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  • We are used to thinking of many of the psychological problems of adulthood as stemming from a lack

  • of adequate love in our early years. We grow mentally unwellprey to underconfidence,

  • anxiety, paranoia and shamebecause, somewhere in the past, we were denied the necessary

  • warmth, care and sympathy. But there is another, more curious, and more subtle problem that

  • may arise from childhood years: what we can term the Golden Child syndrome. We may wind

  • up mentally unwell not so much because we were ignored or maltreated but because we

  • were loved with a distinctive and troubling over-intensity, because we were praised for

  • capacities that we did not possess and could not identify with and because we were asked

  • with apparent kindness but underlying unwitting manipulationto shoulder the

  • hopes and longings of our carers rather than our own deep selves. There are childhoods

  • where, upon arrival, the infant is quickly described by one or more of its parents as

  • profoundly exceptional. It is grandly declared uncommonly beautiful, intelligent, talented

  • and resolutely set for a special destiny. Not for this child the ordinary sorrows and

  • stumblings of an average life. While perhaps still no taller than a chair, the offspring

  • is firmly described as a figure whose name will reverberate down the centuries. On the

  • surface, this could seem to offer a route to enormous self-confidence and security.

  • But to place such expectations on someone who still struggles with their coat buttons

  • can, paradoxically, leave a child feeling hollow and particularly incapable. Unable

  • to sense any resources within itself to honour the hopes of those it loves and depends on,

  • the child grows up with a latent sense of fraudulenceand a consistent fear that

  • it will be unmasked. It winds up at once grandly expecting that others will recognise its sensational

  • destinyand entirely unsure as to why or how they might in fact do so. The Golden

  • Child cannot shake off a sense that it is very specialand yet can't identify

  • within itself any real grounds why it should be so. Its underlying longing is not to revolutionise

  • nations and be honoured across the ages; it is to be accepted and loved for who it is,

  • in all its often unimpressive and faltering realities. Image result for john singer sargent

  • It wishes, as we all do, to be seen and accepted for itself; to have its faults and frailties

  • forgiven and acknowledged, rather than denied or glossed over. It is in the end as much

  • of an insult to one's authentic realityand as psychologically painfulto

  • be praised for great things one hasn't done and could never do, as to be attacked and

  • blamed for sins one is innocent of. The phenomenon suggests that true love should involve an

  • agnosticism around a child's eventual level of worldly success. It should ideally not

  • matter to the parent where a child ends upor rather, it should matter only in so

  • far as, and no further than, it matters to the child. Parents who see their child in

  • golden terms are notof courseconsciously cruel. They are merely, with tragic fervour,

  • misdirecting energies that have failed to find a better destination, the child covertly

  • being asked to redeem a career that did not go as expected, a depressed mood that did

  • not lift or a marriage that proved unusually intolerable. The Golden Child is, over time,

  • destined for a moment of breakdown when the hopes invested in it fail to be realised.

  • The Golden Future will, it starts to be clear, never materialise, but a bigger prize awaits:

  • a feeling of liberation from expectations that were always disconnected from reality.

  • The Golden Child is freed to enjoy a momentous truth: that a life does not need to be golden

  • in order to be valuable; that we can live in baser metal forms, in pewter or iron, and

  • still be worthy of love and adequate self-esteem. And, even though this has nothing to do with

  • the original expectations one was asked to shoulder, that realisation will be the truly

  • exceptional achievement.

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We are used to thinking of many of the psychological problems of adulthood as stemming from a lack

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B1 UK child golden unwell praised adequate exceptional

The Golden Child Syndrome

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    Samuel posted on 2018/10/08
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