Everything that’s wrong in your life is the fault of your parents. Whatever your struggles, your mistakes and your pain, you are not to blame. You are an innocent victim of those who raised you.
At least that’s the way some folks interpret my definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).
The definition of CEN: A parent’s failure to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs. People who grow up this way go forward into adulthood out of touch with their own emotions, feeling empty, alone and disconnected, and are baffled about what is wrong with them.
Here’s a comment that was posted on Ten Steps to Learn Self-Discipline:
Are you saying that when a parent fails to teach their children this skill well enough, that parent is guilty of Childhood Emotional Neglect? This article was insulting.
I’ve received many such comments. They point to one of the biggest barriers I have encountered in my efforts to bring the concept of Childhood Emotional Neglect to more people: the discomfort of blaming the parents.
Despite the overwhelming body of research proving it, many people strongly resist the fact that their parents’ treatment of them in childhood had a profound effect upon who they are as adults. It is uncomfortable to blame our parents for the problems and issues that we experience in adulthood. It feels like letting ourselves off the hook. Some people consider it “whining.”
Here is a section copied almost exactly from my book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect:
“In my psychology practice, I have found that many, if not most clients are very uncomfortable with the notion that their parents had such a powerful effect on them. Perhaps acknowledging the incredible power of parents is inherently threatening to us all. If we understand the true impact that our parents had on us, we may feel ourselves alone, disempowered, or even victimized, all of which are profoundly uncomfortable. If we understand the true impact that we have, as parents, upon our own children, we may feel terrified or guilty. So, as a people, we lean more toward blaming ourselves for our own issues, and underplaying the impact which we have on our children.”
As a psychologist, a parent and a daughter, I truly understand this discomfort on multiple levels. The concept of blame weighs heavily upon us all. If we blame our parents, then perhaps we will feel less burden of blame upon ourselves. But is this a way of letting ourselves off the hook for taking responsibility for our own choices and behavior? And won’t we then have to feel guilty, and take the blame for how we have parented our own children? It is a Win/Lose situation at best; and a Lose/Lose situation at worst.
So what is the answer? Who is at fault for our adult struggles, mistakes and issues? Do our parents get a free pass? What if our parents were well-meaning? What if we have made mistakes with our own children? Are we to blame for that? What is the answer?
Fortunately, there is an answer to this dilemma. And it is free and available to anyone who is willing to embrace it. The answer is:
Remove blame from the equation. Instead, focus upon understanding your parents’ effects upon you and taking accountability for your own decisions, mistakes and choices.
Unless your parents were unloving, uncaring or abusive, blame is a useless concept. It is a road that takes you directly to Nowhere. Blame is not healing and it is not helpful.
However, it is worthwhile to try to understand how your childhood affects you. Understanding is crucial to being able to have compassion for yourself and to conquering your adult struggles. You can have an understanding of how your parents’ mistakes affected or hurt you without going down that Blame Road to Nowhere.
Once you see how your childhood affected you, you are freed up to hold yourself accountable as an adult. You, the adult, are responsible for your own decisions, mistakes, and choices. Own them. Be accountable for them. Learn from them, and move forward. No blame or guilt necessary.
I think that we would all be much healthier and happier if we would let go of this obsession with blame, realize that yes, each and every human being has a childhood living within him which has a profound effect upon who he is as an adult. Understanding your childhood does not absolve you of responsibility for your adult life. Instead, it frees you up to take responsibility for your adult life.
Yes, there are complex interactions between genetics, environment and parenting which are yet to be discovered. But the true power of parents is not one of them. It is a known, highly studied and highly proven fact. And the better we embrace it and use it to our advantage, with a focus on understanding and accountability and less on blame, the happier and healthier we will be.
See a more complete version of this article on Personality Disorder Awareness Network.