“It’s not so easy to just move forward if you are held back by psychological symptoms you don’t understand” ….PDAN Facebook Post

 

I am one of several administrators for a wonderful Facebook Page called PDAN, which stands for Personality Disorders Awareness Network.  It was set up to provide a forum for people who are diagnosed with personality disorders and the people who love them, to share experiences, information, and offer support to one another. It is an amazing page which seems to be growing exponentially in size. It currently has 56,000 followers, and that number increases every day.

Recently, I posted a link to the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire (The ENQ) on the site. I was interested to see that the post received dozens of comments, many of them quite passionate. The comments ranged:

From:

“Bull —-. Yes to all- and know for a fact that I do not have “CEN” Not everything can or should be blamed on how one “grew up”!”

And:

“Bullcrap you did it because you were neglected or abused. Or it’s my parents fault. Thththttth Bull—-! There is only so much you can teach a child, you teach them right from wrong and as much as you try to influence them they will still make their own decisions. A saying I like the most is: You show them the options and what the consequences might be and they are going to open the door that they want. So it is their choice. Whether right or wrong they know the consequences. I don’t feel sorry or feel like a bad friend, sibling, parent, guardian or teacher. I myself had a crappy childhood but grew up knowing right from wrong and have been successful in my life. When things where tough I didn’t blame who raised me. I consciously made a bad decision, dealt with the consequences and learned from my mistakes. Taught my children and now they make their own decisions. Good or bad I love them and they don’t blame mom or dad because they know that they made their own decisions based on what they knew and accepted the fact and learned themselves.”

To:

“I answered yes to 20 of them it does help to know why I feel this way. I’m going to talk to my doctor this week”

And:

“So basically it’s our decision that we grew up neglected and abused. Bull crap to you. Some of us are so damaged from our childhoods that the psychological fears and phobias keep us from moving forward. Yes we can blame our parents if they abused us. Parents have a choice to have kids or not to. You need love to move forward and it’s hard to receive when you are so damaged. It’s not so easy to just move forward if you are held by back by psychological symptoms you don’t understand. It’s interesting that some parents on here have said they’ve shown kids right from wrong. My adoptive mother will insist I had the best possible upbringing. That I just have some illness that descended from nowhere. Denial it’s called.”

This exchange points to one of the biggest barriers I have encountered in my efforts to bring the concept of Childhood Emotional Neglect to more people: the discomfort of blaming the parents.

Despite the overwhelming body of research proving it, many people strongly resist the fact that their parents’ treatment of them in childhood had a profound effect upon who they became as adults. It is uncomfortable to blame our parents for the problems and issues that we experience in adulthood. It feels like letting ourselves off the hook. Some people consider it “whining.”

Here is a section copied almost exactly from the “For The Therapist” chapter of my book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect:

“In my psychology practice, I have found that many, if not most clients are very uncomfortable with the notion that their parents had such a powerful effect on them. Perhaps acknowledging the incredible power of parents is inherently threatening to us all. If we understand the true impact that our parents had on us, we may feel ourselves alone, disempowered, or even victimized, all of which are profoundly uncomfortable. If we understand the true impact that we have, as parents, upon our own children, we may feel terrified or guilty. So, as a people, we lean more toward blaming ourselves for our own issues, and underplaying the impact which we have on our children.”

As a psychologist, a parent and a daughter, I truly understand this discomfort on multiple levels. The concept of blame weighs heavily upon us all. If we blame our parents, then perhaps we will feel less burden of blame upon ourselves. But is this a way of letting ourselves off the hook for taking responsibility for our own choices and behavior as adults? And won’t we then have to feel guilty, and take the blame for how we have parented our own children? It is a Win/Lose situation at best; and a Lose/Lose situation at worst.

So what is the answer? Who is to blame for our adult struggles? Who is to blame for our own mistakes and problems? Do our parents get a free pass? What if our parents were well-meaning? What if we have made mistakes with our own children? Who is to blame for that? What is the answer?

Fortunately, there is an answer to this dilemma. And it is free and available to anyone who is willing to embrace it. The answer is:

Remove blame from the equation. Instead, focus upon understanding your parents’ effects upon you and taking accountability for your own decisions, mistakes and choices.

Blame is actually quite a useless concept. It is a road that takes you directly to The Intersection of Burden and Guilt. Blame is not healing and it is not helpful.

However, it is worthwhile to try to understand how your childhood affects you. Understanding is a road to somewhere good: The Corner of Growth and Change. Understanding how your parents failed you, how they mistreated you, ignored you, or simply made mistakes when raising you, will help you understand why you have the struggles and issues that you have. Understanding is crucial to being able to have compassion for yourself as a child and as an adult, and to conquering those issues and struggles. You can have an understanding of how your parents’ mistakes affected or hurt you without going down that Blame Road to Nowhere.

Once you understand how your childhood affected you, you are freed up to hold yourself accountable as an adult. You, the adult, are responsible for your own decisions, mistakes, and choices. Own them. Be accountable for them. Learn from them, and move forward. No blame or guilt necessary.

I think that we would all be much healthier and happier if we would let go of this obsession with blame, realize that yes, each and every human being has a childhood living within him which has a profound effect upon who he is as an adult. Understanding your childhood does not absolve you of responsibility for your adult life. Instead, it frees you up to take responsibility for your adult life.

Yes, there are complex interactions between genetics, environment and parenting which are yet to be discovered. But the true power of parents is not one of them. It is a known, highly studied and highly proven fact. And the better we embrace it and use it to our advantage, with a focus on understanding and accountability and less on blame, the happier and healthier we will be.