The Over-Functioning Parent

August Blog

A childhood survival adaptation gets replayed as an adult.

I often see clients, experiencing divorce or separation, who are simply not comfortable with asserting their concerns or desires in the custody process. Their reluctance has antecedents in childhood. If, as a child, you adapt to your environment by having to take care or be responsible for a parent you will likely continue these behaviors as an adult. As a child you learn to adapt to survive. If your family environment requires you to take charge of others at the expense of taking care of your own best interests this can lead to over-functioning in intimate relationships as an adult.
Adaptation is key to your survival as a child. It’s crucially important as it ensures you’re getting what you need to thrive from your family. We are compelled to adapt to our environment based on our genetic inheritance. Therefore when clients engage in self-blame for having chosen a partner that requires them to over-function I remind them that they made their choice based on what was familiar to them. How could they do otherwise?
So you have no choice in the matter as a child. You didn’t get to choose your parents nor did you have a menu of relational options presented to you at birth from which to choose. You adapted to survive and those adaptations continue throughout your life. There’s no naturally occurring psychological process that will change your childhood conditioning with regard to intimate relationships. You don’t get to start over table rasa on your 18th or 21st birthday. Nor does having a child of your own exorcise your approach to intimate relationships.
These patterns can definitely interfere with your ability to present your case before the court. If you are conditioned to take care of your child’s other parent how will you be able to assert your ideas regarding your child’s best interests? Going against your childhood adaptation to over-function will create a great deal of anxiety as there was a very important reason for you to originally adopt these behaviors as a child.
Additionally your care-taking approach may be quite effective in other areas of your life. Therefore you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. For example, being a care-taker in your intimate relationships may be dysfunctional or demeaning but as a healthcare professional or a therapist these same behaviors are appropriate to a degree.
It may help to keep these ideas in mind as you navigate the family law/custody process. Having an awareness of your tendency to over-function will serve you, and your children, well.

If you’d like more support on divorce and custody topics, find out more about my book, The Custody Manual. It’s available through Apple iBook, Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook book stores. My latest book, ”Change Your Mind” will be available soon.


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