What is parentification? With parentification, an immature child is made responsible for the well-being of one or both parents. This is a skewed situation: The child develops differently because it takes on an adult role too soon. The child is also made responsible for something for which he or she should not be responsible. In this way, the child can start to feel like a ‘caring angel’ or a ‘super child’.
If you have developed this mechanism in your childhood, chances are that you will continue it in your adult life. Once grown up, you continue to feel overly responsible for the well-being of others.
As an adult, you are of course responsible for the well-being of your children (and perhaps also for the well-being of completely needy family members). As an adult, you can also take on all kinds of responsibilities as an employee, volunteer or friend, but it becomes unhealthy if that is at your expense. In that case, you are probably taking on too much responsibility.
Responsible at the expense of yourself
Being caring at the expense of yourself is a harmful mechanism that many people with a parentification history suffer from. Then you find the needs of others increasingly more important than your own needs. Maybe you always take over work from colleagues with problems or you take on a lot of private responsibilities, without taking into account what is good for yourself.
It may also be that you never let customers, friends, clients or colleagues wait. even if you yourself feel the need for rest, relaxation, variation in work or a little less responsibility.
You can even start to feel responsible for the feelings of the people with whom or for whom you work and live. This while everyone is of course responsible for his or her own feelings in the first place. Others can also (unconsciously) manipulate you.
Burnout by parentification
If you suffer from the above mechanisms, you become extra susceptible to burnout. You tend to work hard to meet all your perceived ‘responsibilities’. You immediately feel tension when someone’s needs are not met.
Taking a step back if your work or private life becomes too much, too heavy or too responsible does not seem to be an option. You always go on and you can’t or don’t want to feel that it’s not good for you anymore. Eventually you will end up in stress, exhaustion and burnout.
Burnout in health care
In health care, many people are burnt-out as a result of a parenting history. The work motivation of some of them stems solely from their cunning parentification patterns rather than from an intrinsic motivation. Often they only find this out after self-reflection which, hopefully, follows a burnout.
Parentification is usually deeply embedded in your behavior and in your thought pattern. It is not easy to break that, but it is worth it. If you succeed you gain strength. You are not likely to become indifferent to the needs of others, but you have more choice about who and when you help.
Because you have more energy and make more conscious choices, you become a happier and more powerful person. And a more powerful person can help better, if he or she wants to.
Take yourself seriously
Pay attention to your own feelings. Angry, frightened, Sad, Happy and expressions of that in your body are the basic feelings, besides that there are many derived feelings.
In a situation, consider what your feelings are telling you. Then consider what you would normally like to do. Consider whether what you normally do is really your responsibility. Or are you doing it because someone else says so (while you are already doing a lot of work), because no one is doing it and it has to happen anyway, because the other person is so pathetic.
If you don’t think it is (completely) your responsibility after all, you can discuss it with someone you trust. This is how you focus your thoughts. Also discuss with that person what you could do to balance your efforts with your responsibilities and (healthy) possibilities. Then speak to the person(s) who can help you improve the situation.
If you can’t feel so good about yourself yet, try to get in touch with the things that make you feel good. Activities that can help are for example dancing, creative hobbies, reading books, having fun with your children, watching (sentimental) films, many kinds of workshops, etc. Moments or activities with a ‘stillness’ and space to feel without distractions help you not to get past your feelings too quickly.
Take care of yourself
Make taking good care of yourself a basic attitude .As soon as you do that better, you’ll notice it faster when you do things for others at your own expense.
Build rest-relaxation moments in every day and every week. Possibilities are quiet walking in nature, listening to beautiful music or enjoying the view on a bench. Also build only active relaxation moments in every week such as sports, dancing, other activities you like.
Find things that are important and nice to you and do them regularly. That can be anything like doing things with friends and/or family, hobbies, good cooking, healthy food, relaxing moments, making your home beautiful or clean or anything that suits you.
Work on self-insight and new behavior.
Get to know your patterns, as described above, and change your behavior step by step in favor of yourself. You are worth it!
If you can’t get out on your own, and with the help of family and friends, you can seek help through coaching or therapy. Go a little deeper than an assertiveness training, because that works too shallowly and you have a chance to fall back into old behavior in the more difficult situations.
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