Friday, August 1, 2008

Psychological “Splitting” (and Idealizing Parents)

Christians weighing in on Botkin Syndrome:

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

From pages 193 - 199 [Please Buy This Book!]:

What often happens with children from dysfunctional families is that the integration process gets short-circuited. They do not develop the ability to see that their parents have both good and bad qualities [psychological splitting]. They continue to operate from an unconscious belief that things must be either all good or all bad. As we will see in a moment, this results in either outright rejection of the parents, or – what is far more likely – unhealthy idealization of the parents.

Three Types of Mothers

Typically, when the process of integration has been blocked in a child’s development, we find that the mother in the family was one of three types. (This isn’t meant as an attack on motherhood, by the way – heaven forbid ) But our experience shows it to be true more often than not. [I would also suggest that this role is not limited to mothers but can be applicable to fathers as well.]

1. The Intrusive Mother. She has to be in control at all times, because she is the only one who really knows what is best for everyone.

2. The Abandoning Mother. This kind of mother doesn’t always literally run away from her children – though some do. More common is emotional abandonment, simply neglecting the kids because Mom is too busy with other things, such as her job or friends.

3. The Unpredictable Mother. Sometimes she is warm and nurturing, holding her children and whispering words of love in their ears. At other times – and with no warning – she is cold, indifferent, and critical. Her children grow up in the land of inconsistency. They survive by expecting the unexpected, never sure of what life is going to bring their way next, distrustful of others, and robbed of basic scrutiny.


Children raised by one of these kinds of mothers became stuck in their emotional development. The intrusive mother makes all our decisions for us, so we never develop the ability to judge things for ourselves. The abandoning mother and the unpredictable mother make life feel unsafe. But in all these cases, children aren’t able to recognize the harmful effect stemming from the mother’s dysfunctional behavior. The attribute the “badness” they experience in their mother to themselves.
This helps illustrate something called “splitting,” which is one of the earliest defense mechanisms that develops in children. It is more or less the opposite of integration: the inability to see that good and bad qualities can co-exist in the same person...

As we have seen, one of the first things we do in life is to divide reality into all-good and all-bad. If we are able to mature emotionally, we will come to see that life is not so easily categorized. We are albe to integrate seemingly contradictory experiences. When we are prevented from maturing emotionally, we continue to force everything into one of two categories: all-good and all-bad. When our parents are in question, the pressure is almost overwhelming to consider them “all-good” despite their problems.

It’s not hard to see why, when we look at parents through the eyes of a small child:
Adults are bigger.
Adults are smarter.
Parents have power.
Parents can hurt children.

[Make sure that you read this post on “Idealizing Our Family.”]

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)