How to Stop Being a ‘good’ Boy or Girl – Free Ebook

Some of the reason why adult life can be 
greyer and more miserable than it should  

be is that our earliest years are generally made 
up of a prolonged and highly formative encounter  

with the idea of obedience. Throughout childhood, 
there is little doubt that the path to maturity  

must involve doing a litany of substantially 
unpleasant things demanded of us by figures of  

authority whom we cannot question. No one asks if 
we would be particularly interested in learning  

about the angles of triangles or what a volt 
really is, but we obey in any case. We give over  

our days and much of our evenings and weekends 
to complying with an agenda elaborated for us  

by people whose concern with our happiness is 
at best highly abstract. We put on our blue  

or grey jumper and sit at a desk and study the 
plotline of Macbeth or the chemical properties  

of helium – and trust that our boredom 
and distaste must be substantially wrong. 

We then become inclined to extend this attitude 
into our dealings with the wider world.  

We assume that what we particularly want should 
never be the important factor. We opt for a career  

on the basis that – to others – it looks like the 
right thing to subscribe to. At parties we’ll be  

able to answer the question what do you do? in 
a way that – by consensus – is unobjectionable  

or somewhat impressive. At the same time, we 
learn to see freedom as both appealing and,  

in a way, absurd. We’ll be free, we feel, when we 
don’t have anything else to fill our time with:  

on Saturday mornings or when we’re retired.
In the process, we become highly adept at  

rationalising our frustrations. We tell ourselves 
that we have no option. We have to stick with a  

job that we resent or a marriage that has grown 
stale because (we say) we need the money or our  

friends would be disappointed or it’s the 
kind of thing everyone like us has to do.  

We become geniuses at elaborating excuses that 
make our unhappiness look necessary and sane.

The mid-twentieth century British psychoanalyst 
Donald Winnicott encountered many patients – often  

high-performing and prestigious ones – who were 
in acute distress because they were, as he put it,  

‘too good.’ They had never felt the 
inner freedom and security to say no,  

largely because their earliest caregivers would 
have viewed the expression of their authentic  

feelings as a threatening insurrection they had to 
quash. Winnicott proposed that health could only  

come about from counteracting this tendency to 
subordinate too quickly – and too trustingly – to  

the preferences of others, including people who 
might claim to care a lot about us. Being ‘bad’ in  

a salutary way in Winnicott’s vision wouldn’t have 
to mean breaking the law or becoming aggressive;  

it would mean finding the inner freedom to do 
things others might find disconcerting on the  

basis that we, our authentic selves, 
have a sincere wish to explore them.  

It would be founded on a very profound 
view that others can never ultimately  

be the best custodians of our lives, for 
their instincts about what’s acceptable  

haven’t been formed on the basis of 
a deep knowledge of our unique needs. 

We tend to fantasise about freedom in terms of 
not having to work or of being able to take off on  

long trips. But if we dig into its core, freedom 
really means no longer being beholden to the  

expectations of others. We may, quite freely, work 
very hard or stay at home during the holidays. The  

decisive factor is our willingness to disappoint, 
to upset or to disconcert others in doing so.  

We don’t need to relish this – we may by nature 
be inclined to get on well with as many people  

as possible. But we can live with the idea that 
our central choices might not meet with general  

approval. At the party, we can risk someone 
not being at all impressed by what we do,  

or regarding our living arrangements as unorthodox 
or our opinions as odd. But we don’t mind too  

much – because we’ve become free. Our sense of 
what our life is about is no longer so confused  

with the notion of meeting the 
expectations of others. To be free,  

ultimately, is to be devoted – in ways that might 
be strenuous – to meeting our own expectations.

How to overcome your childhood is a book that teaches us how character is developed. The concept of emotional inheritance. The formation of our concepts of being good or bad and the impact of parental styles of love on the way we choose adult partners.

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