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6 signs you were parentified as a child and given adult responsibilities when you were too young

A young girl comforting her mother
A therapist said "parentification" is the act of parents making their children take on adults' logistical and emotional responsibilities.ilkercelik/Getty Images
  • Parentified children are made to take on adults' logistical and emotional responsibilities.

  • These can include looking after their siblings or mediating their parents' arguments.

  • A therapist said these children can grow up to have no boundaries and struggle to voice their needs.

If you grew up in a dysfunctional family and were raised by emotionally immature parents, there's a possibility they forced you to take on adult responsibilities while you were still a child.

Annie Wright, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Berkeley, California, told Business Insider this is called "parentification." It's when a child is "expected to meet developmentally inappropriate needs or milestones," Wright said.

Wright said parentified children might have had to fulfill logistical adult responsibilities, such as looking after their younger siblings while their parents are nowhere to be found. But they can also take on emotional work, acting as their parents' best friends, confidantes, and therapists.

While Wright said there's no clinical research to back up which types of emotionally immature parents parentify their children the most, she said that in her personal experience with clients, reactive parents do it more often.

Reactive or emotional parents lack emotional-regulation skills, interpersonal-communication skills, and sometimes even the ability to set themselves and their children up for success.

Wright shared signs you were parentified as a child and how it might impact you as an adult.

1. You took on way more household chores than your peers

While it can be beneficial for children to have some chores, Wright said that parentified children tend to take on "a disproportionately large amount of household responsibilities" such as feeling solely responsible for their siblings' or parents' physical wellbeing.

This can include being expected to cook for the whole family at a young age or always feeding and dressing your younger siblings, something a parent would normally do.

2. You provided constant emotional support to your parents

Wright said a "classic example" of someone parentifying their kid is "expecting the child to provide emotional support, stabilization, and comfort to a parent who's emotionally dysregulated, instead of the parents seeking that support from therapists or their friends or even their partner."

This could be a parent venting to you about other family members or expecting you to cheer them up when they had a bad day at work instead of giving you space as a child to express your own emotions.

3. You were forced to referee your parents' fights

Wright said another form of parentifying a child is directly involving children in arguments.

This can look like one parent using a child to relay messages to the other parent, making their kid act as a referee in a fight, or using them to make the other party feel guilty.

Wright clarified that this doesn't mean that all children who witnessed their parents fight were parentified. If you saw your parents calmly disagree about something at the dinner table and intervened, that's very different from your parents deliberately involving you in a conflict.

4. You struggle with setting boundaries

One of the biggest side effects of being parentified as a child is struggling to set boundaries as an adult.

"It's going to impact every single sector of your life: romantic relationships, friendships, your career, and certainly your finances," Wright said.

Parentified children may be less likely to ask for raises, push back on unfair treatment, or pursue what they truly want because other people's opinions influence them too easily.

5. You pride yourself on having no needs

Wright said that parentified children usually grow up unaware of their own needs and wants because they "learn very early on that their needs and wants don't matter as much as what the needs and wants of the caregivers are."

That includes not knowing what their passions are, what kind of friends they want to be around, or even what healthy romantic relationships look like — all of which they may need therapy to figure out.

6. You're drawn to people who ask too much of you

Because they're used to doing so much in their relationships with their parents, Wright said parentified children can seek out relationships that recreate a similar dynamic.

"They get into relationships where they're unconsciously drawn to people who expect them to meet gaps in the relationship," she said.

Wright said that in therapy, clients who were parentified usually have to work on restoring balance in their relationships, which starts with them figuring out what needs they have in the first place.

Read the original article on Business Insider