6 Signs You Were Raised By A Narcissist

-Anna Almendrala

Once you figure this out, a whole lot of other things will start to make sense.

To outsiders, your dad is a larger-than-life social magnet who attracts people from all walks of life. Or your mom is the perfect woman, always looking to please and juggling everything with ease.

But behind closed doors, all pretense falls away. Only you, their child, knows what it’s like to endure their cold shoulders for days on end over a minor infraction, or bear the brunt of constant, age-inappropriate demands for perfection and strength. You know what it’s like to be parented by a narcissist.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is one of 10 personality disorders described in theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, an authoritative psychiatric guide. Narcissists tend to have an inflated sense of self-worth and base their identity on the praise and approval of others. Their intimate relationships are superficial and focused mostly on how other people reflect on them, with little to no empathy for the other person’s experience. They genuinely believe that they’re better than other people, but they are also prone to feeling intense shame over critiques they receive or mistakes they make.

Researchers estimate that less than one percent of the general population has evidence of “full-blown” NPD, but anywhere from two to 16 percent of people who seek therapy have the disorder. That’s usually because the loved ones in their lives have demanded they seek help or risk losing their relationship, career or other life privileges, explains therapist Wendy Behary, founder of The Cognitive Therapy Center of New Jersey and author of the book Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed.

But children of narcissists are rarely in a position to demand that their parents seek help. In fact, they may not even realize that their parents were narcissists until they seek professional help for their own struggles, said Behary, who specializes in treating people with NPD and their “survivors.” While narcissists come in all varieties and their symptoms vary across a spectrum, Behary notes that there are a few ways for adult children to tell they may have been raised by a narcissist. In the points below, both she and psychologist Craig Malkin, author of the book Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad — And Surprising Good — About Feeling Special, break down the signs of a narcissistic parent, and what adult children should do to break the cycle of destructive decisions.

1. You’re a complete doormat.

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A narcissistic parent will trample all over their family to address their own desires without giving much thought to what anyone else needs. Because of this, some adult children of narcissists will actually overcorrect and bend over backwards to make sure no one could ever possibly perceive them this way. Alternately, they may have grown up all their lives being told that their needs don’t matter. Either way, the result is the same: They let people walk all over them because they’re not in touch with what they need and they don’t know how to express it.

“They’re not able to say, ‘I matter,’ and ‘I have needs’ because that feels narcissistic,” explained Behary. “Someone who’s fighting hard not to be a narcissistic parent ends up being trampled on.”

“I’ve seen clients whose parents made them feel sick, crazy, or selfish for expressing the most basic of needs,” agreed Malkin. “One of my clients felt so worthless and frightened as an adult, he suffered from nightmares and cowered in the face of any authority figures because they reminded him of his abusive father.”

What you can do: Learn as much about narcissism as you can, in order to be able to identify the dysfunctional messages you grew up with and start working against them.

“If I meet someone who has grown up with a narcissistic parent, or if I’m clued in that that might be the case, it’s really important for me to make sure that they understand narcissism in all of its colors,” said Behary. “We figure out together what type of narcissism their parent had, but even more importantly, we have to look for the part of them that got lost along the way.”

2. You’re afraid you might be a narcissist yourself.

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Not everyone overcorrects in reaction to seeing narcissism. Some children see that the only way to avoid ridicule and abuse is to be like the narcissistic parent, and over the years, this survival tactic turns into the way they genuinely see the world. Adult children who adopted these coping mechanisms may find themselves putting others down out of a fear — rooted in childhood — that if they don’t show strength first, they could be crushed, just like when they were young, explained Malkin. “Extremely strong-willed children, more extraverted from birth, sometimes become narcissistic themselves in a game of ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,’” he said.

What you can do: Seek the help of a professional to help you break out of abusive behavior patterns, especially if you already have a partner and/or children.

“Children of narcissists who find themselves name-calling and hurling insults aren’t without hope, but they need to roll up their sleeves and work hard emotionally,” said Malkin. “They need to become comfortable feeling — and expressing — vulnerable feelings like sadness, loneliness, fear, and overwhelm with those they love.”

3. You feel relentlessly competitive with, or resentful of, your sibling.

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Narcissists have trouble with personal boundaries and view other people as extensions of themselves. In families with several children, one may be chosen to reflect the narcissist’s best qualities. They get the most attention, praise and support, but are also under the most pressure to perform. Another child may be a target for the parent’s blame and shame, and scapegoated as a burden that can never do anything right compared to the chosen child. They may also be blamed as the reason that a narcissistic parent is forced to act in an abusive way. Both projections are two different sides of a narcissist’s personality, but the chosen child and the scapegoat will have two very different childhoods, and this pits them against each other, even into adulthood.

What you can do: Reach out to your sibling with what you’ve learned. If you were the chosen child, you might resent your sibling for the fact that they were under a lot less pressure than you. But if you were the scapegoat, you might resent your sibling for soaking up all the praise and glory and leaving none for you. Understand that the narcissist pits people against each other on purpose, to serve their own needs, and that this dynamic wasn’t your fault.

“Extremely narcissistic people love to put people on pedestals — almost as much as they enjoy knocking them off them,” said Malkin. “Perfect people don’t disappoint, so if you idolize people ― even your kids ― you needn’t ever worry about being disappointed or hurt. Scapegoating accomplishes much the same thing. You never have to worry about expecting too much and being disappointed because none of us really expect anything from people we view as worthless.”

There is hope for siblings who were put in this position as children, said Behary ― even if the only thing that unites them in the end is the shared experience of having a narcissistic parent.

