Category Archives: Parenting

Adult with an abusive parent: “I have gotten to the point now that I cannot even handle a phone call from my 80-year old father.”

"Forlorn Heart" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Forlorn Heart” by Mimi Stuart ©


I have gotten to the point now that I cannot even handle a phone call from my 80 year old father. I keep telling myself I’m being silly but every time I have any contact it upsets me so much I get very anxious and can’t sleep. Ever since I can remember he has always criticized me and upset me. As a child he would single me out and rage at me and hit me. I wondered “why me?”

Now his health is deteriorating but he plays mind games where he sounds like he’s dying on the phone. My sister gets angry when I try to say that he was less than perfect. Other people who haven’t seen this side of him think I’m hard and uncaring and he plays on this. I feel very guilty writing this down as I keep thinking maybe I’m being too dramatic.

Anne

Dear Anne,

In essence, your father was abusive and he is continuing in that vein by trying to draw you in using guilt as a hook. You need to set a boundary, not only with him but with the others in your life as well.

Vicious cycle of abuse

Being raised with constant criticism and hostility often leads a person to grow up doubting his or her own value and need to be respected. That is why it is so hard to leave an abuser. Raised in an atmosphere of abuse, you wonder whether you deserve the mistreatment or whether you are simply “sensitive” and over-reacting if you cut the perpetrator out of your life. That self-doubt makes you a target for further abuse—by your father, your sister, other people, and even yourself.

Your father continues to be manipulative, selfish, demanding and demeaning, and does not consider what is best for you. Unfortunately, when you have such a parent, it is more difficult to learn to value your own health and wellbeing. Now is the time to do so.

Misplaced guilt

The root of your guilty feelings appears to have little to do with what is best for your emotional and physical welfare. You probably learned to be accommodating as a way to handle the abuse targeted at you. Standing up for yourself probably would have incurred increased hostility. So you learned to become compliant as a defense against further abuse. You may also be subconsciously still seeking the love, acceptance, and protection you did not receive in your childhood.

It is this misplaced guilt and a subconscious desire for parental love that is hurting you now. I think it’s time to set aside your guilt and listen to your inner voice that wants to protect you. You must not allow that inner voice to be drowned out by the voices of your father, your sister and others who have not witnessed your very personal abuse at the hands of your father.

Setting boundaries guilt-free

It is clear from what you say that you need to set boundaries in your life. Where you set those boundaries is up to you. Just don’t let guilt be your guide.

You may want to avoid all contact with your father. Or you may want to send an occasional card. Or you could make a phone call and be direct: “Don’t suggest my taking care of you. As a young girl, I felt scared and anxious around you because you criticized me, shouted at me and hit me. As a result, I can’t be with you. I am simply not available.”

Whether you ever talk to your father again, have limited contact, or confront him openly, the most important step for you is to own the fact that you will not subject yourself to any more abuse from him or from others. You do not need the approval or understanding of your sister or others. Ironically, not until you stop hoping that those who disagree will support you, will they probably stop giving you hard time, and with time they may come to respect you for it.

If your sister or others ask you why you don’t visit your father, simply say, “My experience with him was very different from yours,” and leave it at that. Avoid arguing about the facts and getting into the weeds. Do not let them put you on the defensive.

Eventually, you may learn to understand that your father was incapable of being loving and that his abuse was an unconscious response to his own failures, fears and complexes – not yours. You may even forgive him.Yet understanding and forgiveness do not entail subjecting yourself to further abuse.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Rebuilding your Life: ‘How do I silence their abusive voices in my head, stop being hard on myself and start living?’”

Read “Abusive emails from an ex: ‘I keep defending myself against never-ending false, accusatory emails from my ex-husband, because I want to stay on good terms.’”

Read “Ending an Abusive Relationship: ‘I feel guilty leaving my abusive partner, because I have compassion for him.’”

Guest Sam Vaknin: “Is My Child a Budding Psychopath?” Don’t Let Them Pathologize Your Child! Conduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder

"Roar" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Roar” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Guest Author Sam Vaknin writes:

If you are a rebellious child or teenager and you have not been diagnosed with Conduct Disorder, you are still at risk of being labelled and pathologized. The DSM informs us that “The essential feature of Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a recurrent pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior towards authority figures that persists for at least 6 months.”

Unbelievable as this Orwellian, Big Brother text is – it gets worse. If you are under 18 years old and you lose your temper, argue with adults, actively “defy or refuse to comply with the requests or rules of adults”, deliberately do things that annoy said adults, blame others for your mistakes or misbehavior – then unquestionably you are a sick little puppy. And who is to make these value judgements? An adult psychologist or psychiatrist or social worker or therapist. And what if you disagree with these authorities? They get annoyed and this is proof positive that you are afflicted with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Did anyone mention catch-22?

