Yes, I think too much

Borrowing a “Parent”

with 3 comments

Back when I was writing my old blog, and talking about how I didn’t need to be chastised, have fingers wagged at me, or barked at like a drill sergeant in order to lose weight, I said this was so because I am an “adult”. This meant that I could analyze my own behavior, motivation, and choices and act in my own best interest. I didn’t need someone else to tell me that I was “good” or “bad” or guide me through.

I have also written on this blog about the way in which the psyche is divided into three parts in the theories underlying transactional analysis. Those three parts are parent, child and adult. The child is our emotional self, the part that acts and reacts emotionally, sometimes to our detriment. The parent is the sum of all of the doctrines, platitudes, and rules that we have encountered. It is the voice of authority directing us without explanation. It is the voice that says, ” just do what I say and shut up about it.” The “adult” is the voice of reason which analyzes all available information and acts in what is our best interest rationally. It’s the one that tells us that we should ask for a raise if we feel we deserve one rather than act on our fear of having such a conversation with the boss (which is the voice of the child).

Many people think they are “adults” simply because they have assumed that status in society by reaching a certain age, getting a job, paying taxes, etc. On an emotional level, however, many of us are not truly adults until we stop acting on our need to be children or on our childish impulses. As of late, I have finally come to understand why some people are attracted to being “bullied” by various gurus, experts, etc. in order to achieve their goals. These people are, in essence, looking for a “parent” to push them to do what they cannot manage to do themselves.

Since parents are the ones judging, cajoling, and ordering, it would make sense that a person who is too mired in his own sense that he or she is a child with a problem that is too big to handle on his or her own would look outward for a parent to both bark orders and pat one on the head. The orders that come along are potent motivators outside of oneself as people often yield to authority better than to their own sense of reason. The reward of being told one is a “good” girl or boy is also potent since it provides a tangible external seal of approval. However, it does betray an inability to find intrinsic value in ones own achievements. Essentially, it’s like doing well on a test not because you acquire knowledge which will enrich you as a person, but simply because you really want that gold star from the teacher.

People who will accept abuse or harshness in order to assist them with their goals believe they need to beat themselves up or be beaten up to succeed, but what they really need is to look outside of their need for a “big daddy or mommy” to get them motivated. They have to stop looking for external validation or motivation and develop their own adult processes so that they can feel good about themselves because they accomplish things of value for themselves, not because someone else tells them to.

As for the people who relish in playing the “parent” figures, I imagine that for them, it’s about power. There’s no person more powerful than a parent who can direct and control their child’s lives. There’s also the fact that, much as parents take credit for their children’s successes, a guru, guide, etc. will take credit for the success of his or her followers. One of the reasons they become angry when “disobeyed” and highly blameful when their acolytes fail is that they have assumed the parental role and disobedience both undermines the sense of power and failure takes away their capacity to reflect in the glory of their followers.

Understanding this dynamic is of value to me mainly in knowing why some people would subject themselves to what appear to be obviously abusive and bizarre relationships with people who are, quite frankly, horrible human beings who seem to exercise extreme myopia in the name of “helping others”. I know now that the people who seek the help are looking for the “parent” they have long-since outgrown in chronological terms to come in and solve their problems, much like the one that did so for them when they were children.


Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 22, 2011 at 7:42 am

Posted in psychology

3 Responses

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  1. This is such an important topic, and you develop your ideas here very cogently. I suspect that learning to “find intrinsic value in one’s own achievements” is a life long process for many of us. For me, at least, it isn’t something I have learned or mastered, not ground I’ve already covered and can now gracefully move on without retracing those steps. Nope. I do retrace them from time to time when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, for whatever reason. But I usually come to my senses, sooner rather than later, and realize that I’m giving away my power by needing someone’s approval.

    I see this in my adult children too. They still want my approval even though they don’t need it to be happy.

    You would make an excellent mom, imho. Or counselor. 🙂


    January 25, 2011 at 1:42 am

    • First of all, I apologize for the delay. I strained my back and my life has been topsy-turvy due to the need for several days of bed rest. I didn’t overdo it, per se, but I think the cumulative effect of various exercises on my aging body caused this problem. I have to rethink how I exercise (probably cutting the non-walking parts in half – doing half one day and half the next) after this heals. It was by no means a vigorous or demanding routine, but I’m simply not very strong.

      I’m also nowhere near perfect at finding intrinsic value in my own achievements. I think anyone who blogs probably has a need for external validation, or at least an audience of some sort. However, I think there is quite a difference between writing a post, painting a picture, or performing in a play and wanting approval and validation and looking for someone to tell you what to do everyday to lose weight and to pat you on the back for doing so.

      One is an act of creativity which is (arguably) valuable and reasonable to share. The other is a highly personal and life-long process. The risk that removal of the “parent” will eventually result in a situation in which you lose all that you have gained (so to speak) or you will continuously maintain a dependent and unhealthy relationship with that figure in order to keep your progress intact.

      Of course, it is possible that, like a child who needs a parent to grow to independence, such people may acquire the skills and move on successfully without the parent. However, considering that most people in these situations are unaware of the dynamic they’re in (they know they need it, but they don’t know why), there’s likely an issue that needs to be addressed before a transition can be made. If you’re reached chronological adulthood and still need a “big daddy”, then chances are you’re not suddenly going to stop needing him because you followed his directions and lost weight.

      By the way, how is your life these days? Have your circumstances improved? I hope that you’re doing well.


      January 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm

      • Oh dear! I hope you are on the mend. Please give yourself some time to heal but try to keep up with a bit of walking, if you can do so without undue pain. Sometimes, no matter how cautious we are, injuries occur.

        I often wonder if having a change in one’s center of gravity, while muscles are working hard to catch up (or compensate) because of weight loss, complicates back problems for awhile. Your plan of splitting up your exercise routine sounds very smart.

        As for me…one becomes rather philosophical during a rough patch such as this. One starts using the impersonal pronoun(?) “one”, too, to detach perhaps. 🙂 I imagine something similar happens when one becomes elderly.

        I had to stop my strength training because of arthritis. However, I have 2 surgeries scheduled, the first next week, and then am looking at 6 months of rehab. So, paid work in my profession will have to wait. (I do volunteer, light-duty stuff now.) I am so grateful to have medical insurance again, at least for the near future.

        I know it’s a cliche, but one truly does recognize those loving and good friends and family when sh*t happens. And seems to keep happening. 🙂

        It is the human condition. We struggle, we survive, we celebrate living, we feel times of great joy and great sorrow…we feel. I’m not sure if my inner resolution (approximating peacefulness) arises from my shift into menopause or weight loss or growing up a bit more, or becoming a grandparent, or all of the above, but I’ll take it. Life is pretty good. In between the those moments of fear.

        Anyway. Thanks for asking.

        Please keep writing. I’ll keep reading. 🙂


        January 28, 2011 at 3:40 am

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