“They can end up feeling extremely bonded to one another,” said Behary. “Common hostages going through different phases of torture, based on how bad the narcissist might be in their life.”

4. At times, you’ve felt you were more your parent’s partner than their child.

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Not all narcissists command the spotlight with their bold, brash personalities. Some narcissists demand the attention of the room by playing the victim or describing their problems as greater than anyone else’s problems. They may also try to control other people’s actions by threatening to harm themselves unless a certain outcome goes their way.

People with this kind of narcissistic parent may feel that they spend their entire childhood running to put one fire out after another, or trying to maintain the peace so that no one is hurt. Some of Behary’s clients tell her that they felt more like their mother’s husband than their mother’s son, and this burden meant that they were doing more of the emotional supporting than the parent was. Or they felt their life was all about keeping their father from getting angry at the family.

“It’s the sense of drama that the child feels they have to manage,” said Behary. “In order to do that, they really have to forfeit a lot of their own innate childhood needs.”

What you can do: Take time to acknowledge the young child that’s still inside you, and ask what his or her needs were and still are. Behary advocates using the power of imagination — aided, perhaps, by photos from childhood — to acknowledge the emotional needs that weren’t met and still aren’t being fulfilled by your parents.

“She’s still suffering in there and she needs someone to care about her,” said Behary. “She needs to be able to feel that she’s fine. She needs to know that she has rights too.”

5. You derive self-worth solely from your achievements.

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Some children of narcissists figure out that the only way to get along in this world is to do as their parent does and derive their self-worth from production, performance and achievement. While they may not be beset by the perilously low self-esteem and overwhelming sense of shame of a true narcissist, some adult children may take on behaviors like workaholism because their performance is the only way they’ve ever been taught to define themselves.

“The child of the narcissist learns that the only thing that matters is what I can produce in the world, not just my own little being,” said Behary. “[This] is very similar to the way the narcissist can be in the world, except children of narcissists may not have same brash overcoating — they’re more detached, more self-contained.”

What you can do: Try to empathize with your parent, suggests Behary. You don’t have to feel sorry for them, but it can be helpful to emotionally inhabit the feelings and choices of another person, to understand their thoughts and decisions, even if you don’t agree with them. Because of Behary’s work with narcissists, she understand that they are often intensely suffering because the survival tactics they learned in childhood are backfiring on them in adulthood.

While some researchers think that there may be a biological basis that makes some people more vulnerable to narcissism than others, others agree that the personality disorder stems from a complex mix of factors that include exceptionally harsh criticism and/or praise in childhood, which causes the child to shield their low self-esteem with a strong, perfect persona. It also makes the child especially needy of praise, admiration and flattery in order to feel normal, while leaving them especially vulnerable to even the slightest criticism, notes the Mayo Clinic.

“I care about the [narcissists] I work with because I know they’re suffering underneath,” said Behary. “People will say, ‘You’re such a softie on them,’ and I say I hold them responsible for their bad behaviors, but I don’t blame them for how they were formed.” Behary emphasizes that while narcissists may have turned out this way through no fault of their own, it is solely their responsibility — not their children’s — to do something about it.

6. You have no sense of yourself, your wants, your needs or your goals.

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A telling trait of narcissism is grandiosity: thoughts or feelings that one is superior to others, even if one doesn’t have the achievements to justify it. Narcissistic parents may see themselves as elite, but because they never achieved a certain level of success, they may find meaning in living vicariously through their children, explained Behary.

“Many children of narcissists will say, ‘I’m not sure how I ended up in this career because I never really knew what I wanted,’” said Behary. Or, “I always felt like I was poised to be more of a reflection of my mother rather than be my own person.”

What you can do: Consider going low or no-contact with abusive or manipulative parents. Not all narcissistic parents are abusive, explains Malkin. But parents with extreme forms of narcissism can leave their adult children feeling like shells of themselves, and sometimes the safest thing for adult children to do is to limit their exposure to these toxic relationships, especially if the parents don’t think they have anything to apologize for.

Malkin says there are three signs an adult child should consider going low or no-contact with parents: Abuse, Denial and Psychopathy. No one should ever have to put up with emotional or physical abuse, and if parents can’t acknowledge the fact that there’s a problem in the first place, there’s little chance that anything will change. Psychopathy, which in this case will look like a pattern of easy lies and remorseless manipulation, indicates that the parents aren’t just bad at putting themselves in others’ shoes — they may actually lack the ability to empathize with others, and may even lack a conscience.

“Abusers are 100 percent responsible for their abuse, and only they can stop it,” Malkin concluded. “Until they do, interactions won’t be safe.”

4 Questions Every Child of an Unloving Mother Asks

-Peg Streep

It’s almost impossible to overstate the effects of not having your emotional needs met in Infancy and childhood; yet the culture, fed by the myths that hold that mothering is instinctual and that all mothers love, remains resistant. It’s dispiriting to hear people who really ought to know better say things like “It couldn’t have been so bad because you turned out fine,” believing that outward achievement accurately reflects a person’s inner state.  Or, worse, “You were fed, clothed, and had a roof over your head so get over it” which betrays a singular lacking of understanding of what a child needs to thrive and what an enormous body of science knows. Human infants fail to thrive or even die without touch, eye contact and emotional connection, even when given food, water, and shelter.

Every time I try to put what the experience feels like into words—yes, it was my reality growing up—I end up quoting the authors of the truly marvelous book, A General Theory of Love. This is what they wrote:

The lack of an attuned mother is a nonevent for a reptile and a shattering injury to the complex and fragile limbic brain of a mammal.

