Many of my clients describe the impact of being raised in an anxious home – where one or both parents were highly anxious. These parents might have suffered from the effects of either generalized anxiety, social anxiety, agoraphobia, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Due to the historical stigma of these disorders, many parents were never professionally diagnosed with a mental health disorder. It’s only later on in life, in adulthood, that these clients reported being are able to recognize and understand how anxious their mother or father were. Being parented by a person with anxiety has a significant lasting effect on mental health for many of my clients, both during childhood and into adulthood.
When we understand how anxiety operates, it focuses on the ‘what if’s” or ‘worst-case’ scenarios. Anxiety is driven by fight/flight responses and the assumption of an ‘imminent threat.’ Parenting from these assumptions leads to transferring messages to children, which integrates within them.
These types of messages from anxious parents re-enforce many avoidance strategies. It also inoculates these narrative messages into core beliefs.
Therefore children start to believe that school is not safe. Avoiding and school refusal become an appropriate and effective response for children to cope. Children may start to avoid engaging in the community, going to friend and other prosocial connection, as everything begins to feel unsafe.
Another possible scenario is that children learn that being perfect, and people pleasing is an effective coping skill to anxiousness. With this approach, avoidance of all conflict is managed by being ‘extra perfect’ or doing everything to please others.
All of these strategies are learned behaviours from anxious family systems as an attempt to manage anxiousness. Children raised in homes of an anxious parent or parents live a constrictive life, and this lead to the social construction of anxiousness into the child. These children grow up being less resilient, often struggling with social environments and have difficult to cope with daily living.
October 9th, 2018