Why Parents Must Let Go

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The messages we get from our parents as we grow up determine the way we see the world as an adult. If all things go well, we grow up to be independent with a secure attachment to the family base. However, when dysfunction happens, we become locked in a cycle of codependency that ties us forever to what we had and should have left behind. This has an impact on our self esteem, our relationships and our view of the world around us and is very hard to change without professional help. Let me give you an example :

In a case I know, the mother was very direct with punishment. There was shouting, occasional spanking and punishment was administered immediately. While this is still a parenting style that is less than appropriate, the children knew exactly where they stood with this parent. Consequently, the relationship between the adult children and the mother is exactly that…matter of fact, emotionally cold and one dimensional. Take on the other hand, the style adopted by the father. He was not heavy-handed, never spanked but used the term “you have disappointed me” frequently as an aftermath to the punishment administered by the mother. Imagine the effect this has had on the children. Two vastly different approaches but with the same end in mind..you have to please me and fulfill my wishes.  The result is a codependent bond with the father who stills uses subtle messages to control his adult children, leaving them to fill in the gaps. They are as dependent on him now as they were as young children. He is the “king of the castle” who controls everything and everyone around him (surely a sign of his own insecurities). The son has moved away but just close enough for dependence to happen and daughter is in a never ending spiral of trying to please a perfectionist father who gives the message that everything she does is not quite good enough. This has cost her the chance at happiness and will only really find it when someone comes along who is strong enough to help her break this bond or someone weak enough to fall in line with the father and be controlled as well.

This example tells us that not only the effects of direct punitive punishment can be damaging. If you do not directly communicate with your child in a functional way, show them clear, safe boundaries and “coach” them through in securely attached way, you will be doing as much damage to them as if you constantly took the belt to them. I empathize deeply with the family in this story, especially the children who truly believe that they are independent. The facts, unfortunately tell a different story.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. songtothesirens

    I did not grow up in a functional home, in my opinion. My younger sister may think differently as she experienced the world in a very different way. In my family, my father was the one that doled out punishment such as spanking (which only happened to me three times, so I must have done something really wrong), but his forte was what I call “soul-shredding.” It went far beyond the “you disappointed me” into all out psychological warfare where opinions became facts, disappointment was the best you could do, and it didn’t matter how hard you tried, he was never pleased. Ever.

    I was in AP classes, the gifted program in our school system, made nothing but A’s with a B here and there, but I failed at playing the violin well, and that was what mattered. I was even on the honor roll, but that didn’t matter. He was very adept at latching on to the negative and ignoring the positive. If you criticize someone enough, they will come to believe they are nothing, and their existence is not worthwhile. I quit the violin when I was a sophomore in High school as it was an endless source of frustration to me. My father told me I’d regret it. Once again with the negative. For me, it was freedom. I have never had any regrets. I simply am not a musical person, however, my father can play about five different instruments well. I am the academic, not the music type. I would much rather write an essay or research paper than play an instrument. And, I am good at writing, and still good at math. If it is academic, for the most part, I will excel.

    Needless to say, my relationship with my father is very much like the one you describe in your post. I am still trying to please him, even in adulthood. Things became more strained when I was diagnosed with Bipolar type I with psychotic features and PTSD along with a couple of other anxiety issues. I have often wondered where all of my anxiety came from. It has been around since I was a child (along with a tendency towards depression) and in writing this novel of a comment, I think I have figured it out. The anxiety came from always trying to please, and failing nearly every time. Hmmm…..interesting. I hadn’t thought of that before.

    Anyway, excellent post on functional vs. dysfunctional ways of relating to your children and how it affects them into adulthood. Thanks for posting it. Apparently it hit home 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment. I can only hope for you that one day you can break the chain, so to say. I have seen at first hand the example I gave in the text as I know the daughter concerned well. The unfortunate thing is that she doesn’t see the control placed over her. Her father is a narcissist under any definition of the word and she has constantly sacrificed everything to finally win his approval (unsuccessfully). She just does have the strength to stand up to him or set healthy boundaries around his behavior. It is a sad sight.