Let me explain. A human infant’s brain develops from the bottom up—the least sophisticated part of it is ready to go at birth, regulating the physical systems that run the body. But it’s the higher brain that develops through attunement because we learn about emotional experience secondhand, by looking into our mothers’ faces. Our brains develop—quite literally—and are shaped by our experiences with our mothers. Children raised by loving and attuned mothers are better at regulating and identifying their emotions, deal with stress better, and understand the world of relationship as safe and satisfying. Children whose emotional needs aren’t met—whose mothers are unattached to them in one way or another or who are actively aggressive—have trouble managing their emotions and see relationships as potentially hurtful or frightening. Some environments are more toxic than others; science knows, for example, that aggressive verbal abuse causes physical changes in the developing brain.

The unloved child flails about, trying desperately to understand why she’s been pushed off by her mother, but her brain adjusts to the circumstances. We can thank evolution for this adaptability—it’s survival of the individual that matters after all—but the damage is done. Children raised by unloving mothers become insecurely attached, relating to others with an anxious/preoccupied style, a dismissive avoidant style, or a fearful/ avoidant one. All of this happens beyond consciousness.

But humans, even small ones, want to make sense of their circumstances. The age at which the child begins to question varies enormously from individual to individual but here, drawn from anecdote and story, are the questions unloved children ask. Our hardwired need for maternal love is the engine for the questioning voice.

Notably, they are questions that bubble up to the surface throughout the lifetime of the adult who was once a child unloved by her mother. And, while the answers may shift over time, there’s a sense in which they’re never answered satisfactorily.

1.Why doesn’t my mother love me?

This is the scary question because the terror is located in the first answer that comes to mind: Because of me. Unfortunately, from the child’s limited point of view, this is the most likely answer and has devastating effect. She may reach this conclusion because her mother treats another sibling differently. She may find confirmation in the aisle of a grocery store where she sees how a stranger responds to her child, or on the playground where she glimpses a little girl being cuddled in a way she’s never been. The jealousy—and panic—she feels in the moment, sparked by those mother-daughter pairs, may dog her for the rest of her life. The child whose mother is combative or dismissive in her treatment may have the answer echoed in abusive statements about her failings and weakness. These words— “You’re always so difficult,” “You’re not good enough to make anything of yourself,” “You’re too sensitive and weak”—confirm her fears that it’s all her fault that her mother doesn’t love her. That becomes internalized as self-criticism and underscores her understanding that she’s not loved because she’s unlovable. It’s a hard conclusion to shake.

2.Will my mother ever love me?

This is the question that launches the sometimes life-long quest to somehow wrest or capture the maternal love the child so desperately needs. It’s hard to overstate the passion, energy and effort that goes into this effort, fueled once again by that hardwired need for maternal love, support, and acceptance. It can last for decades and, ironically, actually increases the damage done to the daughter’s psyche in childhood. Daughters spend years defending their mothers in their heads as well as the outside world, making excuses for their behavior, because if they don’t, the answer to the question will be a definitive no. Rather than deal with that heartbreaking truth, they sally forth, ever hopeful. It’s a destructive and painful pattern, made worse by the daughter’s inability to set boundaries and her mother’s unwillingness to heed them.

3.What can I do to make my mother love me?

This is an aspect of the quest for maternal love but it begins in childhood and often continues. In childhood, the daughter comes up with strategies, some of them constructive and others self-destructive to get her mother’s attention and hopefully her love. Some daughters become high-achievers, hoping that will do the trick, while others take a more negative path. “I became a hellion as a teenager,” Sarah confided, “Because I thought that would make my mother pay attention to me. It totally backfired because my behaviors only confirmed her belief that I was worthless and not worth her attention. I was lucky in that I didn’t do anything really risky that could have derailed me for life and that a teacher of mine took me aside and pointed out what I was doing. She saved my life.”

4. Will anyone ever love me?

This is the biggest question of all, the answer to which has the power to make or break a person’s life in myriad ways, large and small. After all, if the person who put you on the planet in the first place doesn’t love you, who can or will?

The path to healing from childhood experiences is arduous and long but it’s a journey from darkness into light. There are different answers to these four questions than the ones we once thought were obvious but it’s only by working to heal ourselves that we can begin to grasp their truth.

How to treat Perfectionism in young people, and what causes it.

-Joseph Sacks, LCSW

A perfectionist is someone who deep down inside feels terrible about himself and tries to redeem himself from that poor self-image by achieving a perfect performance or by accomplishing truly amazing things. He feels that if he can finally get things just right, then and only then will he be a worthwhile person, but if he achieves any less than perfect he remains with feelings of being a failure. However in considering how to treat perfectionism in young people, we must remember that this goal is an illusion that never succeeds, since even the most perfect performance cannot cure low self-esteem. No matter how great his achievement, he notices that it does not relieve his poor feelings of self-worth, and concludes that only higher levels of perfection must be achieved to redeem himself. This mechanism involves severe self-imposed pressure and self-criticism and can generate significant anxiety since because consistent perfection is practically impossible, he is terribly anxious over his likely perceived failure. It can cause depression as he feels helpless and hopeless to ever achieve perfection and redeem himself from his low self-esteem, and he gives up and falls into a depression. It can cause obsessive-compulsive disorder as he drives himself endlessly to get every detail perfect. It can even generate back pain, migraines and a whole host of psychosomatic illnesses as his mind creates these physical illnesses to distract him from overwhelming feelings of worthlessness.

How does a young person get this way?

