“Are you stupid? Can’t you see that you have to do it this way?”
“If you only knew how many sacrifices I made for you…”
“If you hadn’t been born, I would have been a great actress today…”
“You’re always acting like a child!”
“Get out of my sight!”
In the process of communication with the child, we often say words without realizing what messages we are actually sending. And there are only a handful of parents who are aware of the influence that their words have on the child’s mental development.
Perhaps you feel that you’ve made certain sacrifices in order to take care of the child, maybe you’ve had or still have to endure a lot of shortcomings, frustrations and sorrows and maybe you couldn’t manifest yourself at your full potential. All these frustrations collect and overlap stress, fatigue, and lack of time and when that happens, it’s possible that you may say things that will have a long-term effect on the child.
Of course, they aren’t things that you actually mean, but the child’s mind takes them as such and then tries to translate them into reality in the most unpredictable ways.
American therapists Robert and Mary Goulding call them injunctions, defining them as messages transmitted by parents while communicating with the child, that have surged from the circumstances of their own suffering: unhappiness, disappointment, anger, frustration, secret desires.
The two therapists have presented 12 types of injunctions in their studies:
1. Don’t (do). This injunction comes from parents dominated by fear. They don’t allow the child to do normal things, such as: don’t go near the stairs, don’t climb that tree, don’t go rollerblading etc. And they tell them him/her: “Don’t do that, it’s dangerous!”, “Don’t do that, wait for me”, “Don’t rush, don’t do that. Think about it carefully, but what if…”. Sometimes, these parents become overprotective and even phobic after they have lost an older child.
When the child grows up, the parent worries too much about each and every proposition from the child. Instead, the child believes that nothing he does is good.
He doesn’t know what to do and is always looking for someone to tell him what he should do. Once an adult, this child will have great difficulties in making decisions.
2. Don’t be. According to the authors, this message is the worst of them. It can be transmitted in various ways, such as: “If it weren’t for you, I would have divorced your father” or “I wish you were never born”, “I don’t need a naughty child like you”, “We had a very hard time when you were born”. “Then I wouldn’t have needed to marry your father”, or nonverbally, when the parents holds his/her child in his/her arms without showing him any affection or while looking at him with a frown.
This injunction can come from the parents, but also from the grandparents, nannies or older siblings. These messages, repeated in front of the child, make him believe that if he wouldn’t have existed, everybody’s lives would have been better.
Then, he executes his parents’ command and wants to disappear, to not exist, to die, and he tries to self-destruct through falls, scrapes, broken hands and legs and, later, through alcoholism, drugs and suffering.
Another reaction to this injunction is when the child feels so guilty in front of his parents that he can’t do anything without their approval, believing that “without my mother I’m nobody”.
3. Don’t be close. If a parent discourages his/her child to get close to him/her, including a lack of touching and physical caressing, the child will interpret this message as “Don’t be close”.
He may reach this conclusion by himself, when the parents divorce or when the parent that he’s closest to dies, telling himself: “What’s the point in getting close to anyone since they’ll leave you anyway”. And then he decides to never get close to anyone.
4. Don’t be important. When the child is frequently disregarded, when he’s told to be quiet, he can perceive this message as “Don’t be important”. He can get this message from school too, especially in communities where there’s discrimination on various criteria.