All of us start out weak in the hands of the strong.
~ Allen Wheelis
So why is understanding the Kid part so essential to understanding ourselves as adults?
Because it reminds us of where we came from, and what happened to us there.
It reminds us that we started out helpless, totally dependent on the big people around us.
That we had no choice about adapting to those big people.
That this adaptation occurred not just on the surface of our personality, but seeped down to the very core of us.
That, like a lie you tell so often you come to believe it’s true, this adaptation came to feel not like something we did but something we are.
In other words, that it left us confused at the deepest level.
“We are hypnotized from infancy,” writes Willis Harmon. “We do not perceive ourselves and the world about us as they are but as we have been persuaded to see them.”
“Nearly all human activity is programmed by an ongoing script dating from early childhood,” is how Eric Berne puts it.
“We build up our selves out of our defenses but then come to be imprisoned by them,” Mark Epstein explains. “This leaves us feeling dissatisfied, irritable, and cut off. In our misguided attempts to become more self-assured, we tend to build up our defenses even more, rather than disentangling ourselves from them.”
That last quote points to the main reason we need to understand the Kid part of us:
Until we do, we can’t understand how we — or people we care about — get emotionally sick.
By sick I mean afflicted with the most common symptoms people bring to therapy: anxiety, depression, addictions, unhappy relationships and parenting problems.
I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t suffered from at least one of these.
They all flow from the childhood adaptation I’m talking about, one which splits us into two selves — one public, one private — and starts a war between them.
This self-splitting is called neurosis, and I’ll say more about it later.
Here it’s enough to point out what should be obvious: that a personality at war with itself is unlikely to be a very healthy or happy one.
Adult health and happiness depend on rewriting the script, emerging from the trance, and escaping from the defensive prison to which childhood consigned us.
You simply cannot be an emotionally strong adult so long as you’re carrying around a weak wounded Kid inside.
Or as Carl Jung put it, “Whatever we don’t own, owns us.”
Berne, Eric. Quoted in James, Muriel & Dorothy Jongeward. Born to win: Transactional analysis with Gestalt experiments. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1971.
Epstein, Mark. Going to pieces wihtout falling apart: A Buddhist perspective on wholeness. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.
Harmon, Willis. Old wine in new wineskins. In Challenges of humanistic psychology, ed. J. Bugental. New York: Magraw-Hill, 1967.
Jung, Carl Gustav. The portable Jung. Ed Joseph Campbell. New York: Penguin, 1980.
Wheelis, Allen. The path not taken: Reflections on power and fear. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990.