Over the years I have found some parenting styles that repeatedly have the most negative effects on the upbringing of children and their level of adjustment as adults. Last week I shared the Abandoning style and this week I would like to share the Invalidating style. The reason for sharing them is not to blame or vilify anyone’s parents, but rather to reveal what might be causing you distress today and what you can do about it.
Today’s family style is one I call The Pooh Pooh’s, otherwise known as The Invalidators.
These individual parents or family systems tell you how you should feel on an ongoing basis. I call them the Pooh Pooh’s as they “Pooh Pooh” what you feel. When you feel something different then they think you should, they invalidate it or ignore it (basically the same result). This erodes your self confidence as you don’t know what is correct, to feel the way you actually do, or the way you are being told to feel. While developing, such a situation creates constant conflict in your mind. As an adult or young adult you may begin to look to others to make decisions for you, not trusting your own judgment.
Your opinions and thoughts may have been ridiculed or pushed aside as nonsense. These patterns make it difficult to develop a clear sense of self. You may begin to feel stupid or that you will not have any friends if you are yourself, so you start to take on the habits, likes and dislikes and opinions of others who appear to “fit in”.
You may have developed anger over the years from feeling unheard, or even depression and anxiety problems.
Statements that you might hear in these families include:
Don’t feel bad; you should be happy.
That doesn’t hurt; you are a big boy.
Stop crying; you’re so dramatic.
You aren’t gay; it’s a phase you are going through.
You can’t do that right. Let me do it.
You don’t need to wear what everyone else wears, I can dress you better.
Even healthy parents may say things like this from time to time. It is the constantly critical and controlling sort of parents that do the damage with these comments. These parents can also be the ones that take over and do your homework or finish your chores. If this happened to you you may feel like you can’t do anything right.
If you are from this type of family you may have a hard time trusting yourself or planning and carrying out your own life goals and dreams. You may let other’s make all kinds of important decisions for you, including what job to have. You may not dare to take chances for fear of certain failure. You may have found yourself in jobs where you are given direct supervision as you believe you need it. Unfortunately, this brings about dissatisfaction as the choices others make for you are not always a good fit.
Healthy relationships may be difficult for you as well. You may end up with a controlling partner or one who is emotionally unavailable. You may not recognize it for what it is at first as it feels “normal”. You may not find yourself comforted when in distress and unfortunately, this may feel normal also. Your thoughts, needs and desires are still being ignored or minimized. What you do recognize is that over time you resent this. Resentment when you feel helpless typically leads to anger and depression as well as increasing the likelihood of engaging in some poor coping strategies.
Below are the 11 most common personal difficulties experienced by adult children of invalidating parents:
- Abusive relationships
- Anger management problems stemming from resentment and frustration
- Anxiety spectrum of disorders
- Dependent on others
- Difficulty with assertiveness and setting boundaries
- Low self-esteem
- Poor coping strategies
- Poor decision making skills
- Relationship problems
If you believe this type of parenting has impacted you and your decisions it is not too late to relearn to trust yourself.
Stop and think back through your childhood-were you listened to? Did your thoughts matter? Were you comforted when in distress or ridiculed? Were you encouraged to think for yourself and make your decisions in appropriate matters? Think back through your life choices, did you make your own and are now satisfied or did someone make them for you and you realize they aren’t a great fit?
Write down the answers to the above questions.
Write down the decisions or choices you wish you had made differently based on your own personality.
Now look for evidence in your life that you are a capable human being. There have to be some choices, decisions, behaviors etc.. that reveal to you your worth and your capability. Everyone has some just as everyone has made bad choices from time to time. Use this evidence to bolster you and start to make a plan to change what you would like in life.
Remember the negative and invalidating messages that you were given were false and based on someone else’s need for control. You may have lived your whole life so far based on these incorrect messages. It’s time to live by your own design. This can be anything from wardrobe and fashion choices to jobs, hobbies and types of relationships. It’s time to be you.
Read up on self esteem, there are many good resources out there and the books have great exercises to take you through the process of increasing yours. Self esteem work can help lay the entire foundation to eliminate depression, anxiety and the other emotional baggage that can occur from dysfunctional family life.
Next time you are faced with a decision, think it through yourself with no input. Start with a small decision that doesn’t really matter, but make it yourself. Then act on it. See if you like the feel of beginning to take control of your life. This is how you go from dysfunctioning (not a word but I like it) and dissatisfied with life to well functioning and on your way to happiness and emotional success.
This will most likely stress you a bit, but don’t be afraid of that, you will feel better as things come together.
If you have surrounded yourself with people who like to think for you, you are now going to have to draw some boundaries. Unfortunately it is all too easy to find people who would like to think for us. Let them know you appreciate their feedback but then make your own decision or choice.