Issue 89 –
Vulnerability: Part 9
The Role of the Impersonal Self
in Caring for the Vulnerable Child
Drs Hal & Sidra Stone
One of the most important aspects of protection of the vulnerable child is a self that can be characterised as impersonal or objective. This self is clear-thinking, direct, and dispassionate, even in the face of the needs or the emotional reaction of others.
It is often unavailable to women in our culture, although men usually have fairly ready access to it. Women have usually been trained out of their impersonality and, instead, encouraged to be emotionally available at all times, even when this interferes with their ability to evaluate the situation, determine their own needs and boundaries, and act effectively.
It is not unusual for a woman to have access to these impersonal energies at work but to be unable to utilise them in her more intimate relationships. If she is a teacher or a therapist, she may be able to use her impersonal energies to discipline pupils or to set limits, define boundaries, and contain the neediness of clients. The same woman, when dealing with her husband or her children, may lose this ability completely, responding instead in terms of their needs and feelings, without any consideration of her own.
Fran was this kind of woman. She had been raised by a seriously disturbed mother, a truly vicious woman. Because her mother was dysfunctional, Fran had to become the mother to her entire family at the tender age of five. She disowned her own vulnerability and instead identified totally with her internal “mother”, which became her primary self. She was always available to care for the vulnerability of others with great love and responsibility. She desperately needed to be more impersonal and to set limits on what people could demand of her.
After working to develop a more objective side of herself, Fran had the following day dream:
I was in a house with a lot of children. There was a group of tall, tough men outside trying to get in. I wanted to run away. There was a father there who was big and strong, with a tea towel over his shoulder. He was taking care of the children. He told those louts that they could come in, but they mustn’t hurt the children. You have the feeling that the father can take care of things.
The father in this dream represented Fran’s new way of taking care of the children. He could protect Fran from the “louts”; he did not need to run away nor did he have to go to war with them. He could simply deal with them objectivity and with great impersonality, keeping them all, louts and children, in their proper places.
As Fran, or any other man or woman, continues to develop her objective self and separates from the personal part of her that needs all relationships to be warm and close and nurturing, she will have an increasing number of choices in her life. She will be able to consider her relationships – even the most intimate ones – with some degree of objectivity and will be able to factor in her own needs when making decisions within her relationships.
An opposite example is that of the business woman who has a very well developed impersonal side that can deal with all sorts of issues at work without becoming emotionally involved with others. Her relationships at the office are pleasant but not personal. She has no need to maintain emotional contact with anyone, she does not need anyone’s love or approval, and, therefore, she can move ahead and take care of business.
This same woman, in an intimate relationship where her vulnerable child desperately needs to maintain intense emotional contact at all times, might well lose the protection of the impersonal businesswoman self that functions so well at the office. If she does, this straightforward, self-confident, self-sufficient woman is likely to be overwhelmed by the neediness, the fears, and the awkwardness of her vulnerable child. She will then bond in automatically to others in a variety of unsatisfying ways. She might even become the complete victim in a relationship because, somehow, she cannot bring to bear any personal objectivity when she is intimate.
Although women have traditionally been the ones to identify with personal, loving and related energies, and men have tended to carry the impersonal, we have seen some change in this during the past 20 years. Men too, are now encouraged to be more feeling and exclude their impersonal selves from relationships.
We have seen that the introduction of some impersonal elements into intimate relationship is extremely helpful, and we have emphasised this particular self because of its ability to help the aware ego in protecting and caring for the vulnerable child.
In this series of 9 Tips we have shown the importance of vulnerability and relationship and have introduced you to the vulnerable child. One of the most basic lessons of relationship is the development of a conscious relationship to this child. We have shown some ways in which people have learned this lesson.
In the upcoming Tips, as we begin to give examples of how relationship can be a teacher, we will show how the disowning, or denial, of this vulnerability triggers the negative bonding patterns that disrupt intimacy and cause untold discomfort in relationships.