What Are The Possible Effects Of Mentally Ill Parents?
Sometimes, the reason we have experienced childhood trauma is that one, or both, of our parents was/were suffering from mental illness. How are we to respond to such a situation?
For example, what if our parent was diagnosed as suffering from psychosis or from some type of organic brain damage? Compassion and understanding must be appropriate here, although this in no way negates the emotional pain that has been inflicted.
If we know our parent was totally incapacitated and ‘out of control’, we can, in our more rational moments, at least understand we surely do not need to take their behaviour towards us personally and that it was not due to any failing of our own?
But what if the manner in which our parent treated us does not seem to warrant such mitigation? What if we feel that our parent was ‘bad’, rather than ‘mad’? And, furthermore, how do we come to this decision?
We may decide our parent is ‘bad’, rather than mentally ill, if, for example:
– they fail to protect us from serious harm due a putting their own needs first (i.e. sacrificing the child’s happiness so they may pursue their own)
– abandonment due to laziness/self-centredness/to be released from their responsibilities
– causing the child deliberate suffering (e.g. issuing violent threats – my own mother used to threaten to ‘murder’ me, or, if she were feeling more kindly disposed, would merely announce she wished she’d never given birth to me) in order to derive a sense of power
– using the child as a weapon against another parent / a pawn in their game against the other parent (eg. indoctrinating the child to view the other parent as ‘evil’ when the other parent has done nothing to deserve this)
Obviously, there are many other examples I could have given; the list is far from exhaustive.
It is often a grey area as to whether we should consider our parents ‘mad’ or ‘bad’, and the judgment will be (without professional corroboration) subjective. However, some behaviours, such as those examples provided above, may incline many of us to apply the latter description rather than the former.
Also, our view of our parent will reflect our own biases, especially as such biases will be largely unconscious.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).