Adult Children of Scoldaholics

If your parents scolded you a lot, you may suffer long-term consequences.

Posted Apr 05, 2019

If you find yourself prone to scold, lecture, sermonize, and preach at, rather than converse with people, it may be a residue of your childhood experience. People who have been scolded a lot will tend to scold.

Your parents and teachers may have had anxious, tough childhoods, perhaps anxious by nature, with fragile senses of self-worth and unresolved hypersensitivity. Some people’s parents grew up in poverty or under oppressive conditions with people scolding them relentlessly, venting their frustration at their children’s expense. Scolding has its place but is often just a way for someone fragile to act as though they’re strong, confident, and in charge.

People often say what they need to hear. Children are often forced to suffer sermons that their parents wished they had heeded in their youth, a father who wished he had buckled down earlier insisting with uncommon urgency that his children buckle down. It’s more fun for the father to posture like he was a master of that life lesson than to feel like he failed to learn it.

There are whole cultures in which scolding is considered a virtue, just as there are whole cultures in which spanking children is considered a virtue (current research suggests that it is not).

Raising a child is about getting them to fly free but also getting them to fly right. Parents and teachers, therefore, have reason to try hard to get kids to straighten up—reason enough that they can rationalize any preaching and scolding they want to do, saying, “It hurts me more than it hurts you” when it doesn’t—when it’s a self-calming projection that the parent or teacher imposes on the child.

We all have our coping strategies but also our noping strategies, our ways of saying “nope" to whatever is hard for us to cope with. Adults often regress to their parent’s noping strategies. However your parent said nope, that’s your home base, your way of expressing authority and taking control of the situation, especially when you feel like you’re losing control.

Being the adult child of a scoldaholic can cause you loads of trouble. Scolding is the slippery slope to “infallibility battles,” black and white debates in which one party can claim to be infallibly right about everything with everyone else proven completely wrong about everything. In infallibility battles, one false move will be taken as a total vindication for whomever you’re battling. The stakes get high and the capacity for insight and exploration disappears. Worse, no one can admit to making a mistake because if they did, they’d be in for an insufferable scolding.

The US seems to be slipping into a culture-wide infallibility battle, perpetrated by a party of people who were scolded and preached at in their youth and have discovered that if one scolds with full-bore confidence, one can prevail in all infallibility battles. Honor no longer has to be earned; it just goes to whoever scolds loudest and longest, their police siren blare drowning out all introspective recognition of their own fallibility. Express outraged scolding and you'll enjoy all experience of your human imperfections will vaporize instantly. 

The shift toward scoldaholic, infallibility battles is especially toxic in a society like ours that must scramble to adapt to accelerating change. We need to be adaptive learners, capable of doubt, curiosity and exploratory debate, the very stuff that’s stifled by scolding and infallibility battles.