Why some families can be too close for comfort


Human babies are born much sooner than nearly all animals in terms of how developed we are. For instance, a foal can usually stand and walk within a few hours of being born.

But for our babies, it normally takes about six months until they can stand. In America, the usual age for a baby to be capable of walking independently is 12 months.

This means that as babies we depend completely on our parents and/or caregivers for the first 12 months. In fact, it’s for the first few years of life as there is also the basic human needs for warmth, shelter and love. Then we need care if we get ill in those first few years.

Because we are born so much sooner than most animals it means our brain is still developing. In fact, it doubles in size in the first year.

It keeps developing to about 80 percent of adult size by the age of three. Then it is 90 percent fully grown by the time a child turns five.

It’s partly for this reason โ€“ but also because everything is so new and for survival โ€“ those young children need to look and learn quickly. Consequently, many mental health experts see the first seven or eight years of life as those that largely shape us for the rest of our lives.

As Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384โ€“322 bc) said: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.”

Helicopter parenting

Helicopter parenting

All children need to develop in the right environment. As with an acorn, if the soil is not good and there’s not sufficient water and sunlight, the seed will not grow to its full potential as a majestic oak tree.

Likewise, if the tree is cramped by other trees, perhaps acorns growing that fell from the same oak tree โ€“ and maybe that parent oak tree itself if the acorn didn’t fall far enough away from it โ€“ then it won’t reach its full magnificent potential. It won’t grow as it should or as much as it can.

It’s a useful analogy to realize that it’s the same for us. If our family, especially parents or main caregivers, are too close to us, we will never grow as we should โ€“ so our true self remains unrealized.

Consider what is known as “helicopter parenting”. A helicopter parent is one who pays very close attention to their child’s activities.

The name “helicopter parent” was developed because these parents will hover over their children. They become excessively involved in their child’s daily life, often right through their childhood and teen years.

This can cause a child to develop low self-belief and have poor self-esteem. They don’t feel trusted to make their own decisions and choices because they are never allowed to do so.

Internal division

Their feelings about themselves can develop over time into mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. They might to the outside world โ€“ under their parent’s relentless guidance โ€“ look to be successful when they are adults in terms of earnings and statusโ€ฆ

But deep inside, children who’ve been brought up like this will often feel ill at ease. This is because they are most likely to be living for the aspirations of one or both of their parents/caregivers. Their parent is often attempting to live their unfulfilled ambitions through their child.

So it leaves this child as an adult feeling divided inside โ€“ they know something is deeply amiss: their insides do not match their outsides. Despite any external successes such as work, they always feel ill at ease.

This can frequently lead to emotional (and physical) diseases. It could be stress, burnout, anxiety and depression, but also such as an addiction โ€“ to drink, drugs or a process addiction โ€“ as they seek to change the uncomfortable way they constantly feel.

This is often intergenerational. That is, it is as physician, addiction expert and bestselling author Dr. Gabor Matรฉ terms it “the compressed torment of generations”.

It is often that the parent of a child who might have, for instance, been a helicopter parent was doing so in an attempt to deal with their own unresolved trauma. Consequently, in a way they are using their child (or children) as a way to try to heal themselves.

It is this that can continue the problems for many years after the child has become a young adult. This is even when they have left the family home.

No room to grow

This is why on the face of it some families, all the generations, can seem wonderfully close. People might see them, for example, eating together every Sunday, three or even four generations โ€“ a lovely large family group.

They may all work in the same business or at the same company. They frequently take holidays together. Or even more, when one of them moves to a new place or even a new country, they all go too.

Sometimes there are especially a couple of them who seem so close. Perhaps it’s a mother and daughter who are together so often that they seem more like twin sisters.

It’s significant that even when she’s a mother herself, this now grown-up daughter always seeks the advice of her mother when making decisions and choices for her own children. Sometimes there is nothing in all of this, and it really is just a loving close family.

But other times because one or both of the parents have been trying to heal themselves through their children, they simply cannot let them go in the way that parents need to let their children go off to live their own lives when they become young adults. In turn this emotional need for each other can often be traced back through the generations.

How to heal

Mental health treatment

In mental health terms, the real solution is always an inside job. To heal, people have to look inside themselves, not try to fix themselves with anything external or through anyone else.

This is why addictions โ€“ be it to drink, drugs or a process addiction such as work or gambling โ€“ never work. People can also become addicted to relationships, and this is the basis for what is known as codependency.

Melody Beattie, author of self-help books on codependent relationships, including the bestselling Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself wrote: “A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behaviour affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behaviour.โ€

Clearly, this sort of relationship is not healthy for anyone. Thankfully, there are proven successful solutions if someone sees the help of a person with expertise in this.

It doesn’t have to mean stopping having any contact with someone in the family or loving them any less. But it does mean looking inside and at childhood โ€“ and making some realisations that will help with becoming healthily independent.

Our expert team has treated people with all mental health conditions. Call us today for a confidential free chat with one of our friendly team here at Centres for Health and Healing.

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