My step grandson / godson Darien turned 7 in November 2011 – and I wrote this in early 2012.
The age of 7 is a vital milestone in the child developmental process. Recognizing the significance of this milestone many years ago was a key to me understanding the disease of codependence.
The “age of reason” is actually a phrase that I have heard since childhood – because growing up Catholic it was at the age of reason that one could first take communion. Basically it means that the part of a child’s brain that understands cause and effect, and logic – and abstract concepts – doesn’t fully develop until around 7.
“The part of a child’s brain that is logical and rational, that understands abstract concepts (like time or death), that can have any kind of an objective perspective on self or life, does not develop until about the age of 7 (the age of reason.) As little children we were completely ego-centric and magical thinking.” – Reprogramming our dysfunctional ego defenses
In my telephone counseling and my Intensive Training workshops, I have evolved a way of explaining the importance of this that I don’t think I have ever written in quite the way I explain it these days – so I think I will write about this a bit. It was for me of utmost importance to recognize the significance of how we were affected by our environments in early childhood to not only understand codependence, but even more importantly to be able to start forgiving ourselves for something that wasn’t our fault, for something we had no control over. And I also want to acknowledge how perfect it is to have had Darien in my life for the last almost 7 years, because I got to watch his developmental process in action in ways that confirmed what I had intuitively come to understand years before. This story I am going to share has to do with Darien coming into the age of reason.
Prior to 7, we are primarily ego-centric and magical thinking. Our parents were our Higher Powers – the God and Goddess in our lives – and we had no realistic perspective of them whatsoever. As we are starting to grow up, we start to understand basic cause and effect – like, when you turn on the light switch the light comes on, the kinds of things I watched Darien discover with delight. But we can’t understand more abstract concepts. We are not capable of process thought. For instance, when we are 3 or 4 or 5, we are not capable of thinking to ourselves, “Wow, Mom must be having a really bad day – that’s why she is yelling at me.” We just know that Mom is yelling at us. We do not have the ability to have a perspective that helps us understand that our parents have stress in their lives, or that the ways they are acting may have nothing to do with us.
As I said, we are ego-centric – we are the center of the Universe as far as we know. We took their behavior, the ways they treated us and the messages we got from them – both direct messages and indirect ones through their role modeling – personally. We thought what was happening had to do with us – because we weren’t capable of seeing it any other way.
So anything that felt abusive, any kind of deprivation, anything in the environment that was uncomfortable – fighting, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, etc. – we took personally and internalized. We were the center of our Universe and it felt like the things that were painful and uncomfortable were our fault somehow. In my inner child work, I got in touch with the reality that by the time I was about 5 I felt ashamed that I wasn’t able to protect my mother from my father – I felt like a failure somehow. Children are magical thinking. They feel like they have the power to cause fights, to cause drinking, to cause death even for some of us.
This is where the core of codependence comes from – what I call toxic shame. The difference between guilt and shame in my definition, is that guilt is about behavior (I did something wrong, I made a mistake) – while shame is about our being (something is wrong with me, I am a mistake.) It is the place deep inside of us where we feel somehow defective, somehow unlovable and unworthy because our parents were wounded. They didn’t know how to love themselves or be emotionally healthy – so they could not love us in a healthy way. They were our Higher Powers so we couldn’t conceive that they weren’t perfect. We learned how to relate to our self, to life, and to other people in early childhood from people that were wounded in their childhoods.
“”The Family Systems Dynamics research shows that within the family system, children adopt certain roles according to their family dynamics. Some of these roles are more passive, some are more aggressive, because in the competition for attention and validation within a family system the children must adopt different types of behaviors in order to feel like an individual.” . . .
. . . . It is important to note that we adapt the roles that are best suited to our personalities. We are, of course, born with a certain personality. What happens with the roles we adapt in our family dynamic is that we get a twisted, distorted view of who we are as a result of our personality melding with the roles. This is dysfunctional because it causes us to not be able to see ourselves clearly. As long as we are still reacting to our childhood wounding and old tapes then we cannot get in touch clearly with who we really are.” – Roles In Dysfunctional Families
The feeling that there is something wrong with me – toxic shame – is the foundation that we built our relationship with self on. It is the foundation of codependence.
