemporaneous account of life in Madrid…

This is the twelfth day we have been locked down, although it is the eighth without leaving home for anything (only one of us goes out to the closest food store every two to three days). A feeling and experience at first so unreal has become a natural routine in our lives. Everything has happened so fast that our mentality has been changing practically from one day to the next, from absolute nonchalance to becoming aware of the risk and it being real and very close to us. From lack of concern we moved to an awareness of our own community responsibility not to spread the virus, then the knowledge of cases nearby and the subsequent alarm when starting to hear that acquaintances or their relatives were dying or in critical condition.

To illustrate this evolution, I will go through the last days through memory:

Sunday, March 8th: With my daughters, my sisters and their children I attend the Women’s March. It is full of people. We proudly tell ourselves that we will not be intimidated by fear of the virus. We do not want the march to fade after the unprecedented success of the event last year in Spain. The celebration is like a bustling holiday.

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-21 at 19.28.01
International Women’s Day Rally, Madrid, March 8th

Monday, March 9th: I speak to my father (a retired doctor who lives on the Mediterranean coast) on the phone and he asks me to take precautions and try to avoid unnecessary trips from home. I tell him that we are not a risk group, and he replies that it is a community emergency, so it is time to think about the community and not in personal terms. His comment makes me think and I begin to consider limiting our outings. That afternoon I go to a department store and when I’m in line to pay I hear a couple saying that tomorrow will be the last day of class because the government has decreed the closure of schools and universities from Wednesday in Madrid for two weeks.

Wednesday, March 11th: with the closing of the schools, teleworking is promoted at companies. Some after-school clubs and sports competitions are maintained. Some university students and entire families travel to their places of origin or to the beach as if a national vacation had been declared. Most people have not yet become aware. I ask my daughter not to go to her rugby training. She fears her coach will see it as a lack of commitment. Even though I am aware, I still leave the house for an hour a day to walk in the park. I do a mental calculation of the number of people who may need intensive care for the virus. Experts say the virus will affect 60% of the population. Only 10% of that 60% will need intensive care at the hospital, that is, around three million Spaniards. Spain has around 5000 Intensive care beds. I am aware of how important it is to prevent the rapid spread of viruses to prevent the collapse of the healthcare system and the death of many patients.

Thursday, March 12th: I feel a desire to go into myself, to withdraw from the outside, from the media noise and from collective anxiety. People around are recording videos, holding online gatherings, sending thousands of messages to WhatsApp groups. Meanwhile, I just want to be with myself, and with my family. I have enjoyed these first days spending 24 hours with my children and husband. I feel a nice connection and unity. In the morning I think that I like my family and I celebrate that my children are living the confinement with such naturalness and responsibility. That afternoon sparks arise between them. I realise that the closure is not going to be so easy or that romantic.

Friday, March 13th: My market research contracts are cancelled. I run out of projects. I anticipate that it will be a couple of months without work or income. I decide to focus on writing a book that until now was only in my mind as a vague project. I look for the bibliography and start reading.

Saturday, March 14th: The government closes public parks and prohibits non-essential outdoor trips. We spend the day reading or listening to news or experts about the coronavirus. It is like a drug. We cannot stop watching, reading and sharing news. We receive the first calls and messages from friends in London and the USA. We start hearing the first news about homes for the elderly where the virus has spread, killing several people.

Sunday, March 15th: A week ago we were looking at Italy feeling worried for them, but with the distance and complacency of those who feel safe and believe that this will not really affect us. Our perception is now completely transformed. From our window I see the military stopping people and asking them for their identity cards, their address and their reasons to be in the street. Some get fined.

Monday, March 16th: After some days of confinement we already have our own ‘rituals’. At 7:30pm, my brothers and sisters, their children, my parents and my household meet in a videocall and try to cheer up my parents, who are alone. We all talk at the same time; we do not listen to each other, but at least we are together. The call lasts till 8,15pm approx. At 8pm, we all go to our balconies or windows, together with the rest of Spain to applaud the national health system and all its staff who are working so hard for all of us. We like to do the clapping together, even if we are far away from each other (one of my sisters lives in the US). It is a very warm and exciting moment. A boost of energy and hope. Every day at 8pm, I feel like crying with joy.

