It is always about me, isn't it?
A characteristic of childhood thinking is the child's assumption
that whatever happens "is all about me." The tendency of
children to blame themselves for their parents' difficulties
causes them great pain, and if this kind of "it's all about me"
thinking persists into adulthood, it can do considerable harm to
their personal relationships. As adults, many people still
believe they are defective and that if people really knew them
they would be rejected.
Children under the age of ten have yet to develop a concept of
multi-causality. Consequently, they explain out-of-the-ordinary
phenomena as having occurred because they made them happen.
Young children do not see their overly critical parents for what
they are--overly critical. As children they cannot understand
that their parents might have, let us say, a drinking problem,
which distorts their personalities and behavior. Rather,
children believe that if they are criticized it must be because
they really are bad and the proper cause of all the criticism
that comes their way. Similarly, if things start to go wrong
between parents, children think they are the reason or that they
can provide the solution.
Several clients have brought home how extreme the discrepancy
can be between the logic of the adult and the emotions of the
inner child. In one case, Mary, a bright and attractive
professional woman was trying to deal with a relationship
breakup. She explained, "I really don't know why I am so upset.
This relationship had to end since he couldn't get along with my
daughter. He'd made it clear that he did not want to raise
another child and since my child is only six he was unable to
commit...so why am I devastated?"
I could have tried to assist Mary by strengthening her resolve,
but she didn't really need me for that. She was perfectly
capable of coming up with every logical, rational reason under
the sun why the relationship wasn't viable and was best ended.
She had intelligent friends to assist her with that, too.
My job was to redirect Mary to her childhood. Her own father had
left the family when she was six. Using the child's "it's all
about me" way of thinking, she had decided that if only she had
been good enough, or worthwhile enough, her father would not
have left. Her goodness would have made him stay. She felt the
same way about her breakup with her boyfriend and was
re-traumatized by it. Indicatively, she told me that there was a
part of her that wanted to try to make the relationship work at
any price, so that this time it would be different, even though
she could see with her adult mind that the relationship was not
really a good one. She didn't even know the man that well.
Talking it through, she became able to see that most of the
feelings she had about her partner were a projection from the
past and not based on reality.
When the final break came, Mary was able to be caring and not
caustic or blaming toward him. She said, "I know that he is a
good person and means well and has always been honest with me."
Saying this was progress for her, because in past relationships
she tended to get angry with her partner and blame him for
everything that went wrong between them. She had begun to make
sense of the strength of her feelings, and her adult and child
were more integrated. Working through the stages of the
relationship without reverting to blaming her partner gave her
an opportunity to deal with the pain in her past, understand
herself more deeply, and become more conscious in relationships.
I have seen many individuals who believed that their partner's
bad behavior was their fault, thus taking responsibility for
someone else's destructive behaviors. One client told me that
she had "caused" her husband to break her leg during a beating
by saying something provocative to him. I attempted to explain
to her that her partner's assaultive behavior was not only
illegal, but inappropriate, but to no avail. She persisted in
believing that she was the "cause" of her partner's physical
attacks on her.
In my marriage, we have to be attentive to the tendency we both
have to feel overly responsible for things. We usually have to
work on getting our signals straight when one or the other of us
is in a bad mood and withdrawing. We try to head off the
possibility of the other feeling blamed or guilty by saying to
each other things like: "I have had a really bad day and I feel
like I need to withdraw, but it has nothing to do with you." We
find this kind of proactive measure very useful.
Copyright 2005 Linda Miles Ph.D