In this section of the book, David Richo talks about the fear of aloneness. I will comment more about the different things in life that cause this and how the author says we can approach this fear in next week’s post. Today, I want to talk a little bit about helicopter parenting. While this type of parenting does cause the fear of aloneness, I want to talk about it because the results of this kind of parenting seems to baffle both parents and grown children who were parented this way.
First, let’s talk about the way David Richo primarily defines the fear of being alone. My understanding is that it occurs when one fears not having enough resources inside to create a bridge to go from here to there, to make it through a crisis or a problem, to bring our true selves out into the world and connect or achieve a goal. If we do not feel capable, based on our interior programs and resources, then that is really isolating. Because, eventually, there will come a moment where the person or people we need or the substance we depend on will not be there or be able to work their magic. Our internal resources, when we are connected to our lively energy, are endless. When the resources lay outside, they are limited.
David Richo says: “We learned to doubt that potential inside ourselves in our early life when no one mirrored back a trust in our strength” (p. 71).
Yes, this is what happens when parents become so worried about making sure that their child is not in pain, when a parent is constantly there shielding, protecting, managing, talking a child through every moment. Is there such a thing as too much love? No. While part of the motivation of this kind of parenting is love, it is also a difficulty in tolerating a child’s pain. A difficulty in witnessing and letting a child try and fail or letting them learn to manage life’s challenges and regulate themselves.
Human beings experience a natural internal thrust toward independence and activating internal resources, but if those resources never get mirroring (i.e. a parent does things for them so they don’t go through the pain of learning things through experience), that human being inherently believes that they do not possess those internal resources. The child is in a bind, held between their nature and the environment of their parent showing them they are not capable (not on purpose, of course!). So, what happens?
The child feels anxiety that is caused by this internal tension. They like to be babied, but desperately want to be capable simultaneously. This can cause a fear of engulfment which is an intimacy fear that makes someone have difficulty connecting to their romantic partner for fear that they will be taken over by this person. This can cause serious addiction problems because co-dependence develops. Some of the most confusing cases of addiction are rooted in this kind of parent-child relationship. Honestly, the children I see that are the most rude to their parents are children whose parents have spent a lot of time hovering. I can’t believe the disrespectful things these children (even when they are grown) say to their parents and partners, but it is one way they can achieve the distance they need to feel their natural independence. Then, usually, what happens is that the parent feels hurt because they have done so much for the child, and, inevitably, feel very resentful.
The other thing that I notice is that the child is usually very protective of the parent. So, if I ask an adult about anything that happened in their relationship with their parents, they will usually tell me they had a wonderful childhood, that they had a very loving relationship with their parent(s). And they are being honest. The problem is that the kind of love they received was overwhelming at times and may have resulted in their inability to access inner resources which causes all kinds of trouble in adult life. But recognizing that is a betrayal in a way and seems unlikely to them. It really does take me some time in therapy to help someone understand that this kind of parenting did impact them. My goal is not to blame their parent, it is simply to help them realize the impact their early life had on them so they can be responsible for it and have a choice about how they would like to respond to that impact.
Most parents who tend to be this way would probably be horrified to know that this is the result. That is why I am writing about it. I know you don’t want to do that. You want the very best for your child. So, take a moment, reflect about where this desire to over protect and do everything for your child comes from. Where could you turn a little bit of that loving energy into holding yourself while their internal resources get activated by living through the challenges that come with being human?
*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".