Copyright © 2009 by Richard A. Grossman, Ph.D. · All Rights reserved · E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In a previous essay (The Four Questions), I suggested that the four questions—“Who am I? Do I have any value? Why doesn't anybody see or hear me? Why should I live?”---were answered by young children on the basis of the subtext of the parent—child relationship. Children are adept at reading between the lines. Consider this situation: a mother comes home from work, says “I love you,” to her young children, tells them to watch television, then goes into her bedroom for an hour and shuts her door. She then comes out makes dinner for the kids, doesn’t sit with them, but asks how school was (“fine” they say)—and an hour later makes dinner for herself and her husband. After the couple’s dinner, she helps the children into their pajamas, sits on each of their beds for thirty seconds, kisses them, says how much she loves them, and then closes the door. If you asked the mother, she might say she felt good about the interaction with her children—after all, she said she loved them twice, cooked dinner for them, and sat on each of their beds. This is what good parents do, she thinks.
And yet, the subtext is quite different. The message the children receive is: “You are not worth spending time with. There is nothing of value inside of you." Children want to share their experience of the world, and to know that this experience matters, but in this case they are stymied. They do not consciously think about or ask the four questions—but they secretly absorb the answers, and the answers shape their sense of who they are and deeply influences how they interact with others. Damage can be done no matter how many times they hear the words: “I love you,” or see other token displays of affection. Of course this kind of parent-child interaction may be a one-time affair: perhaps the mother was sick, or had a terrible day at work—these things happen. But often, this level of interaction is habitual and
Voicelessness and Emotional Survival
Depression and the Subtext
of Family Life