common threads #16: thumb sucking

Posted: October 9, 2021 in Humorous Bits, Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , , , ,

We think of thumb sucking as a baby’s behavior, one which may slide into toddler years. From birth a child will reflexively suck on any object put into its tiny, gummy mouth. Most agree this is a natural reflex evolved over many millennia (or 6,000 years if you are a strict creationist) to facilitate breast-feeding. You see it was difficult for a toothless child to eat fresh kill, be it rabbit or Stegosaurus. Sustenance had to come from somewhere lest the species wither away, so nature provided mother’s milk. What a beautiful thing, nature and nurture working together before the versus jumped in and ruined everything.

The sucking reflex associated with survival disappears early, generally after four months. Yet the pleasurable sensations associated with it don’t just evaporate like a barista when you absolutely cannot get through the next 30 seconds without a triple mocha Frappuccino. The cravings it satisfies – comfort, security, contentment – remain powerful. Substitutes are needed to fill the gap, both in your mouth and psyche. People who study these things call post-infant thumb sucking a non-nutritive sucking habit. The fastest and most readily available understudy is your thumb. It is literally within arm’s reach. Plus, you have a pair at the ready. With so many options, a child can’t possibly resist, so in it goes. Thumb sucking is one of the earliest instances of replacement behavior. Later on, we will expand upon it – body image for self-worth, fast cars for impotence, and perhaps the most popular one, cheap lies for hard truths.

Toddlers generally stop thumb sucking by age four. It is best to end this before permanent teeth appear. No parent wants their child to end up with a smile straight out of 19th century Appalachia, especially if preventable. This means actually addressing undesirable behavior without worrying about a wailing kid who does not get their way. It is a lot to ask, but we must remain optimistic parents will see the obvious benefits. Not that the stakes are high. Just a future of adults who always got their way and never learned to compromise. Nothing bad could come of that.

Thumb sucking in adults is rare, unless you ingested MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy. While ecstasy doesn’t directly lead to thumb sucking, it does lead to pacifier sucking. More replacement behavior. (Small tangent. It is easy to see why the people who name street drugs would call one “ecstasy.” Power of advertising. The confusion comes with its other names – Molly, Beans, Adams. They are baffling. Complex etymologies aside, the assumption is they are code for those in the know. Sometimes – and this is one of those times – ignorance is bliss. Then again, maybe not. How many of us would gladly shout “Yes!” when asked if we wanted beans? Then before we realize it, we are overheating at a rave while grinding against a stranger. Life can certainly be confusing.)

This may come as a shock, but the past several years have been challenging. It is understandable if you have forgotten. Blocking traumatic memories is an effective short-term self-preservation/defense mechanism. And our current times have led to a bull market of self-preservation strategies. Stress and trauma do that to a person, as do anger, panic, and a sustained feeling of teetering on the abyss. Never mind the blatant trampling of constitutional norms by people who love to hide behind the Founding Fathers when it suits them. That was (and remains) enough to ratchet up the stress. But when a once-in-a-century pandemic is dolloped on top of that shit sundae like rancid whipped cream, well, it is enough to trigger a quick regression to infancy. Frankly, it is mystifying people aren’t lollygagging about with their thumb firmly planted in their mouth like a scared baby. Maybe we are too aware of how that would look, us walking down the street sucking away, lips puckered and cheeks sunken. Gotta keep up appearances you know. However, sometimes appearances don’t matter. How else to explain the continued presence of red baseball caps that have nothing to do with baseball? It must be nice to be a person who doesn’t worry about things like rule of law or global pandemics. Sustained anxiety is less likely a daily concern. Their most common trauma comes when not being allowed in enclosed spaces which require a face covering. As challenging ordeals go, that ain’t bad. With relatively so little to worry about no wonder these folks never resort to thumb sucking. But for the rest of us, not so simple. After a wake-up dose of the world’s stomach-churning medicine your first instinct is to seek out primal comfort and security, much like provided by a good thumb sucking. Unfortunately, that damn mask is in the way.
Learn more about The Common Threads Project.

Whatcha got to say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s