 To answer this question we have to go back to the most important thing in any person’s life, his early relationship with his parents. A perfectionist is usually someone who was born with a sensitive temperament and raised by loving, well-intentioned parents who unfortunately made some common errors such as being overcritical, showing lack of approval or showing love only conditionally. When the child does something wrong many parents reason that they’re helping out their child by calling attention to their errors so that they will improve and correct themselves, but unfortunately criticism, even so-called constructive criticism if administered on a regular basis is devastating to a child’s self-esteem. He feels that he just can’t get things right and that he is defective, and he forms a plan in order to rescue himself from these unpleasant feelings. He resolves to accomplish amazing things, to achieve near perfection and then and only then will he be a beyond the reach of the criticism of his parents.

In addition, if the parents display love and approval of the child only when he performs well he learns to think, “My value depends on my performance. I must have a superior performance otherwise I am worthless.”

Marital conflict or abandonment partially by one parent can also generate the condition, as the child thinks, “If I could just be perfect, mommy and daddy wouldn’t fight or break up. If I could just do amazing things he would see my value, pay attention to me and love me.”

Therefore if the patient is still young we need to educate the parents about providing an extremely non-critical, approving and accepting attitude towards their child.

How do we treat perfectionism in young people?

In therapy we will have a young person understand the whole maladaptive thought process how it got that way, how it is futile and how perfect performance will never restore his self-worth. Rather he needs to develop the habit of shooting for decent performance, for moderate goals, that less than perfect is also good. This takes considerable time and review as the habit of striving towards perfection is extremely strong. However the patient will begin to experience the profound beauty, joy and satisfaction of a mundane, average accomplishment. Yes one of the greatest pillars of mental health for everyone is appreciating the value of moderate, average, halfway decent performance. Since by definition most of what people accomplish in life falls in that range we need to learn to embrace it and celebrate it. Such appreciation will indeed create true self-esteem as the person will see true value in the many ordinary things he does. Furthermore the patient must avoid self-criticism at all costs! Developing an attitude of self-acceptance is accomplished by understanding that considering the difficulties he went through in childhood, he is actually doing fantastic! In addition in therapy the patient needs to gain a conscious awareness of his authentic feelings, his emotional life. This further create self-esteem as the person thinks, “I perceive my feelings, thoughts, needs, desires and values as real and worthy.” Furthermore the patient needs to mourn and grieve the unfortunate events in his childhood that led to his condition. This way the drive towards perfection is reduced and replaced with moderate, reasonable, healthy goals and the accompanying anxiety, depression and mental health issues also subside.

Never underestimate the power of this great work. In months it can bring tremendous relief.

Emotionally Available Parents May Be A Game-Changer for Kids’ Future Success

-Traci Pedersen

Children with emotionally available parents tend to have a much stronger chance of future success even when they face other obstacles such as poor socioeconomic status, according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

The findings show that children who experience a healthy attachment and high-quality emotional bond with their mothers have greater cognitive development as preschoolers.

Research has shown that our children’s chances of future success are driven by a variety of factors, including those that are somewhat beyond our immediate control, such as genes and financial status. The new study, however, found that a caring and emotionally attentive parent is likely to be a solid, long-term game-changer.

For the study, the researchers examined 27 children between the ages of four and six. They looked at the quality of the children’s emotional bond to their parents, whether or not they were shy or withdrawn and also examined their cognitive control skills, such as their ability to resist temptation and remember things.

The research incorporated a variety of questionnaires, behavioral tasks, and electrophysiological measurements. The findings, according to lead author Dr. Henriette Schneider-Hassloff, “support developmental theories which propose that a high emotional quality in the mother-child interaction (attachment security) fosters the cognitive development of the child.”

Schneider-Hassloff, of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at University Hospital Ulm in Germany, looked at the quality of the emotional bond — referred to as emotional availability (EA) — between mothers and children and measured the children’s executive functions through a number of exercises.

Using EEG (electrotroencephalography), the researchers measured the neural responses of children as they were asked to complete tasks that inhibited certain aspects of their behavior. EEG is able to measure small variations in voltage in certain key parts of the brain.

Schneider-Hassloff noted, “this study investigated the association between emotional interaction quality and the electrophysiological correlates of executive functions in preschool children for the first time,” thereby shedding new light on the long-term importance of emotional nurturing.

Parents who encourage independence in their kids while remaining emotionally available thus give their young children a greater chance at future success. Even in hardships, such as financial insecurity and living in poor neighborhoods, parents can create a healthy emotional space that will have long-lasting and powerful consequences for the child’s future life-skills, the study asserts.

The researchers encourage further work into emotion-driven parenting, particularly for children at risk.

Were You a Needy Child? There is No Such Thing

-Jonice Webb, PhD

My mother has complained about my behavior as a child for YEARS. When I was little, she says I “always wanted to be held,” and was “so dramatic” as a teen, acting out to get attention. I was nearly held back in Kindergarten for lack of social skills; I hadn’t been around children my age regularly until then. In occasional situations with peers, she reports that I clung to the wall.

She was faithful to pass along my father’s criticisms, because he rarely spoke. He had no friends and didn’t participate in social activities. He was hospitalized this January, and my mother didn’t even tell me! He passed away 3 weeks after I found out he was sick. I have no tears; I barely knew him. He hasn’t been gone 6 months and the house I grew up in is already on the market.

Perhaps they assumed that if their kids were fed, clothed, sheltered, and in school, their work was done. My mother said once that it never occurred to her that she should be teaching her children to take care of themselves. We were her job.

I’ve struggled for over 50 years to find my strengths, and am scared and frustrated to be without a career (or job) at an age when most people are preparing for retirement.

———————————————-

Dear Anon,

Reading your mother’s description of you as a child breaks my heart. She thought you were excessively needy. I can, without even knowing you, say with 100% certainty, that you were not needy or poorly behaved.

