As noted earlier concerning the natural characteristics of children, the parent’s proper respect for and care of a child’s immaturity builds the basis for self control in their adulthood and helps them learn how to effectively manage and govern their lives as adults. This mastery, a characteristic of maturity, also provides for a healthy sense of spontaneity. Healthy maturity involves relaxation and time for restoration, an early lesson that the parent can build into a child through celebration of that spontaneous wonder and joy of life that children possess.
Parental Intolerance of Immaturity
As discussed in an earlier post, sometimes parents can become weary of the boundless energy and the self centeredness of their children, failing to see these qualities as the gifts they are given to accomplish the hard task of growing up. When a parent fails to accept these traits which they view as an inconvenience, or they punish these qualities in the child, the child learns to feel shame when “being authentic” and honest.
They also learn that they are loved only when they perform, so they learn to base their worth on performance. The parent expects the child to perform like a small adult instead of their behaving in accordance to their developmental age, even though they lack the skills, the self-control, and the experience necessary. Voddie Baucham’s First Time Obedience principle and Michael Pearl’s Child Training Method offer excellent examples of parenting styles that demand inappropriately mature behavior from young children.
Demanding maturity of an immature child sets them up for life patterns of constricted control or chaos, or some combination of a swing between both of them. The pressure to perform as an adult overwhelms the child, as they fear both direct punishment and denial of love and attention through parental withdrawal or disapproval.
The Powerful Influence of the Family Script
Depending on the role that the child was required to play in their family of origin, they will experience different types of responses from the parent and will tend to manifest different responses of their own.
As previously noted, dysfunctional families assign predictable roles to family members as a coping mechanism which helps to accommodate the abusive or addictive traits of one of the other family members.
These roles typically include both positive and negative roles or characters:
Surrogate (parent or partner
Rebel or “black sheep”
The children who follow the positive roles within the family tend to become very controlling themselves, modeling and repeating the parent’s own intolerance, something which produced a great deal of self-disgust for the child as well as deep toxic shame for failing to be what they cannot be, despite their parents’ unreasonable demands. They experience tremendous levels of anxiety because they take on those dutiful roles in the family. But in contrast, the rewards that the child derives from the praise and benefit they receive for effective performance tends to give them more opportunity and resources within the family. They learn to base their worth on performance, become people pleasers, and overachievers. They tend to be very dogmatic and demanding with others because of their difficulty in tolerating their limitations. These over-compliant children tend to become caretakers of the children in the family who fall into negative roles, learning care taking behaviors for siblings and parents.
Those children who fall into the negative roles within the family experience much different treatment than their siblings. They tend to be overwhelmed by the parent’s unreasonable demands, unable to perform because of their high anxiety, anger, and resentment which they are not permitted to directly and openly express. Because of their low performance, these children may actually be over-indulged and not held accountable for their lack of age-appropriate behavior and are just shamed instead. This is the fate of the scapegoat, and these children become the convenient excuse for all of the problems in the family because they are just not mature enough to live up to parental expectations.
Rather than working to help this child overcome their weaknesses, parents (and siblings who read the required script) may see them as the eternally hapless, so the parent abandons the to their immaturity. Giving up on the child’s ability to mature, the parent stops expecting them to ever grow into mature behavior, so the stop encouraging it altogether. It becomes a type of abandonment, and they are left to themselves to develop self-control without any help from the parent.
And many children develop compartmentalized maturity and immaturity, manifesting characteristics of several of the roles in the family script. Depending on what the parent needs from them and what their natural strengths are, these children may develop a mix of extreme behaviors. They will be over-responsible in some areas and completely ineffective in other areas, having trouble with self-control on many levels.
Poor Modulation of Emotions and Behaviors in Adults
Primarily, the characteristics that the children develop in the home as children intensify in adulthood. Difficulty with moderation and outright avoidance of moderation emerges as a core symptom and problem experienced by adults who were raised in homes where their lack of maturity was not tolerated and anticipated. These adults have difficulty with the routine experience and expression of mature, adult behavior, understanding balance as lack of passion or lack of life because the chaos and drama in their family of origin raises the bar on the level of stimulation they need.
The trauma experienced by the loss of the spontaneous experience of being a child creates a sense of deadness and numbness, a way of coping with pain and grief which seems impossible to comprehend. In order to feel alive, the adult child from a dysfunctional family tends to seek out the extremes, a way of compensating and breaking through the numbness of their dissociation.
Human beings are also drawn, almost compulsively, to relationships that are familiar, especially if they are traumatic. This tendency is enhanced by the compulsion to reenact unresolved trauma, a subconscious drive to some how understand and master their past as well as manage difficult emotions. New extremes can serve as a lovely diversion for emotions that keep popping up related to childhood and may help to promote denial concerning the real roots of their ineffective and maladaptive ways of coping. (Read more HERE.)
The over-mature and controlling adult children of dysfunctional homes tend to erect walls as boundaries in relationships, and the relationships that they do foster tend to be very non-spontaneous. They’ve never been allowed to embrace their immaturity, and that is how they perceive appropriate playful behavior in adulthood. I believe that these individuals tend to gravitate towards legalistic religions and fringe Christianity, believing that their extremes demonstrate greater faith. Plain, old mainstream religion just doesn’t seem like quite enough for them. They don’t want to follow “dead Christianity,” so they choose extreme versions of it that play on cultic themes of conspiracy, catastrophe, and legalism.
Those children who take on the rebellion tend to become immature adults with poor self-control. Their adult relationships tend toward chaos. They may also compartmentalize over-maturity and immaturity, manifesting success, perfection, and overachievement in one area of life, while other areas seem chaotic and disproportionately so, given their other competencies and successes. Their individual relationships may flux between chaos and control which makes intimacy and long-term relationships quite difficult.
Those who tend to manifest collapsed or introverted symptoms and chaotic relationships are at risk for victimization and exploitation by manipulators, though they also tend to be manipulative because of their immaturity, using more primitive ways of coping with adult life. If the individual have difficulties with their internal boundaries, they tend to become abusive in their relationships. They may be intolerant and dogmatic of those who hold ideas that differ from their own, and they tend to repeat the same demanding and intolerant family dynamics with their own children. They loathe their own immaturity, so they also loathe the same behavior in their children.UPDATE 22Jan12: Read about another aspect of this characteristic of children which gets transferred into adulthood when people leave spiritual abusive groups, only to join another one. When you visit, make sure to read the comments that follow Lewis’ post on The Commandments of Men.
Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.