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  • Grace Dowd

The Effects of Highly Critical Parenting

As children, we learn from our parents about how to interact with ourselves, others, and the world around us. This can be a gift when our parents are emotionally mature and speak of themselves and others in ways that are uplifting, encouraging, and accurate. Unfortunately, not everyone is equipped to be a proper parent. A common misconception is that parenting is innate, but parenting is deeply influenced by what we have received ourselves.

"Done properly, parenting is a heroic act. Done properly!" - Edna Mode, The Incredibles 2

A person cannot give what they have not received unless they have gone out of their way to learn differently. That is likely what is occurring right now - if you are reading this blog, you might be a parent that is trying to prevent from repeating patterns. Or perhaps you are the child of an emotionally immature parent that is seeking to find that you are not alone. The effects of critical parenting are devastating, but there is hope.

Common attributes of a highly critical parent:

  • Emotionally reactive at minor issues

  • Does not acknowledge your achievements or hard work

  • Expresses that you can always "do better"

  • Became angry when you were upset

  • Frequently illuminated your mistakes

  • Mocked you or others

  • Blamed you for their failures

  • Emotionally absent or immature

If you were raised by a highly critical parent, you likely experienced your parent as emotionally reactive and critical of your actions. They may have even mocked you when you were feeling upset or expressing to them or others that you were hurt or burdened by something. Your parent(s) may have frequently illuminated your mistakes or blamed you for things that likely weren't your fault at all. Despite their efforts to blame you and attempt to make you the problem, it's important to know that you were a child and none of this was your fault.

If you were raised by a highly critical parent you may struggle with...

  • Low self esteem

  • Feeling responsible for others emotions

  • Negative inner talk/Highly critical of yourself

  • Downplaying your achievements

  • Self destructive

  • Difficulty maintaining boundaries

  • Trouble trusting your emotions

  • Trouble trusting your instincts

  • Difficulty identifying your desires

  • Pleasing others at the expense of yourself

Your parent never should have put you in a place where you had to be the responsible one. It was never your job to ensure that your parent was okay or to manage their emotions for them. The first step towards healing and creating something different for yourself requires acceptance that what happened caused harm to you and left a lasting impact. If we do not acknowledge this, we are likely to repeat the same patterns as our parents.

So what can you do?

Acknowledge that it hurt. Simply ignoring our pain does not make it go away or stop, it only transforms into different energy. It may come out in the form of addictions, anxiety, depression, issues with food, and problems in interpersonal relationships. Acknowledging that it hurt gives voice to your inner child and begins validating their experience.

Start setting boundaries. If your parents are still a part of your life, begin setting boundaries with them. Your parents can choose how they behave, and you can also choose whether you will tolerate it. It's okay to communicate clearly and respectfully how you expect to be treated and how their behavior impacts you. E.g. "Mom, please do not yell at me again. I will not come over again if you continue to yell at me."

Connect with others. Whether it be in individual or group therapy, it can be useful to connect with others who will understand and empathize with your experience. Some suppport groups may be available in your area for adult children of emotionally immature parents, or addiction related groups. You can find out more about our offerings in Texas here.

Learn more. It can be useful to seek out more knowledge about this topic and how it impacts you. There are many great resources on childhood trauma. A newer and well-known favorite amongst therapist is the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents.

Both can be true. Many people may struggle to accept that their parents actions caused harm because it feels like they are being ungrateful or disregarding what their parents did do for them. It's important to begin recognizing that things are not black and white and that there is room for a grey area. Perhaps your parents actions caused harm and they did do some amazing things for you.

You are not alone in this. Many individuals have experienced the effects of critical parenting and are navigating this territory as well. We have many more resources today to navigate things like peaceful/gentle parenting and healing from trauma. Boundaries will be your greatest asset in learning to love yourself and show others that they must treat you with dignity and respect. When in doubt, reach out to a trained therapist who can teach you boundary setting and work through early childhood trauma. We are here to help.



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