The Enduring Pattern

You can’t make me.  Leave me alone.

At around the age of two, a new need arises in the child. He is now walking and talking and grappling with the discovery that he is separate from his mother. This discovery of separateness brings with it the need for autonomy — the need to be in charge of his own body and actions. He begins to say “No!” and to oppose any attempt to control him.

While this assertion of his autonomy is exactly what he needs to do to complete this developmental stage, this is also a distinctly new behavior, something a baby doesn’t do. If a parent or caregiver cannot tolerate his budding autonomy, a conflict will arise. As the parent tries to suppress his autonomy by controlling and punishing him, he will feel humiliated and enraged.

He will actively resist the parent’s domination for as long as he can, but will eventually conclude that he cannot win and will switch to resisting passively. He will withdraw deep inside himself to protect his last shred of sovereign territory and, in a last act of autonomy, turn his will against himself to suppress his own desire to act and even to express himself. He will hunker down and limit his opposition to “You can’t make me.” This method of relating to the world is the core of the enduring survival pattern.

To make this survival strategy work, a child must have the will and strength required to silently persevere, even while enduring hardship and mistreatment. He does this by sending his life energy, even his very self, down into the ground and hiding it there. The difficulty is that he gets stuck down there, unable to move and act in the world. The benefit is that people who do this survival pattern are typically more grounded than others and often have great stamina.

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