The Association Between Child Abuse, Trauma and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

childhood_trauma_and_early_signs_of_psychosis

‘Character depends essentially on whether a person is given love, protection, tenderness and understanding during the formative years or is exposed to rejection, coldness, indifference and cruelty.’

Alice Miller.


THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN CHILDHOOD ABUSE, TRAUMA AND BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER.

Many research studies have shown that individuals who have suffered childhood abuse, trauma and/or neglect are very considerably more likely to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) as adults than those who were fortunate enough to have experienced a relatively stable childhood.

it is thought marilyn munroe suffered from BPD

It is thought Marilyn Monroe suffered from BPD

Kurt Cobain bpd
Did Kurt Cobain Suffer From BPD?

 

WHAT IS BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER (BPD)?

 

BPD sufferers experience a range of symptoms which are split into 9 categories. These are:

1) Extreme swings in emotions
2) Explosive anger
3) Intense fear of rejection/abandonment sometimes leading to frantic efforts to maintain a relationship
4) Impulsiveness
5) Self-harm
6) Unstable self-concept (not really knowing ‘who one is’)
7) Chronic feelings of ’emptiness’ (often leading to excessive drinking/eating etc ‘to fill the vacuum’)
8) Dissociation ( a feeling of being ‘disconnected from reality’)
9) Intense and highly volatile relationships

For a diagnosis of BPD to be given, the individual needs to suffer from at least 5 of the above.

frequently rejected in childhood, BPD sufferers live in terror of abandoment

frequently rejected in childhood, BPD sufferers live in terror of abandonment

A person’s childhood experiences has an enormous effect on his/her mental health in adult life. How parents treat their children is, therefore, of paramount importance.

BPD is an even more likely outcome, if, as well as suffering trauma through invidious parenting, the individual also has a BIOLOGICAL VULNERABILITY.

In relation to an individual’s childhood, research suggests that the 3 major risk factors are:

– trauma/abuse
– damaging parenting styles
– early separation or loss (eg due to parental divorce or the death of the parent/s)

Of course, more than one of these can befall the child. Indeed, in my own case, I was unlucky enough to be affected by all three. And, given my mother was highly unstable, it is very likely I also inherited a biological/genetic vulnerability.

 

EXAMPLES OF DAMAGING PARENTING STYLES:

 

1) Dysfunctional and disorganized – this can occur when there is a high level of marital discord or conflict. It is important, here, to point out that even if parents attempt to hide their disharmony, children are still likely to be adversely affected as they tend to pick up on subtle signs of tension.

Chaotic environments can also impact very badly on children. Examples are:

– constant house moves
– parental alcoholism/illicit drug use
– parental mental illness and instability/verbal aggression

 

2) Emotional invalidation. Examples include:

– a parent telling their child they wish he/she could be more like his/her brother/sister/cousin etc.
– a parent telling the child he is ‘just like his father’ (meant disparagingly). This invalidates the child’s unique identity.
– telling a child s/he shouldn’t be upset/crying over something, therefore invalidating the child’s reaction and implying the child’s having such feelings is inappropriate.
– telling the child he/she is exaggerating about how bad something is. Again, this invalidates the child’s perception of how something is adversely affecting him/her.
– a parent telling a child to stop feeling sorry for him/herself and think about good things instead. Again, this invalidates the child’s sadness and encourages him/her to suppress emotions.

Invalidation of a child’s emotions, and undermining the authenticity of their feelings, can lead the child to start demonstrating his/her emotions in a very extreme way in order to gain the recognition he/she previously failed to elicit.

 

3) Child trauma and child abuse – people with BPD have very frequently been abused. However, not all children who are abused develop BPD due to having a biological/genetic RESILIENCE and/or having good emotional support and validation in other areas of their lives (eg at school or through a counselor).

Trauma inflicted by a family member has been shown by research to have a greater adverse impact on the child than abuse by a stranger. Also, as would be expected, the longer the traumatic situation lasts, the more likely it is that the child will develop BPD in adult life.

 

4) Separation and loss – here, the trauma is caused, in large part, due to the child’s bonding process development being disrupted. Children who suffer this are much more likely to become anxious and develop ATTACHMENT DISORDERS as adults which can disrupt adult relationships and cause the sufferer to have an intense fear of abandoment in adult life. They may, too, become very ‘clingy’, fearful of relationships, or a distressing mixture of the two.

This site examines possible therapeutic interventions for BPD and ways the BPD sufferer can help himself or herself to reduce BPD symptoms.

