Most childhoods are full of mixed messages about love. Most parents and care-givers did not and still do not know how to truly love themselves unconditionally. How can they teach the next generation about unconditional love? Instead we learn “I am loved if/when…”
It is an elemental need for everybody to be loved. Therefore, it becomes our task as children to “crack the code” to this love which is conditional, to figure out who we need to be for others to like and love us. The rules of conditional love vary from person to person. Maybe our mother loves us when we are helpful, our grandmother give us attention when we smile a lot, our father loves us when we excel in school, our friends like us best when we agree with them and our teacher rewards us for neatness. So we become little actors, take on different roles. Those roles are not a conscious choice. We step into them to have our most basic need to be loved met.
Different authors, like John Gray and Carolyn Myss, have come up with different groups of childhood roles. None of these lists are complete, they are examples of how we respond to conditional love. Instead of being our authentic selves, we create a persona which we hope will be accepted and result in attention and love. Sometimes we feel we cannot get positive attention. In those cases—as every teacher knows—negative attention is better than none.
Robert Holden describes the following seven roles in his book “Loveability”: The good child, the helper, the star, the happy child, the melancholy child, the independent child, the rebel, the genius, and the peaceful child.
THE GOOD CHILD
He or she believes “I am lovable when I am good”. This child behaves like a good little adult, neat and tidy, is never a bother. As an adult, this person shows up as the “good friend/partner/parent/employee”. Having a free choice to be “good” is one thing. Feeling you need outside approval and you always have to behave in a way which is deemed as “good” by others is extremely limiting.
THE HELPING CHILD
The helping child believes they will be loved when they are a little nurse, angel or therapist. This child might grow up to be an adult who always feels the need to help others but never be helped. He or she might have a hard time receiving and might end up with partners and friends who constantly need to be rescued or helped.
Life for the star child is all about winning the “Oscar” for being outstanding, for being the best. Excellence is a virtue to strive for but the star child feels he or she is only lovable when they are the best version of themselves in any given moment and not for being the authentic self. As adults, star children feel they have to be the model partner, best parent, or most outstanding in their career.
THE HAPPY CHILD
The happy child is convinced they are more lovable when they are happy. He or she is always cheerful and positive, always “A-OK”, never angry, never sad, never worried. As an adult, the happy child is still worried that her emotions—other than happiness—will drive others away.
THE MELANCHOLY CHILD
This child is exactly the opposite of the happy child. He or she believes they are loved more when they are unhappy. Melancholy, crying, and withdrawing gets him or her the attention we all need. As an adult, the melancholic person is still afraid to be happy, fearing they won’t get any attention.
THE INDEPENDENT CHILD
The independent child puts on an act of strength and bravery. He or she believes “If I am independent, I don’t need anybody else and cannot be hurt or disappointed”. Being fiercely independent as an adult prevents us from true intimacy and closeness. Only if we open up to the fact that we all depend on others, can we experience letting ourselves be loved and cared for.
THE REBEL CHILD
The rebel or difficult child believes they are unlovable anyways and cannot win. They are a typical example that negative attention still feels better than no attention. At least we don’t feel invisible. That attitude causes life-long problems in all areas. In relationships, the rebel attracts drama, fights, tragedy as that is how they see themselves.
The rebel might in some cases become the black sheep of the family who carries everybody’s shadow.
THE GENIUS CHILD
Being competent and brilliant at something is the genius child’s way to love and attention. Similar to the star child, only the highest achievement, often of academic nature, will do. The genius believes they are loved for their brilliance not for who they truly are.
THE PEACEFUL CHILD
This child does whatever he or she can to keep the peace and to not rock the boat. Striving for harmony and oneness in relationships is great but the peaceful child will grow up to be an adult who leaves their own needs completely out of the equation just to preserve a resemblance of union.
Have you recognized yourself in one or more of these roles?
What about your own children?
As we are learning to love ourselves more and more and to love our children truly unconditional, we all need to be less and less of an actor and can become more whole, more authentic, more true to our essential nature.
Relationship Coaching and Conscious Parenting
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