Paul K. Chafetz, PhD Clinical Psychology
In two previous posts, I introduced what I call the “classic six” difficult parent scenarios, which capture the variety of chronically difficult parents by identifying core difficult behaviors, and discussed the first four. The classic six are Intrusiveness, Laziness, Blaming & criticism, Dishonesty, Irresponsibility, and The innocent façade. Let’s continue now with the final two.
IRRESPONSIBILITY refers to the parent who squanders their own or their child’s resources and accepts no accountability for their actions. This parent has poor judgment, foolishly trusts the untrustworthy stranger, and expends no effort to protect themselves from exploitation. They spend excessively, impulsively, and selfishly. Either through addiction to “sweepstakes” or having naively fallen into a web of conmen and scams, they are being systematically separated from their money. Yet, they refuse to accept guidance from their children that they are being fleeced.The main tools for CODOPs in this scenario are achieving realism, choosing appropriate guiding principles (described in Part 2 of this blog), and understanding authority vs. responsibility (described in Part 1 of this blog).
Adults have a duty to be realistic. This includes acknowledging that certain dreams, yearnings, and hopes can never be fulfilled. The sad truth is that the CODOP’s dream of having healthy, loving parents and a mutually satisfying relationship with them is actually already dead. The CODOP must let such dead dreams die. Surprise at new examples of the difficult parent’s pattern must eventually give way to acknowledgment of and grief over the tragedy of the situation.THE INNOCENT FAÇADE refers to the parent who treats everyone else much nicer than they do their own child. Few or none of their friends have ever seen the parent behave meanly to you, and therefore would find it difficult to believe your description of your parent’s difficult behavior. This parent presents a misleadingly pleasant face to the public and creates a private hell for the child. The parent’s hypocritical, two-faced behavior leaves the adult child constantly wondering which persona is their parent’s authentic one. The adult child’s normal lifelong instinct and desire to trust the parent is chronically and perversely blocked by the outwardly normal parent’s cruelly disapproving treatment of their child.
The main tools for CODOPs in this scenario are lowering your expectations, and seeking help/going public (described in Part 2 of this blog).
It is a fundamental psychological fact that there is an inverse relationship between expectations and satisfaction. The higher our expectations are of ourselves or others, the lower our satisfaction is likely to be. The lower our expectations, the higher our satisfaction is likely to be. If we are willing to tolerate disappointment in our pursuit of difficult goals, that is certainly fine. However, if the likelihood of success is low and we will suffer unbearable disappointment upon failure, we should probably be prudent and trim our expectations. With difficult parents, it is unsustainable to expect them to suddenly change their longstanding behavior pattern. Lowered expectations of them are called for.
Future posts will discuss another “six pack,” the “cognitive six” difficult parent scenarios shown by parents who have become newly difficult, usually with the onset of dementia. Until then, please read more about these strategies elsewhere on my website.