Love

Therapist Says She Sees This One Kind Of Couple 25% Of The Time

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couple in therapy

Nobody said relationships were easy and navigating the complexities can be quite a challenge. But did you know that there is a specific relationship dynamic that may land you in therapy?

Clinical psychologist Dr. Angelica Shiels frequently counsels these couples, who make up 25% of her clientele. So, who are they?

   

   

The Golden Boy and Parentified Girl

The golden boy and parentified girl are what make up most of Shiels's clientele. According to Shiels, the golden boy and parentified girl are a quarter of the couples she sees in therapy.

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The golden boy tends to shine brightly amid family drama. Whenever there was distress or anger, he stepped in to ease tensions, bringing joy and happiness back into their lives.

The parentified girl is seen as the manager in her family. During stressful periods the parentified girl can be seen guiding the chaos and easing tension.

For the parentified girl, the golden boy is perfect. He remembers her favorite restaurant and never disagrees with her. He's a rule follower and eases her negative emotions.

The golden boy always sees the parentified girl as perfection. She's positive and cares about his emotional state. She shows appreciation and never blows up during small inconveniences.

As their bond develops, wedding bells can be heard ringing in the air. For a while, they'll be content with their relationship dynamic. However, bickering will start to occur.

The parentified girl criticizes the golden boy for their mishaps. His effort is never enough and this severely damages the golden boy. The golden boy is used to being perfect. So, when he can't be perfect he shuts down and grows distant.

Layer in less emotional intimacy and this will cause huge emotional damage to the golden boy. Not used to expressing his emotions, the golden boy has depended on his body language to get his emotions across.

And a decrease in intimacy can lead the golden boy to feel unsafe and unwanted.

On the flip side, the parentified girl begins to feel unappreciated. As the golden boy shuts down her emotions, she starts to feel abandoned and alone.

Every time the golden boy shuts her down, it reinforces the belief that her emotions are meant to be invisible.

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How Childhood Plays A Role

This dysfunction starts in childhood. During childhood, people develop their sense of self. In infancy, we are taught crucial lessons.

"When our mom expresses joy in picking us up, we learn we can be a source of joy," says Shiels. Or when our mother changes our diaper during discomfort, we learn that other people can be depended on.

Fast forward to when we are in our preschool years, we begin to get curious about our control. We wonder how much control we have over our environment and other people.

During this stage, it's crucial to have a sensible adult to help guide us. "Our caregiver's role is to help us establish our sense of self in this world," says Shiels.

When we throw a tantrum because we didn't get our ice cream our caregivers are there to help us. They redirect and guide us while accepting our emotional reactions. They acknowledge our disappointment over not having that ice cream and help identify our emotions.

"This helps bring clarity to our internal experience," says Shiels.

But what happens when we don't have this experience? You might find yourself resembling the golden boy or parentified girl, struggling to form healthy bonds. So, how do we heal?

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Healing Your Childhood Trauma

If you want to heal, you have to change your mindset. Shiels says, “Change your mindset to accept and observe, not control and judge.”

Start by changing your language when you talk to your partner.

Don't say, "You should be taking the trash out, I’m the only one who does anything." Instead say, “I noticed you haven’t been taking out the trash like you used to do.” Through this approach, your golden boy can feel as if they have permission to make mistakes.

They don't have to be perfect and golden all the time. They are allowed to be human and vulnerable with you.

"Try giving them the benefit of the doubt," says Shiels. You can say, “I know you’ve been stressed lately so you probably forgot to take out the trash.”

   

   

Approaching from a place of understanding allows your golden boy to lower his defenses and be emotional.

For the parentified girl try meeting her halfway there. Validate her and show curiosity when she expresses herself. Say, “It’s understandable you feel overwhelmed. I can see how you don’t feel considered when I leave dirty dishes in the sink.”

"Inquire about their emotional state and ask them to elaborate more," says Shiels. When they feel that you're standing with them, it helps the parentified girl feel less alone.

Finally, give one another grace and space to express emotions. As Shiels says, "Giving space to feel icky feelings without catastrophizing is one of the critical attunement milestones that need to be revisited.”

Acknowledge insecurities and always reinforce your support for each other.

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Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor's degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.