Now that we’re well on our way into the New Year, it seems like the perfect time to read some of those interesting books that have been on our bucket list.
One of my all-time favorite books to cross my desk is the groundbreaking and award-winning book, Replacement Children: The Unconscious Script, by Rita Battat Silverman and Dr. Abigail Brenner.
This revolutionary book has a moving foreword by Katie Couric, brilliantly highlighting the importance of understanding the widespread, universal, and often misunderstood phenomenon of replacement children.
Contrary to what the title might make you think, the term “replacement child” is conceptual, rather than literal, and refers to an actual psychological/emotional syndrome.
“Replacement Children” addresses the experience of individuals caught up in a complex family dynamic – one in which they are, most often unconsciously, filling the void of another child in the family.
When trauma from a loss is not adequately processed, it can keep overwhelmed parents from moving forward. The despair of a parent can manifest itself in the lives of subsequent children, an older child, or an adopted child who feels compelled to fill the position of an “idealized child”. The replacement child experience is about what can happen when a child in a family feels pressure to compensate for an emotional loss or disappointment in the family. In most cases, both the parent and child are unaware of this psychological dynamic until much later in life, if at all.
This is not a book about death, nor is the void limited to a physical loss. In fact, the authors make it clear that a child born, or adopted, after the death of another child is not automatically a replacement child.
It is important to understand this widespread, but commonly misunderstood phenomenon as it can be the underlying, and often missed, root of numerous emotional issues. On the other hand, the byproduct of its challenges may serve as a catalyst for unlocking creative potential and resourcefulness.
One fascinating chapter in the book explores the lives of famous and historical replacement children. Most people would never guess that Elvis Presley, Katherine Hepburn, Vincent Van Gogh, Peter Sellers, and Salvatore Dali were all replacement children.
James Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, was six years old when his brother, David Barrie, died in an accident. Their mother became deeply depressed as a result. To keep his mother’s attention, Barrie sat with his mother in her bedroom night after night. To gain his mother’s favor, he dressed up in David’s clothes and learned to whistle the way David did. When Barrie turned fourteen (The same age as David when he died) he stopped growing at only 5 feet tall. This story and others are expertly crafted and explained in the book and captivate the reader with a powerful and poignant message: the family roles of these famous replacement children significantly impacted and influenced their lives and their life work.
The authors of Replacement Children: The Unconscious Script include a variety of candid first-hand stories from individuals reflecting on their own experiences. When understood in its proper context it is not unusual to discover that you, a relative or someone you know may have lived the experience of a replacement child.