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Welcome to a practical pastoral counseling site of Dr. Harold L. White

 Every pastor can be a valued and competent counselor.


Identity  -- “This Is Me!”

It is here that the child experiences a complicated new reality.
He wants to know who he is as a separate person in relation to the rest of the world.
So, he embarks on the process of becoming a self.
To do that, he must achieve two important tasks that will affect his relationship to himself
and to others for the rest of his life.
He must develop a stable and consistent inner image of himself and a correspondingly firm
and constant inner image of the significant others in his life.

During the early stages of his life, the child feels lost and anxious when his caretakers are not physically present.
Now, with his increased mobility and their more frequent absence, he still needs to feel secure.
He does that by installing an image of his caretakers in his mind with such clarity that he can evoke that image, and feel secure and connected, even when he is separated from them.
This image is like a snapshot you carry around in your wallet, and can take out and recall 
– emotions and all –the scene depicted.
It allows the child to separate physically, while remaining connected psychically.

This stage of identity which some would refer to as Individuation takes place between
the approximate ages of three and four.
In the normal course of events, what a child does to create a firm image of himself is to make a series
of transient identification, trying them on for size – with animals, cartoon characters, things, and people
(especially his parents) – which are later synthesized into a unique self.

There is also an element of testing.
He wants to see who he is, and who he is not, how he is the same and how he is different from others.
The important parental task at this point is to notice and to validate the changes of his persona.
Here the child experiments with different identities and behaviors and to mirror back to him
the image he is choosing to project.
If the child is only partially mirrored in the identification he is checking out, he will present other facts
to see if he gets a reaction.
If the child is allowed to identify with everything that he chooses, especially if there are enough objects
and people in his life to select from, he will integrate all the identifications into a unique, highly individuated self.

The Identity stage is characterized by obsessive self-assertion, with the child continually saying “I,” “I want,”
and “I think
,” and “This is me,” and “I don’t like.”
This is a healthy self-assertion – not rebellion.
The child wants to be visible.
He wants to be sure that you notice him.
Personal opinion is being expressed, as a child tries to explain to you, and to himself,
how he is distinct from others.

If the caretakers take all this in stride, and accurately reflect all the varied options of self-image
presented by the child, without judgment or criticism, the child will see himself in their mirrored responses.
He will select what feels congruent with his inner feelings, and construct a positive self-image, a firm identity.
In addition, he will integrate the good and bad traits of the mirroring caretakers, healing the earlier splits,
and etch on the template of the image in his mind – a picture of his significant other as imperfect but constant,
thus guaranteeing his emotional security.

The Rigid Child: Fear of Being Shamed

Again, there are two possible adaptations when things go wrong at the Identity stage.
Both are centered on the issue of invisibility, and both have to do with the way the child is mirrored,
and how that mirroring affects his sense of personal boundaries.

Many parents, even those who were comfortable at the stage of Attachment or Exploration,
do not welcome this “
birth of the self.”
They are threatened by the child’s identifications that do not fit their cultural biases,
and suppress the child’s emergent identity by rejecting or refusing to mirror those self-assertions
that do not fit their preconceived notions of what they want their child to be.

Here is where the socialization process begins to make its inroads.

The child, fearing shame – or even worse, loss of the parents’ love – if he expresses the core parts
of himself that his parents’ reject, represses the rejected aspects and resentful
becomes what his parents approve.
Rather than healing the polar experiencing of the preceding stages, now his identity is consolidating,
he ends up with a “
split self,” hiding the disapproved parts from others, and even from himself.

All too often this kind of selective mirroring has to do with gender, with boys praised for their assertiveness
and stoicism, girls praised for their cuteness and helpfulness.
The result is that the child, yearning to be whole, develops a false self by identifying
only with parentally or socially approved traits.

He becomes only a partial self, a tightly contained monochromatic persona, a replication
of socially approved stereotypes, typically over assertive, with dogmatic opinions.
His energy is limited to the mirrored traits and those un-mirrored traits become his recessive “Lost Self”
– an aspect of his “shadow.”
This compromise salvages his parents’ love at the expense of his full aliveness.

Full and positive mirroring is essential to the child’s sense that all of him – whether he is being tender or assertive,
silly or smart, Peter Cottontail or Mr. Brown from across the street – is valid and acceptable.
It is fitly important that parents mirror all of the child’s identifications, trusting in the internal process
of synthesis to forge them into a unitary self.

It is at the Identity stage that the child’s boundaries are most powerfully drawn.
Not surprisingly, the selectively mirrored child strictly defines where he ends and others begin.
The boundaries around the disk owned core of his natural self are tightly held, to prevent any leakage.
On the other hand, the boundary of his inflated self-concept is so global that includes all others
as an extension of himself.

He is a rigid child, a Minimizer with a controlling personality.

