How becoming an analyst helped me recognize the existential replacement child condition
Let me start my story somewhere in the middle of my life since that was the turning point. At around 40, I started to become really conscious of the fact that I was a replacement child and how this affected my being in the world. During my midlife crisis, I sought psychotherapy and a few years later, I entered the C.G. Jung Institute in Zürich-Küsnacht, Switzerland, fulfilling my dream of training to become an analyst and therapist. I had already wanted to study psychology in my 20’s but my parents had not been in favor, and so I had first studied and worked in another field.
I was born 5 ½ months after my brother Wolfgang died at the age of two from an undiagnosed appendicitis. He was such an angelic-looking boy on the photo which was prominently placed on the credenza in the living room and at my mother’s bedside table. For the first five years of my life, my mother wore black. I think she never got over the death of Wolfgang. My father, brother and sister were also deeply affected by this tragic loss.
Unfortunately, my mother and I never really connected. When I had to clean out the house after my parents had passed away, I found Wolfgang’s baby clothes folded and preserved in silk papers. I think she longed to be with him, all her life long. Chiseled into the white marble of his gravestone I read: “far from the eye but close to the heart”. I felt close to my mother’s eye but far from her heart. I was meant to give her hope and solace and help her over her grief – an impossible task! – and experienced an absent, suffering mother.
Looking back over my life, I can see that I tried to overcome feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem (‘never good enough’!) with academic and professional success. I was puzzled by feelings of guilt (what for?), later I found in the literature the term ‘survivor’s guilt’, experienced by many replacement children. And deep down, I suffered from a relational wound, from a lack of bonding with my mother and from missing my brother! I kept looking for him in a partner until in mid-life I finally figured out: I had to find myself, my identity, my connection with my soul – instead of looking for the missing other…
When I became pregnant with my first child, I felt deep compassion for my mother. How could she have coped, pregnant, first with a sick child then a fatally-ill child hospitalized who would never return home. How could she have been welcoming me into this world with joy – bedded in the same crib, possibly wearing his baby clothes? Maybe they were expecting a boy? I must have been a difficult birth, born by C-section administered at the time under full anesthesia. And I grew up quite a tom-boy.
The curious aspect in my story is I knew that Wolfgang had tragically died. We lived across from his grave, so many photos show me standing by his grave! As my parents had chosen a plot across from the cemetery to build their house, in order to not ‘leave him alone’ or to be forever close. Yet, I did not really know what it meant for me life-long.
When one trains to be an analyst, one does hundreds of hours of training analysis to explore what lies dormant in one’s unconscious. My three analysts knew the facts, as much as I did, but the ramifications of this for my psychological structure and functioning remained unexplored until I delved into this matter for my diploma thesis, entitled “Oh, brother. A woman’s search for the missing masculine,” offering “A Jungian perspective on the challenges and opportunities faced by a replacement child”.
In my view, the replacement child condition is an existential condition. It is affecting millions of people who are born after a loss, be it caused by disease, violence, natural or man-made disasters. But the awareness of what this can mean for the individual development needs to be raised, among health professionals and policy-makers. Therapists are recommended to explore if one or more siblings or other family members have perished, as well as in previous generations, as elements of the replacement child condition can be passed on. Due to denial and repression and other strong defenses, this death-and-life connection, this tension between the beginning and the end of a human life, can cause enormous emotional suffering – and it can lead to an unprecedented development in the personality, the unlocking of their full potential.
During my training, we students had to give each other a so-called association test (developed by C.G. Jung), which consisted of saying the first word that came to mind upon hearing in quick succession about 50 words of everyday life: Twelve times I associated the very same word: to be, to exist. My fellow student and I looked at each other, speechless. But herein lies the unique opportunity for the replacement child: to become conscious and to begin to step into your own existence. To individuate.
These studies helped me to find out who I was, what my issues were. They helped me unlock my intuition and my feeling in order to function, and also to become creative, publishing my research in a book on this subject. I am grateful to Carl Gustav Jung who himself was born after three dead children. He charted for me – and many, many others – the path towards individuation. The research by Cain & Cain, Coles, Green, Etchegoyen, Porot, Sabbadini and others were eye-openers. When I connected with Judy Mandel (Replacement Child -a memoir, 2013) and Rita Battat (Replacement Children, 2015/2020) we knew we could combine our efforts to help others and create a movement in consciousness (see replacementchildforum.com).
I have now been working as an analyst for some twenty years in clinical practice, also with many adult replacement children. I have offered supervision to colleagues and have taught and addressed many conferences. What is most important in my view, is to get the diagnosis right when the work is started, and to not to lose sight of the different layers affecting an adult replacement child, ranging from questions of identity to how to deal with lingering feelings of grief and guilt, relational challenges, unconscious aspects of shadow, the least known parts of our personality.
Accompanying an adult replacement child to come into his or her own and to discover the inalienable unique human being and the connection with the innermost kernel, the connection with their soul, is a great privilege.
I come face to face with the the deepest feelings of loss in human existence but also witness the adult replacement child’s psychological rebirth.
Kristina Schellinski is the author of, Individuation for Adult Replacement Children, Ways of Coming into Being (Routledge, 2019) Teaching Analyst and Supervisor, Geneva, Switzerland.
Excerpted from Replacement Children, The Unconscious Script, by Rita Battat and Abigail Brenner, (Inside-Out Press, August 2020)Follow us on your favorite social media sites: