“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” – Anne Lamott
We, as little humans, are entirely dependent on our caregivers to stay alive and will instinctively adapt in order maintain attachment in whatever way is possible.
Idealization occurs when it is too difficult to hold onto the connection with a caregiver while also becoming fully aware of the pain caused by that caregiver’s actions — or the pain caused by inaction when we needed their protection, nurture, or care.
This often involves us, as little ones, taking on the belief in our own worthlessness or unloveability – or even the shame of abuse endured – because making ourselves bad allows for the caregiver to stay good.
This is crucial when we instinctively perceive there are no other options for us to turn to — and it allows us to hold onto an illusion of some power and control, believing that we can earn love or stop the abuse by trying harder and being better.
I have seen the idealization defense to be particularly intense when the caregiver who was abusive was also the only caregiver providing nurture and connection.
I have also seen a more subtle type of idealization when a person senses they were more equipped mentally/emotionally to handle things than their caregiver or deeply believes their caregiver did the best that they could – as this can make it difficult to acknowledge the reality and impact of their caregiver not having met the needs they had as a child.
Working with the Idealization Defense can allow us to develop a realistic view of a caregiver, allowing awareness of all the nuanced complexities of that person rather than insisting on an all good or all bad perspective.
It can also allow our unmet needs to be acknowledged so that the experienced can be processed through and finally healed.