Tuesday, March 17th: We cook a lot from scratch and try new recipes. We are enjoying eating together. We also watch some TV series together. We begin to hear about the first cases of Coronavirus nearby. There are students and teachers infected in the girls’ secondary schools and at my son’s and husband’s university. Every day we hear of some Spanish politicians or celebrities who have contracted the virus.

Wednesday, March 18th: A close family member has symptoms. She calls the allocated emergency Coronavirus phone number and is told that they will not test her unless the fever is very high. The health services are overwhelmed.

Thursday, March 19th: My father, 83 years old, asks us not to take him to hospital if he gets the virus. He says that in the face of a shortage of resources, doctors will prioritise saving a young life, so he will be safer at home. We keep hearing about tragic job losses and company closures. The economic crisis, they say, is unprecedented and incalculable.

Friday, March 20th: I participate in an initiative to write letters to prisoners, who are now suffering double confinement (visits are not allowed, and they cannot interact among themselves either). There is a similar initiative to write to Coronavirus patients isolated in hospitals. The initiative is a success. The week has been full of small occupations despite not leaving home. My reading for my book has not always been productive. Today for the first time I experienced tedium. I am starting to know about people close to us who are in serious condition (friends’ parents, an acquaintance who is my age…) or who have died (a chancellor of my husband’s university, the former president of Real Madrid football club, a well-known journalist, a friend’s mother…)

Saturday, March 21st: The virus is no longer something alien or intangible. For the first time we feel fear and we see that “people like us” are also affected. The President announces that the worst is yet to come and that we have not yet reached the peak. There are some ‘spontaneous’ protests from some balconies questioning the government’s management of the crisis. The protests generate rejection in me. I feel like this is a time to be united. I do not want noise that does not serve to unite us.

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-22 at 16.57.35
Madrid, March 22nd

Sunday, March 22nd: Today I feel it is hard for me to focus. I practice meditation. I feel I need some fresh air, although I keep calm. The government has just announced that confinement is extended for two more weeks. No one is surprised. We know it will be long and we are prepared for it.

As I finish typing this for my friends back in England, I note that 1753 people have already died in Spain.



Marta Delgado


It’s in the wilderness

I find true inspiration

that internal dry place

where I look deep into the soul


A confrontation with my true self

with all its peculiarities, insecurities

anxiety, stress – deluded dreams!

Oh! How I wear that cloak so easily

like taking the king’s shilling

to fight wars of attrition against my subconscious


Once born truly rounded

until the jig-saw of life

cut deep into my being

manufacturing another puzzle piece

creating my fruitless quest to fit in…


A spiritual lobotomy

those missing parts – lost – forever gone

Never again can I be whole


Learning to live with those internal apmutations

suicidal fears – toying – tormenting

not that I ever would

just my free will says I could…


Inner voices – choices

feel like the Joker

yet nobody laughs…

I’ve spied the promised land

like Moses it will elude me

never to cross the Jordan River

the land of milk and honey

beyond my reach

my time is nearly done

was it ever real

or existing only in my dreams…


©M.C. Bolton



Parenting Against the Tide 1: Attachment

“For his soul he required nothing. Security, attention, tenderness, love – or whatever all those things are called that children are said to require – were utterly dispensable to the young Grenouille. Or rather…he had utterly dispensed with them just to go on living…”

From Perfume by Patrick Süskind [i]


This is the first in a series of articles on raising children in 2020, focusing on attachment, particularly during the tumultuous years of adolescence.

Attachment Parenting

The teachings of the developmental psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld provide the theoretical and intellectual basis for these articles and ideas. Dr Neufeld’s work has reinforced and given confidence to my own intuition on attachment parenting. Equally important to these articles are my own experiences, thoughts and ideas, as a parent to a daughter entering adolescence and as someone who has worked with young people in west London for the best part of a decade.

According to Dr Neufeld, in western societies adolescence now lasts longer than ever before, from around 12 into a person’s 20s. The forthcoming articles will focus on adolescence through the lens of attachment, but before diving into adolescence, this first article considers what attachment means in the parenting context and asks what is needed for a child to fulfil their full human potential.




