Letter discussion with Alan #5

Below is the fifth letter in our series of letters in discussion with Alan.

To recap:

This is a limited series of letters and responses between adult replacement child, Alan, and Replacement Child Forum co-founder and psychoanalyst Kristina Schellinski.

We thought our readers would be interested in this ongoing exchange about some specific issues facing Alan as a replacement child. These letter exchanges are not therapy sessions, or meant to replace professional counselling, but with Alan’s permission, we felt the insights expressed may be of help to others who may share some of the same concerns.

**If you are a professional therapist your additional insights concerning these letters would be greatly appreciated by our readers. Please write to us at letters@replacementchildforum.com.**

Letter #5 from Alan

I want to stop what was transferred to me

Dear Kristina,

After our last email, I realized the one big thing I noticed from stories I’ve read is the difference when someone becomes aware of the issues. When someone senses the problem early in life, they tend to be more able to leave the issues between themselves and their parents, and maintain their own sense of identity. I think rebellion at a young age could be a way of protecting the inner core from harm.

In my case, it was the opposite in that I was always seeking my mother’s validation, which now of course I realize I would never receive. But what became more dangerous, was establishing my sense of identity around my parents. As a result, I think I developed a sense of transference – of believing my identity is what was shaped in the house, and taking that into the outside world, because that is all I knew.

I wonder now, at the age of 66, if it is possible to somehow separate my identity from the one I had inside the house with my parents so as not to carry those labels and feelings with me now.

It would be a tremendous accomplishment for me if I could stop the transference, and establish my own self outside of past family influences.

I wonder your thoughts about this, and any book available about this subject you may be aware of?

Thanks and regards,


Dear Alan

I will try and answer your question as close to your concern as possible. There may be a difference of becoming aware at a later stage in life when many important decisions have been made over time.

I saw several clients in their seventies in my practice who realized only at that moment in their life that they had been a replacement child. There may be some bitterness, anger, regret – some ‘what if’ I had known or ‘what if’ it had been different. Even at that age though, you still grow, and you can become whole and gain some peace by recognizing the path of your life. Already, the motivation to look at it now and the discovery process you may be entering thereby is growth.

Rebellion in early childhood and in the teenager years certainly helps to differentiate and shell out the core self with which you identify, i.e. your identity, the point from which you can comfortably affirm: this is who I am. But many replacement children (and not only these) have tried to assuage their parents’ need by complying to their parents’ image of who they were and thus shaped an identity Donald Winnicott called a false self or identified with what Winnicott called not-self. Alice Miller also pointed out in her classic book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, that these children are gifted in the sense of intuiting and reading the need of the parent and complying with it, even at the cost of forfeiting being, feeling, living their authentic self. Arno Gruen has written a good book on The Betrayal of Self. Reading is of such great help since it allows us to gain insights and consciousness in areas of current concern and suffering, in the process of growing awareness. And we can see what resonated with our experience.

I am not much younger than you, just a couple of years, and clearly until mid-life I had no idea of my replacing condition, despite knowing some facts. I am still on my journey, still gaining insights, still asking why I ask for validation and why gaining love has been so hard to get. I am still studying and reading and growing. I do not have it all sorted out; my book (Individuation for Adult Replacement Children) attests to the ongoing journey. But this I regard as a process of coming into being.

It is a positive development, when you write: ‘It would be a tremendous accomplishment for me if I could stop the transference, and establish my own self outside of past family influences.’ This is a huge step forward, a step toward differentiation. What is the image of others of me, and what is my image of me? What do I truly feel? What do I truly want? And even accepting that what you want or feel may be, at times, ambivalent and even contradictory. Staying with your thoughts, your feelings, your images – that is part of the reconstructive effort to know who you are.

What may also be helpful, is watching for any sign from your unconscious: a dream at night, or a day dream, or any image that may suddenly catch your attention and ’speak’ to you. Such in-sights are signposts on the way.
Hope this helps.

With kind regards,


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