IPT Book Reviews

Title: The Transcendent Child
Author: Lillian B. Rubin
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 1996

Harper Perennial
10 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022-5299
(212) 207-7520
$12.50 (p)

In an age of victimization, whining, and complaining, this 229-page book is like a breath of fresh air. It consists of eight accounts of persons who had horrible families, terrible abusive childhoods, tragic and traumatic events, but who were not destroyed. They persevered, continued, and made good lives for themselves. This is a book of hope, optimism, and also common sense. Its fundamental idea is that the past does not determine either our present or our future. The transcendent child is the one who does not just survive family and social pathology, i.e., incest, psychosis, brutality, alcoholism, and abandonment, but finds the way through to a fulfilling and rewarding adult life.

Sexual abuse is presented by many professionals as the most destructive thing that can happen to a person. Abuse victims may be absolutely persuaded by mental health professionals that they are destroyed forever as functional adults. This book falsifies any such assertion. Together with the research on the invulnerable child, this book is a powerful antidote to a pessimistic determinism.

After telling the stories of the eight persons who survived and made it, the final chapter describes common factors that seem to make the difference. The first seems to be a distancing from the family early in childhood and the ability to see alternatives to their family. Next is an ability to tolerate loneliness. An interest or activity filled the gap and the children built an alternative life. For some, this was a fantasy, but all showed an imaginative power to envision a different future for themselves. Rubin then sees these young children as being attractive to others because of their willingness to be open and their refusal to define themselves as victims. Consequently, they attracted others who became surrogates and mentors and who aided in making the adaptations that proved successful.

While there are some problems, such as rather ambivalent relationships to authority figures, the children demonstrated a high level of interpersonal intelligence. They understood what was going on around them and found ways to protect themselves against it. They also stayed away from easy explanations for their experience and kept searching for their own ways of understanding themselves. The key was their determination to avoid falling into being passive victims. They searched for ways to experience an internal locus of control rather than letting external forces control them.

This is a powerful book which should be read by all professionals dealing with children or adults who have had difficult and traumatic events in their lives. The final sentence of the book says it all: "For their message is clear: We are not forever bound to be hostages to our past" (p. 229).

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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