In December, we talked about the book you wrote with Dr. Abigail Brenner, Replacement Children: The Unconscious Script. Since then you’ve received an IPPY. Tell us about the award and what you’ve won.
We are very proud of our recent IPPY, from the Independent Publisher Book Awards (http://tinyurl.com/dxtfej), presented to us in the category of Psychology/Mental Health.
Our book Replacement Children: The Unconscious Script, with a heartfelt foreword by Katie Couric, is the first of its kind to explain this widespread phenomenon. The term, Replacement Child, refers to an actual emotional/ psychological syndrome but was never meant to suggest that anyone is ever replaceable.
For those who didn’t see the 12/11/15 post (view at http://tinyurl.com/jszp2pu)—and even for those who did–tell us who Replacement Children are—and how you’ve came to write about them.
A Replacement Child could easily be you, a family member, or someone you know. It is a term that describes the widespread yet profoundly misunderstood experience of individuals who are, often unconsciously, allocated to fill a void left in the family by a dead or incapacitated sibling. There is a wide range of circumstances that can set the stage for a subsequent child, or an older child, to become caught up in this powerful family dynamic. Besides a death, a child in the family may be living in the shadow of another who has suffered, or is suffering, from long-term illness, accident, or emotional loss—he or she may be a “replacement” for a lost pregnancy. Children born or adopted after a loss of another sibling, however, are not automatically replacement children and should not be described as such.
You’ve said that many adult replacement children are extremely successful people. Who are some that we’d never suspect?
There is a long list. Here are some well recognized from the past.
Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Montgomery, Salvador Dali, Peter Sellers, Katharine Hepburn, Vincent Van Gogh, James Barrie, and Liberace–the list goes on and on.
Of the ones who have excelled in the arts, tell us a few of their stories, given our new understanding of the challenges they might have faced?
Elvis Presley, a pioneering musician, was born a twin. His brother, Jessie Garon, was stillborn. Elvis was deeply affected by his brother's death, feeling that a major part of him was missing. He also questioned why he had survived while his brother had been born dead. Their mother, Gladys, became overprotective of Elvis, and their lives were intricately entwined. She spoke of her son’s talent and energetic drive. She believed that it was his birth as a twin–and his brother's death–that set the stage for Presley's incredible success: Elvis 's "destiny is to do great things, he is living for two people. He has the power of two people." Elvis’s longing to reunite with Jessie led him to pursue various channels, including meditation, studying the Bible, numerology, and other spiritual avenues.
James Barrie, best known as the author of Peter Pan, was six years old when his brother David died in an ice-skating accident, two days before his fourteenth birthday. David had always been his mother's favorite, and, with his death, she became deeply depressed. Barrie's older sister urged him to go to their mother and tell her that she still had another boy.
Barrie then sat with his mother, night after night, in her bedroom, trying to make her forget his deceased brother. As a result, Barrie was an insomniac for the rest of his life. To take his brother’s place, and gain his mother’s favor, he dressed up in David's clothes and learned how to whistle the way David did. When Barrie turned fourteen, (the same age as David when he died), he stopped growing at only five feet tall!
Salvador Dali, a prolific artist, was born exactly 9 months and 10 days after the death of his elder brother, also named Salvador Dali.
The second Dali's birth relieved his parents’ despair, but the painter was always aware of their anguish. He felt his brother's presence deeply, especially since his parents chose to view their second son as a reincarnation of the first.
Dali's brother was his "ghostly double" and created tremendous conflict and stress. The artist essentially lived the life of two people, and he identified himself and his brother with the Divine Twins, Castor and Pollux. Dali developed a fascination with the theme of decay and putrefaction, and these images found their way into his art. His experiences shaped his work and, as a result, he became his own greatest creation.
How would you say Katharine Hepburn, outside of her success, expressed being a Replacement Child?
Katharine Hepburn, an American Hollywood legend, performed in theater and film for more than sixty years. She was known for her independent spirit and strong-willed movie characters.
When Kate was thirteen years old, she found her fifteen-year-old brother, Tom, hanging from a makeshift noose. She was extremely close to Tom, who was also her best friend.
