Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Subtle Child Abuse

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 28, 2013

Kids raised, with the almost universal assumption, that parents want to promote the mental health of their child, are left to feeling alone as they struggle with the inability to please their parents. Kids, some more than others, need to feel that they are making their parents proud, often suffer, when this goal is simply unobtainable. This “little t” trauma, as some call it, cause these kids to suffer from depression and anxiety, giving them a psychiatric diagnosis, which often, further disappoints their parents, thereby promoting the disappointment that they already feel. This downward spiral requires these children to develop the self-confidence, where their well-being is no longer tied to the pleasure in their parent’s eye. This separation is often the work of long-term psychotherapy, leaving many therapists with the upward battle of promoting boundaries, while at the same time, understanding how attachment to a disappointed parent can feel safer than no attachments at all. Psychopharmacology can be helpful, but the majority of the work, lies in creating a bridge for the patient to mentally leave their plea for parental acceptance, so that they can learn to please themselves and people they choose to care about. Some families can be cherry picked, and some people need to understand that those ‘families’ will stimulate positive growth and fulfillment. Elisa, twenty, comes to mind. She is the product of a single parent. Her mother, Jasmine,  had a “quickie” and wanted to keep her. Jasmine, frustrated with her life, always made Elisa feel like she wished she was not born, or so Elisa relates to me. Elisa, trying to make Jasmine happy, has been frustrated at her inability to do that. Elisa is doing well in college, has a nice boyfriend, but she still feels that Jasmine is disappointed. Their relationship is strained and so Elisa avoids interacting with Jasmine. Jasmine does not initiate contact with Elisa. Elisa gets depressed and engages in self-injurious behaviors. She feels like she will never be happy with herself. This dynamic where her struggle with her relationship with Jasmine, appears now, to be the central theme of her depressed mood, is the core of our work. Elisa needs to develop the self-esteem, where her mood is not a reflection of Jasmine’s mood. This involves a movement away from the centrality of this relationship, while at the same time, understanding that Elisa and Jasmine’s connection has been intensely important to both of them for two solid decades. This is the work of therapy. This takes time and patience. There is simply no quick fix. Once again, the theme of my rants continue. Time and sophistication are essential to helping Elisa.

9 Responses to “Subtle Child Abuse”

  1. Ashana M said

    It’s interesting I was just blogging about this today. I don’t have parents whose opinion is even of any merit or concern to me. I can’t remember a time when it was. I wish I knew what wanting someone’s approval was like.

    • Hi Ashana,
      You raise an interesting point that without wanting someone’s approval, creates a very different life experience. Thanks for pointing that out.

      • Ashana M said

        It is emphatically not better.

        • Yes, I can imagine why you might say that. We grow up through our attachments, and this inspires us to challenge ourselves beyond what we might otherwise imagine. Without having a bar, in which to respond against, one could feel without any sense of gravity.

          • Ashana M said

            No, that’s not it. There are other reasons to challenge oneself. It’s something quite different–it’s like being only partly human. There is something nearly everyone else does that I can’t.

  2. Shelly said

    Oh how we parents transmit our frustrations and disappointments in our choices to the next generation. Seems like we all need parental-training prior to having kids to see how our behaviors affect them. And they too will do the same to their kids because no parent is ever perfect. Where would psychtherapy be if patients didn’t have their parents to blame?

    • Dear Shelly,
      I know that our dialogue sometimes centers around the touchy subject of “blame the parents”. I think there is a vast divide between blaming one’s parents and understanding one’s parents. Understanding one’s parents might allow the individual to have a deeper understanding of his motivation. This understanding can happen, not only without blame, but with compassion for one’s parents.

  3. Jon said

    Indeed it is a hard task for a parent to wish the best for their child and to not meddle with their child’s choices. Hopefully, the best for the child is happiness and self sustainability. Each person must make the choices for themselves. A quote attributed to Mark Twain is “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Analogously, one should never let one’s parenting get in the way of successful child-rearing. However, like most terse aphorisms, easier said than done.

    • Jon,
      I think parents can assume that they both promote and obstruct developmental progress. Understanding the nuances within this mixed bag is the job of psychotherapy, provided the person, be it the parent or the child, is curious about such things.

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