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.

Neuroplasticity document

The Vermont Recovery page has some interesting articles. This one on Neuroplasticity is quite good. It is a downloadable PDF document.


“Neuroplasticity basically refers to the brain’s natural ability across the lifespan to form
new connections and change its structure in response to experience.  This means the brain can
change itself physically and functionally at any age to compensate for injury and disease and to
adapt to new situations or changes in the environment.”


“Traditionally, the adult brain was considered relatively hard-wired and fixed, a prognosis
that  lowered expectations about the possibility of  curing the alleged brain problems that
underlie psychiatric disorders.  Thus, in the medical world, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder
have been conceptualized as life-long, incurable brain pathologies that a person can learn to
manage, but never completely  resolve.    However, these hypotheses  have always been
problematic, for longitudinal  studies have  demonstrated again and again that  a significant
amount of people diagnosed with schizophrenia completely emerge from psychiatric symptoms
and no longer use medications.
4
  These individuals pose this challenge to neurobiology:  if their
previous symptoms were in fact due to a broken brain, are their brains now fixed?”