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Wednesday 26 September 2012


Par­en­tism is a less dis­cussed cousin of racism, sex­ism and clas­sism.


parentism (uncountable)
  1. discrimination against parents
  2. resentment felt by parents towards people who have chosen not to have children


Discrimination against parents:  In the world of psychology and psychoanalyis, into which I occasionally dip my big toe (and inevitably get pinched by a crabby "qualified" person), I come across extreme prejudice against parents.  The website I discussed in my previous blog is probably at the extreme end of the scale but, where mental illness is concerned, parents seem to have to shoulder the burden of blame, as well as the burden of care.

Times are supposed to have moved on from this type of study.  But have they? The answer is that there are still Bettleheim disciples peddling tripe about bad parenting causing autism.  The newest incarnation is a Canadian called Dr Gabor Mate, who has such gems to impart as this.  I particularly liked this rebuttal - speaking my kind of language.

Then you get the alternative poison from the other end of the spectrum.  David Allen, author of the wonderfully encouraging book "How Dysfunctional Families spur mental disorders", who writes (NB horrible graphic and unnecessary picture at the end - avoid at all possible costs) a relatively benign blog post about parents of schizophrenics.  Should you then search "parents" on his blog, well don't bother unless you are feeling particularly strong

Psychoanlysists refer to this interpersonal phenomenon asprojective identification. They speak of "superego lacunae" or holes in the parents' conscience that prevent them from expressing certain feelings but which lead them to indirectly validate the expression of those very same feelings in their children, even while criticizing the children unmercifully for having done so.


Should you care to Google "Do parents cause eating disorders?", I am delighted to see the Fairy Blogmother's film comes out No 1. But then you get this sort of article, which drives me mad.

the home lives of people suffering from eating disorders tend to be difficult and conflict-ridden. Adolescents may be highly defiant and resist parental control as to what and when they eat. Concealment of eating disorders is just one aspect of this defiance so that parents are often shocked and devastated to learn that their child suffers from a serious illness. By that time, the problem is well beyond the competence of the parents as clinical psychologists and psychiatrists are consulted. Researchers do not know whether such conflict is the cause, or the result, of an eating disorder.

With the cosy summary of

In summary I do not believe that parents should blame themselves for their children's eating disorders

Well we all know what you believe then......

This particular study is only 5 years old.  Still banging the Bruch drum some six years after this tripe.  In a funny way I am almost grateful for this particular study, which blames the media instead - it's still tripe though.

Look, we are a long way from sorting out mental illness, brain disorder, brain arrythmia, whatever you like to call it.  We are still shaking off the long, menacing shadow of Freud's more outlandish theories and the poison of Bruch's clinical observations.

No one would deny the impact of the environment on every single person.  Our experiences colour our reactions.  However, it is facile in the extreme to continue to spend valuable research money on pursuing an avenue which continues to be a dead end.

Is it wrong of me to long for a world where blaming parents for their children's mental illnesses will be as shocking and as distasteful as blaming the Jewish community for the Holocaust?


  1. "The most common form of therapy for children and teenagers with eating disorders is family therapy. After bullying, one of the most common underlying factors that can trigger an eating disorder are issues in a child’s family life. This could range from bereavement, a divorce or even moving home for the first time. Family therapy can provide space and time for a child and members of their family to talk and discuss openly any problems that have occurred. We reassure families we work with that family therapy is not a “blame game” – it is safe space where the child and loved ones can work through problems together.

    5 months old. Talk about mixed messages.

  2. Therapy can take many forms for anorexia nervosa. For children and teenagers the therapy of choice is family therapy. Often, anorexia in the young can be triggered by, or caused by difficult family circumstances and by resolving these problems in therapy this can help the sufferer overcome the illness and benefit the entire family.

    This is from a very reputable source - an organisation that has really, really helped many. But it doesn't half confuse and no wonder Janet Treasure has to spend so much time explaining how to treat carers with respect and compassion even to her most esteemed colleagues

  3. In cartoons, people who lie are struck by lightning. I sometimes amuse myself by imagining just that for those who peddle this damaging, smug, nonsense to vulnerable folks and to those who want to hurt them.

  4. I love most of your posts and of course agree parents should not be blamed for their child's mental illness, but I do feel that Holocaust analogy is a bit illogical and potentially offensive. I don't mean this rudely but felt I had to say it. Hope that's ok :)