Resources:

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Healthy Guilt Versus Unhealthy Guilt

healthy guilt versus unhealthy guilt

Like all emotions, feelings of guilt evolved in humans for their ‘survival value.’ However, feeling guilty is (at minimum) an unpleasant sensation so what ‘survival value’, or, to put it simply, benefits, does the emotion bring?

The answer to this question is that healthy feelings of guilt motivate us to preserve our personal standards/morality/ethics which, in turn, makes our relationships with others more likely to thrive (e.g. our conscience makes it less likely we will treat others badly and risk losing them as allies/friends).

However, feelings of guilt can also be unhealthy and affect our lives adversely. Those of us who have suffered significant childhood trauma are particularly likely to experience unhealthy guilt which, unfortunately, often persists into adulthood. I provide some examples of how feelings of unhealthy guilt may develop below :

– a child whose parents divorce may irrational blame him/herself for this divorce

– a child whose parent dies may irrationally feel guilty moving on with his/her own life

– a child whose mother suffers from depression may irrationally feel guilty enjoying him/herself

– a child who is perpetually criticized and treated negatively by his/her parents may develop deep seated and pervasive feelings of irrational guilt that are likely to persist into adulthood in the absence of effective therapy.

WHAT ARE THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF SUCH IRRATIONAL, UNHEALTHY GUILT?

  1. DISTRESS – this can range from the uncomfortable at one end of the spectrum to excruciating and paralyzing at the other.
  2. AN INABILITY PROPERLY TO FOCUS UPON ONE’S OWN NEEDS
  3. SELF-HATRED, EXTREMELY LOW SELF-ESTEEM, LACK OF CONFIDENCE
  4. FEELINGS OF SHAME – if we are made to feel guilty to a significant degree, and often enough, during childhood we can develop a constant, profound feeling of shame. [The difference between feelings of ‘guilt’ and feelings of ‘shame is that when we feel guilty we feel we’ve DONE something bad, but, when we feel shame, we feel that we ARE bad (i.e. intrinsically bad)]. Click here to read my article about How A Child’s View Of Their Own ‘Badness’ Is Perpetuated.
  5. POOR CONCENTRATION AND FOCUS (due to intrusive, guilt-ridden thoughts and ruminations)
  6. POOR PERFORMANCE AT SCHOOL OR WORK (linked to number 5, above)
  7. LOSS OF CAPACITY TO ENJOY LIFE / WON’T PERMIT ONESELF TO DO ENJOYABLE THINGS (due to feelings/beliefs along the lines of ‘I don’t deserve to be happy’ or ‘it would be morally wrong to enjoy myself’). Such feelings/beliefs can also be related to conscious or unconscious desires to punish oneself.

It can be seen, then, that, whilst ‘healthy guilt’ has benefits, ‘unhealthy guilt’ serves no beneficial purpose and is solely destructive.

THE LINK BETWEEN UNHEALTHY GUILT AND PSYCHIATRIC CONDITIONS :

Unhealthy guilt can be a symptom of certain psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Such guilt can be unremitting and overwhelming and, as such, should be treated by a relevantly qualified profession.

USEFUL LINK :

STRATEGIES FOR COPING WITH IRRATIONAL GUILT. Click here.

Self-hypnosis MP3/CD to help alleviate feelings of guilt and shame. Click here.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Physical Differences In Narcissists’ Brains

brain differences in narcissists

I have written elsewhere on this site articles about how being brought up by a narcissistic parent can be extremely traumatic for a child and can have life-long adverse effects on his/her emotional and behavioural functioning in the absence of effective therapeutic intervention.

I will quickly recap the list of the main symptoms of the disorder below :

 THE SYMPTOMS OF NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER :

– expect to be recognized as superior (even without any achievements to warrant this)

– exaggerated sense of own importance

– a tendency to exaggerate their achievements and talents

– belief of only being able to be understood by equally special people

– obsessed by fantasies of power/success/brilliance

– strong need to be constantly admired by others

– constant sense of entitlement

– expectation to be granted special favors

– expectations to always have wishes complied with by others

– exploitation of others for own ends

– unable or unwilling to acknowledge the needs of others / the feelings of others (lack of empathy)

– frequent envy of others

– frequent beliefs of being envied by others

– behaving in a high-handed, superior, arrogant and haughty manner

(Above list of symptoms adapted from the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, otherwise known as DSM -V).

