Chapter Six The Too Serious Kid - When a child is not playful and spontaneous - What happened to Christopher Robin in the movie
We have a too serous kid when some of the playfulness, spontaneity and carefree nature of the healthy Inner Child is not being expressed. In school this child is well behaved and willing to be helpful so teachers do not see a problem.
I believe there is a problem if we understand what happened to the too serious kid and how it effected the child’s adjustment and how it will continue to effect the adults’ adjustment. But this is a ‘normal’ adjustment problem and is not pathological.
Understanding what is at work may help you understand why you or someone else is depressed, or anxious, or has problems with boundaries, or is hyper-sensitive to criticism. And you will need help to understand because everything is going on under the surface. What happened to the Serious Kid?
If you understand the principle here, it will help you understand the childhood of the Too Serious Kid. So what happened?
Think about these two situations and see if you can figure out what happened to create the Too Serious Kid.
First situation: In my experience children become anxious and afraid when their parents are fighting, or one or both parents get drunk and fall asleep on the couch, or when one parent goes into rages. At these times children feel that their caretakers are no longer protecting them and they do not feel safe. Why would children in this situation become afraid of being expressive, spontaneous and playful?
Second Situation: What happens to children when their parents are unable to function because of sickness, mental illness or depression? Why would children in this situation become afraid of being expressive, spontaneous and playful?
First Situation Some children respond to the family being unsafe by trying to be a source of peace and calm. The child tries to stabilize the parent and keep the family together. The child tries to rescue the situation from disaster. Do you see that the child is taking over responsibilities that their parents have dropped? The parents are not providing safety and order and the child compensates by helping to establish order.
Second Situation Some children step into the Caretaker role to fill in the gap where a parent is not able to function. They feel the responsibility to take over and care for the sick parent, to provide cheer for the depressed parent or to provide stability where their parent is unstable. Do you see that the child is taking on adult responsibilities where their parents are incapacitated? They try to compensate and keep the family going.
The Principle: When adults (parents) act in dysfunctional ways and make family life unsafe for children, then children will compensate. For example, they may try to get out of the way, be good, help out, to keep their parents calm and keep things safe. When parents are not providing a safe, secure and orderly home for the child, the child will often take on some role in restoring order. Parental Inversion in the Family System When the child takes on responsibility for the family or for the parents because parents are under-functioning it is called Parental Inversion. When the adults are acting like children, the children begin to act like adults.
Parental Inversion is the name John and Paula Sandford gave to this situation, in their book, Transformation of the Inner Man. Parental Inversion means the parents are not providing love and order as needed by the children and the children take on adult responsibilities for the sake of the family stability, security and survival. This is called Parental Inversion because of the inversion of roles.
What Personality Adjustments are necessary to make Parental Inversion Possible?
A child cannot step into adult responsibility at such a young age without major distortions in child development and the resultant personality. We are going to take a deeper look at what happens in the child who is hit with a family that draws out some form or level of Parental Inversion.
We are particularly concerned with what happens to the Inner Child. This is sad. For the Inner Child has to be kept quiet and undemanding so the personality can specialize in keeping things safe and caring for others. This means that the Inner Child is suppressed.
A part of the personality has the job of suppressing the Inner Child. The voice of this part of the personality sends messages to the Inner Child that will shat down the Inner child and divert self interest and self-expression into the task of creating peace, security and nurture for others in the family system. We can give several names to depending on the way it manifests:
1. Critical Parent: a stream of criticisms directed against the Inner Child to suppress accusing the child of being ‘too selfish’ or ‘immature.’ 2. Inner Critic: pointing out what is wrong with the Inner child. 3. Inner Judge: making the Inner child feel guilty through many accusations. 4. Risk Assessor: always pointing out what could go wrong.
The results of all this self-criticism include:
a habit of blaming self when anything goes wrong, and
A habit of taking responsibility when anything goes wrong.
What is missing for the Inner Child is inner sources of support, loving and nurture.Without this nurture it may be easy:
To feel unloved,
To feel isolated,
To feel rejected,
To feel misunderstood,
To feel rebellious,
To feel like hiding, or
To feel like running away.
