Let us consider two modes of relating in childhood – sickness and health. More than mere states, sickness and health form relational dynamics between parent and child.
In sickness, the child exhibits distress, eliciting increased caretaking to satisfy needs. The child’s sickness has direction and purpose in garnering care. Health, meanwhile, represents autonomy and self-sufficiency. The healthy child fends for themself.
Tensions arise between these dynamics. When sick, the child receives doting nurturance from the parent. Care flows toward visible suffering. Yet in health, nurturance is less forthcoming. Through this inconsistent parenting, the child learns to associate sickness with receiving nurturance.
Over time, this impairs the child’s understanding of care. Frequent contradictory reactions – parents neglecting the healthy child while doting heavily on the sick child – disrupt the child’s perceptions of care. Children become highly sensitive, carefully exhibiting sickness behaviors to generate nurturance. Hesitation and confusion follow.
The origins of this selective caretaking lie in the parents’ own upbringing. Lacking affection themselves, parents overflow with nurturance only when the child suffers visibly. Their excessive doting on sickness reflects an inability to provide unconditional love.
As contradictory relating accumulates over time, the child assumes their health will be neglected while their sickness garners care. Attuned communication unravels.
Expressions of joy only breed more neglect.
So children withdraw into illness, estranged from mutual relating. Loneliness ferments, unseen behind suffering’s veil.
For adults who internalized this childhood linkage, it helps tremendously to understand it was an unconscious coping strategy, not a personal failing. While once useful, relying on illness to meet needs is now maladaptive.
Healing involves feeling sadness for unmet childhood needs, developing support strategies, finding chosen family, and rewriting narratives through therapy. It also involves grieving that the past is gone and realizing self-care will not lead to abandonment. There are many able to engage with your healthy self.