And the charade continues, masquerading as “science”. If you are touchy or get easily annoyed (for instance by the half-baked diagnoses rendered by certain mental health practitioners), you are ODD (i.e., you suffer from Oppositional Defiant Disorder).You are allowed to be touchy when you are an adult – it is then called assertiveness. You are allowed to get pissed off when you are above the crucial (though utterly arbitrary) age limit. Then it is called “expressing your emotions”, which is by and large a good thing. So tell us the charlatans that call themselves mental health ‘professionals’ (as though psychology is an exact science, not merely an elaborate literary exercise).

The DSM, this manual of the Potemkin science known as clinical psychology, continues to enlighten us:

If you are habitually angry and resentful, spiteful or vindictive and these traits impair your “normal” social, academic, or occupational functioning (whatever “normal” means in today’s pluralistic and anomic culture), beware: you may be harbouring Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). It is not clear what the DSM means by ‘occupational’ when Oppositional Defiant Disorder typically applies to primary school age children. Perhaps we will find out in the DSM V.

“The behaviors must occur more frequently than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and developmental level.” – the DSM helpfully elaborates. If the child is psychotic or suffers from a mood disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder should not be diagnosed.

Why am I bothering you with this tripe? Because the DSM is ominously clear:

“The diagnosis is not made if … criteria are met for Conduct Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder (in an individual above the age of 18).”

Get this straight: if you are above the age of 18 and you are stubborn, resistant to directions, “unwilling to compromise, give in, or negotiate with adults and peers”, ignore orders, argue, fail to accept blame for misdeeds, and deliberately annoy others – you stand a good chance of being “diagnosed” as a psychopath.

Let us hope that the “scholars” of the DSM VI Committee have the good sense to remove this blatant tool of social control from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. But don’t count on it and don’t argue with them if they don’t. They may diagnose you with something.

Children and adolescents with conduct disorder are budding psychopaths. They repeatedly and deliberately (and joyfully) violate the rights of others and breach age-appropriate social norms and rules. Some of them gleefully hurt and torture people or, more frequently, animals. Others damage property. Yet others habitually deceive, lie, and steal. These behaviors inevitably render them socially, occupationally, and academically dysfunctional. They are poor performers at home, in school, and in the community. As such adolescents grow up, and beyond the age of 18, the diagnosis automatically changes from Conduct Disorder to the Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Children with Conduct Disorder are in denial. They tend to minimize their problems and blame others for their misbehavior and failures. This shifting of guilt justifies, as far as they are concerned, their invariably and pervasively aggressive, bullying, intimidating, and menacing gestures and tantrums. Adolescents with Conduct Disorder are often embroiled in fights, both verbal and physical. They frequently use weapons, purchased or improvised (e.g., broken glass) and they are cruel. Many underage muggers, extortionists, purse-snatchers, rapists, robbers, shoplifters, burglars, arsonists, vandals, and animal torturers are diagnosed with Conduct Disorder.

Conduct Disorder comes in many shapes and forms. Some adolescents are “cerebral” rather than physical. These are likely to act as con-artists, lie their way out of awkward situations, swindle everyone, their parents and teachers included, and forge documents to erase debts or obtain material benefits.

Conduct-disordered children and adolescent find it difficult to abide by any rules and to honor agreements. They regard societal norms as onerous impositions. They stay late at night, run from home, are truant from school, or absent from work without good cause. Some adolescents with Conduct Disorder have been also diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and at least one personality disorder.
===================================

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site.


Inquisitive Parent: “My dad asks too many questions. Why is he so nosy?”

"Take Off"—Blue Angels by Mimi Stuart© Live the Life you Desire

“Take Off”—Blue Angels by Mimi Stuart ©

It’s normal for parents to want to connect with their kids. Asking questions or wanting to give advice may be the way they attempt to connect with them.

It’s almost always best not to become reactive, angry or recalcitrant, particularly when your parent is well-intentioned. Instead, try to preempt your dad by finding a way to make that connection without having to answer questions that you don’t feel like answering.

You could find a way to approach him first. Have a few questions ready for him. For example, ask him about his youth, early jobs, school, friends, difficulties, challenges, movies, books, where he got his political leanings etc. before he gets a chance to ask you too much.

When he asks you something, give a brief answer without getting defensive, and then say, “What about you, Dad, when did you go on your first date?” You might not be very curious, but it will take the focus off of you, and the answer could be interesting.

