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. I shared the Histrionic style in one of my last posts, today I would like to introduce the style who invalidate your thoughts and feelings, leaving you with a deep mistrust of yourself. 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.
This style of dysfunction is not as blatant or easy to spot as physical or sexual abuse. It may even appear to be benign, like parents just wanting what is best for their children. Sometimes in fact that is the case and just carried out in a misguided effort. Other times it is not and is toxic.
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 Poohs as they “pooh pooh” all your thoughts and feelings. When you feel something different from what they think you should, they invalidate it or ignore it (basically the same result). This erodes your 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.
It’s also not uncommon in these families for your opinions and thoughts to be 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, dislikes and opinions of others who appear to “fit in”.
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 chores you’ve started as they don’t think you’re doing a good enough job . The “helicopter” parent has become common hovering above and around you rather than allow for some autonomy.
I have found that it is always a hurdle for clients from these types of families to learn to trust themselves and to plan and carry through their own lives and goals. They will let other’s make all kinds of important decisions for them, including what job to have. They rarely dare open their own businesses as they believe they will fail. They typically find themselves in jobs where they are given direct supervision as they believe they need it. Unfortunately, this brings about dissatisfaction as the choices others make for you are not always a good fit. It is imperative that the life blueprint that you create for yourself be free of this emotional baggage or you will not find it to be gratifying.
Healthy relationships may be difficult for you. 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. What you do recognize is that over time you resent the relationship and not getting your needs met. Resentment can lead to anger and depression as well as engaging in some poor coping strategies.
The reason these things are difficult is that this type of parenting teaches you to think and believe incorrectly. You are basing your decisions and beliefs about yourself on incorrect and dysfunctional information taken in as a child. As an adult you can look at these patterns, called cognitive distortions and dysfunctional thinking patterns and relearn them to accurately reflect your abilities. Its a bit like reparenting your emotional self.
Below are the most common personal difficulties experienced by adult children of invalidating parents. They are the ones I see most often:
- Abusive relationships
- Anger management problems stemming from resentment and frustration
- Anxiety spectrum of disorders
- Difficulty with assertiveness and setting boundaries
- Low self-esteem
- Poor coping strategies and addiction
- Poor parenting skills themselves
- 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.
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!
This will most likely stress you a bit and you will make mistakes, but don’t be afraid of that, we all do. They can be corrected.
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 like to think for us and tell us what to do. Doing it yourself feels better.
If you think that dysfunctional patterns are interfering with your life and relationships please go to my website through the link below in my bio, take the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and download the Dysfunctional Thinking Patterns (Cognitive Distortions) free resource and checklist.
Feel Good For Life!!