When the Parent is Wrong
There is an intellectual temptation to regard the Parent as the Holy Grail of the psyche.
The Parent, as we have taught — and as I have said in articles and the EgoHacking Your Fear course — is the most important function in our psyche’s development. It is the linchpin and the tool best equipped to nurture all our other psychological tools. But all functions, however developed, face the risk of corrosion. In the case of the Parent, this “Corrosion” takes the form of restriction.
“I’m so responsible, I’ll never not be responsible. I’ll never be caught off guard, lost, weak, or listen to the wrong people again, etc.” Though dashes of fear and angst from the Inferior and Nemesis sprinkle statements like these, the underlying conviction of the corrosive Parent is this: Skeptical responsibility is the only acceptable mode.
The extreme emphasis on responsibility puts the Parent in a place that invalidates other walks in life. And it forces us to psychologically abandon the opportunity to nurture some of our less “impressive” functions.
The image that feels fitting to capture an over-responsible Parent is a single mother of three children in her early 30’s. She takes her kids to daycare and school in the morning, attends her full time job during the day, takes care of the children after school — cooks, cleans, and helps with their homework — and at night chips away at her school work in pursuit of a degree — and a better future.
We will call her Lily.
I have met people like this, and I bet you have too.
What’s wrong with this image? Nothing. Nothing is inherently wrong with the image, except for one thing: our expectation. Our culture is given us a belief that this type of “grindset” is the only valuable course for a responsibility and the achievement of goals. This “grindset” is the moral equivalent for “purification” for our productivity-centric culture.
These expectations are closely related to the broader philosophy of “grindset”, where success is viewed as complete exhaustion — and negligence of our needs. Further, there is an ethic that responsibility requires the sacrifice of pursuits that give us joy, peace, or pleasure. In exchange, we are to live in a constant state of lack, with adrenaline and “will” as our fuels.
This is the life of over-productivity and over-responsibility.
The cultural commentary extends slightly beyond the scope of this article, but it is worth reflecting on the question: Do you believe success and peace can co-exist in the present moment?
There is another type of over-responsibility. One captured by the image of an older man in his late 40’s. He’s been divorced for seven years, has three children who live states away, and he cares for his father — bedridden — while he works full time as a product engineer. This type of work is all in-compassing, and there is little rest outside of work. He does his best to manage his and his father’s health.
He’s tried some blind dates, at a few of his work buddies’ bequests. But those too fall flat. Part of him knows he could use someone — but he won’t admit it. All the while he battles against the rising cynicism and fatalism that aim to corrode the edges of his life. He beats away the fateful question, “What’s the point?” whenever it comes lurking. But it’s still there, nibbling in the back of his mind.
His life is constructed around effectively maneuvering his responsibilities into orderly, efficient routines that guarantee success. And his radical exhaustion, which he beats away with caffeine, power naps, and occasionally some less than legal substances, screams at him for some rest.
This is the second image and one, I think, that appropriately captures a Parent function who has neglected the Child. Further, one where the Hero and Inferior are used only to “fall in line” to get the work done.
We will call him James.
What’s confusing about the image of this man is that, wrapped up in so many of his behaviors, are beliefs that we’ve been told are essential.
As the source of our responsibility, and the vital tool that helps us decide what to sacrifice — and how much, and when — the Parent is what negotiates with delayed gratification.
- “I will trade the fast food for my green smoothie.”
- “I will trade a nap for a walk.”
- “I will trade video games for some homework.”
- “I will trade some leisure for completing my degree.”
- “I will trade my own desires for the safety of my children.”
- “I will work all day and take care of my dying father because that is what is expected of me — that is what I expect from myself.”
But imagine someone who makes decisions ONLY with delayed gratification in mind. Their only mode is sacrifice, they feel bad when they feel good. They feel like they are wasting time when they are enjoying themselves, and they feel that they are contemptible for desiring leisure.
An over-indulgence in the Parent leads us to be dried up, drained, weary, and frail. When the Parent is always “on” there is no room for any activity that cannot be rationalized, justified, authorized, or otherwise “approved” under the umbrella of responsibility.
Anything spontaneous is ruinous. There is no room for exploration, there is no room for dreams, and there is certainly no room for play.
The Parent’s Limitation
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
The Parent’s role (especially for Extraverted Parent Functions) is usually passive. It’s to be the guard rails, the boundaries, the warnings, and the rules to avoid damage. The Parent’s main role is in facilitation to the Hero, Child, and Inferior.
The Parent’s passiveness is not to be confused with disengagement. The Parent’s job is to be consistently watchful and only occasionally to step in, teach, and make an impact.
The Fe Parent of an INFJ exists, in part, to guide the Ni Hero’s path to something utilitarian — “How can my path create, help heal, teach, or guide others.”