You could also disclose some information about yourself that you don’t mind disclosing before he starts asking questions. Talk about an event at school, at work or in the news. If you make the effort to connect and converse on your terms, he may not be as interested in inquiring about the private details of your life.

If you persist in keeping everything completely private, that will only provoke his interest. For instance, if you never mention anything about whom you’re dating, he will be more interested than if you give him just the basic information in a nonchalant tone of voice.

The best defense is a good offense, although in this case we’re not talking about a fight, but about an attempt to make a human connection.

One day if you have kids, you too may stumble a bit in trying to make a connection.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Too Much Attachment: ‘Honey, you’re so smart and talented!’”

Read “Dreading intrusive questions at family gatherings: ‘It’s none of your business!’”

“I worry a lot over my adult children and I often call them to give advice.”

"Tempest" by Mimi Stuart ©  Live the Life you Desire

“Tempest” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Fear is an important emotion that signals there is potential danger. Being aware of danger makes it possible for us to protect ourselves and others from jeopardy.

Worry

Worry, however, is an ineffective state of anxiety where we repeatedly imagine all sorts of negative possibilities. Once our children are young adults and off to college or work, worry on our part degrades the quality of our lives rather than helps our children. While unfortunate things do happen, there is a point where worrying about our children doesn’t help and in fact sometimes can make things worse.

Too much warning

When you continually warn your adult children of all the dangers in the world, it often causes them to be less careful. Even with young children you should make sure not to be overly anxious or you will lose credibility with them. Moreover, you will annoy them by infantilizing them and implying that that they are not capable of thinking on their own.

Imagine being a child. If an adult is constantly warning you of danger, you don’t take on responsibility and accountability for looking for those dangers yourself. Moreover, you soon see the warnings as being exaggerated. So the reckless part of you wants to act out. The degree to which someone focuses on telling you to be careful is the degree to which you will either become overly fearful or overly reckless, and sometimes ironically both.

Learning to evaluate risk

The best way to learn to evaluate risk is by having many experiences of evaluating risk, and sometimes making mistakes and facing the consequences. When you know that you are accountable for yourself, you tend to put more effort into evaluating situations and making decisions.

Children need to be able to make mistakes, sometimes painful, within the context of a safe environment. Of course, small children need to be kept safe. Over time, however, parents should gradually allow their children more leeway to think about the choices they make. Certainly by the time their children become adults, parents are only cultivating codependence, resentment, and rebellion by inundating their children with lectures and warnings.

Thus, if you tend to worry and frequently give caution to your adult children or excessively give warning to your younger children, you need to take stock, gain some self-discipline and resist focusing on your children. If you rarely give advice, the advice you do give will be taken more seriously.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “I am overwhelmed by worry.”

Read “I fear something bad is going to happen. It feels like the end of the world.”

Read “I found out my daughter has cancer. All I can do is cry and worry.”

Grit: “You’re absolutely amazing Honey!”

Indomitable Spirit, Apa SherpaIt turns out the greatest indicator of success is not IQ, family wealth, good looks, or artificially-induced “self-esteem,” but something Angela Lee Duckworth calls “grit,” which is the ability to persevere at working hard despite the failures and challenges that confront us on a daily basis.

Imagine being a child whose parents’ ongoing commentary is, “You’re so smart. Look what you’ve done! You are amazing!” At first, such adulation might make you feel good, particularly when you’re two years old. Pretty soon, however, you realize that others are as smart or smarter than you and you begin doubting your parents. You fear being found out, which often leads to a lack of motivation. You unconsciously fear that any aspiration might lead to disappointment and embarrassment when you are found to be lacking your parents’ high assessment and expectations.

“I better not try this new sport. I don’t want to look like a beginner.”

“I’m not going to study for this test. It’s too embarrassing If I study and do poorly. Instead I’ll point out how stupid the teacher is.”

“I’ll make it look like it’s my decision not to try. I would hate to appear average after trying.”

Now imagine being a child whose parents never give their approval and in fact spend most of their time criticizing you. It would make you feel angry, depressed and horrible about yourself. It might, however, lead you to try harder to win their approval. Yet if you do succeed in the outside world and even if you do eventually get their approval, you will still have that inner voice that never thinks you’re good enough. Again you live with a fear of being found to be inadequate because no matter what external success you achieve, you can’t get rid of the feeling that you are inferior. Living with an inner critic that says you’re worthless is a painful way to go through life.

