Were you a ‘parentified child’? What happens when children have to behave like adults

When parents cast a child into the role of mediator, friend and carer, the wounds are profound. But recovery is possible

I came to research the emotional neglect of children by accident. More than a decade ago, I wrote my master’s thesis on the relationship between the personal and professional lives of psychotherapists. How did they manage to keep the distress they heard in their clinics from affecting their own emotional balance? And how did they stop their personal challenges from affecting their clinical work?

In our conversations, I asked what brought them to be clinicians. The consistency of their answers surprised me. Virtually all said that being there for others, emotionally, came naturally; they were good at it because they were practised in tending others’ needs since childhood, starting with their own parents. With deeper conversations, I learned of the difficult family circumstances they each came from.

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