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“Fitting in” quite often means never feeling understood, seen, or valued.
It is the opposite of that warm feeling of belonging.
From a young age, we have a deep knowing that there must be more to life than doing what we’re told and trying to be who others need us to be: the good child, the babysitter, the listening ear, the talented child, or the smart one.
Fitting in feels like acting out a required persona, while constantly wondering if we’re getting it right; feeling unsure at every turn and reevaluating the situation to adapt to what is needed. The ability to think, behave, and feel like our true self is never developed when fitting in is required from birth. There is no rebellion or resistance—just chronic anxiety.
We then develop a cycle of trying to be better, and even more capable, to alleviate our anxiety.
We become quiet, polite, cooperative, and ready to help at any moment. We never ask for our own needs and desires to be met. We never assert our opinion, so a blowup is sure to ensue. We must stay in our prescribed role so that others don’t have to change their behavior or look at themselves.
The emotional atmosphere in the household is constantly uncomfortable.
This was my childhood in the 60s and 70s, and I’m sad to say this is still happening to children today. I see it in my counseling practice; young children come in with anxiety because of their natural empathy and intuition. Highly-sensitive children are perfect candidates for this usurping of their identity; laden with expectations when they’re young and given adult responsibilities—they are adultified.
Everything is always too big for them, but they try to hold it anyway because that’s what they’ve always done. When we value responsibility and independence in children more than their emotional well-being, we stunt the development of their true self.
Where is the nurturing comfort, warmth, and love?
These adultified children don’t even know what’s missing in their lives—but they feel it. They know down deep that they are different from the role they play in their family.
These are the kids who are truly artists in an academic family, or expressive and opinionated in a quiet, demure family. I spend many of my work hours teaching parents how to emotionally connect with their child.
When they can slow down and be present with their child, it changes everything: the child feels appreciated for who they are instead of what they can do. Then, the parent can start supporting the child in developing their unique identity.
The child can finally stop working for approval and start feeling valued for their true self.