Then what happens, is that our ego – which is the part of our being whose job is to help us survive – adapts an emotional and behavioral defense system to help us fit into the rules of our dysfunctional family so that we can survive. One of a child’s jobs is to manipulate it’s environment in order to survive – so a child will adapt whatever works. If throwing temper tantrums works; if crying works; if being the good child works; if trying to be invisible is what works; if being the family clown is what works; that is what a child will adapt. Neurological researchers now state that the neural pathways in our brain that relate to relating to other human beings are pretty well set by the time we are four or five years old.
“One of the new links I recently added to my recommend links page is to a great movie: What the Bleep Do We Know!? It is a movie about quantum physics – and I didn’t just like it because they sounded like they were quoting from my book at times. It is really quite fascinating stuff. One of the things that was especially gratifying to me had to do with the neural pathways in the brain. I have been telling people for quite a few years that it was possible to reprogram the neural pathways in our brains by doing the inner child healing work – but that was an intuitive Knowing on my part. It was something that I Knew to be Truth – even though I wasn’t real clear on exactly what neural pathways were. In the movie they have some wonderful animation – that among other things shows how the neural pathways can be programmed either negatively or positively depending upon what attitudes and perspectives a person chooses to empower.” – Update Newsletter December 2004
In childhood we had attitudes and perspectives imposed upon us. We learned to relate to life out of fear, shame, and scarcity because that was how our parents were programed to relate to life.
Codependence is an ego defense system adapted in early childhood – and after early childhood what we do is add more layers to what is already a dysfunctional system. It is a dysfunctional defense system because it is based on a lie – the lie being that there is something wrong with who we are, with our being. There is nothing wrong with who we are – it is our relationship with self (and life and other people) that is all messed up because we did not have the mental capacity to understand that what was happening in our families was not personal. We did not have the ability to see that our parents were wounded and reacting to their own wounds – they were our Higher Powers.
When we get to be 8 or 9, we start to see the hypocrisy and the lies – but by then our relationship with our self is being dictated by the feeling that we had in early childhood that there was something wrong with who we are as a being. We are already programmed to feel like it is shameful to be imperfect and to look outside for validation in competition with others.
Darien and The Tooth Fairy
The dilemma Susan and I had recently was – “what should we tell him when something happens to cause him to question if there is a tooth fairy?” Do we tell him the truth or let him continue with the magical thinking?
It was about a week before Christmas when Darien lost another tooth. It was his fourth baby tooth that he has lost. And it happened the same way that the last tooth was lost, in the kid’s klub at the gym. On the way to the gym that day, I got a foreshadowing of what was to come in a way. In a reminder that he was at the age of reason, he said on the way to the gym, “How can Santa Claus take toys to every house in the world all in one night?”
I didn’t really answer his question – even though he asked it several more times, because I didn’t want to hurry the process along. I want to let him reach his own conclusions in his own time, and not lay the truth on him when he wasn’t ready for it.
That night he put his tooth in a box under his pillow for the tooth fairy to take and leave him some money. But the tooth fairy (that would be me – his grandpa) forgot about the tooth in the box. So did he. The next morning as he was getting ready for school, he was brushing his teeth and that reminded me that he had lost the tooth the night before and his grandma didn’t know about it. Without thinking I said, “Darien lost another tooth yesterday” – and then realized I hadn’t taken care of the tooth. I headed for his bed while Susan delayed him – and I quickly put a dollar in the box and put it back under the pillow.
But I forgot to take out the tooth!
He was glad to see the dollar but then noticed the tooth. And then he got mad at me and said something like, “Why did you do that grandpa?” Then, I think the thought occurred to him that I was the tooth fairy – and it made him angry. He went into the bathroom and locked the door. I asked him if he didn’t need help brushing his hair – and he said “I will do it myself.” We could hear that he was really mad about it.
