This is a selection of the dysfunctional beliefs in circulation in estranged parents’ forums.
Some of these beliefs are more common than others. Many of them are common outside forums as well as within. For example, “I’m not responsible for hurting you if I didn’t mean to” is ubiquitous throughout the English-speaking world. “You’re still responsible for my emotions after the end of the relationship” is responsible for many a messy breakup. That doesn’t mean these beliefs aren’t dysfunctional. It just means there are a lot of messed-up people around.
Abusers also take the more common beliefs to the next level. “I’m not responsible for hurting you if I didn’t mean to” synergizes nicely with “If I have an emotional reaction to something someone does, the other person is responsible for my emotions” and “emotions cause actions,” creating a beautiful world in which other people make the abuser feel things, and the feelings make the abuser do things, but because the abuser didn’t have volition at any point, she’s not responsible for the damage she did. (Note that the abuser can’t make other people feel emotions. Other people’s emotions are allllll their responsibility.) Normal people can also fall prey to this tempting combination of dysfunctions, but if it doesn’t get jolted out of them in middle school, high-school drama usually does it, and if that doesn’t work, the realities of adult life hit them between the eyes shortly thereafter. It takes special dedication (and a bubble of enablers) to hang onto this set of beliefs well into adulthood.
A few things to remember:
- These beliefs are almost never stated as bluntly as they are here. You have to look for them around the edges, in the justifications people use and the actions they think are acceptable.
- It’s not only possible for someone to hold two contradictory beliefs, it’s likely. Abusers’ minds are as compartmentalized as printers’ boxes.
- No one holds all of these beliefs.
- You hold some of these beliefs.
People who love each other don’t need boundaries. When you set boundaries, you’re saying you don’t love me.
If I’m attached to you, then you’re attached to me. You can’t consider yourself detached from me until I’ve detached from you.
You’re still responsible for my emotions after you end the relationship. You’re abusive when you refuse to care for my emotional wounds.
If I have an emotional reaction to something someone does, the other person is responsible for my emotions.
If I have an emotional reaction to something, then that something is my business. This is true even if it concerns another person’s private life.
Emotions cause actions. When I feel something, I can’t not act on it. (Or, at least, it’s wrong not to act on it.)
People aren’t responsible for what they feel. I’m not responsible for my emotions, and emotion causes action, so I’m not responsible for my actions. (The person responsible for my emotions is responsible for my actions. You made me feel this way, so you made me act this way. If you want to make me act differently, make me feel differently.)
My pain is the complete justification for why someone should resume a relationship with me.
Refusing to have a relationship with me is abusive.
Intentions and Motivations
If something I did hurt you, I’m not responsible unless that was my consciously intended outcome, and I did it maliciously.
You are responsible for your actions, so if something you did hurts me, then you consciously intended to hurt me and you were malicious.
If one understands something, then one agrees with it. If I don’t agree with something, then I don’t understand it. If you don’t agree with me, then you don’t understand me, and can’t claim that you understand me until you agree with me.
Reasons, ideas, plans, etc. aren’t real until I understand them.
Fault and responsibility are the same thing.
If you perform an action, then doing so was your free choice. It doesn’t matter what you’re responding to.
You can’t hold me responsible for my thoughts and beliefs unless I state them in plain English in front of you. Hints, passive-aggressive comments, and body language don’t count. Neither does telling someone else.
If I apologize, you must forgive me.
If you forgive me, you must reconcile with me.
When I apologize for a misdeed, my apology erases the misdeed.
You may not use my apology as a chance to renegotiate the terms of the relationship.
Parents have permanent authority over their children. Children are permanently subordinate.
It’s not only my lifelong right to discipline my children, it’s my duty.
I, the parent, set the terms for the relationship. Any limits my children set are a power play that I must resist.
Children have no right to break off relationships with their parents.
Your debt to me as your parent is permanent, lifelong, and unrepayable. (This is true even if I didn’t raise you myself.)
When you make life decisions, you must weigh the impact of those decisions on me.
The most important yardstick of your life is how well you meet my expectations.
I am the ultimate judge of whether you are mature or successful.
Your decision to ignore my advice or make a choice I disapprove of is a sign of immaturity.
You were most real and true to yourself when you were a preschooler (and had not begun to defy me).
I am the best friend you will ever have./I am your only true friend.
You’re living only half a life if you don’t have a relationship with me.
If anyone loves you, then they should love me as well, since half of you is me.
If you don’t love me, you can’t truly love anyone else.
If you don’t love me, you can’t love yourself.
If I put up with a certain level of mistreatment from my own parents, then you should put up with the same level of mistreatment from me.
If you’re under 18, you’re too immature to criticize my parenting.
If you’re over 18, you’re completely responsible for all your actions, and criticizing my parenting means you’re stuck in a childish blame cycle.
You may not blame me for any of the aftereffects of my parenting, but you owe me credit for your successes.
Your relationship with the rest of the family goes through me. If you cut me off, you lose your link to my family.
My relationship with your children doesn’t go through you. If you cut me off, I still have a right to an independent relationship with your minor children, and you have to facilitate the relationship.
The extended family should help me discipline you when you step out of line.
If extended family members have a relationship with you after you cut me off, they’re being disloyal, taking your side, and enabling you.
Refusing to have a relationship with a parent is abusive, but having a relationship with your other parent, my ex, is abusive to me.
Spending money on you gives me rights over you. I define how much you owe me, and for how long. You may not negotiate terms.
Money you spend on me doesn’t cancel out money I spent on you, and doesn’t give you rights over me.
If you refuse my money or gifts because they come with strings, you’re an ungrateful brat.
My gifts do not come with strings. I only expect you to be grateful for what I’ve done for you, and to act accordingly.
In any relationship, the person with the money makes the rules. It’s acceptable to prevent the other person from earning money.
If I bought something for you, it’s mine. If I gave you something as a gift, it’s mine. If you live in my house and you buy something with money you earned, I can claim it as mine because it was my support that enabled you to work.
If you and I had any good times, our relationship wasn’t bad enough to justify breaking it off.
If it’s not possible to get what you want from a person, then their emotions don’t matter. You may continue to violate their boundaries if doing so helps your own emotional well-being. You may also vent your frustration or anger on them.
If someone identifies as being like me—that is, an estranged parent—then they’re in the right.
If someone identifies as being on the other side—that is, an estranged adult child—they’re in the wrong.
It’s disloyal to consider evidence that someone on my side was in the wrong, or that someone on the opposite side was in the right.
In any situation, the right path to take is the one that causes me the least emotional pain. If a path reflects badly upon me, or causes me to think badly of myself, then it’s wrong.
This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of psychological issues. It is believed that this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.
The analyses on this page are my own opinions and should not be construed as medical advice or statements of absolute fact.