In a 2012 address to the European parliament, Dr Neufeld explained: “Every child has the potential to become fully human and humane, but not every person comes to realise that potential.”

Dr Neufeld explains adolescence as a distinct phase, when we can cross the bridge between childhood and adulthood; a time in our lives when we are set up to successfully realise our potential, or not. Ageing is inevitable, but maturation is not, and without maturity, human potential cannot be realised.

To mature, and therefore fulfil their potential as adults, children need to successfully develop certain qualities through the three distinct processes: Independence; Adaptability and Integration. All three stages of maturation unfold spontaneously under the right conditions. But none are inevitable.

  1. Independence. Emergence as a viable individual (or not) – sometimes called the ‘separation process.’ The child is released from their pursuit of proximity to adult attachment figures, able to rely on those attachments remaining safely in place.
  2. Adaptability. This is when the child should develop resilience to face the things in life that are out of their control. In this highly emotional process in the automatic nervous system, the child moves from trying to make things work for them to letting go of their delusions of control and power. This should result in what Dr Neufeld calls ‘tears of futility’ to be followed by the realisation and relief that they have survived.Experiencing futility is vital if the child is to develop adaptability, and the role of parental figures is crucial here. They must act as the arbiters of loss and disappointment, usually through the use of the word ‘No.’ In 2020, many parents do not want to say ‘No,’ depriving their children of the necessary experience of futility and leading to a generation of spoiled and entitled children unable to adapt to the slightest disappointments. Adaption flexes the brain’s plasticity; without this being activated, the most common syndromes in western societies are now “tearless syndromes”[ii] a.k.a. emotional shutdown, which exacerbates existing tensions between child and adult and increases the sense of impotence felt by many parents, carers, teachers and mentors;
  1. Integration. For a person to develop depth and perspective, it is essential that they can experience conflicting signals. To develop muscle tone, the body requires contrast and conflict, push and pull. For intellectual development, the brain must engage in problem solving by considering different solutions. Similarly, for emotional development, conflict is necessary.

Up to age five, a child experiences one emotion at a time. Between five and seven, “On the other hand” or similar phrases reveal that mixed feelings are developing. But in adverse developmental conditions, a child will remain in the pre-five-year-old phase of one emotion, and many adults also stay in that phase, without mixed feelings and devoid of inner conflict. They have not realised their human potential, whatever high office or social status they may attain.

Successful Maturation

In contrast to the adults mentioned above, children emerging successfully into maturation are curious about life, embracing opportunities and are rarely bored; they can take responsibility, seek independence and seem comfortable in their own skin. They have attractive personalities and can function fully away from their primary attachments.

This process happens, or should happen, during adolescence. In western societies, though, many conditions for successful maturation are not present, or have been distorted. This means that schools cannot develop children to emerge into maturity, and so the onus is on parents and carers to ensure young people get what they need, developmentally.

What do they need to mature? Dr Neufeld sets out four things. The first is the key, with the second, third and fourth only developing if a solid base of the first is established first.

1.Attachment. Dr Neufeld calls attachment to adult(s) “an external womb” for babies and young children, allowing them to develop safely and with the necessary nurturance. With babies it develops through the senses, and in adolescents and adults, through maintaining positive relationships based on what the psychologist Carl Rogers called unconditional positive regard and mutual respect.

Such genuinely deep attachments are often lowkey, reflecting a comfort existing between adult and child. In contrast, superficial digital attachments often appear more conspicuously affectionate – people ‘like’ each other, ‘laugh out loud’ at their jokes – but the relationships lack genuine depth.

Development of attachments are the basis for healthy development and must not atrophy after the baby grows bigger, less physically needy and less cute. Technology offers a means to shortcut the pain of separation by providing a quick hit of attachment brain chemicals, but like an addictive drug or behaviour, it fails to provide anything truly nurturing or lasting. Worse, if the reliance on the digital at the expense of human connection continues, it short cuts the whole human being, who’s capacity for deep relationship is undermined in their forming of shallow digital attachments.

