What Is the Causal Theory?

Picture of Dr. S. Faye Snyder

The Causal Theory
An Interview with Dr. Faye Snyder
By Pixie Campbell

The Causal Theory is a progressive theory of personality development based upon cause and effect. It assumes that personality and behavior, including and especially adult behavior, result from childhood experiences beginning from birth, and perhaps even in utero.

By definition, it cannot coexist with other theories grounded in genetics. It does not maintain that genes are responsible for creating personality or behavior, but rather that experience is the predominant and only relevant determining factor.

We don't dismiss any traits or behaviors in a person as inborn, thus with little recourse for change other than treating the symptoms with medication. That is why theories based on genetics so often rely on the medical model, leaving little hope for change other than recommendations for pharmaceuticals, which are designed to disable parts of the brain (with no long-term corrective solutions). With the medical model, you treat the symptom without identifying the cause of the problem or curing it.

The Causal Theory holds that an individual’s personality and behavior shows us where he or she experienced nurturing and where he or she experienced injury or trauma. It borrows and expands on lessons from attachment theory , trauma theory , family systems theory , and some behavioral and cognitive models.

The Causal Theory identifies inborn mechanisms which facilitate healing and offers a synthesis of best practices to create healing for children with their parents and for adults, as well. Once we are informed how healing works, we are enabled to address our own healing and that of our children through a process of overcoming trauma by witnessing and releasing feelings and correcting learned behaviors.

Using The Theory, we can raise what I call a “Miracle Child,” a well-attached, ultimately low-maintenance child who is curious, happy, creative and ethical.

Why is Causal Theory better than any other?

The assumptions The Theory makes pay off in many ways. Though it is easier to use genetics to explain away behavior, Causal Theorists don’t dismiss any part of the personality or behavior as inborn.

We seek to understand what we see in a child and, consequently, we can see behavior more clearly than those who blame genetics, even in part, because everything we see is meaningful and more importantly, capable of correction or healing. We look at all behaviors as clues that can inform us where children received nurturing and where they were lacking it. We can tell what needs to be corrected and perhaps even how to go about that task.

For example, a child who exhibits an inability to sit still, pay attention, and focus (and who may have already been diagnosed with ADHD), suggests to us a child with bottled up feelings needing to be expressed so he can stop “bouncing off the walls.” We determine when and how the symptoms began. We often find it’s from spending time in daycare at an early age or because a large amount of his feelings have been repressed. In the latter case, we would need to explore the family system as to whether there is an open exchange of feelings or there may even be a family secret. Then we help parents learn a new way of treating the child and we teach them how they can reverse or heal the effects of their unconscious parenting.

When you believe that personality is created, not born, you take more responsibility as a parent. You can equate it with a chef who tastes his food as he prepares it to carefully see how it’s developing so he can add or subtract ingredients along the way. If a parent is tuned into how her child is turning out, she can adjust the child in time for greatness, a term we use to describe a child who loves life and lives ethically. So, The Causal Theory informs us how to raise a Miracle Child, how to heal an injured or traumatized child, and how to correct our own childhood adaptations and behaviors which no longer work.

The genetics model leaves no hope for change. The idea is that if you’re born with a behavior, you’re prone to it, if not stuck with it. This dismal theory is widely embraced without scrutiny, because it offers parents easy outs. It abdicates parents of guilt or personal responsibility for how their child is raised, even though parental guilt is not the primary issue. It also offers parents a quick fix with very possibly a high price. This choice is supported by massively funded propaganda from the pharmaceutical industry, is promoted by corporate America which enjoys a saturated work force, the women’s movement (I’m so sad to say), and the daycare industry.

The Causal Theory, on the other hand offers hope. You can adjust what you’re doing as a parent and thus change the outcome of your child’s life if you are tuned in to your child’s behaviors and you make short-term choices which have long-term positive benefits. Sometimes this is just a matter of deciding how high is your bar? What kind of child do you want to raise? Do you want your child to be very high functioning and truly in love with life, or are you good with average or even below average functioning?

Is there research to support the Causal Theory?

Causal theory is not just practical and applicable; it is also supported by research. Recent research has debunked previous claims that genetics cause behaviors and shows a correlation between abuse, trauma, failed attachments, abandonment, neglect and repression as ingredients for personality and behavioral problems. We believe that the more extreme the childhood trauma, the more extreme the results. The more nurturing and consistent is the care and discipline in early childhood, and the healthier the family ethics, the more amazing will be your child.

Among the recently debunked and long-held assumptions are: the “gay gene,” a depressed or anxious gene, an alcoholic gene , a bipolar, and even a schizophrenic gene. No such genes have been identified. All have been exposed for deceptive design, sloppy procedure, and speculation without scientific basis. Instead, large amounts of careful data have been collected that demonstrate attachment disorders, personality disorders, developmental disorders, trauma, and other parenting styles correlate with identifiable environmental causes, predominantly parenting.

But aren’t some conditions genetic?

Of course, we know that some medical conditions and diseases are inheritable. Down’s Syndrome is genetic. We know that fetal alcohol syndrome, although not genetic, has medical and long-term consequences in the creation of the mind and body of the child. However, these are not personality and behavioral anomalies. They are physical traits which create behavior. A very short man will not likely excel in basketball. Personality forms around interaction and experience, neurologists say. Down’s Syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome are medical issues, not psychological ones. Yet psychiatry has long been trying to medicalize mental illness to keep it under their domain. This serves a giant population of what I see as defensive parents and an economic power structure that includes pharmacology and research endeavors, probably the greatest of which was the Human Genome Project.

I wonder if Causal Theory, attachment theory, or trauma theory will ever inspire such generous research grants!

Does Causal Theory blame the parents?

It may seem like we're blaming parents for how their child turns out, which could be really hard to hear when you've done everything you knew to do and you’ve been the best parent you could be. Unfortunately, the information for how to be the best possible parent hasn’t been readily available until now.

This is why I wrote the Causal Theory of personality, parenting, healing and self-awareness. If you know that your child is the way she is because of her history, it isn’t too late to help her.

Also, please keep in mind that all parents were children, too. We all turn out the way we do because we adapted brilliantly to our own childhoods. We may have adapted to our own families, which reduces our ability to be especially tuned-in parents. We will tend to see what we are expected to see. We have to readjust, unlearn, or relearn, which is what a journey into self-awareness intrinsically is.

We’re not parent-bashing; we want parents to take responsibility and change what doesn’t work. Parents who are willing to do that no longer need to feel blamed. Many parents do have fragile egos. I think people are often more defensive about their performance as parents than they are about their performance in bed. Not one person enjoys being critiqued for their parenting. This is delicate material. However, parents who are willing to receive constructive guidance and make adjustments, will most likely be the parents who raise self-reflective, contented children.

There seem to be a couple of cornerstones to this theory. One is the importance of seeing clearly, especially seeing our children clearly, which requires that we see through our own eyes, not those of our parents. I know that sounds abstract, but when you get it, you see much more clearly. Getting it takes self-reflection on our own childhood.

The other key to reversing parental mistakes or even healing trauma is our ability to be humble, courageous and love the truth. Some parents just don’t want the information, no matter how symptomatic are their children. You can’t teach anyone whose ego is more important than their child’s needs. These are deeply injured people who don’t want to hear it. They are often those most highly guarded against information that anything was wrong with their own childhood or the way they were parenting. The problem is that denial leads to harsh results.

For information on The Miracle Child Parenting Series, contact

The Parenting and Relationship Counseling Foundation (PaRC), previously known as The Institute for Professional Parenting (TIPP) at theparcfoundation.com or you can read more Causal Theory at drfayesnyder.com .