Have you ever felt guilty for being negative and perhaps feared you caused something to happen?
Are you the sort of person who often feels responsible for when something has gone wrong- yet often do not hold others accountable the way you do yourself?
Do you spend time ruminating about how to fix situations or do you find it hard to accept reasonable feedback from others because you feel ashamed that they needed to even give you feedback in the first place?
If so, it may be that you are someone who takes being conscientious and accountable to a level that goes from being healthy to harmful. This can happen for a number of reasons, a common one is being a parentified child. In essence, a parentified child is someone who was raised in a manner that they felt responsible for meeting their own needs, and likely the needs of the parents and family, rather than having faith that a parent was available to fill that roll.
When you are a parentified child, you are meeting needs and responsibilities that are beyond your capabilities, and when the parent fails to recognize this- the message that often becomes internalized is “I am not good enough”. This painful message drives you to try an adapt to the situation, to try and overcome the impossible, which often is not successful and creates a deep sense of failure and insecurity.
Imagine the impact of being diagnosed with cancer on someone who is a parentified child. The challenges of trying to accept what has happened, the challenges of moving forward staring the deep stress of the unknown and uncertainty that cancer brings, the challenges of confronting that even with your best efforts you are not in complete control of your destiny.
I’ve been there. I remember my initial sense of relief that I tested positive for the BRCA2 genetic mutation… because I felt like that let me off the hook for being “responsible” for getting cancer. That is how pervasive the needs can be of a parentified child- because sadly, while this might have bought me “grace” from being the one who failed to be good enough to avoid cancer- it also puts my kids at higher risk of having cancer. I clearly do not want that for them or their offspring and so this response raised my awareness of how I had emotional healing to do related to being a parentified child (yet again!).
This awareness is an example of how deeply impacted your psyche is by the experience of having cancer. It truly touches upon every aspect of your life, especially the areas in which you continue to carry wounds.
It’s a reminder that being tender and compassionate with yourself is an important part of healing emotionally from cancer, because some of those old beasties are going to raise their heads- along with all of the tentacles of experiences, memories and self beliefs that beast is attached to.
For better or worse, it is an opportunity to stare those beasts straight in the eye and to question their validity, while sorting through what salve will be needed in order to soothe the wounds that reopened again.
For these are the stories which must be told in order for our souls to be free.
-Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing emotionally from cancer. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer the self assessment tool, cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, virtual workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.