Harlow’s Monkeys

Harlow’s Monkeys
(Tokoni 05/27/2009)

A comment received caused me to pause and reflect on the psychological behaviors indicated in my story “Marrying the Girl Next Door”.

The comment put me into a ‘thinking mode’ because I realize my answer was insufficient to explain the behaviors illustrated in the story. A picture came to mind regarding Harry Harlow’s experiments of emotionally deprived monkeys. The best thing I can do is refer you to this site describing Harlow’s experiments – Written by Harlow himself: The Nature of Love.

One thing to bear in mind is that this girl and I weren’t “making out”, but were instead hugging — and yes, kissing. We kissed because we had been told to do this by our authority figure (the teenager), and we stayed because we had been told to stay. Read the article in the site above, this story, and reflect on the way we’d been raised, read “My Child Bride“, and you may see how this all interrelates from a psychological viewpoint. Personally, it was a moment of comfort and love, and was not about ‘sex’ — for those who can’t seem to see beyond that (and if you can’t, then perhaps you have some internal problems which you need to address with a counselor or psychologist).

Looking back at my own childhood and other behaviors I engaged in, and comparing it with some of the information gleaned by Dr. Harlow in his experiments (search the web for: The Science of Love: Harry Harlow & the Nature of Affection), I can see where my brother and I were trotted down roughly the same path in some ways that Dr. Harlow’s monkeys were. I also have to bear in mind my own mother’s aversion to babies and extrapolate that behavior back into my own childhood, and examine where her aversion began.

If you have read “The Tools They Were Given” and “Tales Momma Tells” you know that my mother, entering a mentally and physically abusive environment, was put in charge of raising babies when she was seven. I think this may of given rise to the behavior described in “Put A Rag In It”. I do know that when my daughter was born my mother was quite adamant that she would NOT hold a baby until “it quits leaking at both ends”. I can only assume that this aversion goes back to my infancy, and that my brother and I were not held or touched unless it was required. My father, an extremely staunch male chauvinist, would doubtlessly also be adverse to holding / cradling or taking care of babies in any fashion, since he sees that as “the woman’s job.” I do recall the few times he was presented with my infant daughter, and he was very uncomfortable about it. My mom was also very quick to give the daughter back, especially should the child begin to cry or fuss in any form.

Now, going to the results of Dr. Harlow’s experiments, we find these quotes from his book “The Science of Love”:

“In Harlow’s initial experiments, infant monkeys were separated from their mothers at six to twelve hours after birth and were raised instead with substitute or “surrogate” mothers made either of heavy wire mesh or of wood covered with cloth.” (Note that these surrogate mothers were incapable of displaying affection.)

“. . . These monkeys raised by the dummy mothers engaged in strange behavioral patterns later in their adult life. Some sat clutching themselves, rocking constantly back and forth; a stereotypical behavior pattern for excessive and misdirected aggression. Normal sexual behaviors were replaced my misdirected and atypical patterns: isolate females ignored approaching normal males, while isolate males made inaccurate attempts to copulate with normal females.”

“. . . As parents, these isolate female monkeys (the “motherless mothers” as Harlow called them) were either negligent or abusive. Negligent mothers did not nurse, comfort, or protect their young, nor did they harm them. The abusive mothers violently bit or otherwise injured their babies, to the point that many of them died. Deprivation of emotional bonds to live mother monkeys (as infant monkeys) these (now adult) monkeys were unable to create a secure attachment with their own offspring.”

“Harlow’s research suggested the importance of mother/child bonding. Not only does the child look to his/her mother for basic needs such as food, safety, and warmth, but he also needs to feel love, acceptance, and affection from the caregiver. His findings show some long-term psychological physical effects of delinquent or inadequate attentiveness to child needs.”

Now I know this much: I was born dying in a German hospital, immediately separated from my parents, and ‘disappeared’ (my parents could no longer find me, the hospital had ‘lost’ me) for at least three days (if not more) – and was kept there for thirty.

I doubt these German doctors and nurses (World War Two having not been far behind) were inclined to be real kind to an American baby being born to them.  Especially one that was sick and therefore ‘weak and needy’ (a sin in the German mind).

I rather imagine I was treated like one of Harlow’s monkeys: shoved in an incubator (cage) and left there to either live or die – given the minimal treatment and care.

Add to this my mother has said that they did not SHOW us love (eg hugs, kisses, or the words “I love you”), and instead relied on us knowing through simply providing our “basic needs” (food, shelter, medical care), you can see where this would lead to the same results that Harlow obtained. In short, we became “Harlow’s Monkeys”. And since we could not obtain what a child also “needs to feel love, acceptance, and affection from the caregiver”, we sought those things from each other, and from our “other” caregivers, one of whom turned out to be a teenager with a taste for smaller children.

We learned to love the feel of skin upon skin; craving those intimate moments when we could curl and huddle against someone – not the sex, but the feeling of not being alone.

Of being loved, held, and accepted by someone.  Anyone at all.
Even (if like Harlow’s monkeys) – it was a ‘rag-doll’ sometimes – not real love at all – but merely the facsimile of love – a fake, a betrayal of our own wants and needs.

We were one of Harlow’s monkeys . . . the experiment continued as a small child.  No wonder we’ve become what we’ve become . . .

End of line. (story).

From: I guess – one of Harlow’s monkeys: still in recovery, LOL!

Further Reading:


And some Links On Harlow, His Experiments …. and his poor, poor Monkeys.

PS: It occurs to me that this is one of the reasons I am posting many of the stories, both good and bad, from an abusive childhood that some can not bear to see, much less understand — because here, at least, I begin to draw correlations between the stories; seeing how one event affected or set into motion the next event and so on. With any luck, this will not only help me (us) in our goals of ‘healing’, but will help others – and most importantly, help ‘new’ parents understand how a child can be driven into the arms of a sexual predator – and hopefully help them realize what they need to do to keep that from happening – eg. Giving that child plenty of love, affection, and acceptance from the beginning, and NOT letting what happened to me/us happen to your own child.

Thank you for your time


M – the clinical side.


About jeffssong

JW is an adult childhood abuse survivor with DID*. He grew up in a violent family devoid of love and affection. He is a military brat and veteran. He no longer struggles with that past. In 1976 JW began writing "The Boy". It took 34 years to complete. It is currently on Kindle (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004T3IVKK ), or if you prefer hard copy, on Amazon ( http://www.amazon.com/Boy-J-W/dp/1461022681). JW resides somewhere in the deep South. He is disabled and living with family. Note: Please feel free to take what you need; all is free to all. With that in mind, keep it that way to others. Thank you. We have 3 Blogs - One for our younger days, 0-10 (The Little Shop of Horrors); one for our Teen Alter and his 'friends' (also alters) with a lot of poetry; and finally "my" own, the Song of Life (current events and things)
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