Digital attachment, often encouraged by parents who like its short-term benefits, is part of a much bigger phenomenon known as peer orientation that is now typical in western societies and as such, appears perfectly normal. Peer orientation is the diversion of a child’s attachment instinct away from adults and towards other children, adolescents and youths. It is rampant in societies that pressure parents and caregivers into working longer hours while living more isolated lives than ever before in communities that are undermined by a lack of investment. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ – the proverbial village provides a safe system of hierarchy and care, but western societies are going another way and peer relationships are filling the space vacated by adults.

In his Brussels address, Dr Neufeld stated that peer orientation “completely interferes with the conditions required for human growth and development, leading to massive developmental arrest…and an epidemic of immaturity”.

The cause of this phenomenon is unknown to most people, but the results are evident to anyone spending time with young people in recent years. Their vocabulary is limited and shrinking; adults are often afforded little-to-no respect and parents have been stripped of the authority required to pass on their own values to their offspring.

The power to nurture emerges from attachment. If the attachment is secure, the adult retains the power. But our society has seen a significant power shift: from nature’s caregivers, adults, to peer groups, with often tragic consequences. Incidents that often baffle parents, schools, politicians and the media, such as gang membership, child-on-child violence, knife crime, bullying and underage sex can be understood only in the context of attachment dynamics, not as isolated phenomena.

What appears to be the opposite of the violent and inappropriate behaviour mentioned above is shyness. But shyness is also a sign of attachments gone awry. Shyness acts as a protective shell, keeping the young person safe until they can emerge into the world. A young person is never shy with those they are attached to.

Widespread ignorance of attachment parenting has been manna from heaven for parenting ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’ whose books and TV programmes have shunned attachment theory and helped popularise toxic ideas such as punishing children in order to correct their behaviour and ‘controlled crying’ for infants expressing their attachment needs.

Parenting classes in 2020 often advocate coercion, bribery, threat and reward as parenting techniques. These tactics are also employed by most teachers and schools and are counter-productive for human development. Perhaps meeting an immediate need for an overwhelmed teacher to quieten a class down, tricks such as threatening collective punishment of a whole class only reinforce the message given to the children that they are not acceptable as they are, undermining their trust of the teacher and therefore their attachment to them. Rewarding children for ‘good’ work has a similarly negative impact, de-motivating the child and undermining their natural inclination to explore new ideas.

Dr Neufeld explains that a non-attached child is “allergic to coercion,” which provokes counterwill in children, often incorrectly labelled as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, a diagnosis which entirely misses the point about attachment. Counterwill reflects the current state of an individual’s attachment relationships, and like shyness, is an evolutionary trick to keep young people safe from outside threats. This phenomenon now affects much of society as children are less attached to adults, who are reacting to counterwill by doubling down on punishment and coercion. Such attempts to train children into obedience are shallow and ineffective from a developmental perspective. However, if a system or and institutions has the goal of producing fearful individuals inclined toward compliance with social and economic demands, punishment and coercion are possibly the best ways to achieve this.

Strong counterwill in people is an expression of a desire to be ‘bad,’ to reject the coercive attempts of a stronger party. For a child with a strong attachment to an adult, the desire to be ‘bad’ is anathema as it threatens the very basis of their existence and development – their attachment to a nurturing adult. Deep attachments also offset any problems caused by separation, whether physical, emotional or psychological. If a child, by being themselves, is unable to maintain his attachments, his brain releases stress hormones leading him to feel alarmed and to make efforts to close the attachment gap. If this does not work the child will shift to caution and eventually emotional shutdown.

Continued failure to experience secure attachment is impossible to bear for a human, who will survive as an organism only by adopting the position taken by the character mentioned at the beginning of this article, Grenouille from the novel Perfume. Grenouille is repeatedly discarded by adults and so cannot afford to hope for “security, attention, tenderness, love…he…utterly dispensed with them just to go on living”.

Like Grenouille, children and adolescents will shut down emotionally if their attachment needs are thwarted. This manifests in rudeness, counterwill and often a seeming ignorance or complete disregard for social norms around adult-child dynamics. What is going on, though, is much more complex than this surface posturing. Such a child has lost her tender feelings and experiences no option but to run from vulnerability, repeatedly, and as if their own sensitivity were an existential threat. Two problems follow for the young person in this situation: her potential attachment figures almost certainly react with less attachment and more punishment, desperate to re-establish their influence. This only reinforces the attachment crisis, and normally leads to the second problem, the child being driven to peer attachment to fill the void.