Another thing that happens in the development of this personality being drawn into Parental Inversion is the super-development of the ability to nurture and care for others. A part of the child develop this nurturing side. We will call this part the Nurturing Parent.
The Nurturing Parent has responsibility to:
Caring for others,
Taking on Responsibility in the family,
Being a mediator in conflicts - a peace-keeper,
Focus on the needs of others who need help,
Stabilize the family system,
Nurturing other family members, and
Protecting other family members.
(Note: to learn more about the Parent, Adult and Child ego states of the personality. This language and insight was developed by Eric Berne to better understand people’s relationships and personality. Read, I’m Okay; You’re Okay for one description of this system, or Muriel James’ Born to Win.)
The weight of these adult responsibilities piled on a child, combined with the reduction of inner nurture for the child, combined with ongoing harassment by the Critical Parent of the child create the Too Serious Kid.
It is clear that the Too Serious Kid deserves our attention and care but no-one sees inside the Super Responsible Adult to see the Critical Parent hammering away at the Inner child trying to stop the creative, spontaneous, rebellious, demanding and selfish sides of the Inner Child. No one appreciates that lack of nurture and love felt by the Inner Child of the Too Serious Kid. All we see is someone who takes responsibility and is helpful and caring of others.
However, for the Too Serious Kid, each of these adjustments make a huge difference in life going forward into adulthood. The adjusted personality lasts for the rest of one’s life. In adulthood the Too Serious Kid becomes the Super-Responsible adult. There does not seem to be any break.
Here are some of the implications of this personality adjustment for the Too Serious Kid”
1. The spontaneous Inner Child is suppressed. This can result in whole aspects of the personality going missing. One loses joy, spontaneity, creativity, intuition, closeness to God, hope and faith in the world.
2. In its role in suppressing the Inner Child the Critical Parent tells the Inner Child things like: ‘Don’t be so selfish,’ ‘Don’t be so immature’, and ‘Don’t be so childish.’ These self-critical messages become a permanent part life leading to depression and low self-confidence?
3. As the Critical Parent shuts down the voice of the Inner Child, the person becomes out of touch with their inner needs and just become work horses. Do you see how this person is at risk for burnout as they overwork and ignore their own needs.
4. The person develops a hyper-inflated Caring Parent. This caring parent is focused, however, not on the Inner Child, but on other people that need help. One becomes a caring person who neglects self-care.
Do you see how this can lead to some type of breakdown later in life. For example, a stroke or a ’nervous breakdown.’ See the chapter on the ‘Positive Nervous Breakdown.’
5. One becomes very responsible and that means going overboard in helping others, getting the work done and apologizing if anything goes wrong. There may be a poor sense of boundaries. One can even lose jobs from working too hard encroaching on other’s work and undermining team work.
6.As the Critical Parent goes overboard in generating things to worry about, one becomes risk adverse. Another outcome is that person has high levels of anxiety.Another is that one becomes over-cautious and and miss opportunities. One can become a negative and critical person.
7. Because the child tried to pacify their angry parents, they can become good mediators orpeacekeepers. However, as leaders they may go overboard in trying to keep the peace, becoming controlling leaders and stifling the voice of their followers.
8. If they had the role of caring for a sickly parent, they might become good professional caregivers as nurses or doctors. They are always there to care for others while no-one notices how poor is their self-care.
Becoming the Super-Responsible Adult Personality
The too-serious kid grows up to be the Super-Responsible Adult. The internal adjustments made to enable the inversion of roles can continue on into adulthood unchanged. Just as the too-serious kid had too much responsibility in childhood, the Super-Responsible will tend to takes on responsibility as an adult.
How patterns persist! The too-serious kid was trying to bring safety and order to the family in order to save them from family disaster. The Super-Responsible adult is still is deeply driven to bring peace and order and also takes on the mission of saving people.
Almost always these ‘positive’ characteristics get out of balance and cause problems for the adult.
Here are some characteristics of the Super-Responsible adult and some of the problems caused by them:
Keeps on watching for risks and protecting people.
