Toxic Parent Brain

Over at The Committed Parent, Jeanne Denney discusses what she terms, ‘toxic parent brain’.

It happens less than it used to, but still more than I wish. Often it happens so suddenly that it catches me by surprise and I have no idea where it came from; and leaves just as suddenly, like a hit-and-run driver or a short-term hijacking. I have lived with it for most of my life as a parent. It’s a condition I’ve nicknamed Toxic Parent Brain (TPB) – that sudden state of revulsion – of myself as a parent and my children as children. It’s a jumbled state of fear, panic, shame, self-recrimination, over-analysis, anger, projection and worry, shaken and stirred into a toxic cocktail that occasionally overshadows much of my happiness and joy in being a parent. It is a dark cloud that I am suddenly enveloped in and then have to find a way to navigate through. My work with other parents has confirmed to me that I am not alone in this brain state. There are legions of us that struggle to manage it in guilt-ridden silence.

From her own introspection, here’s what she considers to be the causes of this condition:

1. In almost all cases TPB occurs much more often when I am in a state of relative self-neglect and/or feeling low in confidence.

2. It occurs more often when I have not moved my body, expressed my emotions,  or listened to or spoken personal truths to myself for an extended period of time.

3. It is often true that my children are trespassing on some sacred, but unconscious images I have of children I had hoped that I would raise.   This ideal seems most likely to have its origins in some wound in my own soul, my own heart. It may also be a vestige of an unconscious parent judgment I carry from my own childhood, or perhaps some quality in myself that I unconsciously expect them to replicate (Gee, I was already a great seamstress at their age, why aren’t they?).

4. It occurs when I am feeling isolated or alone in the experience of parenting.

5. It also often occurs around experiences in larger community, such as extended family, school meetings or social gatherings when children are being judged or compared, either obviously or covertly, by a group (Awards Ceremonies are but one egregious example).


6. It occurs when I’m confronted with over-idealized images of family life in media or culture (for example, do you believe that when hunting for a photo for this column I could not find even one picture of  families who were not completely happy like this?).

7. It often occurs when I am either obviously or covertly being criticized as a parent, for example by a teacher or other adult, or I’m asked to produce an outcome that is not within my control.

Have a look at the entire post here.

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