 

WHAT ARE THE PHYSICAL BRAIN DIFFERENCES IN THOSE SUFFERING FROM NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER?

 

A study conducted by Ropke et al examined 34 individuals, 17 of whom had an official diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder; these 17 individuals had also, through testing, been found to be deficient in feelings of empathy (a main symptom of narcissistic personality disorder – see list of symptoms above).

Using a brain scanning technique known as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) it was found that the 17 individuals who had been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder had differences in the structure of a region of the brain called the cerebral cortex compared to the individuals in the control group (i.e. the individuals in the study who had NOT been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder).

The Cerebral Cortex :

 

WHAT WERE THE SPECIFIC BRAIN DIFFERENCES FOUND BY THE STUDY?

Specifically, the MRI scan revealed that those who had been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder had cerebral cortices (plural of cortex) that were thinner in the region responsible for producing feelings of compassion for others (known as the insular region) than the cerebral cortices of those in the control group.

This finding emphasizes the fact that those with narcissistic personality disorder require treatment rather than moral judgment.

Above eBook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

The Adversity Hypothesis : Posttraumatic Growth

the adversity hypothesis

‘He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.’

AESCHYLUS, AGAMEMNON 


The vast majority of studies examining the effects of trauma on the individual have concentrated on the negative effects such as depression, anxiety, phobias, flashbacks, nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and so on. However, more recently, an increasing number of studies have focused on how the experience of trauma may, in some ways, actually benefit us.

Indeed, the ADVERSITY HYPOTHESIS puts forward the proposal that adversity and suffering are necessary for optimum human development.

Closely linked to the adversity hypothesis is the concept of posttraumatic growth (PTG).

The theory of posttraumatic growth suggests that some individuals who undergo traumatic experiences find that they grow and develop as a person in beneficial ways once the trauma is over. These benefits often include :

  1. Discovering/developing strengths and abilities that weren’t apparent prior to the traumatic experience and becoming a more confident person as a result.
  2. Feeling stronger as a person in the knowledge one can survive great difficulty and suffering.
  3. Developing a greater appreciation of life once the trauma is over.
  4. Strengthening of pre-existing valuable and meaningful friendships/bonds/relationships (the colloquial expression ‘finding out who your real friends are’ is of relevance here).
  5. Gaining of a better perspective on life.
  6. Gaining insight into life’s priorities and what one really wants to do with it to make it fulfilling – often leading to decisive and positive life-change.
  7. Gaining a deeper insight into life in general leading to spiritual growth and development.

Indeed, there may well be other benefits, but the above list represents the main ones so far highlighted by the research carried out to date.

It is also worth noting that research carried out by Pennebaker (1990) suggests that if we are able to ‘make sense of’ our traumatic experiences in a way that is meaningful to us we are particularly likely to benefit from posttraumatic growth.

Also, research by Helgeson (2006) suggests that individuals are most likely to start to benefit from posttraumatic growth if their traumatic experiences ceased two years ago or more.

COPING PROCESS OR OUTCOME?

Whether posttraumatic growth represents an active coping process or is a more passive outcome of the experiencing of trauma (or, indeed,  is a combination of the two) is still a matter of debate amongst psychologists; notwithstanding this, not everyone who experiences trauma also experiences posttraumatic growth.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Does Your Personality Feel ‘Fragmented’?

Some people who experienced significant childhood disorder go on to develop dissociative identity disorder (DID) which causes the different aspects of the person’s personality to be poorly integrated and fragmented which leads to them operating relatively independently of one another.

These fragmented aspects of the personality are often simply referred to as ‘parts’ by psychologists who treat those suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID).

These parts are often in conflict with each other and may not accept or even acknowledge one another but, nevertheless, influence one another to some degree. They are NOT separate personalities (though may feel like they are) but different facets of the person’s personality which have failed to mesh smoothly together into a cohesive, cooperative, whole personality system.

These different parts of the personality vary according to the particular individual suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID) but usually have the same basic functions. According to the psychologist and expert in DID, Boon, a typical example of the fragmented parts the poorly integrated personality of person suffering from DID may be made up of are as follows :

   – the ‘daily functioning’ part
   – the ‘young’ part
   – the ‘helper’ part
   – the ‘angry’ part
   – the ‘ashamed’ part

Let’s briefly examine each of these five parts in turn :

The Daily Functioning Part:

This is often the main part of the personality that operates in order to allow one to function on a day-to-day basis.

