Throwing a light on Childhood.


Page Contents.


Parents might need and use the child to fulfill their own egoistic wishes.

Our contempt for 'egoists' begins very early in life. Children who fulfill their parents' conscious or unconscious wishes are 'good', but if they ever refuse to do so or express wishes of their own that go against those of their parents, they are called egoistic and inconsiderate. It usually does not occur to the parents that they might need and use the child to fulfill their own egoistic wishes.

The parents are often convinced that they must teach their child how to behave because it is their duty to help him along on the road to socialization. If the child brought up this way does not wish to lose his parents' love (and what child can risk that?), he must learn very early to share, to give, to make sacrifices, and to be willing to 'do without' and forgo gratification - long before he is capable of true sharing or of the real willingness to 'do without'.

A child who has been breast-fed for nine months and no longer wants to drink from the breast, does not have to be taught to give it up. And a child who has been allowed to be egoistic, greedy, and asocial long enough, will develop spontaneous pleasure in sharing and giving. But a child trained in accordance with his parents' needs may never experience this pleasure, even while he gives and shares in a dutiful and exemplary way, and suffers because others are not as 'good' as he.

Adults who were so brought up will try to teach their children this same altruism as early as possible. With gifted children this is an easy task; but at what cost!

Taking a closer look, we no longer find the meaning of the word 'egoism' so clear-cut and unequivocal. It will be much the same when we examine 'respect for others', which is often said to be missing in self-centred people. If a mother respects both herself and her child, from his very first day onward, she will never need to teach him respect for others. He will, of course, take both himself and others seriously - he couldn't do otherwise. But a mother who, as a child, was herself not taken seriously by her mother as the person she really was, will crave this respect from her child as a substitute; and she will try to get it by training him to give it to her. The tragic fate that is the result of such training and such 'respect' is further described.


Self Love and The False Personality.

A little reflection soon shows how inconceivable it is really to love others (not merely to need them), if one cannot love oneself as one really is. And how could a person do that if, from the very beginning, he has had no chance to experience his true feelings and to learn to know himself?

For the majority of sensitive people, the true self remains deeply and thoroughly hidden. But how can you love something you do not know, something that has never been loved? So it is that many a gifted person lives without any notion of his or her true self. Such people are enamoured of an idealized, conforming, false self. They will shun their hidden and lost true self, unless depression makes them aware of its loss or psychosis / neurosis confronts them harshly with that true self, whom they now have to face and to whom they are delivered up, helplessly, as to a threatening stranger.

As one psychoanalysist said; "I can find no patient whose ability to experience his true feelings was not seriously impaired. We might increase his intellectual knowledge, and in some circumstances strengthen his resistance, but we shall not touch the world of his feelings."


Healing: The Path To Self Knowing.

A century of direct and documented experience has taught us that we have one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness - unhappiness, disturbance - and that is the emotional discovery and emotional acceptance of the truth in the individual and unique history of our childhood. Is it possible then to free ourselves altogether from illusions? For many people, the truth of their own being is so essential that they must pay dearly for its loss with grave illness. The eventual culmination of the pain of seperation from one's soul. On the path to freedom and inner knowing, we try to discover our own personnal truth. Access to this truth often causes much pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom - unless we content ourselves with already conceptualized, intellectual wisdom, based upon other people's painful experiences. First we must go into our pain and confusions of childhood, and heal them.


Behind all this lurks depression.

There is always a large number of people who suffer from severe depressions and who often had sensitive and caring parents from whom they received much childhood encouragement. This group enter any form of self-help with the belief that they grew up in a happy and protected home. They were praised and admired for their talents and their achievements.

According to their general attitudes, these people - the pride of their parents - should have had a strong and stable sense of self-assurance. But exactly the opposite is the case. In everything they undertake, they do well and often excel; they are successful whenever they care to be - but all to no avail. Behind all this lurks depression, the feelings of emptiness and self-alienation, and a sense that their life has no meaning.

The dark feelings will reappear as soon as any grandiosity fails, as soon as they are not 'on top'. They are plagued by anxiety and guilt or shame.

In general, they have a complete absence of genuine feeling for themselves as children or serious appreciation of their own childhood and their true needs - beyond the need to achieve - to gain the subconscious approval and attention of their parents, whether their parents are still living or not.


Throughout their lives they are looking for that which their parents could not provide.