You were emotionally starving.

In reality, there is no such thing as a needy child. All children are emotionally needy by definition. It is the parents’ responsibility to try their best to understand what their child needs and to try their best to provide it. Whether it be structure, limits, freedom of expression, emotional validation or social skills, it’s all part of the job.

Growing up emotionally ignored results in growing up with a tendency to ignore yourself. When you ignore yourself, you don’t have a chance to truly know yourself. What career should you be in? What kind of job would you excel at and enjoy? Not knowing yourself makes you feel lost, alone and at sea. The answers are there inside of you, but you were not taught how to find them.

Many parents (yours included) don’t realize that their job is not simply to provide for their children and raise them; they’re also supposed to respond to their children’s emotions. Wanting to be held is a healthy and normal requirement that all children have. “Drama” is nothing other than a judgmental word for emotions. Teenagers act out when they’re either over-controlled or under-attended to by their parents.

How can you know yourself when your parents never knew you? How can you feel that you’re lovable when you didn’t feel love from those who brought you into this world and are supposed to love you first and best?

Fortunately, dear Anon, you can still get where you want to be! Accept that you are worth knowing, and start giving yourself the attention you didn’t get as a child. Notice what you like, love, hate, enjoy, prefer, and need. Start noticing what you feel, and start using those feelings to guide and connect you.

If you haven’t yet read Running on Empty, please do so as soon as you can. If you don’t have a therapist, please consider finding one. The social and emotional skills you missed can be learned. You are a classic example of Childhood Emotional Neglect. And you can heal.

 

People Get So Immersed in Their Children’s Happiness That They Lose Sight of Their Own

Gretchen Rubin

Happiness interview: Caren Osten Gerszberg.

I got to know Caren a few years ago through a mutual friend. She’s a writer who covers travel, education, and is also a co-founder of the site Drinking Diaries (“from celebration to revelation”), along with Leah Odze Epstein. They just co-edited a thought-provoking anthology, Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up.

Caren writes often about issues that touch on the subject of happiness, so I was interested to hear what she had to say.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

Caren: Reading by the fireplace. Playing Scrabble with my kids. Waking up before dawn to catch an airplane. Watching a movie in bed. Spending Friday night dinner with my family. Hiking with my two dogs and watching them lope through the woods. Rock climbing to a point where I can look at a vista and let it seep in. Taking evening walks with my husband to the Long Island Sound, where we look at the water in the moonlight. Settling in to shavsna, or “corpse pose,” after a good yoga class. Typing the last word of an article I’m writing.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

When I was 18, happiness amounted to a sensation. It was deep, but fleeting, and involved a thrill with friends or a fun happening with my very fun parents. Now, when I’m happy, I feel it down to my core, mostly when I’m with my husband and children. It’s been 30 years since I was 18—I’ve lost my father and one of my childhood friends to cancer, and my mother suffers from mental illness. There is nothing I take for granted. Happiness is a blessing and I appreciate it profoundly whenever I feel it.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?

Yes. I grew up surrounded by anger and stress, which took up a life of their own in my life, and thus in my head. As cliché as it sounds, sweating the small stuff used to interfere with my path to happiness on a frequent basis. In recent years, I’ve learned how to meditate, breathe deeply, and be more accepting of myself and others, which has afforded me greater access to happiness. I’m no expert, but feeling the positive impact inspires me to continue the journey.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?

It took me many years to accept that it’s okay to feel blue. As a kid, I felt responsible for my mother’s happiness, which weighed heavily on my own. But I’ve learned over the years that it’s okay to have bad days, because that’s how you learn to appreciate the good ones. So when I’m feeling blue, I seek comfort from within, reminding myself that it’s okay to feel blue and that hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day. And usually, it is.

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?

In our society, and particularly in the community in which we live, I often see people getting so immersed and involved in their children’s happiness, that they seem to lose sight of their own. When I became a mother, nearly 19 years ago, I was deeply fearful of losing my identity as an individual. It was not easy to obtain a balance, but I knew that I needed to feel productive and invested in my own self-worth in order to be the kind of mother I wanted to be. Fortunately, but not without bumps in the road, there is balance in my life. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a writer, and a friend, and feel comfortable and happy in all of my roles.

Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy?

As much as people think I’m a social person, I also love being at home. I love reading and soaking in the bathtub by candlelight, spending time by the fireplace in our living room, and feel very happy when I’m cooking in our kitchen. There was a time when I felt irritated by the hubbub surrounding the kitchen space every afternoon, with my kids shouting at one another and fighting over this and that. But ever since my father got sick and passed away, I realize the value of that noise. Those sounds—now music to my ears—mean that my family is alive and interacting, and minus the fighting, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

3 Types of Parents Who Get Bullied By Their Own Children

…and some expert advice on stopping the cycle.

Susan Newman, PhD

Parents often make excuses for their children’s outrageous behavior, whether it’s a preschooler’s tantrum or a teen’s sullen refusal to do what he or she has been asked. Children who become unmanageable or verbally abusive to their parents are, in fact, bullies, although most parents don’t think of these behaviors in that way.

Maybe they should.

Sean Grover, a New York psychotherapist, mustered the courage to call such children exactly what they are—bullies—and figured out how frustrated parents can take charge again and restore positive parent-child relationships.

Here’s what he had to say:

Sean, you have worked with children and parents for more than 20 years. What prompted you to write, When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully—and Enjoy Being a Parent Again?

