08 Sep Self-Care and the Parentified Child
Think back to when you were a child, living with your parents. Did your mother or father ever confide in you about problems they were experiencing in their marriage? Did they rely on you to do the laundry and take care of your younger siblings? Did you ever feel responsible for consoling your parents when they were upset, or even find yourself acting as the mediator during conflicts in their relationship? A child caring for his or her parents, whether that caring takes the form of physical care or emotional care, is the embodiment of the parentified child.
Parentification can cause a child to develop a keen sense of awareness of others’ feelings, which in some circumstances can be a very helpful trait. However, this trait can also lead to that person lacking the ability to ask for what they need, or even to be able to know what they need in the first place. Parentified children can develop a strong desire to please that can impede their ability to care for themselves, because they were trained at such a young age to pay attention and manage their parents’ needs. This desire to please others leads to suppression of one’s own wants and needs, which in adulthood can lead to resentment, anger, depression, and anxiety.
As the child then grows into adulthood, these learned behaviors can set up the child for increased difficulty in relationships. For example, a parentified child might carry on their suppression of needs into their adult relationships. This creates a pattern in which the parentified child suppresses their own needs in order to meet their partner’s instead, but ultimately ends up resenting the partner in anger because the parentified child’s needs are not being met. That unprocessed resentment can lead to the deterioration of a relationship. Repeated failed relationships can lead to isolation, anxiety, and depression.
But how can we change these behavioral patterns? We often discuss the importance of self-care, but parentified children need to first learn to practice mindfulness in order to gain insight and awareness into their own needs. What are your needs? Perhaps you need one night a week to yourself to be silent and recharge. Perhaps you need to meet your friends for dinner a few times a week to keep yourself from feeling isolated. Once those needs have been identified, the parentified child can then begin to slowly prioritize caring for himself or herself consistently. Awareness of self-care needs and the growing ability to meet them eventually leads to setting boundaries by saying no to others when appropriate or necessary.
Setting boundaries and saying no is important, because it allows parentified children to care for themselves by not allowing others to impede their self-care. Remember, a person who can care for himself first is able to better care for others. Keep this in mind this month as we discuss this topic further. You might be surprised at how important self-care is, even if you yourself are not a parentified child.