It is downright embarrassing to think that we might carry within us a terrified child. After all, we are self-sufficient, capable, in charge of our destiny. But we don’t have to look too far to see extremely childish behavior exemplified in the world around us. Candidates in the current US presidential race carpe and snipe at one another like angry children bickering over their turf on the playground. Countries continue to battle over land, resources and religious beliefs as they have for thousands of years. Office workplaces are hotbeds of discontent and misuse of power. Greed continues to motivate our actions at micro and macro levels. Science, medicine and technology move forward at a blinding pace while interpersonal and international relationships, if not murderously aggressive, remain stalemated at best. In many ways we as a civilization are functioning at a child-like level.
It is not entirely surprising then that people as individuals would be motivated by childish impulses. Certainly there are people who know how to function in a mature and loving way; who know how to extend that caring love to others; who understand that there are times when our own needs must take a back seat to the needs of others. I am less sanguine about whether that ability extends to large groups, corporations, nations. It seems to me that far too often the more we become organized the more likely we are to lose sight of the individual and his or her immediate needs. The needs of the group veer quickly then toward the bottom line. Greed in all its forms becomes the prime mover and the insatiable infant at the core begins to call the shots. Is it any wonder then that addiction in all its forms remains a significant problem in every corner of the world? We live in a society that valorizes greed, taking whatever we can and trampling over anyone who gets in the way. It’s as though a hungry baby were in charge.
So what can we do? Who can we be? The only place we can begin is with ourselves as individuals. If we or a loved one suffer from addiction we can recognize that, yes, there is a hungry baby within. Someone responded to my recent blog by saying that he was able to look within and visualize an infant–agonizingly alone, his cries unheard. Once he was able to acknowledge that part of himself he could begin to soothe and comfort the “baby part” inside. He could stand back and realize that while he was infinitely lonely in that time before he even had the words to speak it, he was no longer alone. He had family and friends who loved him. He was capable of taking care of his own needs—food, shelter and the like. He could go to the grocery and pick up some things. He had a warm house. The present moment was not terrible and he was not helpless. In this day and in this time he could “go on being” the person that he wanted to be.
Parents can do much to stem the tide of greed and entitlement in their children. I believe that they do so not by arbitrarily denying them or by harsh and exacting standards that ensure that they will fail. Rather they facilitate mature, caring and productive offspring by modelling that behavior themselves and by providing consistent engaged and loving care from infancy onward. In such an environment the child will never have to experience the aching need of loneliness and the desperate search to fill the void.
The larger question for businesses, for corporations and countries it not one that any of us can solve individually. We can only do our part by raising children who grow up to be caring and involved because someone has taken the time and energy to care about them. We can elect leaders who evidence maturity in their behavior; who are not swayed by the greed of potential supporters and who believe in caring for the less fortunate. We can support businesses or companies that keep in mind the welfare of their employees, their customers and the planet we all share. As individual members of society we can comfort the hungry infant within and reach for the mature adult we can become.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.