by Chris Shaw, MAMFT
The wounded child cries out this question as they look for affirmation. It has a profound depth that the child does not yet understand; for what human being exists who does not want to be loved? I don't know why, exactly, but knowing that we are loved gives us peace. It doesn't objectively change us, but it does affirm for us that we matter and have value to the world around us. Maybe this objectively changes us: having an internal sense of peace and believing that we are acceptable to others. Isn't that what children do when changing hair color, adding a new wardrobe and becoming like a certain sub-culture. Are they seeking after that internal sense of peace and security which tells them that they fit in or trying to find the answer to their identity.
Adults also often look for the answer to who they are. Maybe as a child they came to a sense of self, but as they have grown up, they reflect upon their path in life, and where they are today looks different than what they had imagined for themselves. We wrestle between our perceived identity and who we really are. Two major stages identified by Erik Erikson occur from the ages of 12-18 and 35-55. In many households, these two periods of life intersect with one another and provide challenges for both parents and their children.
In adolescence, the developing child is seeking to discover who they are. Erickson postulated that the major challenge for adolescents during this time was to discover their personhood or else remain in a continual state of internal flux. When other children do not accept a child, they can be left wondering how they will fit in. They then tend to seek avenues to make themselves acceptable. Can a parent help their child see themselves as loved and can that be enough to overcome the pull from peers? A significant limitation on this is that at the same time, according to Erikson, parents are often in their own struggle to find themselves. Parents are still discovering what it means to be “in charge.” They are attempting to balance work, family and friends. Career struggles, marital problems and feelings of inadequacy as a parent can override helpfulness to children. Many of us thought life would get easier when we “grew up,” but instead, the difficulties outweigh ease.
Both of these seasons of life seem to deal with similar issues yet with different circumstances. Whether we can admit it or not, in we all need the sense of security and peace which comes along with knowing who we are. Adults need to know they are loved regardless of perceived successes or failures in life. Children are in their early struggles to believe the same thing. We shame ourselves with who we should be rather than resting in who we are. During each successive stage of life we must continue to find ourselves and rediscover who we are in light of who we want to be. In the next article we will look more specifically at the ways in which we can both as adults and as children come to experience this state of self-understanding and internal security.