Children of Parents with Mental Illness COPMI
Your youth was centered around a father or mother with an (undiagnosed) psychological or psychiatric disorder. You were a normal child in an abnormal home situation. Your parent’s problems brought the family a lot of pressure and stress and had a large impact on daily life. The home atmosphere, no matter what you did or said……. everything always revolved around your father’s or mother’s problems. All family members were expected to adapt to this and take on extra responsibilities. There may have been very little information shared about what was really going on.
Some consequences you may recognize:
- You stayed away or came home late because of all the tension.
- You had the tendency to isolate yourself and no longer take part in outside activities.
- You took on parental tasks. You thought this was normal because you didn’t know any better.
- You were never really a child.
- You were the parent figure, sympathetic ear, caregiver and counselor for your parent.
- You were always anxious and alert and didn’t know what it was like to be carefree.
- You developed finely-tuned antennae to home in on other’s moods.
- Your mantra became: If my parent is ok, then I’m ok.
Being a child of a parent with psychiatric problems can have an enormous impact on your life, even now as an adult. You have missed out on a carefree childhood, maybe still struggle with feelings of shame, have difficulty recognizing your emotions or still have the tendency to continually adjust to your environment.
Perhaps you also recognize these traits:
- Your moods shift without any clear reason.
- You are always the ‘rock’ who others depend on.
- You still take care of everything and everyone.
- You attract needy people like a magnet.
- You have difficulty setting boundaries.
- You are never good enough.
- You are always looking for approval.
- You long for a feeling of safety.
- You constantly face adversity.
Due to the their unsafe upbringing, COPMI-children are at great risk (60%) of developing mental health problems. This is because their behavioral patterns -which children develop in order to survive- are actually counterproductive in adult life. These behavioral pattens hinder the process of becoming truly emotionally mature. Until recently, the number of people to which this applies had never really been documented. Nowadays, there is more openness and understanding regarding this problem. Identifying and recovering from the inner turmoil that arises when growing up in a constantly unsafe environment requires intensive and sometimes long-term treatment.
Eventually you free yourself from thoughts, assumptions, misconceptions, beliefs and responsibilities that no longer belong to you. Allowing negative emotions to come out creates space for positive emotions, which are always beneath the surface. You learn to love yourself and to accept your past. Your time has finally come. Freeing your spirit is hard work, but you can do this!
Therapy often begins by examining your thought and behavioral patterns. What were your unique survival mechanisms during childhood? What type of early childhood trauma did you experience? To what extent were you emotionally neglected? What qualities and strengths did you develop over time? Good therapy also puts a great deal of emphasis on looking at your future perspectives. How do you want to shape your life now? What are your hopes and wishes? What kind of parent would you like to be?
With guidance, you decide which qualities you want to hold on to and the patterns you want to let go of. The starting point will be to look at everything that is going on inside you here and now – whether it is connected to the present or the past – and begin to accept things as they are. This creates space and clarity. Within this space, you look at your old mechanisms and learn to turn them into new strengths.
Author: Natasja Paskas