In a previous post, I introduced what I call the “classic six” difficult parent scenarios. They capture the variety of chronically difficult parents by identifying core difficult behaviors. The classic six are
That same previous post addressed the first two scenarios, along with the teachable response tools that I recommend to adult CODOPs. Let’s continue now to the next two.
BLAMING & CRITICISM: This is the parent whose behavior toward the adult child is unappreciative, crassly disrespectful, and hateful. This parent has a history of actively disparaging your character to your face and to others. As far as this parent is concerned, you never do anything right. Your accomplishments and assistance are dismissed or taken for granted, and all you hear from the parent is criticism.
The main tool for CODOPs in this scenario is avoiding pointless confrontation with irrational people. Because difficult people routinely disregard the rules of logic when interacting with others, rational discussion often has no beneficial effect on their beliefs, feelings, or actions. Reasoning and confrontation both repeatedly fail to bring about peace or agreement. There is absolutely no point in using words to change this parent’s mind. The strategy I recommend CODOPs use in conversation with this parent has two parts. They are (a) being vague and noncommittal about facts and (b) expressing empathy for the parent’s emotions.
DISHONESTY: This is the parent who lies to you and others, betrays your confidence, reveals your secrets, and gossips about you and others. This parent “never lets the truth stand in the way of a good story.” He or she does not hesitate to bend or break the truth to serve their convenience, win them social points, or protect their pride.
The main tools for CODOPs in this scenario are is managing boundaries assertively, choosing appropriate guiding principles, and seeking help/going public.
First, a boundary is a rule about what contact with us, or access to us, we allow another person to have. Boundaries should be consciously designed, implemented, and enforced. Assertive individuals communicate clearly to others, through word and deed, what they want for themselves and what they expect of others, as well as what they are and are not willing to do. This has broad application with dishonest parents. For example, do not share confidential or sensitive information with this parent, even if asked!
Second, CODOPs must decide which principles will guide their behavior toward their difficult parent. The traditional option with healthy parents and with healthy adults in general is to prioritize their autonomy, that is, their right to full disclosure of information relevant to them and their right to make all of their own decisions in life. The main alternative, which applies to the degree that the parent is not healthy or competent enough to handle the consequences of their own poor choices in life, is to prioritize the parent’s safety and dignity above their autonomy.
Third, going public to seek out and accept help is a valuable skill for CODOPs. The light of day will often reveal, and therefore discourage, dishonesty. Going public is difficult for many, however, because it conflicts with such feelings as pride and privacy. Having a parent who lies can be embarrassing, until the CODOP understands it as more of a tragedy than a shame, and it is not the CODOP’s fault. I have found that embarrassment quickly evaporates as the CODOP’s new confidants respond with acceptance and support. Often, the friends actually knew all along about the CODOP’s difficult situation, but were waiting for the CODOP to speak up.
Don’t miss my upcoming posts for discussion of the remaining two “classic six” chronically difficult parent scenarios.
Future posts will also discuss 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.
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Paul K. Chafetz, PhD: Clinical Psychologist, Psychotherapist
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