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Gabor Maté

“There is yet another reason why peer-oriented kids are insatiable. In order to reach the turning point, a child must not only be fulfilled, but this fulfillment must sink in. It has to register somehow in the child's brain that the longing for closeness and connectedness is being met. This registration is not cognitive or even conscious, but deeply emotional. It is emotion that moves the child and shifts the energy from one developmental agenda to another, from attachment to individuation.

The problem is that, for fulfillment to sink in, the child must be able to feel deeply and vulnerably — an experience most peer-oriented kids will be defended against. Peer-oriented children cannot permit themselves to feel their vulnerability. It may seem strange that feelings of fulfillment would require openness to feelings of vulnerability. There is no hurt or pain in fulfillment — quite the opposite. Yet there is an underlying emotional logic to this phenomenon. For the child to feel full he must first feel empty, to feel helped the child must first feel in need of help, to feel complete he must have felt incomplete. To experience the joy of reunion one must first experience the ache of loss, to be comforted one must first have felt hurt.

Satiation may be a very pleasant experience, but the prerequisite is to be able to feel vulnerability. When a child loses the ability to feel her attachment voids, the child also loses the ability to feel nurtured and fulfilled. One of the first things I check for in my assessment of children is the existence of feelings of missing and loss. It is indicative of emotional health for children to be able to sense what is missing and to know what the emptiness is about. As soon as they are able to articulate, they should be able to say things like “I miss daddy,” “It hurt me that grandma didn't notice me,” “It didn't seem like you were interested in my story,” “I don't think so and so likes me.”

Many children today are too defended, too emotionally closed, to experience such vulnerable emotions. Children are affected by what is missing whether they feel it or not, but only when they can feel and know what is missing can they be released from their pursuit of attachment. Parents of such children are not able to take them to the turning point or bring them to a place of rest. If a child becomes defended against vulnerability as a result of peer orientation, he is made insatiable in relation to the parents as well. That is the tragedy of peer orientation — it renders our love and affection so useless and unfulfilling.

For children who are insatiable, nothing is ever enough. No matter what one does, how much one tries to make things work, how much attention and approval is given, the turning point is never reached. For parents this is extremely discouraging and exhausting. Nothing is as satisfying to a parent as the sense of being the source of fulfillment for a child. Millions of parents are cheated of such an experience because their children are either looking elsewhere for nurturance or are too defended against vulnerability to be capable of satiation.

Insatiability keeps our children stuck in first gear developmentally, stuck in immaturity, unable to transcend basic instincts. They are thwarted from ever finding rest and remain ever dependent on someone or something outside themselves for satisfaction. Neither the discipline imposed by parents nor the love felt by them can cure this condition. The only hope is to bring children back into the attachment fold where they belong and then soften them up to where our love can actually penetrate and nurture.”


Gabor Maté, Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers
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Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gordon Neufeld
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