Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Martyred Child


Suppose you're a parent with a disrespectful, disruptive child: a child who's acting out, and child who's going off the path of religious observance, G-d forbid. The normal, natural, initial response for a parent is to ask: "What's going on here? How on earth can this be good?" That's actually not a bad starting point, but we need to take it up a level, and start asking ourselves more questions: "Why is this happening? What's the message? How can I relate to this in a productive way?"
 
Here's one idea of what may be going on under the surface of your out-of-control child: Kids are the purest beings on the planet (and we were that way too, when we were kids.) All kids have the intention, deep down, to be helpful to their parents. If that kid is misbehaving, or acting out, or going away from Judaism, in a certain sense, it means they've taken control of the family. Yes, it's unhealthy control, but all children need connection, and attention and parents, and they will do whatever they can to get it. If the child's parents are struggling, and the family unit is starting to break apart; that kid doesn't want to have a divorce in the family, G-d forbid. If the only way he can keep his family intact is by creating an emergency situation, or 'shock', then that's what he's going to do.
 
Maybe this sounds shocking, but in the more than 30-something years that I've been a therapist, I've never seen a divorce in a family where a kid was suicidal, anorexic, or self-mutilating.
 
In a very profound sense, the child is sacrificing himself to keep the family together. Children aren't hurting themselves just to fight with their parents, or to be difficult. Deep down, that child's heart yearns to be a healthy member of their family unit...continue right here...