When a mother is prone to uncontrolled, explosive outbursts of rage it casts a shadow over every day for her offspring. The child needs to be on constant ‘red alert’, preoccupied with the possibility of another outburst, always anticipating it, but never being able to predict it. Such a mother will often DISPLACE (take out) her anger about areas of her life with which she is dissatisfied on the offspring, even though the real cause of her anger has nothing to do with them. My own mother, for example, could become almost demented with anger, hatred and hostility over something as small as an accidentally spilt drink.
As I neared my teens and started to answer back, she would rage at me for not demonstrating ‘the respect she deserved.’ In other words, if I protested that I did not deserve to be on the receiving end of this diabolical rage, she would become yet further apoplectic with anger; she would vigorously justify her own behaviour and discount the effect it had on me – it was, according to her, my ‘own fault’ for ‘provoking’ her in the first place.
‘I CARE FOR YOU, I HATE YOU’: THE MENTAL ANGUISH OF BEING PLACED IN A DOUBLE-BIND :
Relationships with such parents often place the child in an impossible position, creating that which experts in family interpersonal relationships term a DOUBLE-BIND. Essentially, this involves the parent giving the child CONTRADICTORY MESSAGES. For example, The parent may profess to deeply care for the child, but in the CONTEXT OF CONSTANTLY NEGATIVE CUES (for example, tone of voice, body language etc). THE CHILD, IN SUCH CONDITIONS, IS LIKELY TO FEEL FROZEN OUT, even though the parent claims to care about him/her. In such a relationship, the parent will often make use of tactics which put the child under deep psychological pressure to comply with its terms, leading to profound inner confusion which is impossible for him/her to articulate.
Though a child enmeshed in such a relationship may be in deep distress, s/he may find him/herself being dismissed as, ‘silly’, ‘bad’, ‘naughty’, ‘a spoiled brat’ etc; it is likely, too, that other strategies will be employed to confuse and oppose the child. These strategies include :
OBFUSCATION: the concerns the child tries to raise are evaded, glossed over, dismissed as ‘not real’ and as being ‘all in his/her mind.’ Sometimes, too, the expression ‘I love you’, may be employed tactically to put an end to the matter, as it were, without giving the child the chance to express his/her urgent views. The term ‘I love you’, in such circumstances, can be used strategically to imply: ‘ you are therefore ungrateful, in the wrong, and must understand that my saying this completely exonerates me from any possible blame’ or similar.
COUNTER-ACCUSATION: This is when the child is blamed for creating his own suffering. This may be stated directly by the parent or else implied. I can still hear the phrase my own mother used to use against me ringing in my ears: ‘It’s your own bloody, stupid fault. I’ve absolutely no sympathy for you what-so-ever! None what-so-bloody -ever! None!’ (As you may have gathered, she liked to push her point home!)
MARGINALISATION: This involves dismissing, devaluing, refusing to acknowledge, minimizing the significance of, or otherwise undermining, the child’s protests. This causes the child to question the reality of his/her own feelings and views which can, in turn, lead to deep psychological problems and a sense of self-alienation. When the very validity of a person’s deepest held and most profoundly felt beliefs are attacked in this way (however implicitly) the very inner core of the self can begin to dismantle and disintegrate.
The above are just some of the tactics that may be used by the dysfunctional parent. Often the tactics will be employed in combination, creating enormous emotional turmoil and volatility in the child, as well as deep confusion and internal incoherence. His or her most important feelings about reality are systematically undermined over a period of years or decades.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.