What does it mean to be raised by a parent with mental illness?

What comes to mind when you think about what makes you feel happy, safe, or fulfilled? Maybe you are not sure or perhaps never thought about it until you faced a challenging situation. Believe it or not, many people are not sure how to answer that question or it makes them feel lost, guilty, confused, or scared.

Adult children raised by parents with mental illness grow up experiencing several negative beliefs and uncomfortable feelings about themselves. As a consequence, when they are adults they are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, social anxiety, and lack of confidence among others.

For this month’s blog post I wanted to share a list of some of these feelings and beliefs. Maybe reading this list creates an opportunity for you to experience kindness and understating for the way you feel and to define what happiness, fulfillment, and safety mean for you:

  • A sense of emptiness about the role of your parent or main caregiver. This thought could be present now and when thinking about your childhood.
  • Feeling like the adult in the relationship with your parent or caregiver. Maybe because during childhood you had to ensure your safety and/or the safety of other members in your family. Maybe your parent or caregiver behavior doesn’t match their age and you have to be sure they are safe or alive. This is very common for adult children who grew up in a family with an alcoholic parent or they experienced and/or witnessed emotional, verbal, or physical abuse.
  • Feeling not loved, unlovable, or not good enough during childhood and now.
  • You find yourself feeling angry with them without being able to figure out the reason and as you recognize being angry, you feel guilty for having those feelings towards your parents even though you know they treated you poorly. Conflictive thought process, right? Working with a trauma-trained clinician will help. 
  • Wondering what is going on in the mind of your parent and/or caregiver as they make decisions that affect them or everyone around them financially, emotionally, legally, socially, etc.
  • And finally, you could find yourself having the following thoughts:
    • “How could she/he do that to me?”
    • “Why doesn’t he/she care?”
    • “Why do I keep doing this to myself?”
    • “I feel guilty.”, “I am stuck.”
    • “I wish she/he will love me.”
    • “I don’t want to come across as a bad son/daughter.”
    • “I wish she/he will listen to me.” “She/he never listened.”
    • “I don’t think they cared about me at all.”
    • “It is my fault she did not do something that was important.”
    • “ I should have helped more.”

If you find yourself identifying with one or more of these feelings and thoughts, working with a clinician that specializes in trauma will help.

As we work together, I will help you to outline specific goals to cope with your feelings and thoughts so you can move on with your life and have a better relationship with your parent/caregiver without feelings of guilt. As the healing process starts, adult children of parents with mental illness are able to understand, physically and emotionally, that there is no reason to feel guilty, that saying NO doesn’t mean you don’t love your mom or dad, or that you are a bad son or daughter.

Obviously the understanding of how valuable you are doesn’t happen overnight. It requires commitment and the understanding and I am here to help.

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