Mental Illness and Relationships With Our Parents

September 17, 2015 Tracey Lloyd

Perhaps no other relationships cause as much anxiety as our relationships with our parents. They are the people who've known us the longest and in some cases are the people who know us the best. But sometimes relationships with our parents trigger reactions that exacerbate our mental illness and cause us undue stress.

Relationships With Our Parents and Sense of Self

Relationships with our parents can be tough, especially with mental illness involved. Learn to handle the stress of parent-child relationships. Read this.My father is the person in my life with whom I have the most contact. We speak on the phone every day since my mother died. I have become my dad's biggest confidant. However, that sense of confidence only goes one way.

When I got my first mental illness diagnosis, my father was the last person that I told. I didn't believe that he would understand what was happening to me because having a mental illness didn't fit with the person I'd been growing up.

My parents had always encouraged me to succeed in everything I tried, particularly in academics, and I continually lived up to their expectations. With my symptoms of mental illness -- lack of concentration, lethargy, and crying jags -- I simply couldn't perform as I had when I was younger. I feared that my father would become disappointed in me because I could no longer achieve the success I once had. That fear fueled my depression and curtailed my recovery from mental illness.

When I, eventually, told my dad what had been going on, of course, he was supportive even if not fully understanding. Though he reiterated that I could always share with him, my lingering belief that I could only be a successful child has tempered how much I tell my father about my disease. Though I'm working through this in therapy, I fear that hiding my mental illness symptoms and low points from my dad will continue to hamper my full recovery.

Relationships With Our Parents When They Have Mental Illness

I have several friends with mental illness who have parents with mental illness as well. For most, their parents' diseases were prevalent throughout life and they knew to anticipate symptoms of their own. My parents, and my larger family, have no clinical diagnosis though I suspect that they suffered from some form of mental illnesses in their lives. Whether with or without a formal diagnosis, certain behaviors in our parents will trigger our mental health symptoms.

Though he has never seen a therapist of any kind, I believe that my father suffers from depression, or perhaps borderline personality disorder. He's prone to rumination and focusing on the past instead of the present. He doesn't handle his emotions very well, preferring to put them on other people rather than dealing with them on his own. And he's got a little problem with hoarding. Of course, I try to suggest that he talk to someone professionally about his feelings, that it would make him feel better, but he never takes my advice.

In spite of his lack of diagnosis, my dad's behaviors trigger my anxiety and my own negative ruminations. When my dad is stressed and I respond by being stressed too. I become fearful about what is happening to him as well as about the effect it has on me. When my dad ruminates about all the missed opportunities in his life, it triggers my ruminations on all the ways I could've helped him if I didn't need so much care for my mental illness. And when I tell him that I'm worried, it triggers his anxiety and negative thinking which he unleashes, unchecked, on other family members. We become a circle of depression and stinking thinking.

Managing the Effects of Relationships with Our Parents

The best way I've found to help with my dad's affect on my moods is to talk about it. I usually start with my therapist, who reminds me of specific tools that I can use when speaking to my father (Why and How To Make An Anxiety Toolbox). She also helps me understand how I can regulate my own emotions during times when I can't get my father to change his behavior. Dialectical behavior therapy has been great for me in terms of diffusing the intensity of my feelings.

It has also been helpful to enlist family in helping to distract my dad from behaviors that will trigger me. When he is able to talk to other people, it takes some of the burden away from me. My family members also help by giving me advice on how to handle my dad's outbursts; they are helpful because they know us and understand our relationship.

No matter what methods work for you, it is necessary to manage a relationship with your parents in order to manage your own emotional health.

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APA Reference
Lloyd, T. (2015, September 17). Mental Illness and Relationships With Our Parents, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 14 from

Author: Tracey Lloyd

January, 28 2016 at 1:26 pm

My daughter was diagnosed with bipolar when she was about 17. She is now 36. She has tried to get help but has not had any success. I think it's from not trusting anyone and has had some real dosies for doctors. Her job moves her around a lot which is another factor with doctors. She has tried to manage on her own but I have noticed a change in the number of episodes she has and I only talk to her on the phone once in awhile. I know her life would be much easier if she could get on the right medication and treatment. I have tried to explain to her that she has to keep pursuing to find a good doctor. I know they are hard to find but she has to keep trying. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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