From Anxiety to Zen

Getting you on the other side of anxiety

The Ultimate Relationship Killer

Learn the real meaning behind "when push comes to shove." Read More


There is a lot here to think about and discuss, and I do think its am important lesson for people to take to heart not to lap up the emotional scraps.

But what kind of bothers me is the blame we lay on parents, calling their own inability to parent us perfectly as "emotional abuse" rather than giving them the compassion they might deserve as imperfect human beings as well. Stressed working mothers of three children coming from their own imperfect childhoods don't suddenly develop perfect parenting strategies out of a vacuum - and the inability to do so is not abuse nor is it narcissism. Rather, I'd argue some of it is the reality of the human condition, some of it is the reality of our social construct that lacks a true village to support families leaving so many mothers without adequate support (financial, emotional, social, etc).

Children do end up products of their parents. But maybe we could change how we talk about this. I'm not sure it's helpful to blame our parents (and then ourselves when we fall short as parents). I would argue that compassion goes a long way toward building loving families - and that includes compassion for our parents, too (even as we struggle to come to terms with their imperfections).

Blanket Statements

Blanket statements are just not useful. Individuals are reading these articles are looking for truths to resonate with their individual circumstances. The experiences of the individual readers will run the full gamut of the human experience. Not every article will resonate with every reader.

On the flip side of "Anonymous'" statement, many adults carry with them the messages that they were raised with that their parents were not to be questioned. As adults, they need to find ways to look at the realities of what they grew up with, getting past the message not to question their past or their parents. Frankly, some of what happens to to some kids is really messed up.

The ultimaae relationship killer

I grew up thinking that I was not loved as the eldest of my parents' children. To recognize and accept that they were human beings with personality disorders finally gave me the understanding to FORGIVE AND BLESS THEM. Because of their lack of skills parenting plus emotional disfunction I am able now to recognize what made me strong as well as disfunctional when it comes to relationships, be husbands, children, family or friends.And I am grateful that it has given me the opportunity to finaly conquer y anxiety and fear of committment. I have come to the conclusion that all happens for a reason. It has given me peace and happiness.

Best to you...

Aly--wonderful that you found a space in your heart to forgive. I wish you continued peace and happiness.

~Linda Esposito

It is not blame to understand

It is not blame to understand where the anxiety that one may have comes from. Most of our deep rooted issues come from our most important relationships which are to our parents. It seems like justifications to say that mothers lack adequate support because both our parents affect us and one being financially stable or having support does not excuse any type of behavior toward a child. If you are emotionally unstable it is your responsibility to address it and not ride that excuse so you can act however you want. Just because a parent is not aware that they are in fact being emotionally abusive, or that they themselves had childhood issues again does not excuse the behavior because at the end of the day it affects us. Lastly, it is not the responsibility of the child being subjected throughout the years to their parents issues, to be compassionate. The responsible adult, and parent should make this the priority. It is a cop out to say that it wasn't the parents fault. Ok they didn't mean to, or they had their own reasons, but you still affect someone, and it does not make it ok, or give you license to continue to negatively affect someone for the rest of their life.

Point taken

You make relevant points. True -- as adults we're not privy to what our parents were going through back then and it's not fair to lay blame solely on upbringing. And compassion is the name of the human game, you're right.

Be that as it may, I stand by the contents in my article. I provided a single example from childhood. I would hope that readers would understand there were other instances. There is no excuse for creating a dynamic whereby your children are accustomed to having their needs come second, if at all. Our job as parents is to put the needs of our children first. Period.

The point of your article was

The point of your article was well put, I feel. Our parents can have damaged us in ways to which we may remain oblivious. Recognizing their fault and their blame can go far in at least being aware of our own relational weaknesses and flaws if not resolving them.

Perhaps qualification would have improved your article. As others have addressed, often our our parents' emotionally-abusive behavior was not necessarily done wittingly nor knowingly -- rather, our parents were themselves the products of earlier emotional abuse or deficiencies. That doesn't absolve them -- after all, a rabid dog is dangerous even if it contracted rabies through no fault of its own. But, although it can be emotionally difficult, it's sometimes necessary to distinguish the "rabies" and even the "rabies carrier" from the question "why and for what purpose did that rabid carrier subsequently infect me?" I can treat my rabies and identify who infected me without needing to malign that one who bit me.

As you well said, " Our job as parents is to put the needs of our children first. Period." Meaning ANY woman (or man) who "wants to have a baby because, well...I, I just want to have a child!" is simply motivated by natural biological impetus to reproduce, not by a rational, responsible, deliberated consideration of all involved in being a mother (or father) nor whether she is indeed fit and prepared emotionally, financially, medically, and relationally to nurture and equip a young human life. Unless she considers more the seriousness and the consequences of being a parent, and of not only how she'll affect her own child's future life but also how she'll thereby affect the lives of all others her child will interact with for as many as the next 70 or so years, then, she probably lacks the "child's-needs-first" attitude and is merely wanting a baby out of her own (although unconscious) selfishness. Babies aren't dolls, nor hobbies, nor pets; we can't pick-and-choose in such a way as to be able to say. "Of course I love my kids!" while actually doing for them only what makes ourselves feel good or is not inconvenient. Babies are human beings whose upbringing will critically affect not only their adult selves but society and everyone around them throughout their lives.

