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I'm 26, and feel the need to sort and process my childhood. I grew up in Norway. I have always felt a bit low, passive and lacking self-confidence growing up. I was polite, kind, and quite normal; I was okay at sports, good at music and school. I feel I wasn't able to accomplish even 10% of what I wanted to do. I felt stopped.

My first question has always been, "What's my problem? Why am I not able to accomplish more?" I've been undergoing treatment for anxiety and depression for the last 1.5 years, so that subject is already being treated.

The second question has been, "What's wrong in my family?" As long as I can remember, something felt wrong. I feel I'm getting close to answering this. My parents were very good at some things, not at others. They were good at caring for us financially, our physical health, and our intellectual development.

I feel that they were less successful at being "there" for us emotionally and socially. The things they could easily understand, they've sort of been there. But once it became difficult, they came with all kinds of apologies, but never tried solving the problem. It was simply forgotten.

I've never felt openness to discuss anything that really matters, only school, economy, practical and material things only, never more than that. The most consistent topic was "how was school today?" (asked by my mom; my dad didn't participate much in this respect.) However, my mom was very interested in the superficial stuff; she just wanted to hear that everything was okay, and that I did something fun with my friends. (The truth was, I found it hard to communicate with others in my class.) I needed her to listen to what I talked about, not ignore me or get tired and leave, then just forget about the topic like I never talked about it. So I started to not talk. I avoided the question. I started to say "Great!" ironically, or just barely answer at all. I had nobody to talk to.

And my father wasn't there. He went down to his office almost all day. And if it were something he wanted to be a part of, it was very specific topics. He wanted to tell me about mathematics, or he wanted me to go to football training and speed skating. Never wanted to talk, or establish a proper two-way connection with me.

Actually, that goes for both. Lot of them, little me. Not much communication, and if there was some, it was one-way. From them to me. And that stopped me from talking quite quickly. I felt inside me, are you not gonna listen? And so it went.

I've been talking to my parents about my feelings about the family growing up. They sort of simply didn't/don't accept my version of the story. I can count on one hand the times my mother was a tiny bit open, but it never went anywhere. My mom listened to me (kind of stony-faced), but didn't really engage. I felt that she believed everything she did was perfect, and she wasn't open to hearing anything else. I had proper hopes for someday establishing honest communication with my mom, maybe in 10-20 years, maybe confirming some of my feelings, but then she got cancer and died two years ago..

My dad is worse. He gets defensive immediately, derails the conversation, twists things I say, often interrupts me telling me "how it was", seems unable to talk about relational difficulties at all, and defines my subjects as "useless" and "meaningless". He has a small set of things he thinks is important as a parent, and the rest he strictly and firmly doesn't want to think about. This is very difficult for me to deal with.

I've concluded that for some reason both my mum and dad failed in some important parts of parenting, namely the emotional and social support of me and my siblings. My father did what he felt was important to do, but the emotional and social part that I needed, being me growing up here in this place, he feels he had no responsibility to provide.

I feel that I see this in other families as well, and that it's somehow accepted by many parents here in Norway. It's a one-way communication, and you're not responsible for being totally present as a parent, like emotionally and socially, and the more abstract things.

Are parents supposed to be emotionally and socially present and supportive, or is it enough that they are physically and materially supportive and generally just kind?

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    I think this answer will vary depending on the culture you were raised in. I can't say if if it's on expectation in Norway, or in some parts of Norway. In the US this answer would vary both by region, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and personal family history. That's not to say all of those parenting preferences are right. – user11394 Sep 29 '15 at 1:56
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    Not about parenting, but about emotional resiliance. – DanBeale Sep 30 '15 at 20:51
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Rory Alsop Oct 9 '15 at 11:39
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Emotional neglect is the least studied of form of child maltreatment, yet it is probably the most prevalent. The way kids internalize these experiences is often characterized by anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression later in life. Awareness and honesty is the first step in changing things for you. For that, I congratulate you.

Ideally, parents should be there emotionally for their kids. They should be able to listen to painful things, validate your feelings when they were/are valid, take responsibility for and apologize for the things they did wrong, ask your forgiveness, and to make restitution if possible. And yes, I'm serious. I think all this is part of responsible parenting. Even towards a now-adult child.

Your home should have been one where not only were your physical needs met, but a place where you were loved and cherished, where you had an open, loving, and trusting relationship that made you feel loved and cared for. That's not to say that you would not have had problems in school. But they should have been wanting to know that, wanting to help you deal with that, not wanting to ignore it.