Grover: Years ago, when I started to feel I was being bullied by my own child, I read every parenting book I could get my hands on. I found a lot of generic advice that doesn’t fit all parents, or quick solutions that didn’t last.

I realized that parenting books rarely address a parent’s unique history, culture, and parenting style. When I stopped trying to fix or change my child, and explored my own role in fostering her bullying behaviors, I found the answers I needed. Her behaviors were a direct consequence of my own insecurities.

The greatest impact on how we parent is our personal history. It amazed me how few parenting books took that into account. Obviously, I can’t provide therapy to all the parents who are being bullied by kids. So in the book, I use worksheets, journaling, and insight-oriented exercises to help parents understand their history and discover how it affects their parenting choices.

When we think of bullying, most of us couple the word with “school.” We worry about our children being bullied in a school setting. How does a parent recognize that they have a bully in the house?

Grover: The collision course between parents and children is nothing new. All children go through test periods. Parents are always in the position of making unpopular decisions and saying no to things kids want to do.

When a child tests a parent’s authority and the parent sets a limit, the child learns to control himself. Setting limits and boundaries is essential to a child’s healthy emotional development. When those limits and boundaries aren’t set clearly, you’ll soon find yourself at a tipping point for bullying.

Testing can be described as nagging and pestering. Bullying, on the other hand, is aggressive, hostile, and mean. It involves verbal assaults, physical aggression, putdowns, and unrelenting abuse. And it feels terrible.

The bullies in the schoolyard are no different from the child bullying her parent at home: Both will stop at nothing to get what they want. They lack empathy and are trapped in their own narcissism. They will threaten, blackmail, and terrorize you until you give in. Until they are taught limits and boundaries, the parent-child relationship is doomed.

The question most parents ask when their child of any age rebels or become difficult is: What happened to my sweet, affectionate, obedient child? How does pushing the limits and seeking independence cross the line to bullying?

Grover: Never let your kid disrespect you. Never let your kid talk down to you. Establish a culture of mutual respect in your family. Help your kid to express frustration constructively. Children have more feelings than words, so they need strong leadership from their parents to learn how to express themselves in words effectively and use frustration as fuel for personal growth.

A little bit of defiance is expected in children. It’s how they learn to be assertive and establish a solid sense of self and identity. You don’t want your kid being too cooperative or too accommodating. He or she will become a pushover or a target for bullies, and is more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression.

What immediate steps can a parent take when immersed in a standoff with their child?

Grover: Bullying is a symptom of an unbalanced inner life. When your kids act up, ask yourself: What’s really going on here? Are they tired? Are they hungry? Are they frightened? Perhaps they are having social difficulties at school or suffering from undiagnosed learning problems that create much psychic tension and devastate self-esteem. Try to locate the source of their anxiety, then address it directly.

In heated moments, don’t become reactive. Hit the pause button. Maintain your leadership and never bully back. If you bully back you are establishing a bullying culture in your family.

When to comes to raising children, modeling is king. I’ve heard it said that children absorb 10% of what you say and 90% of what you do. If you’re losing your patience, yelling, and threatening, you’re going to eventually be on the receiving end of that behavior from your kids. You may not see it when they are young, but as they get bigger and feel more powerful, it will resurface with a vengeance.

Why do parents give in to bullying from a child?

Grover: The true cause springs from parents’ own histories—how they were parented, their childhood experiences, and the modeling that their parents provided. These are the true causes. Were they bullied as children by their own parents? Did they grow up with an absent or neglectful parent? Did they have a narcissistic parent? These are questions parents want to explore.

I also look at what’s going on in parents’ lives: Are they in an unhappy relationship? Does their partner have a different parenting style? Are they suffering parent burnout? It’s hard to parent well under those conditions.

Self-care and child care go hand in hand. Often the best way to turn a bullying situation around at home begins with taking better care of yourself.

Three parenting styles are most likely to trigger bullying in children.

The guilty parent. Something has gone wrong—a divorce, an illness, a financial hardship—and now the parent feels guilty. To ease their guilt they give their kids too much freedom and not enough limits. This always backfires.
The anxious parent. This is a parent who is always worrying and expressing anxiety. Children experience a parent’s anxiety as, “I don’t believe in you,” “I don’t trust you,” or “you’re not a capable person,” and this triggers a lot of anger and resentment toward the parent.
The fix-everything parent. These parents can’t stand to see their children frustrated and constantly step in and solve problems for them. Such parents have good intentions and are often heroic, but the outcome is horrendous. The child remains dependent on the parents and unconsciously resents them for it. They are never satisfied. In fact, the more you give them, the less they appreciate you. Children have a natural drive for independence that needs to be encouraged. The fix-everything parent discourages it and therefore dwarfs the emotional development of their own child. Children of fix-everything parents have a tendency to age but not mature.

In your book you provide a training ground for new skills and a road back to sanity for parents bullied by their kids. What can parents do to counter the bullying and reverse patterns that may already be set?

Grover: Parents committed to working on themselves rarely fall victim to continued bullying. Mindfulness is not a word often associated with parenting. Neither is self-mastery. But without either it’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with your child. Parenting will always be an emotional and psychological workout.

After exploring your personal history and exposing the fears and insecurities that foster bullying in your child, make a concrete plan of action that begins with assembling an anti-bullying support team. Too often, bullied parents are ashamed of the situation. Breaking the silence and involving others for support is crucial.

Make sure you and your partner are united. Conflicting parenting styles are often at the heart of behavior problems at home.

Enlist friends and family. Children respond positively to adults other than their parents when these behaviors are confronted. Look for models and mentors in adults that your children look up to.

Involve school officials. Talk to guidance counselors and teachers. If your kid is into sports, talk to the coach. Let them know you are struggling and enlist their support.

