If you look back at your childhood and feel like you had more responsibilities that other kids growing up, you were probably parentified. Parentification is the parent-child role can be reversed, or where the child acted as a parent either to themselves, their siblings, or to their own parents. Does this resonate with you?
Here are 11 signs you were parentified as a child:
- You were expected to be responsible enough to figure things out on your own.
- You learned not to ask for help.
- You had to make dinner for yourself and your siblings, otherwise they wouldn’t have dinner.
- Your parents vented to you and discussed their problems to you.
- You parents were emotionally immature.
- You signed your own papers sent home from school.
- You had to work to help pay bills and support yourself or your siblings.
- You hid your emotions to avoid stressing out your parents.
- You hid your needs to avoid stressing out your parents.
- You feel like part of your childhood is missing.
- You felt anxious and depressed as a child.
How trauma might have caused your parents to be emotionally immature.
Here’s the hard truth…your parents probably did the best they could with what they had at the time, and this had nothing to do with you. You are a worthy and deserving person and it wasn’t your fault that your parents didn’t have it to give. Stay with me. I know you’re probably thinking, ‘But they did have it to give. I see the way they treat other people.’ Your parents couldn’t provide for you either because they truly didn’t have the resources or because they were emotionally immature from their own traumas and didn’t learn how to provide for you. As a trauma therapist, I understand wondering why they didn’t get help or learn to do better. Trauma can stunt our emotional development and gets stored in the brain at the age that the trauma happened. This means that they are operating from the emotional lens at that time in their life too. There’s a chance they may not even notice the problem because they are stuck at an age in life they experienced the worst of their traumas. If mom felt emotionally abandoned in her life at age 12, you might notice her emotional development is a bit stunted and it’s showing up in the way she parents you.
Your needs don’t have to go ignored anymore.
Being parentified may have felt like a normal part of your childhood and you and you thought nothing of it because it’s all you knew. Let’s face it – you had more responsibilities and pressure than your peers and now that you’re older, you’re starting to see the effects of it more and more. You might have learned to become more independent than others and emotionally guarded. This has protected you from being let down, but also is keeping you from forming deep and meaningful relationships. You might be a rockstar at work, but notice you feel empty in other areas of your life. You might even notice the effects of it in your own parenting style, perhaps being too strict with your kids to provide the structure you didn’t have back then, or by being too lenient to you want them to feel loved the way you needed it.
You can break the cycle, I can help. As a trauma therapist I offer tools and techniques that are backed by research, like EMDR and mind-body work to heal the past so you can let go of and fully live in the present. I can offer a space to explore who you are outside of who people in your life have needed you to be. You can give yourself what you didn’t get back then, and become the person you needed as a child. I’ll be your copilot, helping you navigate your journey and supporting you every step of the way.
Zulaikha Straight, MA, LPC, NCC, NCIAC, NCLC
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