The Si Parent of the ESTJ guides the ESTJ toward reliability and strength. — “Through reliability, consistency, and hard work, I will gain knowledge and influence.”
The Parent also helps guide the Child to know when it’s the Child’s time to speak or engage.
ISFJs and INFJs who lead with their Fe Parent corral their Ti Child from sharing “every thought that pops into my head.”
Instead, they choose to share what thoughts they deem the most helpful (Fe) or most interesting, not just whatever their Child produces.
Likewise, the socially conscious Fe Parent finds relief in their Inferior because the Inferior becomes more comfortable when led by the Parent.
The problem of over-responsibility comes when the Parent becomes possessed by the Critic, and reduces the Child’s role to the bare minimum — “I’ll give you what you need, but your existence is not vital to my growth or goals.”
This is the unconscious belief that many “overly responsible people” — who are more likely to be the UD | UF types — experience. I’ve personally seen it most with high-achieving ENTJs.
Some of these ENTJs put their professional career as the apex — the single, unwavering priority in their life. It gives them purpose. They neglect the joy of performing with their Se Child in any context BUT in work itself. They are often possessed by a hyper-critical perspective on others (Ne Critic) — “If you aren’t fully pursuing something worthwhile, what’s your worth?” (Fe Demon)
The solution to an over-responsible Parent is to re-integrate the child healthily. It is irresponsible to only be “responsible”. Responsibility is a deep, restorative well that is shared with others. This well must be refilled.
If we only rely on the Parent, we will burn out, and much of the richness of life will slip away.
The Role of Play
“Man’s maturity: to have regained the seriousness that he had as a child at play.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
What didNietzsche mean? Did he mean that the measure of a person’s maturity is if they can engage seriously in the world but put aside some time to play? Did he mean we must take seriousness and let go of the play?
I think Nietzsche meant that an essential part of maturity — and self-understanding — is having the ability to play. But not just to set apart some time or space to “play”, but to use play in the “adult matters” — perhaps even in the most serious matters.
Do we view play and work as compatible?
It appears Nietzsche believed we should. There is another who appears to agree with Nietzsche.
“The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable. It is therefore short-sighted to treat fantasy, on account of its risky or unacceptable nature, as a thing of little worth.” — Carl Jung (p. 63 from Psychological Types)
Jung’s quote cuts to the heart of the issue, when applied to the Parent. The toxic effect of too much responsibility creates a mind antithetical to the spirit of wonder. We must also see the Parent in a broader perspective to understand the issue of over-responsibility.
The Parent is in the Guidance Circuit with the Critic (Orbit), Child (Axis) and Trickster (Reflection).
An immature person steers into their Child at the neglect of their Parent. There the Child and Trickster come to dominate the psyche. While there may be immaturity here, there is energy, joy, and renewed life. But, when used poorly, a person will fall into entitlement and foolishness.
On the other side of this spectrum is over-responsibility. This side is dominated by the Parent and the Critic. Any conscious interaction with the Child or Trickster is viewed as a nuisance. The Child and Trickster are overwhelmingly regarded as a nuisance to the more “important things.”
It would be a simple solution to suggest that “balance” is the key here. Yes, balance — like all things in this science — stands as the obvious “solution” to all psychological perils. But it’s not that simple.
Nietzsche’s quote reveals why.
“Man’s maturity: to have regained the seriousness that he had as a child at play.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
Play is best experienced under the greater context of maturity. Yes, just because we don’t want to go to work doesn’t mean we should get up and head straight for the bar. Though this may be an occasionally healthy thing, the spirit of impulsiveness and pleasure (which are so easily confused for play) it is not the highest expression of the Child’s redemptive power.
Jordan Peterson refers to the proper relationship with Children as creating a “walled garden” for them to play in. This is supported within this science too. The Parent, when mature, leads the way and outlines the parameters for the Child to play. And, if the Child meets those parameters, the Parent lets the child have as much independence as possible.
Remember that our inner child will one day become the Parent of our Subconscious. Part of its joy comes from independence in an environment that is safe, nurturing, yet still providing challenge. The Child must be challenged, safely.
So yes, let Ti Childs (ISFJs and INFJs) read and think about things that are not explicitly socially acceptable. Etc.
The biggest issue with an “over-responsible” person is that their Critic takes the place where their Child should be. They experience “innocence” through self-denial. The Critic wins out in the Battleground of Innocence, with innocence found through wisdom, but at the expense of play.
The Trickster stands as the indirect but most powerful solution to “over-responsibility”. Wonder is the prerequisite for play. And the Trickster invites the Child on a journey of play, exploration, and joy.
Here, the Parent — and the person — begins to realize that play is not part of managing an “ideal” life. It is a force so fundamental that it directly affects success in the “important” parts of life. The question becomes: what is really most important?