Unhelpful Parents

Sometimes our parents or other close family are not the supportive people we deserve. It is hard for me to be able to say how common this truly is, after all, if you had them, the odds are lower that you would see me for therapy, and if you didn’t the odds are higher. Letting go of some of the negative or unhelpful people in our lives is a hard but frequently necessary step.

This isn’t to say that all mental health issues are caused by parents – Freud was wrong. Mental ill health can be caused by a number of factors – genetic, enviornmental, biochemical, drug induced, organic brain damage, poor parenting, situational stress, ongoing trauma and so on. Parenting is only one of these, and a person may experience several. Good parenting can help minimise the impact of several of these, while poor parenting can exacerbate them.

Parents are not the only people who can have a strong influence on how you think mental health and your own self esteem should work and be handled. Other blood relatives like grand parents, who came from a quite different era, can give awful advice, your current social group can be bad for you and sometimes work mates are just completely unuseful to you.

Certain people seem to be of the opinion that mental health, managing stress, choosing the right thing and being functional are all a matter of will power, morals and some knowledge that you are supposed to just have.

They are wrong.

Image of angelic moral weakness
Being “strong”. “moral” or “virtuous” isn’t enough. Sometimes we need help.

We don’t live in isolation. We live in complex systems that sometimes fail us. As listed above, that failure can be a situational distress, an ongoing trauma, biological in nature or some other thing that has nothing to do with will power or moral judgement. This doesn’t exclude the occaisional person who is suffering through bad choices – consequences can be hard – but is to highlight that most people who are struggling and need help are generally struggling through things they didn’t chose or control, and being patient and waiting for it to be over is not enough.

These unhelpful people tend to fail to pass on good self management skills, good skills for managing other people and healthy ways to see the world. In short, they make shit parents, friends and colleagues.

Fortunately, as we get older (around 15 or so), pathways open up that allow us to learn from people besides our immediate family. We get to chose our own family, our own community and our own friends. We can go and get some professional help for the tricky bits, be inspired by awesome people for the general model of how to be, and go on a self discovery journey.

By no means is this journey easy. It is really hard. It means going against all of those lessons you trusted as you grew up, recognising that not only were you led astray, but that those who raised you were also led astray and they just got lucky. After all, people who see the world this way weren’t just born that way. Recognise their limitations in being the parents you deserve, their limitations in being able to support you and move forwards with your own path. Sometimes that means leaving them behind. Sometimes that means visiting them. Rarely it means retraining them.

The world is big. It is complex. It is made of more than one kind of people. There generally isn’t a “better” or “worse” kind of people (except nazi’s – they are just worse), there is just different. Some are tall, some are short, some have blue eyes, some are left handed, some have different kinds of blood, and some are very typical of the local group and some are a bit atypical of that group. They are all valid. Don’t blame neurotypical people for being normal, it isn’t really their fault. Once you learn to recognise your “self” and how your differences make some things easier, and some things harder, it makes it much easier to start adjusting to how other people may be.

The long and the short of it is, you are a different kind of people to your parents, or family, or friends, or colleagues (basically anyone that is giving you the “just try being normal”, or “toughen up”, or “moral weakness” or “willpower” style of line). They are, in this case, wrong. Don’t feel that you have failed to be them, and don’t listen to their wrong advice. Learn who you are, and find people who are your kind of people. Be inspired by those who seem to have it together and learn how they do it. And don’t hesitate to get some professional advice to get over some of the erroneous messages, skills and ways of thinking that you were raised with.

Moving through Recovery

In Mental Health, Recovery is the concept of reclaiming your life through an empowered journey  of self discovery and redefinition. Often with mental illness or distress, we can lose the active say in what happens to us and where we end up. Recovery helps us identify a set of goal posts on our way to our future self that guides our journey.

All people are on a life journey as all people grow and develop. People who have experienced mental ill health have usually stalled in the agency, the self decision, of their life journey. Instead of the life journey being a “choose your own adventure”, it has turned into a movie you are only watching and can’t stop.

It is time to choose a path, the default destiny or your own future. Recovery.
It is time to choose a path, the default destiny or your own future

The purpose of the Recovery concept is to bring that journey back into your own control. It is about moving on with your life. And for it to be *your* life, your actions toward recovery must be *your* actions, *your* plan, *your* recovery. That doesn’t mean you can’t get help along the way, but it does mean that other people can’t carry you.

It is commonly said that “the journey is more important than the destination”, and there certainly is an element of truth to this. The destination is a place that you would like to be at some point in your future, where place is not a geographical location, but rather a state of being. This being is made up of feelings, social contacts and safety.

It is easy to become lost the destination being the end. At what point in someone’s life do they become them? When they are born? When they become an adult? When buy their first house? People don’t actually reach a final point – they just keep growing and evolving. In a similar way, the “goal” that your recovery journey is heading to is not the end – it is just somewhere you’d like to get to in your life journey. It is the motivator for the changes you are about to do now.

Recovery focuses on where you are now, compares that to where you would like to be at some point in the future and how you are going to get there.

Last time we had a brief look at Risk Management. A decent journey includes risk. That doesn’t mean we should add danger to give the journey more meaning, it means that some dangers are going to exist regardless and we have to be aware and realistic about them. That shouldn’t immediately stop us from trying the journey, it just means we should factor managing those risks as part of our journey.

Recovery is not being stagnant. It is about making changes, it is about embracing those changes to move your life towards your goal. Recovery is about moving towards your goal.

For more, Wikipedia has a good introduction about the Recovery Approach.