Vanessa Bokanowski - Psychologist in Brussels

Ghosts in the nursery

This title is deliberately borrowed from the work of Selma Fraiberg [1], an American pioneer whose work in the 80s revolutionized the field of child psychology.

She introduced the concept of parental projections, now widely recognized in the world of child psychiatry. Often, a child presenting a symptom - referred to as a "difficult child" - may be the bearer of unresolved unconscious family issues. Their symptoms echo family conflicts that predate their birth.

birth and ghosts

First, I will introduce the concept of family projections and their implications. therapeutic consultation with the child and his family.

Birth: a magical moment steeped in history

The birth of a child is always a source of great excitement. The family unit is going to have to welcome a new little being into its bosom, and it's going to be turned upside down.

The child begins to exist in the psyche of both mother and father, as soon as the pregnancy is announced. It unconsciously and intensely mobilizes the psyche of the parents and their relationship with their own childhood.

Postpartum problems, or baby blues, are often the sign of the mother's previous conflictual relationships with her initial family, which are replayed when she in turn becomes a mother and takes on the role of parent.

Burn-out pregnancy

Fairies around the cradle

During pregnancy, a psychic representation of the child is created in the parents' minds, we mentally imagine this little being to whom we are going to give everything... But what is this everything?

There are conscious fantasies: I'd like him to have this or that, or be like this or that, or do this later. But the future cradle is also surrounded by the ghosts of the past... It's about the family history of both parents, their ancestors.

After all, we're all descended from one set of parents, another that preceded it, and so on. In some respects, this family history lies deep in our unconscious, often just waiting for the arrival of the newcomer to resurface.

grandmother, mother and daughter

The fairies who bend over the cradle at birth are not all benevolent, and it's possible that certain painful scenarios from the past are just waiting for this cherished moment to resurface. In psychology, these are known as narcissistic parenting scenarios.

Children, parents and their ancestors

Everything depends on the parent's relationship with his or her own family history. The child's psychopathology cannot be free from the imprint of this history.

We all want to be the best parents we can be. But it's important to understand that when a child goes wrong, he or she is often the bearer of the dynamics of a system: the family group. 

family tree

From birth, the child is the repository of projections. The term "projection" means depositing parts of one's own psyche in others.

Some are the direct result of good relationships and are constructive for the child, while others can be more conflictual. These can interfere with the development of a growing child's personality. This can be the breeding ground for certain pathologies.

When history is replayed...

Indeed, parents who have experienced conflictual family relationships can unconsciously replay an impossible scenario, fed by long-standing and often unconscious frustration. And it's when a child is born that old, unresolved issues with their own parents come back to life. The past then comes back to haunt them, re-actualizing itself in the present. As Freud put it, "the shadow of the parents has fallen on the ego".

A mother who was raised by a mother who was psychologically absent, preoccupied with her own problems or with conflictual relationships in her marriage, may have retained ambivalent memories of her relationship with her mother.

family history

The same applies to a father who grew up in the shadow of a very authoritarian and unaffectionate father, for example. 

Every story is different and unique. This doesn't automatically mean that these scenarios will be replayed in the relationship with the child, but a door has been opened. This is unconscious and therefore disguised.

A typical example is families traumatized by war, genocide or any other individual trauma, and the unconscious then deposits a mortifying charge.

child frustration

This can take different forms, such as excessive concern for the child's safety, which is a source of "anxiety".anxiety, even phobias. Some parents categorically refuse to talk about the past, creating a family denial. This denial then deprives the child of knowledge of his or her origins, with the risk of opening the way to all kinds of pathologies.

Therapeutic consultations with the family

In view of what has just been said, I think it's vital that parents include themselves in the psychological consultation with their child. They are in the best position to inform the psychologist about the child's symptoms, and to help pinpoint the problem as closely as possible to the child's reality. The school can also be a valuable source of information, as it is possible that the symptom is only expressed there.

family psychology consultation

It's sometimes a pity to see some parents, either on their own or referred by the school, presenting their child as the sole carrier of the symptom, as if he or she had no family history.

No parent should feel guilty about his or her own history, or about unintentionally bringing unresolved childhood conflicts to the surface.

Therapeutic family consultations revitalize the family bond, unravel unconscious conflicts and open up new, more meaningful perspectives that benefit the entire family circle.

The child will also be seen alone, and will most often reveal his or her unconscious problems through play and drawing in the exchange with the therapist.

Therapeutic consultations with alternating parents and children often rapidly improve the situation. Unconscious issues, often at the root of the problem, are at the heart of the therapeutic process. Once they become conscious, other strategies can be worked out with the therapist, and the ghosts hidden in the nursery gradually disappear, giving way to a new-found, lasting harmony. 

[1] Fraiberg S, "Fantômes dans la chambre d'enfants", 2007, Le Fil rouge, PUF.