Monday, June 21, 2010
How many of us attended colleges that our parents chose for us? How many of us married who we did or when we did because that was expected or desired by our parents? Having done what our parents expected, wanted, or demanded does not mean that it was the wrong thing to do. It just means that the decision was never totally ours. Certainly, many people do exactly what their parents don’t want them to do. Often this is an attempt to be a separate person. We choose to marry the person they would like the least, or simply choose to not attend college at all. It is not the outcome that is the issue as much as it is the decision-making process. Instead of choosing freely, we make a reactive decision based in anger.
When parents hold children responsible for what should be their responsibility, they are expecting something impossible of a child. In effect, they are telling children that they have more power than they truly have, setting them up to experience futility and inadequacy.
Many times parents develop relationships with their children in which they are their friends, their peers, their equals. In doing so, they share information that is not age-appropriate for a child. Inappropriate information often creates a sense of burden, or even guilt, for children. That is not fair.
When parents are disrespectful of their children's boundaries and violate them, the message given is that they don't value the child as a person. That message becomes internalized as "I am not of value. I am not worthy." When parents don't acknowledge children's boundaries, the message they give is "You are here to meet my needs," and/or "I am more important than you," and/or "It is not okay to be your own person with individual feelings, desires, or needs." When children experience chronic abandonment with distorted boundaries, they live in fear and doubt about their worth. The greater the clarity a child has around boundaries, understanding who is responsible for what, and the greater a child's self-esteem, the more likely a child will be able to reject, rather than internalize, shameful behaviors and messages.
As children we cannot reject parents, because they are so desperately needed. Instead, we take on the burden of being wrong or bad. In doing this, we purge parents of being wrong or hurtful, which reinforces a sense of security. In essence, outer safety is purchased at the price of inner security.
What we must understand now is that our abandonment experiences and boundary violations were in no way indictments of our innate goodness and value. Instead, they revealed the flawed thinking, false beliefs, and impaired behaviors of those who hurt us. Still, the wounds were struck deep in our young hearts and minds, and the very real pain can still be felt today. The causes of our emotional injury need to be understood and accepted so we can heal. Until we do, the pain will stay with us, becoming a driving force in our adult lives.
Excerpt from Changing Course
Friday, June 4, 2010
For some children abandonment is primarily physical. Physical abandonment occurs when the physical conditions necessary for thriving have been replaced by:
- lack of appropriate supervision
- inadequate provision of nutrition and meals
- inadequate clothing, housing, heat, or shelter
- physical and/or sexual abuse
Children are totally dependent on caretakers to provide safety in their environment. When they do not, they grow up believing that the world is an unsafe place, that people are not to be trusted, and that they do not deserve positive attention and adequate care.
Emotional abandonment occurs when parents do not provide the emotional conditions and the emotional environment necessary for healthy development. I like to define emotional abandonment as “occurring when a child has to hide a part of who he or she is in order to be accepted, or to not be rejected.” Having to hide a part of yourself means:
- it is not okay to make a mistake.
- it is not okay to show feelings, being told the way you feel is not true. “You have nothing to cry about and if you don’t stop crying I will really give you something to cry about.” “That really didn’t hurt.” “You have nothing to be angry about.”
- it is not okay to have needs. Everyone else’s needs appear to be more important than yours.
- it is not okay to have successes. Accomplishments are not acknowledged, are many times discounted.
Other acts of abandonment occur when:
- Children cannot live up to the expectations of their parents. These expectations are often unrealistic and not age-appropriate.
- Children are held responsible for other people's behavior. They may be consistently blamed for the actions and feelings of their parents.
- Disapproval toward children is aimed at their entire beings or identity rather than a particular behavior, such as telling a child he is worthless when he does not do his homework or she is never going to be a good athlete because she missed the final catch of the game.
Many times abandonment issues are fused with distorted, confused, or undefined boundaries such as:
- When parents do not view children as separate beings with distinct boundaries
- When parents expect children to be extensions of themselves
- When parents are not willing to take responsibility for their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, but expect children to take responsibility for them
- When parents' self-esteem is derived through their child’s behavior
- When children are treated as peers with no parent/child distinction
Abandonment plus distorted boundaries, at a time when children are developing their sense of worth, is the foundation for the belief in their own inadequacy and the central cause of their shame.
Abandonment experiences and boundary violations are in no way indictments of a child’s innate goodness and value. Instead, they reveal the flawed thinking, false beliefs, and impaired behaviors of those who hurt them. Still, the wounds are struck deep in their young hearts and minds, and the very real pain can still be felt today. The causes of emotional injury need to be understood and accepted so they can heal. Until that occurs, the pain will stay with them, becoming a driving force in their adult lives.
Excerpt from Changing Course