Interview: Dennis Friedman

Why did bankers cause economic meltdown? It’s down to how they were parented as babies, says this expert

By Simon Round, April 22, 2010
Dr Dennis Friedman says babies’ human rights are being abused

Dr Dennis Friedman says babies’ human rights are being abused

There have been various theories to explain how the banking crisis and subsequent global downturn happened. Some have blamed governments, some point to the culture of irresponsibility in financial institutions. Psychiatrist Dr Dennis Friedman thinks it is the fault of the bankers' mothers.

He says: "The mother's role is so influential. If the interaction between mother and child is fulfilling and the dependent child's needs are satisfied, then we would have a generation which wouldn't need to buy love through prostitution or steal love through sexual crime and by the theft of security and securities. This theft of security and the abuse of other people has been on such a huge scale that the whole economic system has collapsed."

Eighty-five-year-old Friedman, who specialises in parenting issues, and is the author of innovative works in the fields of anxiety management and the treatment of phobias, was moved to write his latest book, An Unsolicited Gift, because he was convinced that many of the problems of society stemmed from the "abuse of the human rights of children" early in their lives. This has had a knock-on effect on the rest of their lives, in terms of their career choices, their ability to form committed relationships and at the extremes, their susceptibility to criminality.

Sitting in the office of his Regents' Park flat, with panoramic views over London, Friedman reflects on the crucial first 12 months of a child's life. It is during this time that the baby should be a mother's absolute priority, he says.

"The mother has a year of maternity leave. She can either spend those months being with the child, looking after his needs, or she can say to herself, we must get a nanny because this really is terribly hard work. I know this is not a popular view but the mother is best equipped to look after a child when it is very young. Both a man and a woman can fly a 747 but only a woman can breastfeed a baby."

The anger generated by neglect will come out somewhere

He adds: "People have busy lives - you need enough money to pay your mortgage but you also have to recognise that this child you have brought into the world also needs to have the appropriate time. He needs to know that he is part of the family unit and loved by the person on whom he depends. Talking to your baby is crucial. They respond to what is known as babble talk. Research has shown that cry patterns are different in different countries. A French baby will essentially be crying in French, a German baby in German and so on. They respond to you from a very young age."

So what happens if the mother fails in this duty? Friedman contends that when a mother brings in a nanny to look after a young boy, she introduces the concept of "the other woman" and that this may lead to promiscuity in later life. "If you weren't mothered properly you might think that there is one woman [the wife] to love and respect and another who you can have fun with."

Friedman also claims that people choose careers which allow them to compensate for what they did not have in their childhood. "Jews have historically gone into medicine, but they don't tend to become nurses. I don't think it's about making others better - it's more about making themselves better. Jews don't tend to feel very well in themselves.

"Why does someone become a tennis player? He spends every weekend trying to put the ball back in someone else's court. You could suggest that this is because he cannot accept responsibility - he's disposing of it, sending it back. Radiologists might choose their profession because they want to look beyond the façade, trying to compensate for what they missed out on as children. Someone might become a journalist because his mother didn't listen to him when he was young, so he has a need to communicate."

The focus on the role of mothers does not mean that the influence of fathers is diminished. "The father has to be there for support and help in the first months of a child's life and be available for the next stage in child rearing which is conversation and debating of issues," says Friedman. "It is important to discuss things with your child, so he feels he is in a democratic unit, not in a dictatorship where you do what I say because what I'm telling you is right."

So what of the children who were loved and cherished by their mothers. What professions do they end up in? "A child who is not struggling for recognition and who is not struggling to achieve in order to please someone else, will be able to do whatever his inner talents allow him to. He will be a round peg in a round hole. The others will be round pegs in square holes," says Friedman.

He adds that extreme neglect can lead to crime - a fact that government should be aware of when it periodically decides to get tough on criminals. By then, he says, it is too late.

"Look at the James Bulger case and the two boys in Yorkshire who tortured those two other children. They didn't come from homes where they were cherished. The two Yorkshire boys definitely came from a home which was very abusive. It's inevitable that the anger generated by neglect will come out somewhere."

However, as a working psychiatrist - Friedman still sees a few longstanding patients - he believes that damage done in childhood can be corrected in adulthood. "Of course it is possible to correct it. Even people with borderline personality disorder can be helped to change significantly in later life."

'An Unsolicited Gift: Why We Do What We Do' is published by Arcadia Books at £11.99

Last updated: 11:38am, April 22 2010