The Adult: A Rigid Controller

In adulthood, the rigid child becomes what Hendrix calls a Controller, who is often opinionated
to the point of being boorish, and leads a narrowly focused, often self-centered life.
He has little access to feelings, and lacks empathy with others.

He will choose a partner who carries traits of his Lost Self, and then finds fault with her,
as his parents did with him, all the time denying his actions.
He can’t stand uncertainty, spontaneity, or softness – in himself or others.
He engages in a great deal of obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior.

Everything in his life is predictable and planned in advance so there is little room for error or spontaneity.
Domineering and critical, his complaint is, “You don’t seem to know what you want,” or “Make up your mind.”
Others are not seen for themselves, but as objects to be controlled, often for his personal and instant gratification.

The Invisible Child: Fear of Being A Self

While some parents inconsistently mirror their children, others out of their own need to keep the child dependent
or because of their intense preoccupation with themselves or other things, are almost completely lacking
in the mirroring responses that release the chemistry of individuation and self-integration.

The parents are preoccupied with their need to be parented themselves; or they need to be needed.
Like those parents who feared the child’s exploratory impulses would result in abandonment by the child.
With no reflection of his self-expression, the child will lose sight of himself, and remain amorphous and undefined.
Failing to integrate and synthesize his transient identifications for lack of consistent mirroring,
they float around loose and disorderly in his unconscious, producing a fragmented self.
With such diffuse, undefined boundaries, he is unable to distinguish between himself and others.

Lacking the necessary self-delineation, he cannot form and store a consistent image of himself.
He oscillates between his self parts without consciousness and seems to have more than one personality.
He is happy, and suddenly sad, then angry, without a clear connection between his experiences.
He becomes emotionally frozen, and suffers the terror of not being seen, overcome with a feeling of invisibility.
He experiences himself as “not existing.”
His complaint is “You don’t even notice me.”

If the parents don’t say, “You certainly are a big boy,” then the child has no way of knowing
who he is and develops a cloudy, indistinct, unsure identity.
He doesn’t know where he stops and others begin.
His fear is of being ignored, so he is always on stage, trying to get noticed, a Maximizer with diffuse boundaries.

Failing to see his reflection in the mirror of his parents, without a reflexive response,
his energy becomes boundless and directionless, his chatter themeless, his mental associations, random and chaotic.
He is in a room with no walls, a canyon with no echo.
Without the feedback of an “other” he cannot establish self boundaries.
And without a sense of where his boundaries are, it is difficult, if not impossible,
to become aware of others’ boundaries.
He is continually invading others’ territory, and unable to prevent others invading his.

Nor can he form a consistent image of his caretakers.
Having introjected their good and bad traits without synthesizing them, he randomly projects the bad traits
on to others, or, when frustrated, identifies transiently with the negative traits
of the internalize “
bad” parents, and treats others the way he was mistreated by his caretakers.

The Adult: A Compliant Diffuser

The invisible child becomes in adulthood what Hendrix calls a Diffuser, whose complaint is:
I don’t know who I am” or “I don’t know what I want” or “I feel invisible to you.”
Like a chameleon, he takes on the coloration of whoever or whatever is around, feeling their feelings,
swayed by their opinions, unsure of what he feels or thinks, and fearful of being a self.

Not knowing himself, he is forever scanning the faces of others for clues as to how he should be,
forever dependent on the other for self-definition.
When not looking for himself in the reflection of others, his energy is all bound up in rage
or seductively calling attention to himself, to be noticed.

He is a Maximizer.

Many men have had experience with the Diffuser woman, the seductress who looks sexy
and is so full of flirtatious energy that causes you to assume that you could have your way with her
– but it’s only a big letdown.
She is trying to be what she thinks her partner wants her to be, but at the same time she is bitterly resentful
that she is not seen for herself, and fearful of the self that she wants to be.

Her unsuspecting partner ends up in bed with an emotionally labile nonperson, a submissive false self
who is trying to become whole by being what others expect of her.
Then, shifting from experiencing herself as the invisible child to identification with the internalized “
bad” parent,
she criticizes her partner’s sexuality, devaluing him as she was devalued by her parents.

A loose cannon of boundariless rage that she is not valued as a person, she makes her partner invisible.
Most of her energy is angrily directed “out there,” to the attempt to be visible, at the price of not being any one,
achieving the deflection she fears and deflecting the others in turn.
Like her controlling partner who replicates with her his domination by his parents’,
she renders him invisible as she was rendered invisible by hers.

Naturally, the Controller and the Diffuser often end up together, and their power struggle centers
around dominance and submission.
One is attracted by expansiveness and openness; the other finds decisiveness and clarity appealing.
One leads and the other follows.
One is excessively dependent and not only allows, but seeks, definition by others, while resentfully rejecting it;
the other is rigidly independent, compulsively and angrily refusing any input from others.

(The above information can be found in Keeping The Love You Find by Harville Hendrix on pages 84 – 91.)

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