On the way to school he start asking about it – if I had put the dollar in the box the other times. I avoided answering the first few times, and then admitted it. He started crying at the thought that there was no tooth fairy. Then another thought occurred to him, and he asked, “Do you have my other teeth, because I don’t remember what they looked like?” I admitted that I did have the other teeth – and he was kind of intrigued by the thought of seeing all of his lost teeth. Then he started singing jingle bells and was happy for a few moments.
Then another thought occurred to him, and he asked, “Did Grandma tell you to do it?” I think that he was trying to figure out a way that it wasn’t my fault because he trusts me more than anyone (I have been his primary caretaker for a lot of years now – the one he goes to for nurturing) and he wanted to blame it on grandma. (His grandma Susan will sometimes accidentally use his tooth brush or eat a snack he was saving – at this very moment Darien is hiding his favorite tooth brushes to make sure Susan doesn’t use them.) But I didn’t buy into that. I told him that it was just something that parents did for their kids. That my mom and dad did it for me. That I had believed in the tooth fairy too.
He said in a real sad voice, “I believed in the tooth fairy too.”
Then as we were walking from the car to his classroom, he stopped me. He told me to take the money back – and to tell grandma never to do that again. And that he would prove there was a tooth fairy.
That afternoon when he got home from school he found the box (which I had taken the tooth out of, and put in 2 dollars) – and exclaimed, “See, I told you there was a tooth fairy.” But then later on he asked for his teeth – which I did give to him.
So, now he is in kind of an in between place. He has been confronted with evidence that the tooth fairy didn’t take his teeth, but he is still choosing to believe there is a tooth fairy.
The same thing has kind of happened with Santa Claus. He had spotted some presents in the top of the closet that he later realized showed up under the tree on Christmas Day. On Christmas, Susan said something about wanting to take a nap because she hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before – and he says, “Oh I get it. Santa didn’t bring presents, you guys did it.”
Later in the day, he said something to Susan about it – and she replied something like, “Did you really believe Santa went to all the houses in the world with presents?” And he went into a defense of Santa that included the compelling evidence, “That he has elves to help him, remember!”
So, he is in between now – seeing things more logically but choosing to keep his magical thinking for now. It will be interesting to see what happens the next time he loses a tooth.
In the midst of the tooth fairy trauma, Susan said to me, “What do we tell him. If we keep lying to him he won’t trust us.” An interesting question that I still am not quite sure about. I think we have reached kind of a balance right now. He is still mostly choosing to believe – but he has started to wake up to the fact we – and society – have not been honest with him. It makes me wonder about a society – a civilization – that is dishonest with us when we are children, which sets us up to live life in a dysfunctional way.
When I am telling people about the dynamics of codependency, I always mention that the ego is not a bad or negative thing in and of itself – it just got programmed really badly. And the original dysfunctional programming came from fairy tales.
“I will be talking about some different aspects of both intellectual and emotional discernment in coming articles. For this article I want to make a point about how important this process is by using the example of some basic dysfunctional beliefs that are at the foundation of our relationship with life. These are the beliefs that we learned from the fairy tales we heard in early childhood.
We learned that when we meet our Prince or Princess we will live happily-ever-after. We got the message that there was a destination to reach in life where we would find a state of being that is happily-ever-after.
That is not true. It is not the way life works. You know that now. As an adult, you consciously and intellectually know that there is no happily-ever-after – if you have ever stopped to think about it.
Unfortunately however, that belief is programmed into our subconscious intellectual paradigm and as such, it determines our perspective of life, of romance, of our self – and thus dictates our emotional relationship with those aspects of our human experience.
We are set up to feel like failures in life, and in romantic relationships, because we do not get to reach happily-ever-after. We judge and shame ourselves because we haven’t lived up to the fairy tale. We blame ourselves – or we blame others for this feeling of failure.
This feeling of failure is an illusion based upon a fairy tale. It is based upon beliefs about life that are not true – that have never been true. It is part of our subconscious programming and the only way to change it is to change that subconscious programming – and heal the emotional wounds that we have experienced because our dysfunctional relationships with life and romance set us up to feel like failures.
