Archive for March 12th, 2012
Society is made up of people who used to be children. Some of these people were validated by their parents as worthwhile human beings in spite of their childhood faults and imperfections. Others were not so fortunate. They tried to be good little children, successful in one arena or another, but when they saw a sibling being praised while their successes were ridiculed or merely ignored, they felt that their efforts were all for nothing. At that young age, there is no middle ground between worthwhile and worthless. If they have an attribute, such as intelligence, that is not valued by their sports-loving or appearance-mongering elders, they take their disfavor personally, as if it were a reflection on their worth as a person. Their asset then turns into a liability. Young people tend to define themselves in terms of their external success and their personal attributes. When these qualities are despised, they have little left to fall back on.
As most children do, these individuals have made the understandable mistake of perceiving the absence of validation as if it were an invalidation. After years of such misperceptions, they have come to feel that their goodness was for nothing and that they were personally worthless as a consequence.
The following is a conversation with such an adult child. She has carried her good-for-nothing feeling with her into adulthood where it is affecting her most important relationships. She will, if she does not change, transmit this negative feeling about herself to her own child. We are trying to break this cycle of parent-child good-for-nothingness in this generation.
Irene has come in for counseling because she has an anger problem. She is not aware that a major source of her difficulty is her vulnerability to feeling unappreciated and good for nothing. She does not see the connection between her childhood experiences and her over-reactions to disappointment in the present. To this day, she is unaware of her dependence on others for the validation of her worth as a person. She has placed this responsibility on her own child and he is doing a terrible job with this burden that he shouldn’t have in the first place.
Irene: “Well, I did it again. I got so angry at my son Glenn that I picked him up and threw him against the couch. And, you know, I don’t regret it. I don’t feel guilty, so don’t tell me I should.”
Therapist: “Telling you to feel guilty wouldn’t help, Irene, but tell me why you don’t feel guilty.”
Irene: “Because this time he had it coming, the little jerk, and I gave it to him. And don’t tell me I was wrong. You guys are always saying that the parents are always wrong and the child is never wrong.”
Therapist: “I never say ‘always’ and I never say ‘never,’ except sometimes. What did he do that was so ‘wrong’?”
Irene: “He saw this toy advertised on television. In the commercial, the kids were having such a good time with it, so he wanted it. I tried to tell him that it was too old for him, he’s only 5 years old, and that it was only fun when you had a group of children competing with each other. He cried every time the damn commercial came on. I figured that I’d get it for him just to keep peace in the house. Well, I got to the store Saturday and the damn thing cost $82.50! I don’t have $82.50 to throw away, I’ll tell you that right now.”
Therapist: “No one does, Irene. What happened to make you so angry?”
Irene: “It broke my heart to buy that piece of junk, but I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Therapist: “How many minutes did he play with it?”
Irene: “It wasn’t even minutes! It was seconds! He took one look at it, kicked it around a little while, and then started to play with the picture of it on the box! That’s when I saw red. I blew up and grabbed him by his little shirt and flung him against the couch. I left him there, screaming. He didn’t know what hit him, and I’m glad!”
Therapist: “There’s no doubt about it, Irene, you were `right.’ Your predictions were right on the button, and I’m sure that any jury in the world would agree that you are smarter than your five year old child.”
Irene: “Then I wasn’t wrong?”
Therapist: “`Wrong’ is the wrong word, Irene. You feel that your behavior was `justified’ under the circumstances.”
Irene: “You’re damn right, I do. The ungrateful brat didn’t even say, `Thank you.’”
Therapist: “That’s it. Now I know what’s making you angrier than you need to be. It isn’t just the money, is it Irene? It isn’t just the fact that you didn’t trust your own judgment and that you let your child control you into doing something that you `knew’ was a mistake.”
Irene: “What is it then?”
Therapist: “Irene, it sounds to me like you are suffering from being a `good for nothing’.”
Irene: “That’s just how I felt, and I had every right to feel that way!”
Therapist: “No one says you don’t, Irene. You also have every right to stick your finger in the light socket. I’m just not sure it would help. Irene, it makes you very angry when your `goodness’ to people is not reciprocated, doesn’t it?”
Irene: “I don’t expect Glenn to reciprocate. I just expect him to be a little more appreciative of what I do for him. Is that so wrong?”
Therapist: “There’s that word `wrong’ again. Being appreciative is a form of reciprocity, isn’t it? When you do something good for him, it’s only natural to want him to do something good in return, such as saying, `Thank you, Mommy’, or cleaning up his room for three days in a row.”
Irene: “That’s right. That’s just how I feel, and I can’t see what’s wrong with expecting a little cooperation from your own child.”
Therapist: “One thing wrong with it is that it sets you up for painful disappointment when your child doesn’t live up to your expectations. Another thing wrong with it is that it is inappropriate to expect reciprocity from a five year old child who is not on the same wave-length as you are. You have your purposes in doing the things you do, and he has his purposes in doing what he does. His purposes don’t always complement yours. Third, the child senses that you have expectations for him, and he isn’t sure that he can live up to them. He may think that you expect him to reciprocate or respond `perfectly’ and he `knows’ in advance that he isn’t going to make it. He can only `fail.’ He learns to feel inadequate when he has to measure up to his parent’s expectations for him. He learns to perceive himself as a `disappointment’ and a `failure’; he learns to feel worthless. In his discouragement, he doesn’t bother to reciprocate at all. Fourth, he `knows’ that he can upset you by not doing what you expect. He knows that he can get even with you by `not giving you the satisfaction,’ which I suspect, is an attitude that is prevalent in your house, and which he may have learned from his parent’s negative example. Fifth, there is something intrinsically, inherently misleading about expecting `good for good’. People resent having to be good because it’s expected, not because it is their spontaneous wish to reciprocate someone’s kindness. Irene, did you learn as a child that if you do something good, your goodness will be rewarded?”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )