Years ago, when studying family therapy, I was struck with a passage in Carl Whitaker's book The Family Crucible in which he encourages the parents of grown children to verbally give the son 'permission' to be happier than they, the parents, were. The concept Whitaker was working with has to do with our unconscious mind.
We make decisions as little children such as, “I can see that my father gets upset when I beat him in chess. I won't play with him anymore since I don't want him to feel bad.” That decision morphs into, “I'm not interested in chess anyway.” Soon, the child is no longer playing chess with anyone. He or she has successfully put the Chess Player character in the closet and locked the door. The child doesn't stop with chess. Inside, he or she knows that the father feels competitive and so, unconsciously, starts behaving in ways that produce less than straight A's.
This pulling in, making yourself less for the sake of a parent, can manifest in academics, sports, the arts, or any discipline, including how you dress or take care of your physical body. The basis that is unconscious is, “I don't want to hurt my dad or mom.” However, it shows up in self-sabotaging behaviors such as losing homework, not following through with promises, being late, forgetting, procrastinating, and many more. We are so creative when our unconscious doesn't want us to do something.
You can see that this is ripe for the emergence of a traitor character. In our family of origin, because our survival is based on our parents, it is an angel character who cautions us to make sure that our parents feel positive emotions towards us. When we see them regarding us negatively, it is part of the survival system to want to shift that, even at our own expense. This angel character that emerges ensures that we will not be better than our mother or our father. Let's call this angel character 'The Smallifier.'
Leave the family of origin, and that character, The Smallifier, keeps functioning even though your parents aren't around. But, if they are alive, your unconscious is still protecting you from hurting them. Sadly, even after parents have passed away, the unconscious contract that you made with your mom or dad to not surpass them binds you and holds you back from your potential.
Until you face this character, The Smallifier, and engage with it to find out what it thinks it is protecting you from, you are at its mercy. This is true for all traitor characters. Until we bring them into the light, get to know them, get to find out what their real purpose is, we are slaves to them. The good news is that this can change and we can not only get to know these characters, we can make them our friends and use what is best about each of them.
The practice this week focuses on Recognizing The Smallifier.
If you are interested in books or movies that address this topic, please take a look through our resources section.
: Whitaker, C. (1978). *The Family Crucible. New York: Harper & Row.