Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page
Ashya King got me thinking. It’s been big news, certainly in the UK, the story of a 5-year-old with a brain tumour who was taken from hospital by his parents. It got me thinking about the decisions we make for others, and to what extent we are entitled to make those decisions for them.
When a child is conceived, it has no voice, it exists inside its mother and can only communicate its needs indirectly. The urge expectant mothers might feel to eat banana pizza or other unusual food combinations is, presumably, satisfying a need for their unborn child, expressed indirectly to its mother.
When a baby is born, its umbilical cord is cut, but its connection to its mother remains incredibly strong. Immediately after birth, a baby starts to develop communication skills (usually quite loud ones) but these are limited – babies cry if they’re not happy but it is down to the mother’s instinct – or down to guesswork – to find out why the baby is unhappy and to do something about it.
As babies grow older, they develop the ability to express their needs in a much more articulate way, but as parents or carers we still make a lot of decisions for them. It is unlikely that a toddler would choose a healthy diet, for example, and so we need to override their desire to eat sweets all the time and encourage them to eat vegetables. We tell them when to go to bed, what they can watch on TV, and so on.
In the transition towards adulthood, young people typically feel that their parents or carers are not giving them enough freedom. Most young people want to make more of their own decisions, while most carers feel the need to protect their children to stop them making mistakes – often to stop them making the same mistakes that they themselves made as young adults.
I have a picture here of parents holding their children inside them. Before birth a mother does this physically – after birth, parents tend to continue to hold their children inside them emotionally – thinking about their needs, trying to work out what is best for their child. The problem can that some parents find it difficult to release this internal version of their child – “mother knows best” – “it’s for your own good” – and so sometimes parents make decisions that others – including their child – feel are not in the child’s best interests.
This pattern can, taken to extremes, become abusive. To believe that I know what is best for my adult offspring is to put the voice of my internal version of them ahead of their own voice. What I think they think is more important than what they think. Their actions only matter in so far as they affect me. This mind-set, I think, fails to recognise and respect others as individuals.
This same mind-set can be seen in abusive adult relationships. Some people seem to regard their partners only as a part of themselves. My partner’s role is only to make me feel better. I know what is best for you. You have no right to an independent existence or to independent thought. You only exist through me.
Letting go of an internalised version of someone can be really tough – it is a part of ourselves, and a very important part at that. But letting the internalised version go is so much better than losing the real thing.