The Young Part:

This part of the personality may be ‘stuck’ at stage of infant, toddler, child or adolescent. It contains traumatic memories and may experience feelings of dependence, intense need of protection, safety, security and comfort, distrust of others and extreme fear of abandonment and rejection.

This part may also be in conflict with other parts, which are repelled by its neediness and vulnerability.

The Helper Part :

This part attempts to sooth and calm the traumatized ‘inner child.’

The Angry Part :

This part developed at the time of the trauma for the purpose of self-defense and self-protection. Again, it is in conflict with other parts which find it unacceptable.

The Part That Imitates The Abuser :

This part behaves in similar ways to how one’s abuser used to behave towards one and often, like the ‘angry part’, expresses rage and hostility

The Ashamed Part :

This part comprises emotions and behaviours that the individual has labelled as ‘shameful’

NB It is theorized that these parts arose as a result of arrested emotional development and are -stuck in trauma-time.’

According to Boon, these relatively independent parts remain fragmented and dissociated as the they are in conflict with one another and some parts find other parts unacceptable.

The individual needs to come to an accommodation with each of these parts and empathize, in a self-compassionate way, with the reason why they developed (ie in response to early life trauma). Only then can these parts become reconciled with one another, amalgamated and healthily integrated into a cohesive personality and start to express themselves in helpful ways (prior to successful integration they can often generate unhelpful and self-destructive behaviours).

RELATED RESOURCES :

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

Prolonged Grief Disorder In Children And Adolescents

prolonged grief disorder in children and adolescents, PGD

Current research suggests that children who experience the death of a loved one may develop a syndrome known as prolonged grief disorder (PGD); this disorder used to be known as ‘complicated grief.’

What Are The Main Symptoms Of Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD)?

The main symptoms of PGD are as follows:

  • difficulty in accepting the reality of the death
  • a strong yearning for the deceased which disrupts everyday life
  • feelings of extreme bitterness/anger
  • detachment
  • persistent feelings of life being ’empty’ and ‘meaningless’
  • inability to trust others following the loss
  • problems with moving forward in life
  • emotional ‘deadness’/’numbness’
  • persistent feelings of being ‘stunned’ and ‘dazed’
  • a profound sense of loss devastating view of self, life in general and the future
  • daily functioning impaired for over six months from the date of the loss

Although research into PGD in children and adolescents is at an early stage, findings to date suggest that the adverse symptoms of the disorder are distinct from those of depression, anxiety and PTSD (although there is overlap) thus legitimizing the classification of PGD as a valid diagnosis in its own right.

In other words, it is currently thought that PGD in children and adolescents has symptoms in common with depression, anxiety and PTSD but is a distinct and separate disorder.

In What Way Does The Experience Of Grief In The Individual Suffering From PGD Differ From The Experience Of Non-Pathological (‘Normal’) Grief?

  •  it is more intense
  • it is more tenacious
  • it results in greater disruption of functioning and of day-to-day living
  • it reduces the bereaved individual’s sense of self-worth and value as an individual
  • it deeply undermines the bereaved individual’s faith that s/he will ever be able to experience happiness again
  • it causes greater feelings of insecurity / of being ‘unsafe’
  • it has a greater adverse effect on the bereaved individual’s sense of identity

What Puts A Young Person At Risk Of Developing PGD?

Research suggests that risk factors include the following:

  • the deceased is a parent or other relative with whom the child previously enjoyed a close emotional bond
  • the bereaved child/young person suffers from separation anxiety
  • the bereaved child/young person had an emotional dependence on the deceased
  • the death was unexpected and/or the child/young person did not have the opportunity to ’emotionally prepare’ for the death
  • the child/young person has controlling parents

Controversy :

Some schools of thought take issue with the diagnosis of PGD, arguing that grief is a normal human reaction/emotion and should not, therefore, be medicalized or pathologized (i.e. classified as a mental disorder). However, as the majority of those diagnosed with PGD can be helped by treatment it is clearly beneficial to these individuals that the diagnosis exists.

TREATMENT:

Research into effective treatments are at a relatively early stage but, currently, it suggests that a useful therapy is :

  • psychotherapy that has been specifically tailored to treat PGD. A useful link relating to this can be found by clicking here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

BPD, Object Relations Theory And Splitting.

BPD, object relations theory, splitting

The OBJECTS RELATIONS THEORY of borderline personality disorder was proposed by Kohut at the beginning of the 1970s and is a modern psychoanalytic theory.

Object Relations Theory states that BPD can be traced back to an individual’s early (from the age of approximately 18 months to 36 months) dysfunctional relationship with his/her mother.

