Unit 7 – “Will I ever outgrow the need for approval?”
An Influence Throughout Life
As a child grows up and becomes more autonomous, the direct influence and impact of parents’/caregivers’ behavior on the child normally diminishes. This is true for children who have developed a reasonable healthy Sense of Self, but for those in an “Enmeshment,” an unhealthy degree of dependency continues through adulthood and even into old age. Even though the parent’s or caregiver’s influence has become less visible, less obvious, and therefore less traceable, it can be rather domineering a person’s life.
Too often, for example, grown children become terribly stressed when visiting their parents, because they know they are not the sons and daughters their parents want them to be, and they feel the need of their parent’s approval and validation. It’s often similarly stressing when parents come to visit. A grown woman, for example, may start to clean and organize like a madwoman because her house never seems to be “good enough” for her mother. If you point this out to her, she might prefer to not look at her own behavior and to be in denial of the truth and mention futile things that justify her behavior. But when the stress level she experiences is so much higher than is justified by the actual event, it is likely that deep down inside she feels her Substitute SoS is at stake.
At any age, grown children whose parents are alive can still be needy; they still hope that by facilitating their parents’ caprices they might finally get their deepest wish come true: being unconditionally loved and feeling accepted the way they are, being acknowledged as a valuable human being important in their parent’s lives.
Even if an ocean lies between parents and their grown children, parents’ influence can be just as present as ever within the child’s inner life. The parent’s standards and criteria still reverberate in his or her head and form what I call the Internalized Parental Voice (IPV).
Self-absorbed parents are unable to regard their children as anything but a pawn in the (subconsciously played) emotional games of their own lives. I call this “playing games” because their actions have nothing to do with the reality of life in the world outside their small circle of awareness; the developmental needs of their children are part of that reality of life outside that circle.
Self-absorbed parents can never foster the development of a Natural SoS in their children because they put themselves continuously not only in the center of their own world but also in the center of other people’s worlds, while their child bends over backward in an attempt to get his or her need of acknowledgment as a being, as existing, met.
An Eternal Vicious Cycle
A parent who lacks a SoS and who is compulsively driven to fulfill his or her perceived survival conditions makes that his or her children have to facilitate the parent’s Hidden Agenda—consequently there is hardly no room for their own input, whether that be wanting to have friends over for play, engaging in activities that the parent has no interest in, or being sick or demanding attention in any way.
These patterns of behavior are likely to develop into a vicious behavioral cycle that extends over generations. The parents are not able to focus on their child and acknowledge it as a truly existing human being. They then raise their children in such a way that, when in the situation of being a parent themselves, they will be unable to pay attention to their own children. Again they are not free from dependencies on fulfilling the Ego-References of trying to be heard and seen themselves.
The Internalized Parental Voice (IPV)
(Chapter 5, pp 56)
So the good vibes of the caregiver, when no longer available, are not even directly necessary anymore. Approval from the virtual parent, also called the internalized parent, includes criteria which the now-grown children judge themselves by to anchor themselves in their lives through the “Feel-good-about-self” state that then constitutes a Substitute SoS for them.
To include the presence of another voice, other than your own, in your Self may sound strange or even far-fetched. And truly, it took me quite a while to discover this, but when looking into myself more deeply, I felt as if my parent was still present through my own voice, which really wasn’t my own voice. This voice presented criteria copied from my parent, not generated by myself.