Posted by: gtcounseling | March 26, 2010

Raised by a Bi-polar Parent

Hello Grace,

I am 17 years old and I am a teenage mother. When I was growing up my mother was bi-polar and I believe her disorder affected me. I have big trust issues and have issues with being independent. I recently moved out on my own while trying to graduate from high school. I also have created most of the problems in my relationship with my child’s father due to the personal issues that I have. I’m not really sure what I am asking for. I guess I would really appreciate some guidance.

Thanks, Erin

Hello Erin,

I’m glad you wrote in Erin and you’re certainly no alone in your feelings and struggles. Growing up in a household with a mentally ill parent is hard on family members and can create numerous kinds of dysfunctional relationship and communication patterns that get passed down to the children. And, now you are also a single parent yourself, though it sounds like you are doing pretty well with being on your own and finishing school. Kudos to you for having great goals and investing in yourself and your child’s future.

Being the child of a bi-polar parent can certainly cause you to grow up fast Erin. And, there are varying degrees of impairment that can accompany the condition. You mentioned that you struggle with trust and independence, two very common characteristics that adult children from dysfunctional family backgrounds deal with. Your trust issues may stem from growing up in a household where you were not able to fully trust that your mother, your main caretaker and who you fully depended on as a vulnerable young child, would be there for you in all the ways you needed her to be, i.e. physically, mentally and emotionally. If children don’t have stable and predictable attachments in a family it  can wreak havoc in their life and stunt healthy development and growth in key areas. 

And, the child who grows up experiencing that she can’t trust her main caretaker to protect, nurture and provide for her becomes conditioned to believe that people in general may not be trustworthy at all. This then sets the stage for a struggle between being ‘independent vs. dependent’ as an adult. A young adult often feels pulled between those two extremes without having learned that there is a healthy middle ground. What’s most helpful in this case is to learn to become interdependent with others in life through learning to have health relationships.

These types of struggles, learning to trust and to be interdependent, take hard work, practice and time to overcome Erin, but are well worth the effort for a happy life. My advice to you would be to seek out healthy friends and family members  who can be good role models and a support system for you. You might also consider getting help through a trusted professional to help you sort through things, heal and grow. You are likely to find that as you trust, embrace and work with other people who are safe and healthy, that the healing and learning process is truly a gift that continually blesses over a lifetime. In going forward Erin, remember that all it takes is to keep putting one foot in front of the other in the healing journey. I wish you all the best going forward!


Carole L. Miller, LCSW-C



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