Safety and order become one’s value.
Keeps trying to create order in any social structure they are part of.
Peace becomes one’s ideal reward state.
Feels guilt if anything goes wrong as if they were responsible for everything.
Lives with constant self-criticism.
Problems with high anxiety.
Depression or underlying depression.
Is imprinted with the life mission of helping others. In most relationships will be in the role of Rescuer.
Failure in their rescue mission triggers deep feelings of failure.
Tends not to not be expressive, emotional or playful in adulthood. Still has that serious side.
May have obsessions - obsessive-compulsive traits.
By the time the Too Serious Kid grows to adulthood the whole pattern becomes fixed in place. It is a way of life. Change, even motivation to change, is hard to come by.
What happened to the Inner Child? You may find that your Inner Child is locked away in a closet somewhere. The Inner Child is missing in action. There has been too much suppression for too long and the Inner Child is just not functioning as part of your personality at all. The Inner Child has gone missing.
If this pattern could change, the Inner child would be part of your life and an integral part of your personality. This kind of an adjustment is major. However, it threatens the existing order in a personality committed to order. It threatens the life mission of the Super-Responsible.
There are also definite benefits of this shift. Here is one list of the possible benefits. Consider this list:
1. One would gain joy, spontaneity, creativity, intuition, closeness to God, hope and faith in the world. This is all contained and suppressed in your Inner child.
2. Hopefully, one would gain freedom from constant self-criticism. Getting more positive messages going between Inner Parent and Inner Child would be a major life change. Chapter 7 will focus on this - on Taming the Inner Judge.
3.Of course, the Inner Child faced with suppression of expression, shame messages and inner criticism is depressed. The Inner Child could use a break!
4. Boundary issues nag at the life of the Super-Responsible. Better relationship with yourself and others follows from sorting out your boundary issues.This can be important to avoid burnout or work issues.
5. Your success in and with love relationships will increase as you to learn to express your inner needs. It will mean fewer inner blocks to high quality intimate relationships.
6. Your sexual relationship can become blocked when you had children in your marriage. The sandford had a good explanation for that. When you are confidant to your opposite sex parent a deep unconscious block gets established. That inner belief and rule needs to be broken.
7. If you are in leadership you may not meet your full potential because you cannot trust others to do their part. You delegate poorly. You have difficulty nurturing others so they can mature and blossom.
8. Where you tended to be controlling in an effort to ensure peace, you need to be able to let go of control.Jesus called us to die to self. Our old dysfunctional self - the Super-Responsible Personality - needs to die.
9. A times some natural fuses relieve the stress and distress created by this personality pattern. This might include a stroke or a ’nervous breakdown.’ This natural process can be leveraged as an opportunity to break out of the old personality into something healthier and more authentic. See Chapter 8 on ‘The Positive Nervous Breakdown.’
It is hard for the Super-Responsible adult to choose to attend therapy. There might have to be a clear crisis. Remember that responsible self-care allows you to continue to be there for others.
Of course you want to find a professional therapist, counsellor or psychotherapist who you can work with. Ever step forward is likely to be beneficial. Personality change is not a do-it-yourself project.
My preference is to work with professionals whose practice has the goal of lasting permanent change, who are familiar with memory reconsolidation or who are using one of the therapies that fit with what we know about permanent heart change.
The life of the Super-Responsible adult is so completely focused on others that it can be impossible to consider something for oneself. One lacks the motivation to look after their own needs. One is undermined by the old undermining messages of the Critical Parent about not being so childish or so selfish. It is very hard to break through these blocks.
The outcome of this failure to get professional guidance can be a physical ‘fuse’ blowing as in a debilitating stroke. On the personality level failure to get out of the pattern can result in a ’Nervous Breakdown.’ In my model of personality, however, the nervous breakdown is an opportunity to shed the old dysfunctional adjustment and break into a new more authentic identity.
For a consultation on this and guidance during the crisis contact George Hartwell by phone (416) 939-0544 or email ghartwell at rogers.com. See: www.healMyLifemobile.com.