Friday, May 10, 2024

How parentification ironically infantilizes: inappropriate adult expectations destroy adulthood

 I've been blogging a lot about how I was parentified as a child and teen, by both my parents and their second spouses. If you're unfamiliar with the term parentification, it's also called role reversal. The parent (or in my case four adult parental figures) behaves like an irresponsible child while expecting the child to think and act like an adult and thereby parent them. In my situation, it also included caring for their other children in ways parents should.  (in my mother's foster care and later children with her new husband and my dad and his wife's children. Why I no longer call them halfsiblings is for another post). 

This parentification is part of a pattern of narcissistic abuse (forcing adult expectations) neglect (of my basic care), endangerment (leaving me in situations that would frighten adults), abandonment (literally leaving me behind) scapegoating (making me the cause of their problems), exploitation (forcing me to do things that were unsafe and not good for me), manipulation (abusing their authority to get me to do for them what they should be doing themselves), toxic shame (making me feel it was my fault, responsibility, etc.) and gaslighting about it all (lying, blaming me, minimizing, dismissing and twisting Christianity to suit their twisted ways of doing things). 

I've said before that I was made to be  the 5S's: self-sufficient (being unsupervised from age 4 or as far back as I can remember) surrogate spouse (for each of them) surrogate parent (for each of them and all their kids), scapegoat and staff (housekeeper, cook, nanny, counselor) for them all. I was gaslit into thinking that this is what God expected. But for all that adult expectation and responsibility, I have always believed I was immature, irresponsible, untrustworthy, incompetent, childishly oversensitive. Believed, because I was told I was, by parents and stepparents. Other adults, friends, teachers, extended family, said I was very mature and competent, overly so. 

So there irony is triple-pronged. Child me was expected to think and act like an adult and parent, by adult parents (and those put in authority over me as parents) who behaved and thought like children and teens. Another edge is that I was told I was immature and irresponsible when I WAS TOO YOUNG TO BE mature and responsible. I was told I was childish WHEN I WAS A CHILD!! I was told I was inept and incapable because I was not able to live up to inappropriate adult expectations. I wasn't taught how to do things, just expected to know. I was expected to provide care and parenting to the very people who owed this to me. And the third edge is that adults who acted like adults and expected age-appropriate things,  saw that I was very mature. 

In short they expected too mature behavior while treating me too childishly. I consequently thought that I was inept, ignorant and immature EVEN THOUGH I was keeping up with their expectations pretty well, considering. Certainly better than they were. I was even able to manage without anyone's support or assistance. No one knew how dysfunctional my family system was or if they did, they never said anything to me. The disparity between my life and those around me was patently obvious, especially with grandparents and extended family. And because I was the only child of two divorced parents with other families, my situation was unique. 

So why did I never say anything or object or stand up for myself? Four reasons. One, I am by nature an empath. I care and feel too much about what others need, want and feel. Yes, you can care too much if it is harmful to you. Second, a lot of systematic gaslighting went into keeping me in this bizarre paradox. And it was very goal-oriented and self-serving on their part. Marilisa doing all the heavy lifting while thinking she's just a nuisance? Works for us. We get to act like childish kids while still looking like functional adults. And bonus added, her feeling so low will keep her right where we want her. 

Third, and this might be the most insidious. God, the Bible, Jesus, the Holy Spirit were all weaponized to make it look like I was doing what God wanted instead of just what they wanted. They pratted scripture at me to justify their actions. I was drilled on being a servant. But  no one else was being a servant. I was bound up to burdens no one else carried. And their behavior even aside from their treatment of me, didn't bear much scrutiny. Divorce, remarriage, living "in sin", pedophilia, not supporting their families, child abuse, exploiting people and systems, anger and resentment,  abandoning and neglecting me. I can read scripture too. And I know and maybe knew then that this was all just a load of hypocrisy, mind effing, gaslighting, shaming and exploitation. 

So the fourth reason and one I've just realized, thanks to wise thoughts shared my beloved daughter. I've always said that I didn't know that it was wrong for me to be treated this way. Yet I knew it was wrong for others to be treated this way. She (and others have) pointed out that I didn't perpetuate this on my children, which I would have if I didn't know better. So the reason I didn't object and just fell in line? It was unsafe not to. I've blogged before about their extreme vengeance and retribution when they just thought I was defying them. So what do we do when we can't safely express something? We find a workaround. And mine was to shove the feelings as far back in the closet as I could cram them. And then, shut and bolt the door. Now the closet is full to overflowing and the door couldn't always stay closed. Sometimes it all comes exploding out, seemingly of nowhere. 

And that's where I am now, cleaning out the closet and organizing the stuff so I can figure out how to avoid these impacted explosions. 

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