The OBJECT of My Affection

Here’s a definition.  It may not need defining but when I thought about what the word actually meant rather than just sprinkling it into conversations to make myself sound smart, it had a deeper meaning for me: Objectification…the act of turning something into an object.  An obvious quality of objects is that they don’t have feelings or human characteristics.  This is the essential part of what separates “beings” from “objects”.  It’s the difference between “someone” and “something”.  It’s not abuse for me to “use” a hammer to drive a nail.  It’s not life suppressing or life affirming to my car for me to drive said car. It isn’t so because neither of those things have life or feelings.  They are objects.  They are meant to be used.  When we apply this to humans, however, it isn’t the same story.  My responsibility in life is to take care of my emotional needs.  My job is to self soothe.  In some ways, when I depend on others for that, then I turn them into objects.  When I expect my friends or partner to take care of my emotional needs, they may as well be hammers and cars.  It turns them into objects and in effect renders them non human tools to be used for personal gain.  This is not to say that it is inherently “wrong” to seek support and care from others, however, I would suggest that to expect this from others and to make self care the responsibility of others and to be unable or unwilling to support ones self is not only an unhealthy and unfruitful endevour but also the opposite of life affirming. At this point, I’m sure there are a few furrowed brows and some muttering disagreements but let me stop there as this is not my main thesis.  If you’ll humor me, allow me to use what I’ve said regarding objectification as a starting point for the next seemingly tangential aspect of this story.

Most of us have probably heard or said at one point “my parents didn’t do a good job of (blank) and I’m not going to do that with my kids”.  “My dad was never there for me so I’m ALWAYS going to be there for my kids”…”my mom never let me do anything but I’m going to give my kids a lot more freedom”. On the surface, this sounds like not only a normal, natural inclination but also like good and proper parenting.  I propose, however, that this has a darker, more sinister side that has to do directly with the aforementioned ideas of objectification and the responsibility of self care. Obviously, when our parents fail to provide US the adequate amount of care, discipline, warmth or boundaries (and a million other things) it causes us harm.  Keep in mind the italicized words though:  It causes US harm.  I would suggest that as children, emotional and other harms caused by our family of origin are the responsibility of our family to address. It is not a child’s job to self soothe and to regulate emotions. It is our parents task to do this for us and while they are doing so it is also their responsibility to teach us to do this for ourselves. If this is done properly, when it is our time, we can move into the adult world with the greatest amount of preparation and potential for mental and emotional health we can. When we cross the barrier from child to adult (and yes, this is a gray area that often depends on familial culture, societal culture, social class and many other aspects)the job of self care is passed down to us. It is now our turn to take the responsibility of emotional regulation and self care in its many aspects from our parents and watch over it for ourselves. The emotional hurts given to us by our family are no longer our family’s responsibility. We assume the burden of that debt as we enter adulthood. They are our own with which to deal. It is not healthy or beneficial, obviously, to pass our issues onto our children.  If one is abused as child, it is very common although “not okay” to pass this on to the next generation by abusing ones own children.  The abuse we have suffered is our own to deal with and not our children’s.  There’s nothing I’m saying here that hasn’t been said before or that isn’t shockingly obvious. However, the less obvious part is this: the opposite is also true. If you are trying very hard to “not do what my parents did” or “do what my parents should have”, it’s the same thing.  Am I saying that not beating your children because your mother or father beat you is as harmful as beating them because you were beaten?  Of course not.  I am saying though, that this may be another form of objectification.  If you are trying very hard to be the parent you always needed or wanted then you are, in effect, using your child as a vehicle, as an OBJECT for your own healing.  You are showing your child the care you never received.  In effect, this works to heal your own wounds.  This is objectification. 

“What then, Brandon,should I do instead?”(some might end this question with ‘you know it all prick’) The answer, I believe, has 2 parts but is relatively simple: First and possibly foremost, show yourself the care, concern, discipline and love that you need. As an adult, it is your task to care for yourself. Your responsibility is to heal your own wounds and work towards the highest expression of whatever your potential is. Approach the relationship that you have WITH YOURSELF in the way you would approach the relationship with your children. If you do so, the results are the same. By being selfish in the healthy way, you are inherently showing your child and others around you the same level of care. By caring for yourself, you are inherently caring for your children. When cabin pressure drops, secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. In caring for yourself first, you help to ensure the health and well being of others. Secondly, if you chose to raise your child with healthy discipline and boundaries and the proper level of care and affection (and obviously, I hope you will) do it because they deserve it just for being your child. Show them the love and care they deserve, not because you didn’t get it but because of their inherent worth and right to it. You deserve respect and care and proper treatment. Give it to yourself. Your child deserves respect and care and proper treatment. Give it to them. For your children, however, give it to them because they deserve and need it, don’t give it to them to make up for the various blunders your parents made.

For the Unrelated Song, I’d like to introduce you to quite possibly the best band in the world doing quite possibly the best song in the world: “Diffuse” by Hum.

Unrelated Book Recommendation: The Story of Nirvana By Michael Azzerad

About Brandon Peters, LPC

Brandon Peters began his career in mental health approximately 11 years ago while pursuing a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Arkansas. During his training he worked as a psychiatric technician at the Piney Ridge Treatment Center for adolescent sex offenders in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He later relocated to Houston, Texas and obtained his master's degree in counseling from the University of Houston. Since then, he has worked with clients in residential treatment, psychiatric hospitals, school based therapy, home based therapy, support groups and outpatient therapy. He has worked with children as young as 4, adolescents, and adults in areas such as individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, case management, play therapy and crisis intervention. Brandon Peters now owns and operates a private psychotherapy clinic conducting individual, group and family therapy and specializes in Existential Therapy. Additionally, he is a board approved LPC Supervisor.
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