Leaving The Illusions Of Childhood Behind
As children, we think that we have the magical powers to change all that is wrong with the world. We need to believe that we can control our destiny in order to emotionally survive. For example, we may have had parents who were not emotionally available. They may have lacked the capacity to be nurturing, supportive and affirming. As a way of coping, we may have "performed to please," trying every means to make our parents happy while striving to get our own needs met. When our efforts failed in getting what we needed from our parents, we turned our feelings inward and believed that somehow we were the one's who were defective, not our parents. By turning our frustration inward, we conveniently minimized the pain that results from dealing with them. Many children turn to self-blame as a way of coping and hold out the illusion that their parents will someday change and become the loving people that they have always longed for. As we transition to adulthood, many of us maintain this faulty interpretation about our expectations from out parents, believing that our loved ones should have behaved the way we wanted them to respond. Many of us in adulthood keep striving, pleasing, pursuing, performing, and fixing in order to attempt to fulfill the fantasy of what we want from others. By taking the responsibility for our parents' failures, we let them off the hook and minimize the pain connected to how they treated us.
As young children, we need the comfort of feeling safe. We tend to move toward what is familiar and provides a sense of security. As children, we may maintain certain behavior patterns established by our parents. The safety of our support system makes up feel secure in the midst of an insecure world. As we transition to adulthood, we may continue to search for the external validation which was lacking from our childhood experience with our parents.
Eventually, the idea of trying to maintain security at all times breaks down as we are faced with new and challenging problems. Alan Watts, the author and philosopher, alludes to this problem. To the degree that we actually try to grab onto security, the more we may feel a sense of being out of control. It is only when we are able to accept our insecurity that we find ourselves on the road to becoming more grounded.
Inevitably, if we are to develop and change as adults, we need to start making conscious what we have tucked away to avoid our childhood pain. We must begin to confront the challenges, paradoxes, problems and difficult realities which may be remnants of a troubled childhood. We may move into uncharted waters involving a sense of risk and uncomfortable feelings. No one has prepared us for this "wilderness experience." This is the place where we struggle to learn and apply new skills for living. It is our journey to flush out and grieve what didn't work from our childhood and to establish more adaptive ways of behaving.
No one likes to feel the pain that accompanies change and growth, but the option is to remain stagnant, holding onto archaic childhood assumptions which fosters avoidance and blocking everything that opens us up to a new level of consciousness. In order to give up our childhood, we must come to terms with the twin killers of progress — laziness and fear. One must wade into the water of change in spite of the prospects of utter terror. No one is immune from the human vulnerability associated with fear and inertia. As psychotherapist and author Sheldon B. Kopp has said, we all need to learn to be a "do-it-on-your-own-cause-there's-no-one-else-to-do-it-for-you-grown-up."
James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC is an author, freelance writer and a nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached at krehbielcounseling.com.