Mental illness can be damaging to others, especially to a person’s friends and family. However, an often ignored fact is that many mental disorders are maintained and even caused by family members. Due to rapid development in the brain throughout childhood, the mind is especially susceptible to trauma and the development of negative cognitive patterns that can develop into mental health problems and addiction later on. Because of this, many parents inadvertently instill negative behaviors in their kids, often times modeled after unhealthy ones they learned from their own parents.
Many adolescents and adults still are unsure about what they want to spend their life doing, young kids are still very much in the process of exploration, incredibly far away from developing long term motivations and goals. One of the most common ways parents cause psychological damage to their kids unbeknownst to them is by expecting them to share their interests. Many parents fall into the trap of projecting past goals and desires onto their children, using them to live vicariously in a sort of psychological second chance.
Projecting unfulfilled dreams and emotional inconsideration
If a child happens to develop a passion that was the same as their parents, then the parent has all the more to talk to them about; however, pushing one’s old hobbies on their kids is not only forcing them to do something that they most likely do not find enjoyable, but you are depriving them of spending that time trying another activity that may resonate with them better. Most of us do not accomplish our childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut or a sports star – practicing psychotherapeutic techniques can help parents let go of their unfulfilled dreams, reducing the chance that they will simply channel them to their children.
Similarly to projecting past dreams on kids are parents’ tendency to punish independence or separation. It is easy to forget that kids are people that need their own space to observe and develop their own opinions, especially when they are at a young age. Never allowing your child to leave your side or dismissing them whenever they are upset is essentially giving them a crash course on how to unhealthily repress emotions far into adulthood. Most parents think they are hardening their kids by taking a tough stance with them (by being dismissive, contrarian, condescending, etc.) when they show negative emotions. However, they do not realize that their child is not so much venting their own problems as they are looking to them for emotional support. Essentially letting them know that you do not find their feelings valid or worth your time, or even worse, growing upset at the annoyance yourself, is a surefire way to pass on those negative interactional patterns to the kid and their children.
Another habit that is emotionally inconsiderate are parents’ tendencies to use their children as a one way emotional outlet à la a pet. Children are already emotionally unstable enough, and are not equipped to offer effective social support for their parents’ issues. Not only may this reduce your child’s faith in your ability to provide them emotional support (resulting in them becoming more closed off), it can teach them that constant venting on people without expecting any real conversation out of them is a positive thing to do. Conversely, trying to be too stoic can deprive kids of emotional support and teach them that showing emotions is weak, a notion that plays a considerable role in half the country’s mental health issues going untreated and the $300 billion in damage they cost the country each year.
Arguing with the other parent and being overly involved
Another great way to pass on the negative interactional patterns we learned from our parents is to argue or fight with the other parent in front of the child. Withholding affection, being overly critical or hurtful, screaming a fair amount and constantly threatening to break up will do wonders for your child’s anxiety levels and the way they treat their partners in the future. Also, remaining bitter or blaming after a divorce are effective strategies for teaching kids how to maintain grudges for years and let bitterness affect the rest of their family.
Being overly involved is also a dangerous idea, reducing the child’s alone time and independence and instilling unneeded pressure. Many parents habitually remind their kids of how much of a reflection on them they are – this is not only selfish but bordering on reckless behavior. Reminding them that you will withhold emotional support upon failure to meet their image standards lays the groundwork for inadequacy issues in the child as well as possibly controlling, egotistical behavior in adulthood.
A way of avoiding this can be to focus on setting more consistent rules and goals for the child. Demanding and expecting are negative emotions that often result in more negativity; hoping and being supportive are more positive ways of getting your child to perform to your standards. At Sovereign Health, our team of expert staff is very familiar with the role that parents play in the development of mental disorders, offering family therapies in addition to individual and group modalities. If you have any questions, feel free to browse the reviews section of our site or contact us today.
Written by Chase Beckwith, Sovereign Health Group writer