Some of us are lucky enough to come into this world with healthy parents/caregivers who can meet our emotional needs. They offer us healthy relationships filled with good role models and are equipped to teach us healthy thinking and respectful boundaries. However, sometimes this is not the case, and this article addresses a few of many dynamics that may be present in unhealthy families.
When we grow up in an environment that does not provide the necessary emotional support, we often struggle as adults to both realize we deserve this, and we also lack the skills on how to provide it for ourselves. It can be challenging to learn how to prioritize and nurture ourselves if we did not have this taught to us in early life. However, we can work on changing this by first coming to the critical realization that we were always deserving of love and acceptance. Often times we must “unlearn” messages we were taught about ourselves so we can “relearn” healthier ones. This involves challenging our negative, unhealthy thoughts.
Sometimes in childhood, we are held responsible for other’s behaviors, such as being blamed for the behaviors of siblings or parents/caregivers. It is important to recognize that this was never a reasonable expectation and may be a way for others to avoid accountability for their own actions. We must learn that we only have control over ourselves and others need to learn to be responsible for their own actions and behaviors. If people try to blame us for their unacceptable behaviors, we must “unlearn” that this was our responsibility.
Another problematic dynamic in some families is that as children we may not witness or participate in relationships with healthy boundaries. Boundaries are vital to healthy relationships and help us to define what we are comfortable with and how we would like to be treated. It is where one person ends and the other begins. Sometimes parents/caregivers view their children as extensions of themselves. This can lead to disrespecting one’s right to have their own unique thoughts and opinions, lack of regard for one’s right to privacy, or independence. This concept is often referred to as enmeshment. As challenging as it may be, we must learn appropriate boundaries and hold them for ourselves. This can be accomplished by recognizing our right to prioritize ourselves and often involves self-esteem building exercises. Often, unhealthy people will try to violate our boundaries, but if we do not tolerate this, than our healthy boundaries will remain.
Unfortunately, in the absence of secure, healthy parents/caregivers we must learn to parent ourselves differently than we were parented. It is a process of “unlearning” old habits and learning another way of being. It is a very challenging journey and can feel very uncomfortable adjusting to new ways of thinking and behaving. However, with motivation and patience we can achieve these goals which will allow us to feel better and pass these healthy processes on to our own families as well.