The child has a primary need to be regarded and respected as the person s/he really is at any given time, and as the centre - the central actor - in his own activity. This fulfilment is essential for the development of a healthy self-esteem; the nurturing of the healthy individuality.

When we speak of "the person he really is at any given time", we mean emotions, sensations, and their expression from the first day onward. Mahler (1968) writes: "The infant's inner sensations form the core of the self. They appear to remain the central, the crystallization point of the 'feeling of self' around which a 'sense of identity' will become established." (p. 11)

In an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for his feelings, the child, in the phase of separation, will be able to give up a dependent (second chakral) relationship with the mother, and accomplish the steps toward individuation and autonomy - in other words a successful independent relationship with the world and himself.

The parents are only able to help foster this healthy relationship, if they themselves know of such a way of being and experienced some form of healthy independence in their childhood.

Parents who did not experience this climate as children are themselves deprived of their own true autonomy and mental-emotional independence. Throughout their lives they have been looking for that which their own parents could not give them at the correct time.

They were never successfully weaned off the second chakra, (ref; Integrated Chakra Management) co-dependent relationship, and have been trying everything possible to find that feeling of 'home' ever since their own early childhood. Without some form of authorative guidance from experienced and professional people - who have been successful with their own ego integration - then so many of us are left without this inner sense of wholeness, and this leaves us feeling depressed. Deep in our psyche, we are still hankering for that second chakra feeling that we mistook for 'home'.

The result of this lack is the feeling of depression, and then there are all the ways that we try to deal with this depression. Some people use sex, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, attention seeking behaviour, and egoistic strategies to ease their depressed feelings, but these attempts can never succeed - because they are attempts to deal with the symptoms, not the cause.

The cause is the unsuccessful disconnection from the second chakra energies of our parents and the successful formation of an independent autonomy.

To expand upon the family situation, a person with unsatisfied and unconscious (because repressed) need, is compelled to attempt its gratification through substitute means (some mentioned above). The most appropriate objects for gratification are a parent's own children! A newborn baby is completely dependent on his parents, and since their caring is essential for his existence, he does all he can to avoid losing them. From the very first day onward, he will muster all his resources to this end, like a small plant that turns toward the sun in order to survive.

For example;

There was a mother who at her core was emotionally insecure, and who depended for her sense of well being and security - her wholeness - on the child behaving, or acting, in a particular way. This mother was able to hide her insecurity from the child and from everyone else behind a hard, authoritarian, and even totalitarian facade.

This child had an amazing ability to perceive and respond intuitively, that is, unconsciously, to this need of the mother, or of both parents, for him to take on the role that had unconsciously been assigned to him.

This role secured 'love' for the child - that is, his parents' second chakra energy. He could sense that he was needed and this, he felt, guaranteed him his measure of security - his feeling of 'home'.



The Lost World of Feeling.

The phenomenology of narcissistic disturbance is well-known today. On the basis of my experience, I would think that its aetiology is to be found in the infant's early emotional adaptation. In any case, the child's narcissistic needs for respect, echoing, understanding, sympathy, and mirroring, suffer a very special fate, as a result of this early adaptation.

1. One serious consequence of this early adaptation is the impossibility of consciously experiencing certain feelings of their own - such as jealousy, envy, anger, lonliness, impotence, anxiety - either in childhood or later in adulthood. This is all the more tragic since we are here concerned with lively people who are especially capable of differentiated feelings. This is noticeable at those times in their analyses when they describe childhood experiences that were free of conflict.

Usually, these concern experiences with nature, which they could enjoy without hurting the mother or making her feel insecure, without reducing her power or endangering her equilibrium. But it is remarkable how these attentive, lively, and sensitive children who can, for example, remember exactly how they discovered the sunlight in bright grass at the age of four, yet at eight might be unable to 'notice anything' or to show any curiousity about the pregnant mother or, similarly, were 'not at all' jealous at the birth of a sibling.

Again, at the age of two, one of them could be left alone while soldiers forced their way into the house and searched it, and she had 'been good', suffering this quietly and without crying. They have all developed the art of not experiencing feelings, for a child can only experience their feelings when there is somebody there who accepts him fully, understands, and supports him. If that is missing, if the child must risk losing the mother's love, or that of her substitute, then he cannot experience these feelings secretly 'just for himself' but fails to experience them at all. But nevertheless...something remains.

