Q - My parents gave me everything they could. They were ‘old hippies’ and were very laid back and easy going with me and my brother. My school friends used to be jealous of my parents and how ‘cool’ they were and how much freedom I got. My brother has ended up a druggy and been in prison a few times, and I feel lonely, miserable and empty all the time. It’s not from bad parenting or my childhood, so why do I feel like this?
A - It sounds like your parents had a ‘permissive’ approach to parenting. This may have been a conscious decision - to give you much more freedom than they’d had themselves as children.
Trouble is, sometimes the pendulum swings too far the other way – and inadvertently children still lose out and don’t get what they need.
I’m certainly not blaming your parents – like many others they did what they thought was best for you. It just had a few ‘holes’ in the plan, which you, and your brother have now fallen through.
Children need to feel safe and protected. They push the boundaries to find out how far they can go before they are held in check. They need to know that the walls of the boundaries are strong.
If we don’t learn this in childhood we can have difficulty fitting in with the norms and limits of society as an adult.
Let's look at what the consequences of permissive parenting might be...
A permissive parent (assuming that isn’t just a cover up for lazy, ignorant and emotionally abusive parenting) usually wants these 'ideals' for their child(ren):-
To feel happy and to avoid strong feelings or conflict
To think of their parent as being more like a friend to them
To allow and encourage the child to make their own boundaries – because the parent avoids doing this for them
To somehow create their own structure, rules and limits – as if the child had a mature adult mind that was capable of doing so
To avoid having to consider the longer-term consequences of their actions - obviously not a good thing either as a child or later in life!
The permissive parent fails to offer enough guidance or to shape the child in preparation for becoming an adult.
The grown up child then struggles in their adult relationships - particularly with people who have come from a more structured background.
Due to the permissive parents' lack of earlier parental control, the child had to try and regulate themselves. They had feelings and behaviours which were beyond their childlike ability to manage. They probably had problems at school and with other authority figures.
Any erratic rage flare ups by the child might have been soothed by the parents with food, drinks or other 'treats' to make them feel better - rather than to explore and learn from their feelings.
This may create problems later in life with food and alcohol consumption, or overspending on 'treats' - which continue to be used to alter the emotional state.
Drugs might then be used as a further attempt to change the mood and to avoid difficult or painful circumstances, loneliness, or a lack of safe, predictable and reliable connections with others.
The child might also find it hard to discipline or restrain themselves, and be unable and unwilling to handle any conflict, pressure or challenges to their demands.
They are more likely to find a more compliant (and co-dependant) partner, than to work at a relationship when any rough patches emerge.
There might also be a tendency to give in too easily and to become easily discouraged. They are much less likely to stick at things – or to focus and concentrate upon a goal.
There's probably a tendency to be a ‘People Pleaser’ and to avoid conflict – at least that is the mask that's worn until the adult child flees the awkward scene.
Children of permissive parents can feel confused by the mismatch between their peers’ envy, and their own feelings from growing up with their well-meaning but misguided parents.
When the parents are admired then the child has to resort to self-blame… 'There must be something wrong with me…I’m to blame for my problems…I had a great childhood’ etc.
bottom line is that your parents, it seems, wanted to make you feel happy. They probably didn’t realise that happiness also comes from feeling safe within strong but fair boundaries, and in having a calm mind and the ability to get on well with others.
In this respect permissive parenting is a form of unintentional emotional neglect.
They wanted you to avoid painful feelings but only made you less able to handle them when they inevitably arose in life.
What can you do?
Take an objective view of your parents’ style of parenting, and realise what you gained and what you lost out on.
With greater self-awareness you can also notice how you are behaving with other people – and make the connection to your inner child who is struggling to be an adult with only their child-like map for reference, guidance and boundaries.
You may feel some anger towards your parents - in response to the avoidable difficulties you now face, as a consequence of being given too much 'freedom' as a child.
You will also now need to become like your own mother, and to 're-parent' yourself to make up for those earlier deficits.
It’s time for 'Care & Repair From The Inside Out (c)'... which starts with self-awareness, education and learning new ways to think, feel and behave.
Only you can fill that emptiness you feel (see below for help with this).
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR
www.maxineharley.com - Where you will find FREE e-booklets and other free resources designed to help and inform you on your journey of self-knowledge and development
There is also a therapeutic personal development e-course called ‘3 Steps To Sort Yourself Out – without therapy!’ – which will help you to get things into clearer perspective as well as guide you to a more balanced and rewarding life in future.
(if you add the code TENOFF in the checkout this comprehensive online course is then only £27)
www.maxineharleymentoring.com - helping women to understand and manage their emotions boundaries and behaviours.
www.the-ripple-effect.co.uk - a series of 10 individual online self-help workshops - helping you to help yourself to understand and manage your life
www.qpp.uk.com - a new and effective way to change the sub-conscious belief system or S.C.R.I.P.T.(c) - Sub-Concious-Rules-Influencing-Present-Time