At that time suicide was a stigma. Kate’s father went by the rule that if something is never discussed, it never happened. Therefore, Tom's name was never mentioned. Kate had no support and was forbidden to talk about the loss of her brother. Yet it changed her life. She grew withdrawn and moody and coped with this devastating loss by keeping Tom alive within herself. Kate even took on his birthday, November 8, while her birthdate was actually May 12. She vowed to herself, and to her deceased brother, that he would live with her always; she would live a life for two.
Do you think her life would have been different if she knew about the Replacement Child Syndrome? What might have been different?
It would have been much different and much healthier if there had been support and open discussions for the entire family, for Kate especially. Tom was not only her brother and confidant, but she is also the person who discovered his body–horrible for an adult, totally devastating and traumatic for a thirteen-year-old.
Have you ever heard one of the more famous Replacement Children discuss their situation, even if he or she didn’t have a name to describe it? How did he or she talk about the syndrome?
Barbara Walters, in her book Auditions, talks candidly about her life. Her older brother, Burton, died of pneumonia before she was born. Her sister, Jackie, born three years before Barbara, was mentally challenged. Barbara speaks of the enormous role her sister’s condition played in influencing and molding the person she would become.
The picture she paints in her memoir has many of the elements descriptive of a Replacement Child: carrying her parents’ grief regarding the lost son, and a challenged daughter, the burden to succeed being placed upon her shoulders early on. Barbara was not free to live her life on her own terms; there were many limitations and responsibilities superimposed on her own life.
Do you think people tend not to want to discuss the fact that they are Replacement Children, if they are? Is the subject socially acceptable to talk about, do you think?
It is more than just socially acceptable–it is an extremely necessary and healthy subject to explore.
Once an adult Replacement Child hears the term and can identify with the experience, it helps them to define their feelings and describe their experiences. The term affords many individuals a sense of comfort to finally be able to understand the reason behind the complicated issues surrounding their own identities–-the result of having grown up in this very unique set of circumstances.
What are some of the reactions that people have when they realize that they are a Replacement Child?
The experience for the Replacement Child can vary widely: the impact can be barely perceptible or debilitating.
Awareness, however, is a wonderful thing! The moment of recognition is a very unique one and different for each person.
Some adult Replacement Children have responded saying, "I can't believe I am in the middle of my life and I am just becoming aware that I am a Replacement Child." Many individuals respond with a sense of relief and excitement once they learn that there is a term that describes their experience–something they have known on some level and had sensed without validation or confirmation.
How would therapy help someone who realizes that he or she is a Replacement Child, now that you are bringing the syndrome to the attention of more and more people?
Understanding the Replacement Child phenomenon holds a crucial key to awareness about what may be the underlying and misunderstood root of many emotional issues, such as survivor’s guilt, perfectionism, feelings of inadequacy, and so on. The issues for the Replacement Child are most often not understood by the individual or their families–or even well-meaning practitioners who are usually unfamiliar with the term and the syndrome and do not understand the complexities of these special circumstances.
What is the best way to support someone who you know is a Replacement Child?
Educate them-–give them this book which has the most comprehensive and up-to-date information about the subject.
What are the answers to questions you find people are most interested in as you discuss your book in the media?
People are fascinated by this subject when they realize what a wide range of people it affects–almost everyone knows someone who is in this category when they understand the true definition. It is valuable knowledge, not just for all who have lived some form of replacement experience, but also for mental health professionals, pediatricians, teachers, and family physicians.
Why and how do you think Barbara Walters would benefit from reading your book?
As with anyone else, the understanding of this phenomena would give Barbara Walters new insights into her own life–how her experience as a Replacement Child may have been the root of emotional issues and/or served as a catalyst for unlocking creativity and resourcefulness.
View on Amazon: Replacement Children: The Unconscious Script: http://tinyurl.com/hlpyrqu
Copyright 2016: answers (Rita Battat Silverman) and questions (Bob Shuman ); all rights reserved.
Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http2015:// www.stagevoices.com/ . If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related theater, please write to Bob Shuman at Bobjshuman@gmail.com.