Why 'well-behaved' children are most likely to suffer a breakdown
There is a breed of children that no one would think of as problematic, simply because they are masters of becoming who you need them to be. They’re silent in their acceptance. They obey, they succumb and they do it with a smile. “My child is so easy. He never cries. He eats when he’s told, is calm and doesn’t drive me nuts,” I’ve heard parents say. Until a few years ago, I thought these were the children straight out of every parent’s dream… until I quickly learned that these are the very ones every parent needs to pay close attention to. These ‘easy’ children are the ones who break. They are the ones who seem to do it all right until one day, they don’t… because they can’t… they’re burnt out, they’re drained and they’ve lost themselves to fulfilling your expectations, alongside everyone else’s.
I am that child.
I have that child.
And I often wondered where I ‘lost’ myself. How did I make the fatal mistakes I never thought I would? Why was motherhood so difficult for me and not others?
It didn’t make any sense… until it did.
I am the child who never complained.
I am the child who took on the responsibility of nurturing a parent’s need the way a child should not be expected to.
I never rebelled.
I was a star student…
And then I woke up.
It is children like me who parents don’t pay close attention to…
I seemed to have it all together.
So why bother to look deeper?
When I started studying Conscious Parenting under Dr Shefali Tsabary — Oprah’s go-to for parenting — one book in our curriculum changed everything.
Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child made my eyes bleed.
And for the first time I knew why I had spent most of my life trying to be someone else.
I didn’t even know who I was, you see.
The ‘Gifted Child’ is ‘gifted’ because s/he is a master of invalidating herself/himself completely to become what her/his parent needs.
These children are masters at being who the parent needs them to be. They are gifted at empathy, they are gifted at shutting out their own pain to soothe another. They are gifted at invalidating themselves.
It is a gift that swallows this child whole.
They grow up not knowing who they are. Their only role is to be another’s instrument. Their purpose is to shut out their own voice and embrace another’s.
These children often end up in professions that aren’t their truth.
They’re so good at doing so many things that in their mastery is their curse — the ability to blind themselves to their truth.
They end up in romantic relationships that are abusive. Abuse feels natural.
They end up in careers that don’t replenish their soul or tap into their true gift. Their friendships are toxic with no boundaries… they’ve never known what a boundary is. No one gave them that right.
And they usually run on empty. Their soul was never fed. They were never nurtured the way they needed.
And so they break.
Why do they break?
They learn to internalise their pain. They learn to invalidate their needs.
And so the pain eats them up.
It took me a while to piece together my voice and own my truth.
I spent half my life running away from the real pain in my life because facing it, all of it, would have killed me. It was too much.
Eventually, when I had my child, it became more painful to run than to stay.
And so I stayed. I listened. I had no choice. I needed a self to mother my child.
My son is straight out of Alice Millers The Drama of the Gifted Child.
He was well-behaved. He was easy.
And my best moments as a parent are when he says ‘no’, when he expresses his truth, when he lays a boundary and when he doesn’t do what I want.
He will never be that child.
He will be himself… complicated, messy and human.
That is my gift to him.
There is nothing I need in return.
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