      1. songtothesirens

        My father is also a Narcissist. I did finally blow a fuse, so to speak, when he described Bipolar disorder as a “life choice.” I wrote him back that soaking my brain in psychotropic medication and living with constantly changing mood states was by no means a “life choice.” Then he got two emails describing exactly how I experience the world. Now, we are pen pals in a way. Writing letters back and forth seems one way to have a relationship with him at a distance. I do not do narcissism well.

        I hope the daughter in your post finds a way to stand up to her father and set those boundaries that are so necessary for good health when dealing with a narcissistic parent. The problem is that they never will be pleased, no matter how hard one tries. It is a hard thing to do, especially when your life has revolved around trying to please someone to learn how to let them go.

        For me, it came in the form of anger about a misguided comment. That’s when I detached, realized that no matter how hard I try, I never will get the approval that I spent my life seeking. I know he loves me, and only wanted the best for me. It was, however, because I was his first child, and his prodigy and the way I was reflected negatively on him, and he couldn’t have that. Henceforth, the estrangement which is some ways is healthier.

        Perhaps, someday she’ll hit a point where she realizes that she can’t please him because, in my experience, narcissists can’t be pleased, and that she’s fighting a losing battle. I really hope she does because she will be happier and mentally healthier in the long run even if the short run seems unbearable.

    2. She has to see it herself first. at this very moment, her father is everything and she cannot see what is really happening. She has recently just separated from her husband of four years. I suspect that this was half down to the disapproval from the father and the wish for him to become a surrogate father to her child without the influence of “outside” sources. In my opinion, it will take something special as in your case for her to see the light.

      1. songtothesirens

        That’s interesting that she has separated from her spouse. I divorced my spouse of four years about a year ago. I think that experience really helped me redefine myself as I was now on my own again.

        For me, enlightenment came in the form of anger at how insensitive his remark regarding Bipolar disorder was. I didn’t think he could be that cold. I have worked very hard to not identify myself with my “illness” (hate that word). I have read books, scientific studies, pretty much anything I thought had merit when it came to my diagnosis. That knowledge is empowering.

        Book suggestion for her if she hasn’t read it already; “People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck, M.D. I read it a few years ago at the request of my therapist when I was really struggling with my father’s “illness,” and it helped me to better understand him and others in my life who were also narcissistic. You cannot wage a battle against that which you do not understand.

      2. Dr. Nicholas Jenner

        Thank you..I know this book and will pass on the recommendation

      3. songtothesirens

        Good, I am glad you know of this book. It is a little dry but well worth the time.

  2. Rebecca

    While I agree parents have a strong influence on their children, they do not determine their children’s world view. I grew up in a lot of turmoil. But there came a time, I realized I was responsible for myself. Let’s quite blaming others for our own problems.

    1. Of course you are right but by the time they are old enough to choose, the damage is usually already done. We are not talking blame here. Of course, adults are reponsible for how they see the world and what happens in it. However, when children are in a state of dependency, it is the parents responsibility to ensure they grow up in a functional way. The situation I described is not an ‘own’problem she created. She was subjected to a dysfunctional parenting style which has left her with codependent issues. Yes, she should noe deal with it but she had no chance as a child.

  3. mckarlie

    This is a great post! I had a dysfunctional childhood and as a result have pledged to be a better parent to my children but as they get older I have begun to fret their impending exit from my home into the big bad world. I have to remember that if I do my job right, they WILL leave me, but they will always come back sooner or later. Ultimately I can’t be selfish and wish for my children to stay close to me, as much as I never want them to leave me I want them to have incredible lives and be incredible functional people. Thanks for reminding me of the true goal 🙂

    1. This is exactly what didnt happen in the example in the text. Being a narcissist, the father’s wishes were put above all others.

      1. mckarlie

        It would be easy for a parent to convince themselves that this is in fact a selfless act on their part because it feels like love, keeping your children close to you can be rationalized as a loving act and therefore I would suppose this occurs incredibly often. The only thing that trumps my want to keep my children close is my need for them to have amazing lives, and that means they have to leave and do things for themselves. But I’ll (within human reason) always be available