Seek professional help if the bullying continues. Look for resources in your neighborhood that offer parents support or ask friends for a referral.

5 Top Parenting Challenges and How to Deal with Them

Parenting tweaks that curb children’s annoying behavior.

Susan Newman, PhD

Rebecca Eanes, creator of Positive-Parents.org asked some 9,000 parents what behaviors in their children upset them and made them “lose their cool.” The ideas she has for disciplining and moving away from conventional parenting will go a long way in minimizing the upsetting challenges the parents reported and that almost all parents face at some point: aggression, tantrum throwing, whining, back talk and not listening.

In her new book Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, Eanes trades punishment for solutions and presents new ways of disciplining that lead to a more positive parenting experience. I asked her how parents can cope with the five top challenging behaviors.

Q: When you did your parent poll, Aggression headed the list. You caution parents to respond and not react. What can parents do to curb a child’s aggression—let’s say your five-year-old just hit a friend?

A: We must, first and foremost, make sure that we don’t act aggressively toward their aggression, which is so often the case in traditional discipline when a child is spanked or shamed for hitting. This means we have to be in control of our reaction. The next step is to get the child out of the situation. I recommend a time-in, putting the child onto your lap or sitting near you. The purpose of the time-in is to calm the child down and get his or her brain out of that reactive fight or flight state. Much of the traditional discipline techniques do not calm children’s brain but, in fact, do just the opposite, and a brain locked in that state can’t reason well. This is why we take the time-in which both sets the limit of “I won’t let you hit” and provides space and skill to calm down so that he or she can be rational again.

Once the brain is out of fight or flight, discuss alternatives and ask the child how he or she is going to solve the problem, which in this case is an upset friend. We need to be teaching our children to be emotionally intelligent by practicing scenarios that will greatly lessen the chance that hitting will occur.

Q: Tantrums. In your book you write that parents need to understand that tantrums are a plea for help for emotions that are too difficult for children to handle. What is the difference between a young child’s tantrum and one of an older child?

A: There are different types of tantrums, and we tend to use this word for any outburst that a child has. True tantrums are total emotional overwhelm and are common in very young children. They have underdeveloped prefrontal cortices, and this is the part of the brain that regulates emotion and social behavior. We often think of tantrums as some manipulative ploy to get their way, but this would require the brain power of a region not yet developed enough to produce it. The emotional overwhelm sends them into that reactive state, and just providing empathy and a loving presence to help them through it is really all they need. This will lessen as their brains mature.

Older children may “tantrum” or essentially “throw a fit” if they feel they are being treated unfairly (adults do this, too, unfortunately). This is a signal that they need help developing better emotional control and learning how to express emotions appropriately.

There is no simple technique that will stop tantrums by children of any age, and the complex reasons behind the behavior are as unique as the children experiencing them. Of course, limits should be set on hitting, kicking, throwing things, slamming doors, and other destructive behaviors that may result from an outburst. Ultimately feelings cannot be punished away; they must be worked through. It comes down to determining why a tantrum is occurring and giving children the knowledge and skills needed to move beyond tantrums.

Q: Whining is so annoying to parents. It’s a “step-up,” so to speak from a baby’s crying. Like a baby’s cry, whining in an older child tells you he wants something. A parent can feel as if she’s being manipulated. What’s the best way to address a child’s whining?

A: Many experts advise parents to ignore a child who is whining, but again, I don’t believe that ignoring the people we are closest to does anything positive for the relationship. In the book, I recommend these four approaches.

Listen. Often children just need to feel heard and understood. Acknowledge the upset that’s causing the whining.
Look for the reason behind the whining. Is it signaling hunger, tiredness, or built up frustration? The solution could be as simple as a sandwich.
Provide lots of preemptive cuddles and laughter. Laughing releases the same built-up negative feelings as crying (or whining). Spending time giggling and connecting every day will reduce whining.
Teach children to use their “strong voices.” You might say, “I care about what you’re saying, but I can’t understand that voice very well. Can you tell me in a strong voice?”

Q: Not Listening. Kids tend to tune out when a parent makes a request. How do you get children to pay attention or cooperate—to hear what you are saying or asking?

A: Ironically, the way parents typically try to gain cooperation from kids actually causes them to tune us out. Nagging, lecturing, counting, and demanding do nothing to foster cooperation. Punishment or the threat of punishment may compel the child to act, but this isn’t real cooperation.

First, keep the bond with your child strong. Children generally cooperate well when they feel close and connected. They want to please people they are in good relationship with. Secondly, think about your expectations. It’s hard for many children to switch gears quickly, so asking him to leave his Lego building “right this minute” and take a bath is expecting quite a lot. Let’s give them same courtesy we would like to have given to us and allow them a reasonable amount of time to comply.

Try these tips to gain cooperation:

Rather than barking orders across the room, try to get your child’s eyes and attention and then use a firm but respectful tone.
Use “I want” statements rather than “will you” statements. “I want you to pick up these toys” instead of “Will you pick up these toys?” Asking leaves room for a “no” answer.
Ask once, give a reasonable amount of time to comply, then take action. We complain about having to ask our kids a dozen times to do something, but we don’t need to be asking a dozen times! If they don’t comply on their own, get up and make it happen.