A major problem with peer orientation is that it often looks so good. Peer orientated youths appear strong, confident and independent. And sometimes they are, but only in a narrow way. When challenged or taken out of their youth-centric comfort zones, they are unable to cope, having already experienced arrested emotional development. Images of these supposedly ‘healthy’ young people are appropriated by advertisers to sell an image of youth that proclaims freedom but is in fact a thin façade of fear, shame and loneliness.

In 2020, there is more peer orientation than ever before because there is more separation that ever before. Oxymorons like ‘digital community’ are no substitute for the real thing. The result is aggression, anxiety, addiction, agitation and suicide among young people like never before in history.

Dr Neufeld identifies true attachment as the “antidote” to superficial relationships. A child can never be too attached and deep attachments are the basis of health for the individual and the wider society. Deep attachments create and maintain space to allow the other three criteria for maturation to follow…


2. Rest. The brain’s priority is attachment. No attachment means no rest and rest is the time when humans integrate and grow, absorbing experiences and information and problem-solving networks are created in the brain. Like muscles, the brain develops during rest.

Here, adults should take the lead, breeding confidence in the child that they are not the ones carrying the weight of responsibility for the relationship. Unconditional positive regard is the basis for success and may require the adult to identify any barriers within themselves to offering this to the child. If this is offered, the adult should see the child wanting to be like the adult, actively seeking belonging within the safety of the space held by the caregiver.


We must convey to our children an invitation to exist in our presence that is free of conditions…there is no other pathway,”– Dr Gordon Neufeld [iii]


3. Play. The third criterion for maturation is play that is free of outcome, meaning it is free of reward, punishment, winner, loser; it is undertaken for self-expression and exploration, allowing the child to feel safe to embrace the wonder of life. What we see now is parents wanting children to get ahead early on in a hyper-competitive culture. This culture crosses national borders and has seen money replace religion and other community-centred activities as the focal point for societies and families. Human cultures, developed over centuries, naturally encourage play. When money replaces these time-honoured traditions, play disappears, and children become dominated by the fixation of the society around them.


4. Feeling Tender Emotions. To mature, a child must be able to be sensitive. Peer orientated children cannot do this as their attachments are based on being cool and of maintaining the approval of immature, traumatised, emotionally shut down people who will instinctively reject the sensitivity of others that they cannot face in themselves.

A child emerging into maturity will experience the full benefits of feeling their tender emotions. Futility leads to an ability to adapt; satiation creates the confidence of emergence and dissonance allows integration of mixed feelings. The child must feel their emotions, and to do this they need the space of a secure attachment.

The issue of tender emotions is particularly prominent during adolescence. The adolescent’s brain can either shut down because the environment is not safe. Or it can do its job of helping the young person mature. It’s one or the other, it cannot do both at the same time.

One deceptive phenomenon is that many peer orientated adolescents do not experience loneliness, we do not see them cry or hear them express emotional pain. This looks like strength, but it is a sign that they are unable to feel these emotions, being so shut down as a protection against the pain of the world. They appear less caring, more confident. They are attached to their peers and must therefore maintain this outer shield at all costs. In their peer group, the pain increases as the young person experiences precisely no unconditional love.


The peer orientated adolescent in the above paragraph is in a prison of attachment desperation and pain avoidance. Meanwhile, his securely attached classmate proceeds with confidence, knowing that their attachment figures will have their backs, providing the resilience and confidence they need to experience the pain of the world without losing themselves. These outcomes become blueprints for people’s adult lives. Forthcoming articles will look at the dramatic changes that take place during adolescence; a time when we are propelled forward or become developmentally stuck. The articles will be for those parents who feel the need to go against the tide.



By Tom Charles @tomhcharles


For Lucy

Urban Dandy is holding an exhibition of poetry at the Living Centre in Kings Cross, London during April 2020 to mark Stress Awareness month. The exhibition is inspired by parent-child dynamics and the importance of secure attachments in helping us deal with the stresses of life.







[i] Patrick Süskind, Perfume, The Story of a Murderer, Penguin Books (1987)

[ii] Brussels Address, p.6

[iii] Brussels Address, p.17