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Ways Parents Damage their Children

November 7, 2013

In parenting, what goes around usually comes around.  It is a sad fact that unintentional abuses, psychological and occasionally physical, inflicted by generally well-meaning parents during childhood cause children to form powerful maladaptive defenses that preclude the possibility for a rich, fulfilling life.  Often as adults they later inflict these same abuses on their children.  Thus dysfunction is multi-generational; children often are the victims of parents who themselves suffered unnecessary damage as children.  If parents will take the time and make the effort to identify what they are passing on to their children from their own childhood, good things and bad, their children will benefit, and the cycle of abuse can be broken. 

What are some of the ways parents affect their children adversely?  First of all, they may have a mistaken sense of ownership that allows them to intrude on their child’s personal boundaries.  They imagine on a deep level that their child ensures their own survival and is their personal legacy.  This fantasy works only as long as the child remains a carbon copy of the parents and has no characteristics that are fundamentally different from them.  So, any attempt on the child’s part to deviate from such parents’ approach to life is likely to be misinterpreted to mean that he or she is defiant or rebellious and should be “brought back into line” and punished.  Thus individuality and creativity are squashed.

Another way parents affect a child negatively is to “dispose” of traits they dislike in themselves and instead project them onto their child.  Then they punish the child for them.  For example, a father habitually lies to his wife and children about small and large matters on a daily basis, without admitting to doing so.  But when his daughter lies about what she is doing, he punishes her severely, without recognizing he himself has sanctioned lying in his household by doing it on a regular basis.  He does not think of himself as a liar at all, indeed never ponders that question, but by his own example he has turned his daughter into one.

Some parents also cause their children pain and damage by defensively refusing to allow a loving relationship with them to happen.  They may be threatened by the liveliness and spontaneity of their children, whose innocence and vulnerability remind them of the hurts they experienced in childhood.  In their inability to accept love and closeness without discomfort or pain, parents block out the child’s love for them as real people.  They play out roles rather than relate with real feeling.  Unfortunately, when there is a choice between the welfare of the child and preserving their own defenses, it is often the child’s best interest that is sacrificed and treated as expendable.

One other process that is detrimental to successful parenting lies in each parent’s defensive idealization of his or her own parents.  Parents who were unloved as children or who suffered parental abuses themselves grow up with a unconscious negative perception of their own personal worth, rather than a clear view of the immaturity, weakness, or hostility of their parents.  Few parents realize how, in spite of their best intentions, they will inflict on their own children the subtle emotional abuses such as criticality, name calling, and domination that were inflicted on them . 

With respect to physical or emotional child abuse, many families cannot withstand close scrutiny.  Moralistic, punitive and damaging child-rearing practices – “do it because I said so” - only cause additional and unnecessary suffering.  Parents who have not faced and made sense of what happened to them as children seem compelled to repeat the treatment they received.  Thus it is important that they place facing, understanding and not repeating these abusive practices at the center of their child-rearing efforts if they want to raise happy, productive and caring children.


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