What kind of parenting then is likely to foster your children’s grit and not leave them with a tyrannical inner critic? Inborn personality traits and genetics do influence how a particular child grows and develops in a particular environment. In general, however, a child is likely to develop self-motivation, healthy self-esteem, and an ability to persevere through frustration and failure under the following conditions:

1. The parent does not excessively judge the child in a negative manner, particularly in a general way, “That’s terrible. You’re lazy. You’ll never get it right.”

2. The parent does not lavish implausible praise upon the child, particularly in a general way, “That’s amazing. You’re fantastic. You’re the best, the smartest, the best-looking.”

3. The parent does give occasional specific constructive guidance. “Try moving your arm like this when you throw the ball.” “Maybe you want to try this,” or “Approach it this way.”

4. The parent does give specific statements of approval on occasion, such as “It looks like you worked hard for those good grades.” “That color blue gives the painting a feeling of peace.” “I enjoyed listening to your speech.” Note that if approval occurs twenty times a day, it will feel as though the parent is trying to boost the child’s self-esteem. The child will infer from this that the parent thinks the child needs such boosting because the parent thinks he or she is inadequate. In other words, constant efforts to give approval backfire.

5. The family appreciates hard work more than natural talent. “I appreciate the time you spent helping me.” “I admire your persistence.”

6. When there’s a setback or failure, the parent does not over-react either negatively or positively. For example, the parent does not say, “Oh no. I knew this would happen! You should have studied harder!” Or “Don’t worry honey, you really are the best. I’ll help you next time.” Instead the parent remains neutral and caring, but not over-involved. “I’m sure you will figure out what you need to do to make it work.”

7. Most importantly, the child grows up with a belief that effort and practice lead to improvement, rather than with a belief that the IQ and talents you’re born with are fixed. Simply learning about current research on the neuro-plasticity of our brain encourages a growth mind-set, which, in turn, is proven to promote hard work and self-motivation.

Self-motivation, self-control and self-possession are key to developing courage and grit. A person loses motivation when others push too much, get too involved or overreact. The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand, as Vince Lombardi, the great football coach, has put it. Ultimately, failure and being undeterred by failure are prerequisites to success in life, for Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts. ~Winston Churchill.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Seeking approval: ‘Why doesn’t my father appreciate me and all that I have accomplished?’”

Watch “Authoritarian vs Permissive Parenting.”

Read Guest Author SAM VAKNIN, PhD: “Can’t Get My Mother’s Voice Out of My Head!”

“Here’s a cookie. Now stop fussing.”

"'Kayab'" The Mayan Collection by Mimi Stuart ©  Live the Life you Desire

“‘Kayab'” The Mayan Collection by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Some parents will try anything to stop a child’s fussiness or crying. These parents are often responding to their own anxiety more than the child’s urgent situation and real need.

Infants, of course, should be looked after immediately when they cry because there probably is an urgent need. But over time, it’s best to allow the child to start handling his or her own anxiety without rushing in with a quick fix.

One of the most important skills in dealing with life challenges is learning to handle one’s own discomfort in the face of anxiety. If children are given sweets or drinks whenever they are fussy, they are encouraged to use their emotions to manipulate others to get something. They are also prevented from learning to soothe themselves when they feel anxious.

They are being trained to use food or drink to soothe their anxiety. People who as children have always been distracted by food or drink when they’re upset have been neurologically hard wired to seek food, drink or attention the moment they feel anxious.

People learn to deal with apprehension and unfamiliar circumstances in early childhood. Anxiety is simply a physical state of increased attentiveness in the face of an unknown situation. Anything new or unknown in life provokes some anxiety. So if children don’t learn to deal with anxiety without having to consume something, they may end up consuming a lot more than is healthy for them.

When your child is fussy, and not in danger, pain, or real need, you should remain relaxed and calm. Actually, it’s usually helpful to remain calm. Having the demeanor of a good pilot or nurse, the parent’s attitude should be one that conveys to the child “Don’t worry, everything will be okay. You’ll figure it out. Be patient and you’ll be fine.”

This is not to say that parents shouldn’t respond to their children’s real needs. But they should not rush to the rescue with cream-puffs and root beer as a way to deal with the child’s discomfort. The more children experience new situations without reaching for a pacifier or cookie, the more confident they will feel in the face of challenges in the future. This means that it’s important for parents to learn to deal with their anxiety as well.

Research shows that those who are able to defer gratification are much more successful in life. Check out The Marshmallow Experiment.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read  “Too Much Attachment:  ‘Honey, you’re so smart and talented!’”

Read  “Good-enough Parenting:  ‘I feel so bad when I let my children down.’”

Read “Overfunctioning and underfunctioning:  ‘If I don’t take care of things, nothing will ever get done.’”