Throughout their later life, these people unconsciously create situations in which these rudimentary feelings may awaken but without the original connection ever becoming clear. The point of this 'play', as Jurgen Habermas (1970) called it, can only be deciphered in analysis, when the analyst joins the cast and the intense emotions experienced in the analysis are successfully related to their original situations. Freud described this in 1914 in his work 'Recollection, Repetition, and Working Through'.

Take, for example, the feeling of being abandoned - not that of the adult. who feels lonely and therefore takes tablets or drugs, goes to the movies, visits friends, or telephones 'unnecessarily', in order to bridge the gap somehow. No, I mean the original feeling in the small infant, who had none of these chances of distraction and whose communication, verbal or preverbal, did not reach the mother.

This was not the case because the mother was bad, but because she herself was narcissistically deprived, dependent on a specific echo from the child that was so essential to her, for she herself was a child in search of an object that could be available to her. However paradoxical this may seem, a child is at the mother's disposal.

A child cannot run away from her as her own mother once did. A child can be so brought up that it becomes what she wants it to be. A child can be made to show respect, she can impose her own feelings on the child, see herself mirrored in their love and admiration, and feel strong in his presence, but when the child becomes too much, she can abandon that child to a stranger.

The mother can feel herself the centre of attention, for her child's eyes follow her everywhere. When a woman had to suppress and repress all these needs in relation to her own mother, they rise from the depth of her unconscious and seek gratification through her own child, however well educated and well intentioned she may be, and however much she is aware of what a child needs.

The child feels this clearly and very soon forgoes the expression of his own distress. Later, when these feelings of being deserted begin to emerge in the analysis of the adult, they are accompanied by such intensity of pain and despair that it is quite clear that these people could not have survived so much pain. That would only have been possible in an emphatic, attentive environment, and this they lacked.

The same holds true for emotions connected with the Oedipal drama and the entire drive development of the child. All this had to be warded off. But to say that is was absent would be a denial of the empirical evidence we have gained in analysis.

Several sorts of mechanisms can be recognized in the defence against early feelings of abandonment. In addition to simple denial, there is reversal ('I am breaking down under the constant responsibility because the others need me ceaselessly'), changing passive suffering into active behaviour ('I must quit women as soon as I feel that I am essential to them'), projection on to other objects, and introjection of the threat of loss of love ('I must always be good and measure up to the norm, then there is no risk; I constantly feel that the demands are too great, but I cannot change that, I must always achieve more than others'). Intellectualization is very commonly met, since it is a defence mechanism of great reliability.

All these defence mechanisms are accompanied by repression of the original situation and the emotions belonging to it, which can only come to the surface after years of analysis.


2. Accommodation to parental needs often (but not always) leads to the 'as-if personality' (Winnicott has described it as the false self - false personality). This person develops in such a way that he reveals only what is expected of him, and fuses so completely with what he reveals that - until he comes to analysis - one could scarcely have guessed how much more there is to him, behind this 'masked view of himself' (Habermas, 1970). He cannot develop and differentiate his 'true self', because his is unable to live it.

It remains in a 'state of noncommunication', as Winnicott has expressed it. Understandably, these patients complain of a sense of emptiness, futility, or homelessness, for the emptiness is real. A process of emptying, impoverishment, and partial killing of their potential actually took place when all that was alive and spontaneous in them was cut off. In childhood these people have often had dreams in which they experienced themselves as partly dead. I should like to give three examples.



3. The difficulties inherent in experiencing and developing one's own emotions lead to bond permanence, which prevents individuation, in which both parties have an interest. The parents have found in their child's 'false self' the confirmation they were looking for, a substitute for their own missing structures; the child, who has been unable to build up his own structures, is first consciously and then unconsciously (through the introject) dependent on his parents. He cannot rely on his own emotions, has not come to experience them through trial and error, has no sense of his own real needs, and is alienated from himself to the highest degree.

Under these circumstances he cannot separate from his parents, and even as an adult he is still dependent on affirmation from his partner, from groups, or especially from his own children. The heirs of the parents are the introjects, from whom the `true self' must remain concealed, and so loneliness in the parental home is later followed by isolation within the self.

Narcissistic cathexis of her child by the mother does not exclude emotional devotion. On the contrary, she loves the child, as her self-object, excessively, though not in the manner that he needs, and always on the condition that he presents his 'false self'. This is no obstacle to the development of intellectual abilities, but it is one to the unfolding of an authentic emotional life.


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