It’s more and more common for me to see adults whose often well meaning parents just killed their spirits. These little people don’t get to grow up to be healthy big people. If I had a dollar for every potential client who tells me a childhood story of how their child self was killed, I’d be a millionaire. We need to stop murdering our children.
Carl Jung first popularized the idea of archetypes. Archetypes are these human energies that exist in all cultures throughout time. We all either experience them directly or indirectly. He said that we all start out life as the Child. This is the light hearted, creative, innocent side of us that needs to stay alive inside of us throughout life so that we maintain connection to our inner divinity. It keeps us curious, open, loving, wise, and free.
Inevitably, this Child becomes Wounded. It is through this wounding that growth begins. This isn’t a bad thing. We all yearn to grow. However, if the wound deep or is never healed, we can’t be complete people who fulfill our destinies. That childlike innocence is always part of that destiny because it’s part of our wholeness.
Parents, your job is to rear a child to be a healthy adult. This means they can provide for their physiological (shelter, food, clothing, etc), emotional, social, and spiritual needs. It doesn’t just mean that they are survive or that they go to a good school. So, let’s take a look at how we’re murdering our children.
This child is handed off the responsibilities of being the parent. This usually happens in single parent families where there is just too much responsibility for the sole parent and work is delegated to the oldest child. It can also happen in two parent families where one or both are incapacitated by disease, mental illness, or addiction.
Children are smart. They perceive when no one is driving the bus. If things seem out of control, they will step up and take control in the only way that they know how. If this means they have to pay bills, get groceries, cook, clean, get on the bus, and take care of their siblings, this is what they will do. It doesn’t mean they are “mature” necessarily. It means that they are savvy enough to survive. Inside they are still children in need of care.
When the inner child is not given space to express, it dies. This child doesn’t have time to be silly and wonder. He’s too busy taking care of adult responsibilities.
This parent is the one who does too much. Sometimes it’s because they think doing everything is a sign of love. Sometimes it’s because they are impatient with kids being slow, clumsy, or not perfect the first time. If the child picks out clothes that don’t match or are the wrong season, the parent may dress the child. When the child makes too much noise or mess, the parent restricts play time to things that are quiet and neat. If driving with the learner is scary, the parent either doesn’t let the child drive or perhaps criticizes her driving, thus undermining her confidence.
This child learns “I can’t do this” or “I am a failure.” She learns to not try. When you have an eighteen year old who doesn’t want to get a job or get off the couch, it could be because she has learned to be helpless.
It’s not rocket science to get a driver’s license, pay a bill, fill out a loan application, follow a recipe, or do a job interview. If you don’t have practice with problem solving and skill building when you are small, these types of things can seem impossible. It takes a lot of little skills to do just one of these things. These skills are learned as children.
Nothing is done perfectly and quickly the first time. Kids need to be messy and loud at first so that they can refine their skills and gain competence. We need to be okay with doing this over and over or we will never grow. If we don’t allow ourselves to be in that kid space of curiosity and wonder, nothing will ever inspire us enough to live through the “humiliation” of being a beginner.
The serious child is one who is not allowed to play, laugh, have fun, and is just told to “grow up” or “be sensible.” This child is expected to behave. They have the fun disapproved right out of them.
Let me tell you something. When I ask people how they know that their partner is The One, they always say the same thing. This is the person who understands them. This is the one with whom they can be silly. Guess what? We all have that silly kid inside of us who longs to have someone see him and laugh with him. I don’t care how naturally serious you are, you do too. I’ve seen people leave marriages, jobs, and families for this. It’s soul killing to have this little silly monster caged inside.
This doesn’t mean that you go out and laugh like a lunatic necessarily (although maybe sometimes it does). It could just mean that you give yourself permission to be creative or pursue a job that isn’t prestigious or pay a lot so that you can do what you love. Or maybe it means that your clothes aren’t fashionable or mainstream. You listen to quirky music or dance in public. Who knows? Whatever is authentic to you, do that!
Emotional Surrogate Child
The emotional surrogate child is killed by having to bear the burden of the parent’s emotional needs. This parent shares adult worries and joys with their child. It could be talk about finances, problems, or romance. This could feel like a special bond between parent and child, but it’s inappropriate because of the power and maturity difference.
Like the parentified child, this child feels obligated to step up and support the parent- even if they don’t really know how. So their emotional needs never get met. They grow up with boundary issues and can have sexual issues because they can’t draw the line between what is appropriate and what is not. Since they are the caretakers, they aren’t being cared for. This inner child ends up neglected.
The abandoned child is usually not literally abandoned. There is a parent. The parent just isn’t emotionally available. Like with the parentified child, the parent may struggle with addiction, poverty, physical illness, mental illness, or caretaking a parent or special needs child. Sometimes the abandoned child is very responsible and appears to not need care, so the parent has “permission” to continue the neglect. Sometimes the abandoned child is reckless and goes searching for a surrogate family wherever he can find it. Other abandoned children have no idea what to do and isolate. They fall deeper and deeper in depression.
When we speak of child abuse, we often imagine the most worst forms: violence, sexual assault, physical abandonment, and exposing them to harm. There are many ways to kill the soul of the inner child. Children need patience, emotional nurturing, room to explore, be silly, emote, and make mistakes. If you’re parents didn’t give that to you, give it to yourself. Retrieve that lost soul part so that you can be whole again.
Today is a good day to start. How about now?