Older Mind Matters

Non-violent resistance and dysfunctional dependence of adult-children

I’ve been undertaking training in non-violent resistance (NVR) with Partnership Projects and recently attended a two day workshop on adult entitled dependency: I wrote a brief blog about NVR in relation to adult children a few months ago (see link here).

Adult entitled dependency isn’t a term I like. It refers to adult-children, maybe in their 20s, 30s or 40s who might be described as “dysfunctionally dependent” on their parent or parents. They may live in the parents’ home, are often not working or in education, and are supported by a range of services (financial and practical) provided by their parents. They are commonly resistant to their parents’ attempts to change the situation and the parents may feel helpless about changing things because of their fears for the adult-child, who may or may not have mental health problems, a learning difficulty or problems with substance use.

There’s more information about adult entitled dependency here, where it is described as:

a relationship where young adults or older adolescents cling maladaptively to their families, while the families nourish them emotionally and materially.”

NVR offers a way to work with the parents (not the adult-child) to change their (ie the parents’) behaviour, and has a developing evidence base to support its effectiveness. It is more a way of life than a treatment, and is drawn from methods of non violent direct action and resistance derived from Gandhi, Luther King and Rosa Parks. I can’t change what you do, but I can change what I do and that can be very powerful. It reminds me of the Barack Obama quotation:

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we are waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

I’ve seen a number of families struggling with dysfunctional dependency of adult-children both as a psychiatrist and in independent systemic practice. I suspect there are many parents out there distressed and quietly dealing with this on their own. Some of their adult-children aren’t so young: I’ve met parents who have been looking after their dysfunctionally dependent adult-child for many years and, until the parents talk to other people about it, I think they don’t fully realise the extent of the support they are giving and how, in some cases, it has taken over and controls their lives. It is hard for these caring parents to contemplate doing something different. But NVR is an approach with the potential to help them do just that, to support them in launching their adult-child into the adult world. And, after all, launching our children into the world as adults is a core part of our job as parents.

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