What Is The Nature Of This Dysfunctional Relationship Between The Infant And The Mother?

According to Kohut, the problem lies in how the mother relates to the infant :

  • she reinforces the infant’s ‘clingy’, ‘dependent’ and ‘regressive’ behaviour

BUT

  • withdraws love and affection when the child attempts to assert his/her individuality and separate personality

The result of this dysfunctional interaction between the mother and child is that the child develops a confusion about where the psychological boundary lies between him/herself and his/her mother.

This confusion, in turn, leads to yet more confusion in that the child goes on to have problems identifying the psychological boundaries that lie between him/her and others in general.

Abandonment Depression :

The mother’s tendency to withdraw her love from the child when s/he attempts to assert his/her separate personality and individuality causes the child to experience ABANDONMENT DEPRESSION and s/he is likely to be plagued by this depression throughout his/her life (Masterson, 1981).

SPLITTING :

Such early experiences contribute towards the individual developing a perception of other people as being either ALL GOOD or ALL BAD (Kernberg); in other words, s/he sees others in terms of black and white – there are no shades of grey.

‘GOOD’ people are seen as people who will keep the individual ‘safe’, whereas ‘BAD’ people are seen as ones who will re-trigger his/her early experience of ABANDONMENT DEPRESSION.

THIS PHENOMENON IS KNOWN AS ‘SPLITTING’ AND OPERATES ON AN UNCONSCIOUS LEVEL.

However, whether s/he perceives another as ‘ALL GOOD’ or ‘ALL BAD’ does not stay constant; his/her perception of others FLUCTUATES FROM ONE POLAR OPPOSITE TO THE OTHER (this is technically known as lacking ‘object constancy’).

Thus, an individual suffering from BPD may, at times, behave as if s/he ‘loves and adores’ another but, then, suddenly and dramatically, switch to behaving as if s/he ‘hates and despises’ this same individual, without objective reason.

Needless to say, this can be highly confusing and bewildering from the perspective of the person on the receiving end of such wildly and unpredictably vacillating emotions.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

‘Distress Intolerance’ : Do Your Feelings Sometimes Feel Unbearable?

distress intolerance

The term DISTRESS INTOLERANCE refers to a frame of mind in which we consider the mental pain, anguish or discomfort we are experiencing to be UTTERLY INTOLERABLE AND UNBEARABLE so that we become frantic and desperate to avoid it/escape it.

The emotions we feel unable to tolerate usually belong to three main categories; these are:

  1. Emotions connected to sadness (such as depression, shame and guilt)
  2. Emotions connected to fear (such as dread, anxiety and terror)
  3. Emotions connected to anger (such as hatred, rage and frustration)

Those who have suffered severe childhood trauma, especially if, as a result, they have gone on to develop Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), tend to feel emotions particularly intensely, tend to have impaired ability to control their emotions, and tend not to be adept at self-soothing/ self-comforting/ self-compassion and are therefore much more likely to suffer from DISTRESS INTOLERANCE than the average person.

Unsurprisingly,the more we tell ourselves our feelings are unbearable and intolerable, the more difficult they become to manage. In effect, we start to feel bad about the fact that we feel bad. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as meta-worry (worrying about the fact that we worry) and adds a superfluous layer of suffering to our already less than optimal mood state.

A simple example of such meta-worrying would be:

‘My constant worrying is ruining my life.’  (but doing nothing to address one’s worrying)

 

THE PARADOX OF TRYING TO ESCAPE AND ‘RUN AWAY’ FROM OUR MENTAL DISTRESS

Counter-intuitively, research suggests that when we mentally struggle hard to stop feeling our emotional distress, frequently the effect is actually to intensify it (rather like thrashing about in quick sand – we just sink deeper in).

HOW OUR BELIEF SYSTEM IS LINKED TO OUR STRESS INTOLERANCE :

Individuals who find distress very difficult to tolerate tend to have a set of beliefs that contribute to this intolerance; such beliefs may include :

  • it is essential I rid myself of these feelings immediately
  • these feelings are going to send me permanently insane
  • these feelings mean I’m a weak and pathetic person
  • these feelings are completely unacceptable

Such beliefs are sometimes referred to as catastrophizing beliefs and worsen our psychological state; cognitive therapy can help us to reduce catastrophizing thoughts.

