The Invalidating Family: A Hindrance to Personal Development
An invalidating family is one that stops or hinders the personal development of its members. It implements a series of mechanisms that end up creating insecurity. It undermines the self-confidence in the family members about what each one is capable of doing, and, as a result, creates a feeling of incapacity that hinders personal growth.
We all know that the family is our most basic social nucleus. In this nucleus people learn to relate to other human beings. We learn the patterns that this nucleus transmits to us, and these help us to relate to other environments.
“If it’s not under his protection, I won’t put a foot on the other side of that threshold. May God help me, the ghost might be waiting for me on the stairway to take me to hell! “
-Matthew Gregory Lewis-
In the case of an invalidating family, though, the patterns of behavior that are learned are wrong ones. We learn to live our lives full of anxiety and guilt. Families like this nullify their members in so many different ways. The members of the family usually have great problems to adapt to other environments later on in their lives, and that is why you often find them still living at home well advanced in years.
The invalidating family and overprotection
One of the most common mechanisms in the invalidating family is overprotection. There is an excessive emphasis on removing the person from any potential danger. It is based on the idea that the world is plagued by threats. They reason that extreme prevention and protection measures must be taken to avoid becoming a victim of one of them.
What is lurking behind that parenting style is anxiety, dependence and low self-esteem. Anxiety generates imaginary fears and guilt. Parents don’t want their children to suffer, and are afraid of them getting hurt if they are given responsibilities. This, however, does not lead to happier children. In fact they turn out quite the opposite. That is the epitome of an invalidating family.
The people who grow up in a family like that, do so with a sack that, little by little, is filled up with fears. The mere fact of leaving the house scares them, to a greater or lesser extent. The most serious thing of all is that they fail to identify the resources they have inside themselves to face difficulties or achieve their objectives. That’s what parents are for. They are the ones who know.
Extreme dependence and superiority
The invalidating family overprotects because of an underlying anxiety. However, at the same time it sends an implicit message of superiority. I can do it, you can’t. The family will protect you, you can’t protect yourself. In this way, there are very strong ties of dependence, and very low self-efficacy and self-esteem.
When it comes down to it, many parents who practice this type of parenting have found their children to be a pretext for not having to think about their own problems. They make their children’s problems their own, because they often seem easier to solve. We are talking here about people who are carrying a heavy burden of frustration and emptiness. Their children give them an excuse to perpetually postpone the conversation they should be having with themselves.
That is why they prolong their children’s dependence on them as much as possible. This is one of the mechanisms through which an invalidating family is created. If things continue like this then the children will have a hard time leaving the nest, if they leave at all. They will also need the family time and time again for almost everything that happens in their lives.
A vicious circle
It’s not easy to break through the fence erected by a invalidating family. One of the reasons for this is that people won’t admit that their family environment is an extremely unhealthy one. The parents build the idea that the family does everything for the good of their children, and the children end up believing this is true. So many sacrifices, so much care. It’s often very difficult to understand that this is totally unhealthy, and the “love” is actually quite meaningless.
Those who are part of an invalidating family often become very insecure and very stubborn at the same time. They have a low tolerance for frustration and that is why it is difficult for them to set objectives and achieve them, despite the adversities. They generally feel inferior to others and victimize themselves very often. This is because they have been so overprotected in their family environment.
The only way out of the vicious circle of an invalidating family is by unlearning the patterns given to us by our parents. Something that is a lot easier said than done. The individual has to break with a structure that the people he loves most have created, and where he feels well and safe. The idea of facing their fears without this protective environment seems terrible to them. They consider it an act of ungratefulness to those who have been protecting them, and to be taking unnecessary risks.
As they don’t have the support of their family to do this, they often look for support in a therapist or in someone else that compensates for their lack of confidence. However they have to be careful the whole circle doesn’t start all over again. Yes, asking for help is an important first step. However, that help should be aimed at giving us a strong foundation in life, so that we can stand on our own two feet.