Free resources for only-child adults and therapists who work with them
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Dr Bernice Sorensen MBACP Senior Accredited Practitioner & Supervisor
16th March, 20110 Comments
The numbers of only-children are growing but they are still in a minority compared to sibling children in the UK. In the past only children grew up in a world that held a negative stereotype of the only child. More recently a positive serotype has begun to replace it but as with all stereotypes the polarisation that occurs is not always useful. There are many significant issues, both social and psychological, that impact on only child experience. Research revealed that only-children experience a sense of ‘lack’, ‘difference’, and ‘seperateness’ through not having siblings. This has repercussions on the way they perceive the world and interact with others as well as on their sense of who they are in the world.
Even today there are challenges growing up an only child in a society that privileges the sibling experience, one which can be considered important for social and emotional development. These challenges do not diminish as the only child enters adulthood, in fact for some people the opposite is true. One of the most common concerns for adult onlies is the fear of parents’ old age and death. Naturally we all have concerns around this but for only children, where there are no siblings to share the burden, this can be particularly concerning. When our parents die and there is no one left as a witness to our life, many adult onlies can get in touch with a strong sense of aloneness, an orphan in the world, which is made more difficult if they are not in a relationship.
Another challenge for adolescent onlies is the process of separation. It is often particularly difficult for an only child to separate emotionally and physically as so much is invested in them as the only child. This can be even more fraught if there is only one parent who perhaps is more emotionally dependent on their child. Again in later life this can become exacerbated, when a parent expects daily contact and continual expressions of unconditional love. Not surprisingly this can cause problems in their own long-term relationships. Partners, however tolerant, find the emotional pressure from a needy parent a constant drain. These are just two of the varied issues encountered in the only child experience – discussed in online only child resources.
The importance of both finding a voice and witnessing has been a major factor in the therapy undertaken with adult onlies. Finding a voice is both an internal process and an inter-personal one. Voices need to be heard, not just voiced, and this is the importance of witnessing. Two websites have been set up encourage both witnessing and sharing experience. They enable other online to feel heard and not alone in their experience and are a useful resource for therapists.
1. www.onlychild.org.uk This offers research, a weekly post and emails
from around the world.
2. www.onlcychildadult.com This offers a forum for adult onlies to share
concerns and experience
3. Sorensen, B. 2008, Only Child Experience and Adulthood, Palgrave.
Based on doctoral research from a psychological and social perspective that
reveals the only child’s experience growing up and its affect throughout the
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