Monday, July 28, 2008

Idealizing Our Parents: Fear and the Loss of Autonomy

Christians weighing in on Botkin Syndrome:

Excerpts from "Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves" by Drs. Stoop and Masteller.

From pages 197 - 201:

If we accept these notions about our parents – as children, we really have little choice – then we have to conclude that they know what is best for us, and that they are always right. This tendency to always view our parents as all-good is called idealization.

Idealization often occurs in families that are very religious, especially in those kinds of religious homes that draw very strict boundaries to define acceptable and unacceptable attitudes and behaviors. The high value that is placed on family, and on respect for parents, makes it almost impossible for children to integrate their parents’ failings and weaknesses....

Adult children who have practiced this degree of splitting and idealization tend to be driven by fear. First, there is a fear of being abandoned. “I was always afraid my mother was going to leave us,” one woman remembered. “When we did something bad, she threatened to walk out and never come back. I remember many afternoons when I ran home from school, afraid that the house would be empty when I got there. She never actually left, but I always feared she would.

Such [adult] children also fear loss of control or loss of autonomy. For children growing up in a dysfunctional family, control is all-important. It is the only answer to the chaos that surrounds them. The problem, of course, is that none of us can control life completely, and the more we try, the more out-of-control we feel. But the fear of losing control drives us to try all the harder, despite the suffering and frustration it causes...
The blame for this has to land somewhere. If children idealize their parents, they become the only available targets. Children grow up thinking they are the bad ones. Even if others try to tell them they are good, inwardly they don’t believe it. How could it be true? Other people just don’t realize how awful they are. “I have trouble whenever anyone says, “I love you,” one woman explained. “In our family, whenever I hear those words, it meant I was about to be taken advantage of.”

The normal reaction to these kinds of injury should be anger. But since children in hurtful environments are often forbidden to express anger – or are too young even to realize what is happening to them – they repress their feelings and they deny their memories of what happened.

But even when denial shuts out the source of pain, the feelings of anger, helplessness, despair, suspicion, fear of rejection, abandonment, anxiety, and pain are still present. They may find expression in psychological disorders or in such self-destructive behaviors as substance abuse or suicide. When these adult children become parents, they may take revenge on their own children for the mistreatment they received in childhood. Or their unresovled negative emotions may find expression in destructive acts against others, even leading to criminal behavior.

When denial is allowed to continue into adulthood, it opens the door to many problems. The answer to those problems is never to “forget.” It is remembering that makes healing and freedom possible.

[Read more on "splitting" by Stoop and Masteller HERE.]

Excerpt from
Dr. David Stoop & Dr. James Masteller's
"Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves:
Healing Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families"
Regal/Gospel Light, 1996 (Servant, 1991)