A family where the parents are emotionally absent (whatever the reasons) leaves the children to fend for themselves emotionally. In learning to cope in a difficult situation with a child’s maturity and knowledge, the siblings often adopt one of four roles to cope with the emotional emptiness of the home.
The Lost Child believes that there is no point in attracting attention to themselves – after all no one is aware they’re around. As a result, they learn their own counsel, becoming totally self-reliant.
In school, they usually sit in the back of the room, and because they’re so quiet, people forget they’re in the room. They aren’t joiners, running out of class and away from school as soon as possible but their grades are usually decent – because anything less would result in attention. And studying allows them to be alone and away from the chaos of their home.
They’re considered to be shy and introverted; but are really disconnected from others and themselves. Unfortunately this isolation dogs them through life – even when they’re in a relationship. Having learned to be invisible, they are often soft spoken, lost in a book or visual media and will avoid conflict at any cost.
They may be artistic, musical and genuinely kind and helpful. But their goal is to avoid hurt and that usually means avoiding deep relationships with other adults. When they do risk a relationship, they may seem to be dependent and needy. Burdened with low self esteem (because they didn’t get the emotional support needed in childhood), they aren’t willing to risk a deep commitment to another person or to a goal or plan. For the Lost Child, life can slip into a series of gray days without the sunshine of hope of a better future.
And ironically, in maintaining this role through out life, the Lost Child often becomes the emotionally absent parent, who is unable to give to his/her children the emotional connection and contact they need to grow into fully functioning, fully connected adults.
Persons adopting this role easily become addicts: the substance or activity keeps them from feeling. Emotional connections are limited and shallow when an addiction is the priority.
Obesity and anorexia are common in adults in these roles, along with drugs, work and the internet.
Alternately, the Lost child works well alone and is very self-reliant. They often are well-read and are good listeners. They may have a quirky sense of humor, are usually flexible and always resourceful.
In order to overcome this role and develop the ability to move into deeply emotional relationships, the Lost Child has to confront their rage and fear. Recognition of the pain of the past, as well as its emotional emptiness is critical for their healing. And to take any of these steps, the Lost Child’s denial must be set aside so that reality of the emotional barrenness of their life can be face.
Once those steps are taken, the former Lost Child is able to face their pain and form deep relationship. They give up the victim position and become a team player. They learn to make decisions and set long term goals of a personal nature. And eventually, they can learn to assertive, caring and connected.
Ironically, one of the hardest lessons for the Lost Child to learn in healing is that they’re not different, weird or strange. They are simply people caught in an unhealthy situation who coped as well as they could – in a way that is governed by their personality, birth order and siblings.
As always, please don’t spend time diagnosing those around you. These descriptions are absolute to facilitate understanding but nothing is ever completely black and white. I will get into some of the role combinations and their behaviors in a couple of weeks.
I enjoy hearing from you. Your comments are always insightful, intelligent and interesting.