An important concept from General Psychology, the Parentified Child, is key to understanding why so many are suffering from feelings that everything is completely falling apart. In a word, many are not only overwhelmed by, but alternate between intense feelings of anger, hopelessness, and despair.
Parentified Children are children who early in life had to assume the role of a parent because their actual parents were unable to function as adults. Whether the parents suffered from debilitating mental illness, serious alcohol or drug addiction, were generally incompetent, or were unavailable emotionally, the basic roles between parents and children were fundamentally reversed.
Because the parents weren’t dependable, or fully present, the children had no alternative but to step in and keep things running as best they could. Thus, the children often prepared meals, dressed younger kids for school, etc. But as a result, the children had no childhoods themselves. This not only produced major bouts of depression later in life (normal disappointments and setbacks were magnified), but lifelong feelings of intense anger towards the parents, and adults in general.
I know all of this for a fact for I was a Parentified Child. My mother suffered from a chronic, debilitating form of depression and my father drove a cab at nights to get away from a sick wife and two young kids. My brother and I were thereby essentially left on our own to care for our mother and ourselves as best we could, which was difficult since there was barely enough money for food and rent for the run-down flats in which we lived.
However, I was blessed with brains. Since I didn’t want to live like my parents, and I did extremely well in school, I embraced education with a fierce passion. It was my ticket out of poverty. I not only ended up getting a PhD, but became a professor and a student for life. In short, those who have the character to survive bad, if not lost, childhoods have also developed the fortitude and will that are necessary for success later in life.
As a result of both my background and education, I understand perfectly what many are feeling, namely where are all the adults who are supposed to help take care of us? Just when the office of the Presidency calls for the most mature, healthy-minded, and highly functioning adult, we’ve elected someone who at best is nothing more than a highly disturbed child, and clearly, an out-and-out demagogue. This not only angers me greatly, but absolutely scares me to hell. My worst nightmare has come to life. Once again the children are put in the position of acting as grownups.
The election of someone so unfit as Trump to be President not only opens up, but relives old traumas. No wonder why Trump arouses such intense feelings.
If in addition, we add what’s going on in the world around us, then truly a dark cloud of bitter hopelessness has descended upon us: Civility has all but vanished. We’re assaulted daily by rudeness everywhere we turn. Dangerous driving has reached epidemic proportions. Madmen are in control of crazy so-called nation states. We live under a perpetual cloud of terrorism. Before and after Trump’s election, there’s been a dangerous surge in hate crimes. The one-percent continue to enrich themselves at the literal expense of everyone else. Callous unfeeling madmen do indeed run the world. They have to be carefully monitored and checked assiduously every day.
If there is a saving grace, and I believe there is, Parentified Children also live with an abiding sense of hope that things will ultimately get better, that somewhere, somehow, adults will eventually come to the rescue. I have never given up the hope that things will get better. After all, they did for me.
But for real hope to exist, we first have to recognize and accept that we are going through what Parentified Children suffered early in life.