Would needing that attitude of "if I have a child, it must only be from a rational, objective decision, not from any emotional sentiment nor motherhood impulse" mean most of us should therefore NOT be parents? Even though I'm a long-married and a father of now-adult children, I believe, probably YES.
Would needing to being emotionally, financially, medically, and relationally fit and prepared disqualify many if not not most of us from being parents? Again, probably YES.

In contrast to early human history when population was tiny and so yielding to our biological impetus to having babies benefited our species, the human species is in now in no danger of extinction due to too few offspring; indeed, quite the contrary, with population growth and our consumption of resources. So even most of us not bearing children would likely only benefit humanity.

Parents are often the product of abusive/neglectful environments...


Regarding your point that a qualification would've clarified the role of parenting, yes -- we aren't privy to what our parents were going through -- yes -- I should've included this line in the article. Perhaps that would've shed light on the actual point which is never settle for someone who only shows up for you at the last minute.

Congratulations on your long-married status and the raising of your adult children.

Best wishes,
~Linda Esposito

Good Article

I thought the article was insightful and really well-written. My mother is a drug addict and has borderline personality disorder and did not take proper care of my sister and me, to such an extent that we had to clean the house and cook our own food at 8 years old; we had to buy our own groceries with money from part-time jobs and hide it in the closet so my mother's druggie boyfriend wouldn't eat it; my mother took us to her drug dealer's houses with her. So yeah, to say she put our needs second is an understatement. My sister and I lead happy, successful lives today (thanks to our supportive grandparents and also to a lot of luck), and when problems come up in my adult life, I rarely blame my mother; however, I can't deny that a lot of those events and my mother's behavior affected me and my personality.

Of course there are people who blame their parents for their problems incorrectly. There are also parents who were sincerely good, and/or parents who were doing their best. If you think you are one of those parents, or if you are an adult child of one of those parents, then good for you: this article does not apply to you and you can disregard the lesson. But the message really resonated with me and I thank the author for sharing it.

Danielle: if you read my

Danielle: if you read my comment carefully, you will read that I started by saying that as I child I felt unloved, that I am grateful that even with such disfunctional parents I was able, just like you, to grow up strong in some areas and not so strong in relationships...I took and take responsibility for turning a very ugly period in my life intoi= a positive one - y learning from it. I was not a perfect mother but I loved and love my children - which is a lot more than I got a child: y loved I mean that a parent is responsive and attentivee to the childrens physical and emotional being I also thought the article was very insigntful.


There's a wide continuum between growing up with a mentally ill, drug addicted mother, and a mother simply struggling to do her best who manages to bring you a dance dress last minute.

All I'm saying is somewhere in there, we need to take a big breath, and redefine what it is we're actually calling "abuse", even as we struggle with our own emotional scars and healing.

Anonymous commenters are interesting...

Hmm. Interesting how you interpreted this example at face value. Just because a situation is presented does not mean it is all-encompassing.

You are right that we all struggle with emotional scars and healing.

For what it's worth, Anony, I

For what it's worth, Anony, I entirely agree with you.


Thank you for sharing your story, Danielle. The resilience of children amazes me and provides so much hope when I hear the devastating stories in the therapy room.

Kudos to your awesome grandparents.

May you and your sister continue to thrive.

~Linda Esposito

healing childhood wounds

Hi Linda -
Excellent piece, and, as a fellow therapist, I didn't take it that you were trying to "lay blame" on your mom for your life, so to speak. You were working on an imbedded emotional pattern that needed to be identified and modified via taking the personal responsibility of doing the hard work of looking at yourself. And then shifting your energy into making changes. It;s not about blame, it;s about exploration of the self and emergence of new aspects of the self and strengthening of the self. Kudos to you for doing the hard work and not going all the way through life without definition, boundaries and awareness, so you can break the emotional pattern and carry different techniques into your own parenting. And yes, understanding and forgiveness of people as humans with limitations is a part of this extremely complex and generally long term process. No shortcuts. Warmly, Kathy

Embedded issues

Kathy -- thank you for nailing it! Exploration and hard work are essential for recovering from emotional pain and not passing on those experiences to your offspring.

Thank you friend.

Who defines "need?"

With the example of the leotard, I'm not sure what the trouble is. You did get what you "needed" by the deadline. Perhaps how you were put off made you feel not loved or not important, but if something is done by a deadline, why does it matter if is a week beforehand or just before? I find that my daughter is often angered and agitated when I don't hop up to her perceived needs when she demands. I believe her true needs are met: she has loving parents who love each other and her, shelter, food, encouragement for intellectual development, opportunity for social growth, relationships with extended family. However, were you to ask her, I do not make her "needs" a priority because I do not schedule my life the way she wants.

Let's try another example, that may be more fitting...

Not knowing if your parents will show up to your wedding until they make the decision to do so the night before: a bit more serious than a leotard, I got what I needed by the deadline, but the horrible sinking feeling that stuck with me continues to make it difficult for me to reach out and stay in touch. That it is me - ALWAYS me - that has to do the reaching, whether telephoning, traveling to, mailing cards, or paying for things, has exhausted the bonds I shared with my mother.

