Mark Vonnegut, Schizophrenia and Mother Blaming

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Mark Vonnegut, the son of Kurt, had (has) a psychotic illness. In his autobiographical novel he explained delusions in this way: if you were being chased by a pack of wild dogs, wouldn’t you rather think that somewhere there was a hound master who could call them off if he chose to do so?

I have always thought he was right, at least with respect to delusions. They are explanations for experiences that, in the case of mania, cannot be explained within the accepted laws of physics; in the case of schizophrenia, cannot be explained by a diminished social perceptual and information processing system; and, in the case of dementia, cannot be explained by a diminished cognitive apparatus.

The invented explanations are usually quite simple and usually involve blame in either a positive sense (God has granted me…) or a negative sense (the CIA is…). The target for blame (or perceived source) in a delusion is always standard fare. The source of extraordinary power and well being is God; the causes of failure, constraint, weakness, control, are parents, the police, a disease, or Aliens. The methods are always contemporary:  in pre-industrial  cultures, by curses, spells, hexes, and evil eyes, through the 20th century by radar and radio waves, and now through a variety of electronic devices, bugs, and micro implants. And as per the topic of a recent blog, note that parents make that list.

But beyond an explanation of delusions, this wish for a hound master who could, if he chooses, call off the dogs of hell, is really quite universal. Historically we have used, or fallen into, just such an explanation for every sin, illness, climatic event, and tragedy that befell us. And, almost always, we have been wrong.

But this need, this psychological human brain imperative, continues. The value of this trait of the human brain (mapping, organizing, understanding) lies in the advancements of science. We want to understand why things happen as they happen. The downside to this need, this wish, is the continuing enthrall of astrology, a myriad other nonsense fads and conspiracy theories, and the wish to find someone to blame  for schizophrenia.


5 thoughts on “Mark Vonnegut, Schizophrenia and Mother Blaming

  1. I am appalled that this extremely complicated illness can be blamed on the mother. It’s outrageous and suggests people who may think this way have no idea on the complexity of this tragic illness. It affects so many lovely people. Yes why not blame the mother if the answers are not there yet for the cause.. it speaks to how we want to blame someone or something to this devastating illness. There are so many heartbroken parents out there.. let’s not add to their pain

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Yes and it is still going on. Firm wrong headed ideas do not die easily. I remember when i was the public education for the local chapter of Friends of Schizophrenics coming back on the milk train a few decades ago from a long evening meeting in Toronto. My dear family had not walked the dog so at about ten o’clockI got up and walked around the block to be confronted by a mental health social worker who laid into me stating that mothers were to blame. SinceI was not battling on the home front, i challenged her and said why are there so many normal sibling in the same family .
      She wagged her finger angrily and said the ill child was treated differently! I thought my Springer Spaniel was about to grab her. At that time i was seeing a lot of families being ostracized by former friends .

      What a destructive illness is schizophrenia and to have families whacked by such a professional was more than I could stand. Fortunately Dr Dawson is not one of the family blamers.

      The Eden Express by Vonnegut is well worth a read.


  2. Mark has published another book within the last couple of years. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the title. I thought it better than the Eden Express.
    A big regret of mine is that my grandmother died still wondering if she had somehow caused the illnesses of my mother and I.


  3. Mother blaming is still a behaviour that gets tacit approval from the current medical establishment who tolerate this injustice. Mother blaming can be used to explain a concerning behaviour when the psychiatrist is not competent enough to make a proper diagnosis. Behaviours associated with mother blaming are discriminatory behaviours like dismissing what the mother has to say or refusing to speak with her completely. These behaviours are very common and are discussed in the family support group that I attend. Mother blaming is a relic from the male dominated paternalistic “old boys network” medical system. Because of mother blaming, important information can be overlooked and mistakes are made. It is time for the medical establishment to get off their duffs and “fess up” to their tolerance of this hurtful behaviour. Treat it like the other kinds of discriminations and enact a policy of zero tolerance.


    1. Not only mother blaming caregiver, friend blaming and from female Drs, too
      I know of someone who was admitted late Friday night with critical vital signs yet released on Wednesday without the caregiver’s knowledge, the caregiver had not been able to speak to any of the team, even though communications in Emerg. had been cordial and mutually respectul.
      The patient had not combed his hair or shaved since last Friday…Yet the client relations of the hospital claimed that “they had applied the law”
      Whatever they meant by that I am still trying to figure out. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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