My job requires me to keep a keen ear on listening to the stories my patients tell about their lives. It entails a lot of patience, searching for patterns, predispositions, risk factors, personality traits, amongst the more obvious factors like a family history of mental illness and adverse events in the patients’ lives. This can take a while, and much therapeutic work revolves around finding underlying themes responsible for the set of problems the patient has presented with.
Many times, these themes become apparent immediately, in the first session itself. At other times, it can take months or years together.
One theme that stands out for its perpetuity, universality, and ubiquitous, yet ignored nature, is adverse parenting. Myriad negative connotations -bad, authoritative, neglectful, harsh, domineering, critical, over-zealous, controlling, ignorant -strike instantly to the mind, listening to patient stories. I however, decided to use the term ‘adverse,’ since rarely, does the parent acknowledge, or even realize how their parenting is adversely impacting their children.
Adverse also, serves as a less pejorative term, when I try to educate people about the impact of their parenting, many of whose children, as adults, are my patients. It might serve them to at the very least acknowledge the importance of it. Also, the word could be an umbrella term for all the adjectives I’ve used in my earlier paragraph.
The frequency with which this aspect of the impact, one’s parenting environment has had over them, that it baffles and frustrates me to accept that there’s no mass and widespread education about this. But then, like many other important things that the populace should be educated about, like sex education, birth control, traffic rules, or even the broad aspect of mental health itself, our beloved country has chosen to ignore this pressing issue as well.
An important aspect about adverse parenting is that by the time, the person who has been at the receiving end of this deal, starts understanding this as a cause for the deep and often times indelible scars left on their psyche, the person at the other end of the deal, the parent, has likely forgotten about their behavior.
Most, need to be reminded of the horrors they’ve cast upon these minds, who are now patients, which is a complex issue, since these adult patients who now are battling through a sea of complex emotions, are deeply ridden with the evilest of them all, guilt. This guilt– about how expressing their suppressed emotions to their parents would hurt them, or about still living under the cloud of their parents’ unmet expectations, even though these very unreasonable expectations sowed the seeds for a deeply ingrained sense of lack of fulfillment, dissatisfaction, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and a constant need for approval and validation in their current lives- shrouds their mental life like a dark cloud, through which a glimmer of hope seems improbable. And yet, in the quest of banking on hope, keep prolonging their miseries.
Not that confronting the parents is always a good idea, since it serves no more purpose than giving the patient a closure of sorts, but the goal of this exercise is understanding the importance of it, and therefore spreading the knowledge about it and thus as a society, becoming more aware and responsible. For the patient at hand, the damage is already done, and healing begins through understanding these roots for their problems, at times forgiving, and largely learning to cope with these traumas.
Many, when confronted, plainly, dismiss this as ‘their own way of disciplining their children, which in their words, ‘is way milder than what they had to go through when they were children’. This bias of their own childhood experiences is a complex variant, which enmeshes individuals- parents, and children alike-into a confusing limbo that parenting already is, making the arduous task of understanding, let alone defining what good parenting is, one of the most crucial decisions one has to take.[psychiatrist in pune]
That brings us to questions like when should one become a parent, and what factors are to be considered once you’re about to take that step, or whether even to be become a parent ?