The Exclusion Demand as Independence

I received a Comment from a targeted parent to my Exclusion Demand post in which the targeted parent indicated that a prior therapist had justified the child’s “exclusion demand” rejection of the targeted parent as representing the child’s desire for independence. 

I want to address this (and any other therapist-offered justifications for the “exclusion demand”) as a separate blog post because I believe professional competence to be so incredibly important as a required expectation for all therapists working with children.

The suggestion by ANY therapist that the child’s “exclusion demand” represents even a remotely normal-range expression of emerging child independence is incredibly ignorant, and just plain stupid. Let me describe why:

Preparatory Foundation

First, there are a number of cultural factors that are involved in a consideration of this therapist suggestion that the “exclusion demand” represents the child’s seeking independence. The construct of independence is culturally defined and tends to be a more prominent construct in Northern European cultural values than in more collectivist cultures, such as Hispanics and Asian cultures. Furthermore, the construct of “independence” reflects a male-dominated value system rather than a more female-oriented value system that emphasizes mutual interdependence.

But let’s put all this entirely relevant information aside so we can get right the heart of the immense stupidity of suggesting that the “exclusion demand” represents the child’s normal-range (or even abnormal-range) seeking of independence.

1. Frequency

All children – 100% – must deal with issues of separation and independence (interdependence) from parents and the family of origin. If the “exclusion demand” was a normal-range expression of the child’s seeking independence, then we would expect to see this symptom in a vast number of normal-range children, since ALL children must deal with this issue. So we would expect to see millions of children expressing the “exclusion demand.”

Go to any park on a Saturday afternoon. How many children are demanding that their parents not attend their soccer or baseball games?  None.  Not a single child. Go to any school music performance by children, how many children are demanding that their parents not attend their school concert performance.  None.  Not a single child. Go to any high school football or basketball game, how many of the adolescent players are demanding that their parents not attend their game.  None.  Not a single adolescent.

And many of these families have significant pathology. Yet we NEVER see the “exclusion demand.”  Never.  Yet if the “exclusion demand” was an expression of the child’s independence and 100% of children need to address this issue, then we would expect to see millions of children expressing the “exclusion demand” but instead the rate of the “exclusion demand” in the normal (and abnormal) range population is 0%.

Furthermore, the developmental challenge of independence occurs in adolescence (Erikson), so we should NEVER see the “exclusion demand” prior to the age of 12.  And developmentally, adolescents do not express their emerging independence by excluding parents from public events. The most common way of establishing adolescent independence is through the increased frequency and intensity of angry exchanges between the adolescent and parent that psychologically highlights boundaries of self-autonomy. Go to any high school football or basketball game. How many players have demanded that their parents NOT attend the game.   None.  Not a single one. Yet all of the players are adolescents, and many of the families have significant pathology.

To suggest that the “exclusion demand” is an expression of the child’s seeking “independence” is just plain stupid.

2.  Healthy Child Development

Healthy children love their parents.  “Independence” – whatever that concept may mean – with regard to children and families is weird.  Children and families are inter-dependent.  Children are separate and independent, and they are involved and integrated into the family.  Healthy child development NEVER means the child’s rejecting a parent.

Normal adolescents express independence by causing conflicts that highlight psychological boundaries.  Normal adolescents express independence by withholding information about friends and activities from parents.  Normal adolescents express independence by socially different clothing or grooming choices, or by holding and expressing different values from their parents.

Children, even adolescent children, do not express independence by not loving a parent.  Not loving a parent is a symptom of extreme clinical concern

3.  Separation-Individuation

Furthermore, the primary model of “individuation” is Margaret Mahler’s from her direct research with children.  Mahler describes three component phases of separation-individuation, 1) the separation phase, 2) the depressive phase, and 3) the rapprochement phase.  In the separation phase the child seeks greater psychological independence by increasing angry exchanges with the parent.  This is followed by the depressive phase in which the child’s emotional expansiveness created by separation collapses in the child’s psychological isolation, which is then followed by the child’s return to the parent to repair the relationship with the parent (the rapprochement phase).

So if the “exclusion demand” represents the child’s seeking of independence, we would also expect to see the rapprochement phase in which the child seeks to repair the bond to the rejected parent.  But we NEVER see the child seeking to restore the parent-child bond following the “exclusion demand” symptom. Never.

4.  Independence from Whom?

If the “exclusion demand” is an expression of the child’s desire for independence, then the child should be expressing the symptom toward BOTH parents, since the child needs to separate and become independent from both parents (assuming the irrational belief in independence rather than the actual construct of healthy inter-dependence).

But wait. The child is already rejecting the targeted parent. So the child has a whole bunch of independence from the targeted parent.  If the child is seeking independence then the child should be displaying the “exclusion demand” symptom toward the bonded-parent not toward the parent the child is ALREADY separated from.

Why would the child need to separate from the parent the child is already separate from, but NOT from the parent the child isn’t separated from?

Why would telling a parent not to come to a music recital attended by every other child’s parent, represent “independence?”  Why would a parent sitting in the bleachers with all the other parents watching the child play sports at a public event reflect the child’s “independence?”

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Stupid Reasons

Just because a therapist offers a “reason” doesn’t make the reason rational.

“Your child is excluding you from attending his baseball games because his horoscope has Jupiter in the house of Sagittarius.”

Is that a reason?  Yep.  Is it a stupid reason?  Yep.

“Your child is excluding you from attending her school Christmas play because she’s seeking independence.

Is that a reason?  No doubt.  Is it a stupid reason.  Absolutely.

The “exclusion demand” is nowhere near normal.  It’s not even close to abnormal.  The “exclusion demand” is a symptom of extreme pathology. When I hear this symptom my clinical concern immediately becomes a 10 on a 10-point scale.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

 

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