A Psychological Parent

By Paul Dunion | July 29, 2012

Many of us had custodial parents who attended to our basic physical needs for food, shelter and clothing.  However, many of us did not have psychological parents and it serves us to know what it means to have psychological parents. This is especially true when we consider that we typically parent ourselves the way we were parented.  Psychological parenting involves 4 basic skill. The first is the Employment of Effective Boundaries.  Physical boundaries support safety for a child.  A parent exercising restraint in order to not be physically abusive is an example of a physical boundary in honor of the dignity of the child’s body.  A good emotional boundary could happen in two ways. One would be where the parent does not solicit the child’s emotional support and the other being the parent’s willingness to permit the child to express a wide range of emotions.

The second psychological parenting skill is Encouragement, with the word’s original meaning being “to inspire with courage”.  Here, the parent reinforces the child’s abilities, strengths and resolve to take on age appropriate task. Encouragement expresses an essential faith in the child’s ability to be him or herself and to get personal needs met. The third skill is Discipline, with the word coming from “discipleship”.  I like to think of this skill as the ability to model and teach a child to maximize resources or allies in order to remain focused upon some desire or purpose. The fourth skill is Nurturance which is a capacity to comfort, sooth and allow a child to pause or lean into being held physically and emotionally.

Were you psychologically parented as a child? Do you psychologically parent yourself? Do you allow yourself to be physically held? Do you know what it means to be emotionally held? How do you feel about your understanding of good boundaries? Do you adequately employ your allies? Do you have allies?

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  1. Margaret Harris on May 18, 2013 at 6:58 am

    My mother was physically nurturing to me growing up. It was not until my work with you, that I understood although my mother loved me, she was soliciting my emotional support in those moments. At a young age, instead of my needs being met, I was sensitive to and was supporting my mother’s emotional needs. I did this by being sweet and accommodating, which left me with a sense of alienation and aloneness throughout my life. Yet, my reward for betraying myself was my mother’s love and affection. I don’t believe she slipped into this invasive role with me with any intention of hurting me, but nonetheless the impact has been harmful. In my adult life, I have struggled to care for myself without appearing to be selfish. It has made me question how I could be a person with wants and needs of my own and still be loved. It has made me question how I can be responsive but not responsible for everyone I love. I did not have a psychological parent and was not given the adequate guidance; encouragement or discipline you speak of .The consequences of my upbringing had left me with restlessness in my soul and a deep longing to belong. This blog has made me remember the many times you have told me not to only look at any circumstance in my life as simply unfortunate. I think during my recent surgeries, I experienced what you mean when you speak of being emotionally held as I allowed myself to received love when I was in need. Today, as you know, with an open heart I can also be physically held and nurtured, which I attribute some to the affection and cuddling I received from my mother when I was little. So in that respect, although growing up I desperately needed a psychological parent to guide me, my story is not simply unfortunate. With compassion and guidance from you, over time I have been re-parenting myself, and have discovered the forgotten girl within who has a great heart. Hence, this has allowed me as a woman not only to be capable of loving greatly, but also to receive while feeling greatly loved.

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