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  • Were 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 unwell, prey to underconfidence, anxiety, paranoia, and shame,

  • because, 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 manipulation, to shoulder the hopes and longings of our carers rather than of 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 honor the hopes of those it loves and depends on,

  • the child grows up with a latent sense of fraudulence and consistent fear that it will be unmasked.

  • It winds up, at once, grandly expecting that others will recognize its sensational destiny, and entirely unsure as to why or how they might, in fact, do so.

  • The golden child cannot shake off a sense that it isvery special and yet can't identify within itself any real grounds why it should be so.

  • Its underlying longing is not to revolutionize nations and be honored across the ages.

  • It is to be accepted and loved for who it is in all its often unimpressive and faltering realities.

  • 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 painful

  • to 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 up.

  • Or 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 not, of course, consciously cruel.

  • They are merely, with tragic fervor, 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 realized.

  • The golden future will, it starts to be clear, never materialize.

  • 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 formsin pewter or ironand 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 realization will be the truly exceptional achievement.

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Were used to thinking of many of the psychological problems of adulthood as stemming from a lack of adequate love in our early years.

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