Spontaneity and Happiness

Psychoanalyst Dr. Alice Miller's Theories on Child Rearing

When you are born, in essence you receive a unilateral subscription to your parent’s services. As a newborn child you have no influence over the parenting service’s terms and conditions. Most parents will choose to provide healthy services such as tender loving care, providing a safe and protective environment for a child to explore spontaneity and happiness, emotional warmth and support, help with discovering appropriate physical and psychological boundaries. It’s all coloured by the culture one happens to be born in. But essentially your parents write their own terms and conditions to your child rearing contract.

But sometimes parents choose to provide a wholly different set of services. If the parents themselves were victims of emotional neglect, mistreatment or abuse, they may not know how to properly respond to the child’s needs. In such cases parents may choose to provide poorer options: emotional neglect, overall disapproval of the child’s behavior, physical abuse, psychological blackmail, consistent ridicule, unreasonable demand for high achievements (e.g. school grades, sports trophies), harsh punishment for every small transgression of a rule and reward for almost nothing. Such demands can serve as compensation for the love your parent’s didn’t have themselves. But it is a heavy burden on the shoulders of a young child.

As a child, in order to survive, you adapt your behavior to whatever your parents’ offering is. The child must internalize even poor treatment in order to physically and mentally cope. As adults most people do not question their childhood truths. We fool ourselves with the age old adagium that poor treatment was “for our own good”. That adagium also explains why rational adults can justify beating their own children: because it happened to them and they turned out alright!

But adults have another choice: by siding with the child you once were. This is the attitude promoted by late psychoanalist Dr. Alice Miller, famous in Germany and also the USA for her work on child abuse. Adults can choose to get in touch with the child they used to be, side with that child and stand up against poor parental treatment. 

What does that mean? It means that you no longer have to be your parents’ defense lawyer. You can say to the jury - I quit. You no longer have to justify your parents’ actions as “for your own good”. You don’t have to defend your parents anymore, but defend the child you used to be. You have the right to stand up for your own deepest emotional feelings. 

This is not an easy thing to do and you will experience psychological resistance. But for those who have suffered it is the only decision that leads to emotional healing. Finally you’re allowed, as and adult, to cancel the subscription to your parents’ contract. It means you arefree, free from expectations outside of your control, free from emotional dependency on your parent’s love (that you didn’t receive). You are now really free to explore spontaneity and happiness.

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Spontaneity and Happiness by Mathijs Koenraadt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.