 

HOW WE TRY TO ESCAPE OUR MENTAL DISTRESS

Three ways in which we try to escape our mental distress are as follows:

  • avoidance
  • dissociation (self-numbing)
  • self-harm

Lets look at each of these in turn:

1) AVOIDANCE :

For example, avoiding social situations due to social anxiety or avoiding going outside due to agoraphobia.

2) DISSOCIATING /SELF- NUMBING :

People may try to achieve this by using alcohol, drugs or overeating

3) SELF-HARM :

For example, some people cut themselves in an attempt to release emotional distress; this may be because the physical pain detracts from the psychological pain and/or because physical self-harm releases endorphins (the body’s natural pain-killers) into the brain.

 

WHY THESE METHODS DON’T WORK :

There are obvious problems with these methods which I list below :

  • whilst they may afford some short-term relief their long-term effects are damaging
  • relying in negative coping methods such as those detailed above erodes self-esteem and increases feelings of depression
  • continually ‘running away from’ and desperately trying to avoid difficulties means one never provides oneself with the opportunity to learn how to deal with them effectively or how to cope with distress using healthier methods
  • by constantly avoiding distressing emotions (e.g. by using drugs and alcohol) one deprives oneself of the opportunity to put one’s catastrophic beliefs (see above) to the test (e,g. the catastrophic belief that one’s feelings of distress are intolerable) and, hopefully, prove them to be inaccurate.

 

 

LEARNING DISTRESS TOLERANCE :

By learning to interpret distress differently (e.g. by changing our catastrophizing belief system in relation to distressing feelings) and how to develop healthier ways of coping with uncomfortable/difficult emotions we can start to put together a set of skills which will help us to cultivate distress tolerance (SEE RESOURCE BELOW).

 

RESOURCE :

TO DOWNLOAD DISTRESS TOLERANCE HANDOUTS FREE, CLICK THIS LINK OR CLICK ON IMAGE BELOW:

 

BOOK :

 

FREE APP, CLICK LINK BELOW:

DBT911

 

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

‘Adultification’ Of The Child By The Parent.

adultification

‘Adultification’ of a child by a parent entails that parent inappropriately assigning the child an adult role within the family that s/he is too young, and too developmentally immature, to take on or cope with.

It may involve the parent treating the child like an adult friend, a partner, a confidante or, as happened in my own case, a kind of personal counsellor/therapist (even before I was a teenager, my mother referred to me as her ‘Little Psychiatrist’, amongst other, somewhat less complimentary, things, as I have written about elsewhere on this site).

The child may be ‘adultified’ in such a way even when the parent has access to more appropriate means of emotional support such as close friends or adult family members; however, the phenomenon is especially likely to occur if a parent has recently divorced or separated. In such a situation, for example, the newly single mother may start to use her son (for it is more frequently a son than daughter in such cases, according to research) for psychological and emotional support; if her recent separation has not been amicable there is often a danger that she may enlist her son as an ‘ally’ against this other parent, perhaps destroying the father-son relationship

As well as being expected to provide emotional support, some parentified children may be expected to provide practical support (such as overly arduous household duties or excessive personal care).

Manipulation:

A parent who ‘adultifies’ his/her child may do so in a manipulative manner by only providing this child with approval as long as s/he (the child) is making great efforts (at the expense of his/her own needs) to fulfil the parent’s emotional needs. This obviously exploits the child’s innate need to positively bond with the parent, especially if the other parent is now absent.

Possible Effects Of Adultification Upon The Child:

Because the child is not developmentally ready (i.e. is not emotionally mature enough) to fulfil the adult role assigned to him/her, the effects tend to be negative and destructive; I provide examples below:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • impaired relationships with peers
  • deterioration in quality of school work
  • career problems in adulthood
  • difficulty maintaining relationships in adulthood

According to a recent study, the child may be adultified by the parent in four main ways:

1) By attaining precocious knowledge (e.g. by being treated as a confidante by the parent and made to discuss ‘adult matters’)

2) ‘Mentored’ adultification (assuming an adult role within the family with minimal supervision).

3) ‘Spousification’ (being treated as the parent’s spouse – this may entail sexual abuse)

4) ‘Parentification’ (having to act as a parent of younger siblings)

Whilst the effects of adultification upon the child are often negative, some evidence exists to suggest that mentored adultification (number 2 above) and parentification (looking after younger siblings – number 4 above) may help to increase a child’s confidence – however, such conclusions must be drawn tentatively as research into this area is still at a nascent stage.

RESOURCES:

Above eBook now available from Amazon for instant download. Click here for more details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).