So, you have reason to feel something vital was missing in your home as you grew up. It's normal, not unreasonable, for you to have a sense of loss and a sense even of abandonment. Hurt usually turns easily to anger, so if you're angry, that's understandable as well. But anger often turns inward to self-blame and guilt for all kinds of reasons, which can lead to depression and feelings of low self-worth. It sounds like you're struggling with a mix of a lot of emotions right now, including self-doubt. So you're here asking what's a parent's responsibility towards a child.

You're right. Your parents were wrong. You deserved better. All children do, even the difficult ones.

Now you have to decide what to do with that information, because there are only a few things that you can do.

Obviously, you can't change the past, you can't healthily pretend it never happened, and you can't force your father to listen to you or deal with something he doesn't want to. You can't control anyone else's beliefs or behaviors, you can only control yourself. You can, however, reject your father's (and mother's) definition of events and learn how to set healthy boundaries with him. (Read about setting healthy boundaries if needed.)

You can read books and articles about growing up with emotionally unavailable parents (or emotional neglect in the home) and see how they handled the situation. Your therapist should be able to give you recommendations or steer you here. You will realize you are far from alone.

Once you accept your past, (which doesn’t mean approving of it; it just means accepting that it's your responsibility now to deal with the present you), and recognize your narrative (the things you tell yourself in your head or the messages you give yourself because of the neglect), you can start working on changing the narrative, whether through cognitive behavioral therapy, mindful meditation, guided journaling, re-framing your narrative, cultivating gratitude, and/or other forms of therapy. (Cultivating gratitude never hurts anyone.)

At some point, you'll need to also forgive your parents (probably a number of times; it's ongoing.) You need to do this for your own sake, not theirs, for two reasons. First, it will help you to let go of anger and the burden of expectations you feel for others being responsible for your emotional health. Yes, they actually are responsible, but as an adult now, it's up to you to decide who and what you want to be and to determine how to best become that person. Secondly, it will help you to forgive yourself for your own shortcomings.*

Forgiving them is writing off their debt to you and starting your own life of taking responsibility for fulfilling your needs. This will not be easy, and will be a process. But the more you let go, the easier it will be. As you become who you want to be, your self-respect will grow and this will also help to change your narrative.

Finally (and this may help you to forgive), all of us are wounded in some way. Your parents were wounded people who probably weren't parented well themselves. People tend to parent the way they were parented. That they weren't ideal parents doesn't mean they didn't want to be, or that they didn't love you tremendously, or as well as they knew how. Recognizing their shortcomings can help you to work on nurturing yourself and to avoid making the same mistakes when you are a parent yourself.

It's a long but productive and life-changing road. Don't lose hope.

* I often imagine that people are presented on birth a very long length of "slack" (or forgiveness, as in "cut him some slack"); the more slack they give themselves, the less they need it, and the more they can spend on others. It's a cycle; which then comes back to you forgiving yourself.

These references won't help you so much as let you know your feelings are valid.
Childhood emotional invalidation and adult psychological distress: the mediating role of emotional inhibition
Maternal Socialization of Positive Affect: The Impact of Invalidation on Adolescent Emotion Regulation and Depressive Symptomatology

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It is unclear what you are trying to achieve with this. The actual question is easy enough to answer

Is a parent expected to be emotionally and socially supportive for the child?

Yes, of course are parents expected to do this. However, this can mean a lot of different things to different people and often the view of parents and children about this are wildly different.

I think the more important question is: what are you trying to accomplish by this exercise? It seems that you feel like a victim and that you want your father to admit that he did something wrong. So let's say your dad says "Sorry son, I screwed up and I apologize". Would that change anything in your current life?

If you have problems you should certainly work on those, but primarily forward looking. At 26, you should be looking for partners, friends, social networks, a great career, do some stupid stuff just for fun and just because you can. I just don't see how dissecting your childhood can help a lot with this, especially if it takes a lot of time away from more forward looking and productive activities.

So my advice would be to find out what type of life you want to live and work actively on making this life happen. At 26 this entirely your responsibility and not your father's. Then, you and your father can decide to what extent you want to be part of each other's life (or not).

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    how dissecting your childhood can help a lot with this -- Understanding the ways a negative childhood experience has shaped psychological obstacles (depression, anxiety, lacking in confidence, easily angered, etc.) can be a useful step in overcoming those obstacles. Being forward thinking and focused on self-improvement doesn't require ignoring the past, particularly because the past has a nasty habit of staying on one's mind; processing the experiences can make them easier to move on from. (I didn't downvote because of this, but I did want to mention that point.) – Acire Sep 30 '15 at 14:10
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    I second Erica in this. If you can put a finger on certain emotions, fears, thoughts that let you feel bad and stop your productivity - its way easier to set them aside or solve the issue than "I feel bad, but I don't know why". Reflection is one of the first things I learned in therapy. – Rhayene Oct 1 '15 at 7:21

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