Dysfunctional parenting and its effects

First of all, there is no such thing as perfect parenting as all parents get it wrong at times and make mistakes. 


What is a functional childhood? 

Ideas about how to parent also differ between different cultures and generations. We also know that parents (especially mothers) are often blamed for issues in society when most are just trying to do the best they can. 

Good-enough parenting is thought to be more than adequate to raise a child so they are ready to go out into the world on their own when the time comes. Being consistent in parenting and getting things right most of the time is good enough. 

Good-enough parenting may look something like this: 

  • Valuing the child so that they have an inherent sense of their own worth. 
  • Helping the child to feel safe.
  • Having clear boundaries so that they can protect themselves and also understand (at an appropriate age) that they are responsible for their own behaviour. 
  • Not expecting the child to act younger or older than their developmental age. 
  • Not putting their own needs before the child’s. 
  • Not overly criticising, laughing or being angry at a child when they make mistakes. 
  • Not expecting the child to be responsible for their own emotional development. 

Dysfunctional parenting: What causes it?

Most parents don’t make a deliberate decision to be dysfunctional, it’s just that they may not have the knowledge or skills on how to raise a child in a way which is not harmful. In cognitive hypnotherapy, we operate with an understanding that everyone is trying to do the best they can with what they have. 

Often, people repeat the style of parenting they were brought up with, which means that issues are often passed down the generational line with little or no understanding of the effects it can have. Dysfunction becomes normalised. Values we preface with 'should' are often a clue of the ones we’ve picked up from our own parents without realising it: "Children should not talk back to their parents. Children should be smacked when they are cheeky." 

Sometimes, the culture itself is damaging. Look at the belief children should be heard and not seen – this can be really harmful to children as it’s not showing the child they are loved and valued. And a child who grows up believing this could experience emotional difficulties as a result. It is my belief we are still grappling with the consequences of this one in the UK as our own parents were often brought up with these ideas by our grandparents.

Or the idea that girls are not as important as boys is absorbed by children (of both sex) and may affect how they view themselves. This is something which happened in my own family, and many other families, up to fairly recently, and I’m sure still lingers on even today in the stereotypes we still hold onto. 

Sometimes, the parent(s) may have mental or physical health issues which means that they cannot always put the needs of their children first. They may be expected to act at an age which is beyond them developmentally as they take on roles as carers or have to do things themselves that parents would normally do. A mother with depression, for instance, may not always be emotionally available to be able to support her children. Parents who have an addiction may also find it challenging to provide good-enough parenting to their kids, leaving them with a raft of problems as they negotiate life on their own once they reach adulthood. 

Some signs of a dysfunctional childhood

All families and individuals are unique but there are some general behaviours that are considered by most therapists and experts to be damaging.  

  • Not showing the child that they are important, valued and loved. Not instilling a core sense of self-esteem. 
  • Not establishing consistent physical boundaries so that the child understands who can and cannot touch them. 
  • Not showing the child about internal boundaries so that the child is unable to learn they are responsible for their own behaviour and feelings. If this boundary is damaged they may not also understand that they are not responsible for the actions or emotions of others. 
  • Criticising a child for things such as immaturity and imperfection which are natural aspects of being young. 
  • Ignoring the emotional needs of the child, or belittling these needs. 
  • Putting their own needs before the child. 
  • Abuse of any kind. 
  • Over-controlling the emotions, behaviour and experiences of the child. 
  • Not allowing the child to express their own needs and wants. 

The effects of a dysfunctional childhood 

It depends on the type of dysfunctional parenting you experienced to how this will manifest but some common effects are: 

  • Having chronic low self-esteem so you feel that you are less than others.
  • Not understanding your true worth. 
  • Getting value from things outside yourself such as having a nice house, car and earning a lot of money. 
  • Not understanding your emotions so that you cannot describe how you feel or manage your feelings when they are overwhelming. 
  • Being afraid of intimate relationships so that if you have a partner you are unable to truly be yourself – you may come across as being distant. Or you may stay away from relationships altogether, telling yourself you are just independent. You may be isolated and lonely. 
  • Being clingy and needy in relationships. Expecting your partner to take care of you and manage your emotions and decisions. Your relationship is your top priority and you are over-focused on the behaviour and needs of your partner, often to your own detriment. 
  • Love addiction – choosing the wrong partner but terrified of abandonment or being alone with yourself, you will stay in the relationship. Taking responsibility for how your partner behaves and feels and doing anything to make them feel better. 
  • Being overly anxious and depressed but perhaps unsure of why you feel this way. 
  • Having an addiction or using things like food to make you feel better when you are upset. 

How cognitive hypnotherapy can help 

Cognitive hypnotherapy is great for many reasons, the main one being that it can get to the core, underlying reasons for your presenting issues (depression, anxiety, over-eating etc) quickly and help you change how you see yourself.

Changing your beliefs about yourself can quickly change your behaviour and how you live your life. So, if you have a belief that you are a terrible person, you can be shown how to change this and do the work that should have been done for you as a child. 

Some of the ways your hypnotherapist may work with you:

  • Regression through a light trance is often enough to get to the root of the problem in one session. From there, the therapist will help you re-frame your limiting belief and replace it with more positive ones.  
  • Your therapist will use techniques to help you realise that things from your childhood were not your fault. You’ll be helped to let go of the past and take control of your present and future. Clients are often amazed how taking responsibility for themselves as adults opens up their world. So the client with low-self esteem realises that he doesn’t have to continue believing that he is not as good as other people – he can change both of these. He can also deal with what happened in the past and start focusing on his life now.
  • Therapy can help you name your emotions which means you can start to manage them. You can learn techniques of how to reduce anxious thoughts, for example. 
  • Triggers can also be identified so you can spot the warning signs of distress before they get out of control which gives you room to choose another response. 
  • A personalised hypnosis will be made for you to embed these changes and make them long-lasting. Often, beliefs are deeply held in our unconscious and we are not even aware of them so making positive suggestions to this part of the mind can be extremely powerful. 

If you think that your childhood is affecting you, your relationships and your career, I would say get some help. This is because the very nature of our upbringing means that we are unable to change things on our own. Good luck. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, Greater London, SE2
Written by Amanda Stewart, DipCHyp HPD Master Practioner NLP
London, Greater London, SE2

I work with people who have experienced dysfunctional childhoods or have an insecure attachment.
You may be addicted to love & choose the wrong partners or you may stay away from intimate relationships altogether.
You may also have anxiety,depression and/or low self esteem as well as experiencing loneliness & anger.

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