Incorrect things your parents may have taught you

There is a film called Dogtooth where the “children” think Frank Sinatra is their grandfather and the word “telephone” means salt shaker.

The children are adults really. They’ve been told by their parents that they can only leave their house once their dogtooth falls. They’re desperate for freedom, constantly checking their dogteeth. One of them takes off her own dogtooth to prove she’s ready to leave.

Normally, our parents are the ones to guide us through this world, with all its cruelty and all its bliss. Explain how things work, who to trust, how to protect ourselves. Help us flourish so we can become strong, independent adults.

Yet, emotionally immature parents are more common than not. And those of us with them were taught to adapt ourselves based on their needs and desires. At its worst, we’re told to put our needs last. Scratch that. We were never introduced to the concept of needs. So we learnt to not have needs. No need for comfort, or praise, or desire.

Emotionally abusive parents harm their children, but not necessarily consciously. They do not wish to harm their children; if asked, that would be the last thing they’d want. Though, because they haven’t worked on themselves they do end up using techniques that ultimately raise unhappy adults.

Techniques emotionally abusive parents use:

  • Guilt tripping. They make you feel bad so that you succumb to their will.

  • Emotional manipulation. They tell you how you feel, instead of asking you, and tell you that you need to change your emotions to fit what they see as “appropriate behaviour”.

  • Gaslighting. They say that you overreact and things are not that bad instead of listening to you.

  • Projection. They may project feelings, telling you that you’re weak when they are the ones that feel weak. They may project their dreams, so you have to get the career they always dreamt of.

If you were raised by parents who used such techniques your inner life may look a lot like this:

  • A fragile sense of self

  • Thinking that your needs or experience do not matter.

  • Not expressing your true self.

  • Not trusting your judgment or emotions

  • Feeling like there’s something wrong with you at all levels (your emotions, your attitude, your actions, your body)

  • Struggling with self love or compassion

  • Struggling with anxiety and depression

And that’s why you may be “compliant”. The way you behave around other people may look a lot like this:

  • You’re prone to guilt-tripping

  • Following social norms even though they feel wrong, such as conforming to “why don’t you smile”, “you must forgive him”, “good girls don’t sleep around”, “boys don’t cry”.

  • Thinking that by putting boundaries you’re being selfish.

  • Thinking that life is about bending to other people’s will.

  • Accepting abuse from others and keep finding yourself in abusive relationships.

I’ve been taught things from my parents that do not make sense to me now as an adult. I was told to not talk about what happens at home. I learnt that to hide myself was to protect myself. I learnt that to ignore bad behaviour was to be safe. I was told that people who were mean to me had it worse, that they were “going through something and they didn’t mean it”. I learnt that if I tried to stop being abused things got worse. I learnt to ignore how I felt, keep it together, accept the situation, smile and be pleasant. It is no wonder that I allowed other people to shout at me, diminish me, mistreat me.

Yet, the older I get, the more work I do with myself, the more I’m convinced that the route to happiness is through a deep, strong sense of identity. It comes by listening with honesty and compassion to your body, your emotions and your needs. It can be hard to reach that stage when you’ve been raised to do the exact opposite. But you - and only you - know better when it comes to your needs. Listen to this voice inside you, your gut feeling, it will take care of you.

Self check-in:

  1. Is there anything you do just to please people though it feels wrong?

  2. Do you often find that your parents’ advice leads to being hurt in some way?

  3. Do you tend to doubt your judgment more often than not?

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