Monday, February 22, 2010

Personality and parenting

I'm doing some work training over the next couple of weeks and part of the first session was theories about personality development.

This is one of my interest areas and I have a dream of working more in the area of personality and what are currently called 'personality disorders'.

Our homework is to try explaining to a layperson one theory of personality disorder development. I need to do this verbally, but I'm also going to write about it here to develop my discussion and ideas further.

Some people call personality disorders, self disorders, because those with the diagnosis usually have difficulties in what is called self - ie. identity, feeling in control, being able to understand and connect their own emotions, thoughts and experiences.

Biosocial theory is not complicated, and is based, to some degree, on the concept of nature vs.nurture. It acknowledges the influence of both nature and nurture on personality development.

All children are born with a particular temperament - and some will be very emotionally sensitive - both sensitive to the emotion of those around them and experiencing strong emotion internally. Some parents deal well with this, either because they themselves are quite emotionally sensitive or they are just attuned to their child and develop helpful responses. Others find it more difficult and need to work at developing helpful ways to nurture their child.

In some cases, these emotionally sensitive children will be raised in an environment which is 'invalidating'. Their emotional experience will be ignored, negated or in some cases, the abuse they experience will create emotional turmoil that they cannot interpret and make sense of.

The interraction of emotionally sensitive child, and sustained invalidation over time, can lead to poor development of self and personality 'disorder'.

This is sobering news for parents, especially those of us who are good at critically evaluating our own parenting and wondering whether it might just not be 'good enough'*. For me, I hope it is a reminder of the importance of positive interractions and explicit praise with my children.

For people who get diagnosed with a personality or self disorder, beginning to understand the origins of their struggles and behaviour may be a key to unlocking the door to growth and recovery.

*'Good-enough mothering' is not perfect - rather it is children having their needs reasonably well met. (This is based on Winnicott's ideas)

photo from stock.xchng

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