Q: Back Talk. We are talking about respect—or lack thereof—when we look at back talk. It is a form of challenging you or your authority. Much of reducing or eliminating back talk has to do with conflict resolution…and communication. What are the key things parents should keep in mind that will minimize back talk and keep it from becoming a chronic problem?
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A: You’re right, the biggest issue parents have with back talk is a feeling of being disrespected. We are tempted to shut it down immediately in order to prove our authority, but children learn the valuable skill of conflict resolution by being in conflict with people, and that means firstly by being in conflict with parents. Rather than being quick to shut down back talk, we can use it as an opportunity to teach our children how to respectfully communicate their disagreement and state their case.

You might encourage positive communication by asking, “Why is this important to you?” or “What other ideas do you have that meet the needs of all involved?” Of course, you don’t want to engage in a back-and-forth every time your child challenges you. If something is truly non-negotiable, use a short and respectful statement to disengage from the argument, such as “I’ve already answered that” or “I won’t be arguing about this.” If your child resorts to being truly disrespectful, you might say, “I understand that you are feeling upset, but speak in a way that doesn’t attack me. If you can’t do that right now, take a break and come back when you’re ready to.”

You should absolutely model boundary setting in the way you allow people to treat you because you want your children to be able to set those same boundaries with others.

Finally, being too controlling and being too permissive both elicit back talk. Reflect on whether you have been either if back talk is becoming an issue in your home. Children need a firm but fair leader who takes their opinions respectfully into account and also knows how to stand firm when needed.

Spending too much time on phones and tablets is like ‘digital heroin’ to kids

Staff Writer, Thai Tech

An expert in technology addiction has said that excessive use of smartphones and tablets is like “digital heroin” for kids.

Writing in the New York Daily Post, Dr Nicholas Kardaras explained how using technology such as tablets and phones raised dopamine levels, the hormone associated with rewards or feeling good.

Dr Kardaras added that research shows that the frontal cortex of the brain is affected by screens in the same way as it is affected when taking cocaine.

Citing Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at the University of California and Chinese researchers who each described screens as “electronic cocaine” or “digital heroin” to kids under 10 years of age.

Dr Kardaras says that once a child crossed the line of ‘tech addiction’ they become increasingly anxious, aggressive and depressed.

“It [tech addiction]can even lead to psychotic-like features where the video gamer loses touch with reality,” he said, adding that treatment can become difficult.

“I have found it easier to treat heroin and crystal meth addicts than lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts,” Dr Kardaras said.

He adds that children need a full on digital detox, meaning no computers, smartphones, tablets and in some cases even television for a period of between 4 to 6 weeks in order for the child’s hyper aroused nervous system to reset itself.

Dr Kardaras tips for preventing tech addiction in kids is to play Lego rather than Minecraft, read books instead of play on the iPad or play sport instead of watching TV.

He also recommended having honest discussions with your kids about the amount of time they are allowed to use a smartphone or tablet and limiting such electronic devices at the dining table.

He adds that parents should really wait until a child is at least 10 years old before giving them a smartphone or tablet.

Many U.S. Kids Lack Secure Attachment, Face Future Hurdles

-Rick Nauert, PhD

A somber new study of some 14,000 U.S. children finds that 40 percent lack strong emotional bonds with parents and are more likely to face educational and behavioral problems as a result.

In a report published by Sutton Trust, a London-based institute that has published more than 140 research papers on education and social mobility, researchers found that infants under the age of three who do not form strong bonds with their mothers or fathers are more likely to be aggressive, defiant, and hyperactive as adults.

These bonds, or secure attachments, are formed through early parental care, such as picking up a child when he or she cries or holding and reassuring a child.

“When parents tune in to and respond to their children’s needs and are a dependable source of comfort, those children learn how to manage their own feeling and behaviors,” said researcher and doctoral student Sophie Moullin. “These secure attachments to their mothers and fathers provide these children with a base from which they can thrive.”

In the new reports, researchers used data collected by the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative U.S. study of 14,000 children born in 2001. The researchers also reviewed more than 100 academic studies.

Their analysis shows that about 60 percent of children develop strong attachments to their parents, which are formed through simple actions, such as holding a baby lovingly and responding to the baby’s needs.

Such actions support children’s social and emotional development, which, in turn, strengthens their cognitive development, the researchers write.

These children are more likely to be resilient to poverty, family instability, parental stress, and depression. Additionally, if boys growing up in poverty have strong parental attachments, they are 2-1/2 times less likely to display behavior problems at school.

The approximately 40 percent who lack secure attachments, on the other hand, are more likely to have poorer language and behavior before entering school.

This effect continues throughout the children’s lives, and such children are more likely to leave school without further education, employment, or training, the researchers write.

Among children growing up in poverty, poor parental care and insecure attachment before age four strongly predicted a failure to complete school.

Of the 40 percent who lack secure attachments, 25 percent avoid their parents when they are upset (because their parents are ignoring their needs), and 15 percent resist their parents because their parents cause them distress.

Dr. Susan Campbell, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh who studies social and emotional development in young children and infants, said insecure attachments emerge when primary caregivers are not “tuned in” to their infant’s social signals, especially their cries of distress during infancy.

“When helpless infants learn early that their cries will be responded to, they also learn that their needs will be met, and they are likely to form a secure attachment to their parents,” Campbell said.

“However, when caregivers are overwhelmed because of their own difficulties, infants are more likely to learn that the world is not a safe place — leading them to become needy, frustrated, withdrawn, or disorganized.”

The researchers argue that many parents — including middle-class parents — need more support to provide proper parenting, including family leave, home visits, and income supports.

“Targeted interventions can also be highly effective in helping parents develop the behaviors that foster secure attachment. Supporting families who are at risk for poor parenting ideally starts early — at birth or even before,” said Jane Waldfogel, Ph.D., a co-author of the report and a professor of social work and public affairs at Columbia.

Source: Princeton University