Love this

Hi Linda,
I love this one so much. Thank you!


Thank you Irene! You're a gem :)

my mother in law is a

my mother in law is a terrible parent, and thank God she didn't have custody of her children. she is manipulative, attention seeking and cruel. She hides it under a think layer of helplessness and sickening sweetness in public or while she is putting on a face ( until it is interrupted by extreme nastiness and intentional cruelty). Our counselor gave him/us a possible diagnosis as well as the "permission" to cut her off, and that was very important as we are no longer slaves to her whims/manipulations and dysfunctional emotions. We understand that she is sick, but it should be obvious with all of the relationships laying in ruin that she should seek out help, but instead she chooses to be too "proud" to get the help that is obviously necessary. We will no longer take her abuse.

I completely understand the

I completely understand the writer's point of view, as acknowledgement of an experience that marked her behavior. Nonetheless, many of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are based on core ideas, nourished by family and society, including this dehumanization of parents, through unreal expectations. Mothers, as women, have a bigger social stigma on what's expected of them. I used to be like that, until I realized that my mom was human: what thoughts were going through her head when she raised me? What traumatic experiences of her own made her to raise me as an anxious child? All I know is she did what she knew best, in her own humanity, as most mothers do. She was a being of her own: it's not real just to demand a mother to just dispose of her personality and feelings when she becomes a parent. It's even worse when motherhood is imposed by society as a " woman's duty", even now when we have more rights. While certainly there shouldn't be absolutely any tolerance for mistreat, it helps a lot to unravel this ideas based on stereotypes and restrictive gender roles to understand and heal. I think that a lot of the "emotional blaming" we do is based on these ideologies, and ideas, as social constructs, can be changed on a collective AND individual level.

Well said. Thank you for your

Well said. Thank you for your eloquence and insight.


This +1 million

When I do something like tell my nervous daughter, "You're ready, just do it." or "Are you going to pout or get up and win?" people look at me like I'm a monster. Uh, no. I was raised by my father who loved me very much. When he said those things they were across the board considered great life lessons, when I say them I'm a narcissistic ice queen. This is 2014, equality for everyone- except mothers.

I thought he was emotionally

I thought he was emotionally evolved. everything he did was perfect, until it wasn't. Now he is a monster that I can't escape. What are the warning signs?

Sounds like a classic

Sounds like a classic narcissist.

Maybe this will shed some light:

Best of luck with finding a truly evolved person -- they do exist!

How much did he really

How much did he really change? And how much of it was his changes and how much of it was actually your changes in perceptions of him?

Labelling someone as "a narcissist" is lazy, unhelpful and, in itself, dysfunctional if we are really seeking a clarification and true understanding of relational dynamics.

Thanks Linda, I totally agree

Thanks Linda, I totally agree with this article and appreciate every point in the takeaway section. Scraps aren't worth it

I'm sorry but I don't think

I'm sorry but I don't think the mother's actions necessarily equate to abusive behavior in this article. By the description the person has given; mother of several children, worker, artist etc. she sounds like she was juggling an awful lot. Curiously the father in this scenario seems absent. What role did he play in helping this mother, woman, human being, in the very demanding task of caring for several children?
What was the mother's state at the time and what issues did she have?
Possibly being a little overstretched I would say which was sadly a very common and is still a very common issue. Particularly with my parent's generation of the 1950s, women were expected to do everything perfectly amid deplorable chauvinism.
So the male psychologist raises his eyebrows in consternation at the statement that she "always came through". His questioning about why it had to get to that stage seems somewhat naive or chauvinistic.
Well, the woman was not the "perfect" mother/woman. But she managed and I would say, pretty well. How would "Mr Psychologist" go juggling similar demands I wonder?

But the answer to "how it got

But the answer to "how it got to that stage" is a separate issue: for, the issue here is, "how did that stage affect the child"? Even granting that the "how it got to that stage" was entirely out of the control or choices or capacities of the mother, and granting that the mother had zero help in the child care, and granting that the mother was systematically, inhumanely victimized by societal expectations, it nevertheless is that the mother ended up behaving and acting in a way which was emotionally abusive. Reasons behind abusive behavior may well mitigate the judgment upon the perpetrator, but they do not change the fact of nor the damage caused by the abuse.

Typically, unless someone who's damaged by emotional abuse first recognizes that they were abused, they can't begin to heal from or compensate for that damage. So, "how the perpetrator got to that stage" is initially besides the point. While it has a place in the abused relating to the perpetrator (for example, "I can forgive them because I know they knew no better"), it can distract and hinder the abused from recognizing the abuse for what it was and from recognizing the emotional damage which the abuse inflicted.

The point in the article is that, even IF the mother's behavior was because mom had been a victim herself, in order for her daughter to resolve issues, the daughter first had to recognize that it WAS abusive and to cease rationalizing her mom's behavior.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

Linda Esposito, LCSW is a psychotherapist helping adults and teens overcome stress and anxiety.


Subscribe to From Anxiety to Zen

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.