Coping with the Pain of Being a Replacement Child: Three perspectives

Different Boats in the Same Storm by Rita Battat

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There is an old saying- we are all in the same boat. For the replacement child it may be best expressed – We are all in different boats but in the same storm.

There are so many different scenarios to cause one to be placed in the position of being a replacement child but similarities and certain patterns of thoughts, feelings and emotional issues, are definitely shared among us, even though they may be felt in different degrees.

Like countless others, my birth came about to fill a vacancy, that of my 14 year old brother who had passed away of a heart defect 18 months before my birth. A second tragedy happened 18 months after my birth when my father passed away. My mother was left in the terrible position of having to take care of me, an infant, while holding down a business and in the grip of grieving two tragic losses.

There was absolutely no support or counseling so she was left to deal with it all on her own. Understandably, healthy bonding and an authentic connection became very difficult if not impossible. My lost brother was elevated to Saint status and I was a poor substitute. I was only able to appreciate all my mother had to endure and the domino effects when examining my life from a replacement child point of view.

Like so many other adult replacement children, fear of abandonment was high on my list, even from a very young age. I still remember a vivid and frightening dream that occurred often, probably starting when I was about 5. There had been some kind of war and I was wandering around looking for people but was unable to locate anyone else. I would wake up in a panic.

An important challenge for me has been to learn not to give my own power away. I can easily and happily move mountains for others but have settled for less than I deserved on many occasions. We learn to please and say “yes“ in order to stay safe, and to get our needs met. But this behavior pattern limits our belief in ourselves and continues into adulthood. Knowing where these feelings and coping strategies originated is crucial. However, even being well aware, it continues to be a work in progress for me.

I feel a very special understanding when adult replacement children connect with others who have lived their lives navigating these same stormy seas. Let the healing continue!

On Relational Pain Experienced by Some Replacement Children by Kristina Schellinski

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The deepest wound having been born into grief, in the shadow of death, has been relational for me. My mother lost my 2-year-old brother to an undiagnosed appendicitis when she was three months pregnant with me. This deeply affected our bonding. When I was expecting my first child, I began to fathom how much she must have suffered. There are also cases where the bonding with the father was difficult, or bonding with both parents felt difficult or impossible. 

When the earliest relationship is overshadowed by a parental (even unconscious) wish for this child to replace the lost child/family member, a relational wound can result. This wound needs to be recognized to reduce the risk for repetition in relations later on.

I have seen many adult replacement children in my analytical practice; the relational pain they can suffer from can include

  • Extreme loneliness and feelings of abandonment;
  • Feeling little connection with their true self;
  • Difficulties in relating with family members, friends, colleagues, spouses, children, grandchildren etc.;
  • Low self-esteem due to never feeling ‘good enough’;
  • Grieving lack of partner or childlessness;
  • Difficulty in experiencing love and/or a fulfilling sexual relationship.

In my case, I looked for my lost brother in my love relationships, repeating a projection that I had been subject to, until my analytical training helped me to become conscious and differentiate what is love and what is projection. It taught me that first I needed to become whole. If one is looking for a so-called soul-mate, then: first mate with your soul!  Rather than expect that someone, anyone, can bring back that missing other (mother, father or sibling) which they cannot.

A saving grace for me was a spiritual connectedness I have always felt, already as a small child. Only later, I found the words for that force in me: I re-connected with an image in my soul of what the famous Swiss psychoanalyst C.G. Jung called a reflection of the archetypal Self.

Facing Pain is the Path to Healing by Judy L. Mandel

My sister understood pain. She had more than her share since the age of two when a plane crashed into her kitchen and fire swept her up as she played. After that she spent months in the hospital each year to fix the damage to her body. When I was writing Replacement Child, she wrote to me about how she dealt with an especially painful recovery from a surgery when both her legs were broken and reset and she remained in a body cast for 6 months. Our mother tried to distract her from the pain, she told me, but that was not the way it worked for her. “If I could zero in and concentrate on the pain, I could tell when it lessened the next day. If I tried to ignore it, it would creep back up on me.”

My mother had all good intentions in trying to distract my sister from her pain. I believe this is the truth. She tried to do the same for herself when she adopted the attitude of “life goes on” in dealing with the death of her older daughter. And again when my father died. Her denial of feelings, though, often left me feeling alone. She shut me out of her suffering, except when her depression was overwhelming and obvious—her body having its say. At those times, as a child, I felt it was my responsibility to cheer her and entertain her.

These many years later I realize it is the same for me, as it was for my sister and my mother, and probably other replacement children too. Ignoring the pain of not feeling you are enough, as an individual worthy in your own right, does not make it go away. That can only happen through understanding and validation. Which brings me back to my fellow co-founders of Replacement Child Forum, who are a source of validation and understanding for me, and I hope for other replacement children who find our community.

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