We cannot do that without looking within. We need to become willing to start shining the light of consciousness into the darkness of our subconscious in order to take power away from that which is in the dark. Looking outside to find the answers does not work. It is only by looking within that we can start healing and recovering from the false beliefs that we learned in childhood.” – Intellectual Discernment – focused within
We are set up to expect life to be something it is not in childhood. To expect romance to be something it is not.
I don’t really have someplace I am going with this. I just started out to tell the story about Darien and the tooth fairy. But it really is food for thought how society sets us up to live life in a dysfunctional way by being dishonest with us from the very beginning. Are we doing children a service when we tell them about the tooth fairy and Santa Claus? I don’t know. Just some thoughts that are rattling around here on the first day of January 2012. I wonder if the Mayan’s told their children fairy tales. From what I know Native Americans – who I believe had much more functional cultures then we do – told stories that taught values and principles, and I don’t think any of them ended in happily-ever-after. I wonder where all that dishonesty came from. Oh well.
In September of 2017, I am in the midst of updating the page that I created years ago to honer my step grandson Darien – to bring people up to date on the latest happenings in my life. I had forgotten about this passage that I wrote about the Age of Reason and the dysfunctional programming of early childhood – so I decided to turn it into a blog. (Since I haven’t done one here for quite awhile.) I think it is some really valuable information – and it can help us to forgive our selves when we really look at how we were set up to expect life to be something it is not. We were just innocent little kids, it wasn’t our fault.
It is Saturday evening September 9th and I hope to have that page updated by tomorrow evening. I was working on most of the day today in an attempt to make it more Mobile Friendly. I did a lot of crying today as I went over that page. Most of it was crying from Joy and Gratitude. My D-man has brought so much Joy into my life – and I am so Grateful that I got involved with Susan so that I could be there to help raise him. There was also some grief about how hard things were much of the time – but most of the crying I did today was remembering all the incredible Joy that this blessed Spirit inhabiting Darien’s body has brought into my life. He will be 13 on his next birthday, so there will be some interesting years ahead. 🙂
Here are a couple of quotes from that page.
“Of course, part of the Divine Plan that is unfolding perfectly, was the Soul contract between his Soul and my Soul that we would meet in this lifetime at the time and place that we did in order to learn about Love together. He is a precious and wonderful blessing in my life and I thank the Goddess for the opportunity to be intimately involved with this beautiful spirit that is Darien. ~ Robert 8/20/09”
“One of the things that touched me the most, was one day when we were laying on the couch as I was trying to get him to take a nap. He started digging in my back pockets and trying to take out some flyers for my workshop that I keep there in case I meet someone who might be interested. After telling him to cut it out a few times – because he does like to stall going to sleep – and him persisting, I finally let him take some of my folded up flyers and he looks at it and says, “It’s you!” (Since my picture is on it.) And then out of nowhere he gushes – gushes is the only accurate word for his tone of voice and emotional content. “I Love you! You do this for the whole world.” It felt as if his Spirit was speaking to me. I don’t know where a little 4 year old kid could come up with that kind of idea, but it didn’t feel like a little kid talking to me – I got emotional then, and I am getting emotional now as I write about it. It was one of the most touching and beautiful positive affirmations anyone has ever given me.”
” Just reminded me of something that happened a few months ago with my step grandson Darien. He will be 6 in November – and he and I have this powerful connection to each other (even look alike though there is not blood relationship.) One day he was asking questions about various things like he does (wants to know everything) and talking about when he was a baby because of a picture of him on the wall. I told him that the first time I met him (he was about 3 or 4 months old) that he cried (Susan thought it was because my deep voice scared him) – and he says, “From Joy?” It was a mind blower to me that a 5 year old understood that it was possible to cry from Joy – and that that was his assumption about what he would have felt the first time we met. :-)” – from A page dedicated to – and for – Darien
It is Darien’s picture on the cover of my second book: Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light Book 1 Empowerment, Freedom, and Inner Peace through Inner Child Healing