As Children, we perceive things about Ourselves, Others, and The World around us, from the perspective of a dependent child. As children, we rely on parents, other caretakers, teachers, babysitters to take care of us, to keep us safe, and help us learn and grow. Ideally, from our primary caretakers and childhood environments we learn…
- I am loved and secure, Others like us well enough, and the World is an interesting and safe place where it’s safe to explore and learn.
Many times; however, caregivers don’t have the internal maturity or emotional health to raise children from a framework of unconditional love and acceptance. And, childhood environments fail to provide consistently safe, reliable, and stable conditions for children to learn in and grow from without some level of hurt, confusion, doubt, or insecurity.
Therefore, children learn to adapt and conform to the needs/ limitations of their caretakers, or attempt to correct the conditions of their environments– and keep rolling on, often unseen or unheard in the moments of need or distress. This requires children to soldier on and use adaptive skills to increase the likelihood of their physical survival.
What does that ability to adapt require of them?
Often, to survive, the child learns to make themself smaller, quieter, more pleasing, seeking ways to comfort the immature/ unwell parent, take care of him or her, take care of siblings and just seek ways to minimize upset to the parent. The child’s needs (for security, unconditional acceptance, safety) are not met.
Thus the child grows up with a wound- sometimes, it’s a distorted sense of self, perhaps hypervigilance, or maladaptive coping methods. The self of the child learns that his importance, worth or survival depends on him somehow caretaking others– or at the least– not inflaming the parent’s wrath.
In the case of a critical parent, a child will internalize shame and believe something is defective in him or herself. In the case of a controlling parent, a child may learn that he/she can’t do anything right– they may stop trying altogether, become dependent on others, or become very angry and rebel by fighting back, or acting out in risky behavior, or doing other things to get even and hurt the parent back.
A neglected child may learn that he or she is too much trouble and will feel that his or her needs don’t matter. The neglected child may lack a sense of self and have a deep sense of sadness without knowing why.
In all of these cases, the internal child has a wound and would benefit by having another adult– or support group– who will listen, care, and help the adult child realize that the adaptive behaviors of childhood can be left behind, whilst encouraging the adult child to gain self-awareness and develop self-acceptance, and the ability to love him or herself as ‘good enough’, ‘safe enough’ to move forward without having to prove him or herself worthy or acceptable.
Being able to confide hurt feelings, confused thoughts, and find balance in perspective and unconditional acceptance provides immense assistance freeing the adult child to look at his childhood wounds, identify his current needs, and find more healthy ways to get them met than turning to addiction, workaholism, unhealthy relationships, self-harm, or other problematic behaviors.
One goal for therapy is to help the Client redefine himself and correct his childhood beliefs about Self, Others, and the World, revising:
- I am: Dependent, scared, worthless, reliant on others to take care of me, etc.
- Others are: Unavailable, angry, scary, untrustworthy, uninterested, absent, demanding, critical, mean
- The World is: Scary, huge, overwhelming, uninterested, dangerous, impossible, etc.
- So I must: contort myself, please others, be quiet, stuff my feelings, carry on no matter what, be self-isolating, disconnected, workaholic, etc.
Moving to more balanced beliefs about Self, Others, and the World, will ultimately help the adult child move forward in terms of emotional health, self-concept, interpersonal relationships, finding meaningful work, and generally freer way of living.
As a gift to yourself, take the time to explore what your inner child believed and see if any of those core beliefs can be revised today. If you’d like help getting started in this process of self-discovery and healing, you might find it worthwhile to contact a caring counseling professional in your local area- or to meet with virtually for distance counseling by Internet.