Parents with delusional and other personality disorders are incredibly difficult to live with. Parenting advice and magazines abound but there is a dearth of information available for children with challenging parents. What are some of the circumstances and challenges that children with trying parents encounter?
Society teaches that parents are at the head of the familial hierarchy. Moreover, most religious, laws and other social structures grant parents far more power over a child’s life than desirable.
Navigating a tumultuous and inconsistent relationship with a parental figure can be devastating to a child’s psychological development. Children of destructive parents battle a double fronted war as they struggle against ingrained notions of maternal and/or paternal figures knowing and still not doing what is best for them.
Recent and older studies continue to conclude that parent-child bonding is a major factor in the socialization of children. However, a mother or father with uncontrolled manic-depressive disorder, depression, and/or anxiety is an incredibly unstable emotional foundation for a child.
Often, children in these circumstances end up taking on the parental roles in their families. They are subject to the treading along the fragile emotional states of their mother or father while protecting them from outside scrutiny. They are expected to assume a psychological and emotional authority over their unstable parents; yet, are still restrained the confines of childhood dependence.
In essence, daughters and sons of trying parents are shoved into an early adulthood and sequestered into an unsafe and unfulfilling childhood. For example, borderline personality disorder ravages parent-child relationships and. Borderlines are especially difficult to coexist with. Everything is about meeting the needs of this person, leaving the increasing emotional devastation of the child unaddressed.
Numerous teens and young adults are fettered to these toxic relationships from years of being made to feel guilty or somehow partially responsible for the overwhelming instability of a parent. How can health and socially secure adults grow from these seemingly unbearable homes?
Validating one’s own feelings are the first step to coping with a trying parent. Typically a person has spent years ignoring, or suppressing emotions like anger, rage and helplessness. Once someone feels entitled to negative feelings about a parent and accept that s/he isn’t perfect, true healing is possible.
Talk therapy and or group therapy with someone in a similar circumstance can be helpful part of the healing process. It’s not unusual for young people to feel isolated from their peers when they assume that no one could ever truly understand their experience. Ideally, an individual will reach an acceptance stage where s/he no longer wrestles with conflicting feelings about their parents and shattered childhoods.
The acceptance stage isn’t so much of a destination point as an ongoing process. One must continually accept and adapt to the changes in perspective that result once ties to a toxic parent are severed. Please read Toxic Parents by Dr. Susan Forward for more case studies and analysis on recovering from a dysfunctional relationship with a parent.