Strange how losing a parent can suddenly free you from something you never noticed before. When my father died, slowly over time, I realized that I no longer felt a desire to be impressive. It was as if my drive to succeed died with him. That sounds more negative than it feels. I actually feel freed from a burden. A small part of me strove to excel in order to impress him – not my mother or husband or children, but my father! This has been on my mind a lot recently, but a book my oldest son suggested I read may have explained why:
“The Fridge Door syndrome depicts the most common example of a Goblin [a learned negative behavior from early childhood] and this one affects most people in the Western world. It is the first day of school and the young child is full of emotions. The teacher says ‘Let’s paint a picture for your parents.’ After painting the picture the child runs home to show the parent. As the child runs up to the parent, the parent says, ‘What is that you’ve got?’ The child hands over the painting. The parent responds, ‘This picture is fantastic, you are very clever, I am so proud of you, I want the world to know just how good you are,’ and then puts the picture on the fridge door for all the world to see just how clever the child is.’
The Chimp Paradox
*Dr. Steve Peters
Well, that’s a good parent, right? Wrong! Dr. Peters goes on to say that the child now has a huge Goblin to live with because he / she thinks their value as a human being is based on what they can accomplish! So the child strives to succeed to please the parent. A better scenario would be for the parent to hug the child and greet them while expressing their pride and THEN look at the painting. That way the child gets the message that they are important irregardless of what they do or achieve! Who knew, right?
I am certain I have passed that Goblin to my children, quite unintentionally. Though I say over and over that we love them no matter what they can or cannot do, there is plenty of evidence they feel pressure to succeed in order to be accepted. I can only apologize. Learning that you have made mistakes in raising young people, or dogs, makes me wonder how any of us have grown into emotionally healthy adults. I even took ‘Developmental Psychology’ in college, but so much more has been discovered in the last 30 years, it is practically useless now.
Again, as I learned from the dog therapist, the order in which things are done with a young mind – human or dog it seems – is important. And our instincts aren’t always correct. I consider the Fridge Goblin to be a minor one, really, wanting to succeed is generally positive. And I know that even when I failed – like being in a car accident one week after passing my driving test – my dad still loved me. The first thing he did when he arrived on the scene was to throw his arms around me and ask if I was okay. He didn’t even look at the car! That was the right order. Somehow, it made me want to please him even more!
*Dr. Peters has become a sports psychiatrist for elite athletes – most notably the British Cycling Team – helping them to overcome their own Goblins and Gremlins [bad behaviors learned in later childhood] in order to succeed. I am now looking more and more to sports specialists for nutrition, exercise and even psychological expertise. The lessons learned in competing against your own physical and emotional limitations spill into other areas of life. My triathlon training with Team in Training released me from a number of personal demons in ways my spiritual training or prayer life could not begin to address.