Born to Care for Others Yet You Have no Friends?

Kristina Schellinski answers the Second Letter by Jo

Dear Jo, 

I will try to answer some of the concerns you have raised. Thank you for your sharing. Every replacement child is a unique person, an  individual, and no suffering can be compared,  but some of the elements may resonate with readers who were expected to fill a role, to replace, to care, to make up, to help mom or dad ‘get over’ their inconsolable loss of a loved child or other member of the family.

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I want to answer here two of your concerns: 1) the difficulty in making friends and 2) your care-giver role.

You write: “I struggled to find my own way and make friends at university . . .  I found it difficult to make friends and relationships and so they never develop beyond a certain point . . . I feel this is due to me not having a specific identity . . . if that makes sense.” 

Relational difficulties start during the attachment phase:

The difficulty you describe in relating with friends, even with a spouse or children, is an experience shared by many replacement children. In my view it is linked to the condition. The basis for relational difficulties may start during that earliest relationship, the bonding phase, with your mother and father, and in some cases even grandparents. Already in utero, and after birth, a child may experience a grieving parent as absent. The psychoanalytical literature speaks of the ‘dead mother’ – a mother who is not really dead but experienced as emotionally dead since she is grieving an earlier loss. It is difficult for a child who is seen through the tear-streaked eyes of a mourning parent, to find a proper reflection of its budding self. 

A child that is not seen for who she or he really, individually, uniquely is, may find it therefore harder to get a true sense of self – and of the other person in a relationship. While identity formation may also play a role, I think the underlying cause of relational difficulties encountered by replacement children starts with the bonding phase, even before the identity is formed in those first decisive years. John Bowlby (1980), the pioneer of attachment theory has written that the loss of a child can hamper or seriously impair the early bonding between mother and child. 

Some grieving of that loss, even now, so many decades later, can help you to discover your true self.

Befriend yourself, know yourself, discover the self that is your true self, and be your own best friend – that can then be the basis for true friendships with others.

The care-giver role 

You mention the caregiver role which you took on, without knowing, already as a child, and which you still carry in your adult life, now as a wife and mother. To care, to please, to carry the other… this, too, happens to many replacement children, and some take on that role and others rebel and refuse to take on that role. It is a lovely human trait to care for others, but if a replacement child is to mother the parent, we speak of a parentified child, and its own needs may not have been met. As an adult, you can recognize this, and you can learn to consciously care for yourself as well. You can still reach out to that inner child whose needs were not sufficiently met by a parent who was utterly distraught, who was grieving. When you diagnose that you suffer from the replacement child condition, you start to care about yourself, to carry yourself, your own suffering. As we Jungians call it: to contain yourself, to hold yourself, to love yourself and that is a special love: to love the Self that is an indestructible instinct to develop, to realize the full potential that is maybe still lying dormant. The Self may be pushing you forward towards reconnecting with yourself. This is the path towards consciousness, the journey you are on, of getting to know who you are, deep down, and this may be of help also for the relationship with your husband and your son. Taking care of your mum was an attempt to secure her love, which is vital for a child. 

I find it heartening that you had reached out for counselling already in younger years, and now again. Share your insights with your therapist, and they will be in a better position to help you to reconnect with your true self. From that source, your love and care-giving may flow, again, and without the resentment.  Carl Gustav Jung, the Founder of Analytical Psychology wrote: Amor Triumphat – Love will triumph in the end. It takes our utmost effort to become conscious to allow for that. 

My best wishes,

Kristina Schellinski

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