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Peanuts Comix Reveal Schultz' Loneliness

Charles Schultz' Peanuts comics strips have made millions -- or billions, probably -- of people happy. In return, everyone loved and admired him. What's wrong with this picture?

Evidently, Schultz was unable to experience all this love, and he felt alone all his life, according to this Reuters story about a new biography of Schultz.

In Schultz and Peanuts, David Michaelis says that the comic strip reflected Schultz' melancholy worldview and internal doubt and loneliness. According to Reuters,

Michaelis says that to the day he died, Schulz could recall the terror of being separated as a boy from his mother on a crowded streetcar in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota.

"Schulz never stopped believing that he had been forsaken and would be left behind, that nobody cared," wrote Michaelis.

I doubt that this one event could have permanently instilled this belief, but it sounds likely that Schultz' earliest experiences made him feel abandoned. His mother may have had a difficult delivery and not been physically or emotionally available to bond with him in the first weeks of life. He may have been sickly and spent more time in the hands of doctors than in his mother's arms. Or his mother may have had a low oxytocin response and not been able to bond with him.

After birth, a baby's brain develops its pattern of oxytocin receptors in response to interaction with the mother or other primary caregiver. Less nurturing and comfort leads to less oxytocin receptors. And, simplistically, it's oxytocin combined with dopamine in the brain's reward system that makes relationship feel good. Oxytocin itself is responsible for that feeling of peace and connection.

So Schultz in turn didn't develop a strong oxytocin response to social intimacy.

Notably, his first wife was demanding and unsympathetic. Perhaps his mom was like that? We tend to feel comfortable with people whose intimacy style is similar to what we learned at home. (See Love and Mom's Spaghetti Sauce for more on this.)

According to Reuters, Schultz's family is unhappy with the biography. They say Schultz was a warm and charming man. Evidently he was able to form a family with people who had stronger and healthier oxytocin responses than he did. But their sense of him as a warm person comes from their own oxytocin responses.

Personally, I always found Peanuts rather cruel, and poor Charlie Brown's constant rejection was more than I could take.