There are four known parenting styles, each of which is likely to impact children in different ways, especially in relation to attachment patterns. The four basic types are authoritarian, permissive (also known as indulgent), uninvolved, and authoritative. The following definitions are paraphrased from Development Across the Life Span (Feldman, 2008, p. 264-265).
Authoritarian parents are generally very strict and require their children to obey their dictates without flexibility. They value obedience and discipline, and they do not tolerate being questioned or disobeyed. They tend to be cold and aloof, and the attachment pattern of their children tends toward the avoidant style (Neal & Frick-Horbury, 2001).
Permissive parents, on the other hand, tend to offer little in the way of boundaries. These parents take very little responsibility for how their kids are raised. There is minimal feedback to the child in response to its behaviors and efforts at bonding. The additional lack of limits and controls creates an ambivalent attachment pattern in their children (Neal & Frick-Horbury).
Uninvolved parents exhibit less of a parenting style than an absence of parenting altogether. These parents seem indifferent to their children’s needs for bonding, and are often lacking in expressions of emotion toward their kids. While most parents of this type meet basic survival needs for their children (food, clothes, shelter), at its extreme it becomes neglect (although emotional neglect can be just as damaging as physical neglect in the long-term). Children raised with this style of parenting are more likely to act out in anti-adult ways as teenagers (drugs, gangs, alcohol) (Durbin, Darling, Steinberg, & Brown, 1993), which might suggest avoidant or disorganized attachment patterns.
Finally, authoritative parents set clear boundaries, enforce them consistently, and while being fairly strict, are also loving and emotionally present to their children. Rather than setting absolute and seemingly arbitrary limits, as does the authoritarian parent, the authoritative parent will explain the rules and why they should be followed. Punishments are explained and not punitive as much as corrective. Children raised with this style of parenting tend to be more independent and demonstrate the most secure attachment patterns (Neal & Frick-Horbury).
Living with an authoritarian father
I grew up with an authoritarian father. There were absolute rules for behavior with swift and considerable punishments for breaking those rules. A little background might be useful in framing his behavior and parenting style. It’s not really fair to judge a man outside of his experience and social background.
My father was an oldest son with two younger sisters, raised mostly by his mother during the Great Depression in the 1930s. He joined the Navy on his eighteenth birthday in order to be a part of World War II (his father was a Marine in WWI). The combination of an absent, though also authoritarian father (his father worked in the CCC to keep his family fed and housed) and his training in the military made for an authoritarian personality structure, not just as a parent, but in general.
However, this is not at all unusual in men of his generation. Until quite recently (and to this day in many rural parts of the country), the authoritarian social stage was the norm, producing authoritarian adults. Don Beck, co-author of Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (Beck & Cowan, 1996), a bio-psycho-social model of human and cultural evolution, suggests that the authoritarian stage is defined by the following words and ideas: “an ordered existence under the control of the ultimate truth; meaning; discipline; traditions; morality; rules; lives for later; to protect borders, homelands, hearth, preserve way of life, defend ‘holy’ cause” (Beck, 1999, tables 1, 2, 3). This very well fits my father and many men of his generation.
In contrast to my father, my mother was somewhat permissive and indulgent, but my father’s rules were always enforced with the ubiquitous, “Wait until your father gets home.” As much as she was my primary care-giver for most of my early childhood, my father was the most important presence in my life as I look back. The combination of her indulgence (and often, this was a form of emotional smothering) with his distance and lack of emotional connection, resulted in a primarily avoidant, but somewhat ambivalent attachment pattern in me. Both of these attachment styles have long-term consequences in children. “Avoidant attachment has been suggestively tied to obsessional, narcissistic, and schizoid problems, while ambivalent attachment has been liked to hysteric or histrionic difficulties (Schore, 2002; Slade, 1999)” (Wallin, 2007, p. 24). For a variety of reasons, I ended up with the narcissistic personality elements, likely as a result of being a first child.
My own life behaviors, especially in relationships, can be tied to my attachment as a child, which, as shown, is result of the parenting style I received. In several years of therapy, I worked with my narcissistic personality issues. There are many forms of narcissism, but I have found this definition of the dissociative narcissist from Allan Schore to be closest to my own experience.
This personality organization, also referred to as a “hyper-vigilant type” (Gabbard, 1989), manifests low self-esteem, rejection sensitivity, diminished energy and vitality, and is inhibited, shy, self-effacing, and avoids being the center of attention. Consciously expressed self-devaluation exists side by side with a subtle form of superiority and entitlement (Broucek, 1991). (Schore, 1994, p. 424)
Another marker of this personality structure is a difficulty in allowing or participating in intimate relationships, which is the situation that forced me into therapy in the first place. The cultural stereotype of men as unemotional and unavailable is true only as far as it is a form of wounding resulting from authoritarian parenting that becomes internalized and acts out in shadow projection. Moreover, the fact that it can become internalized often creates a powerful inner critic that builds an invisible wall between the self and others.
My own inner critic was almost a full introject of my father’s voice and then, later, the voices of my peers. With such a powerful critic, social situations became nearly unbearable, a situation that was later diagnosed as social anxiety disorder. While social anxiety is nearly always treated with medications today, my own sense is that it is a result of an over-active inner critic. Here is one definition of the inner critic:
The anguish caused by the Inner Critic is always a basic factor in low self-esteem and is often a major impediment to any growth or change. Many of the difficulties in therapy experienced by your clients can directly be traced to this self which will question their ability to learn or to grow or, at the very least, will attack them for needing help in the first place. The Inner Critic is often directly involved in anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, addictions, and a variety of self-destructive behaviors. It is usually a key factor in dysfunctional or abusive relationships. (Stone & Stone, n.d., ¶ 2).
The work of the Stones over the years has provided one of the largest bodies of theory in the field of subpersonalities, especially the inner critic.
I have tried here to demonstrate how the complexity of parenting styles and attachment patterns, with the resulting intra-psychic dynamic the interaction of two can produce, might impact a person’s life. This brief analysis is really too simple to be of any real value, but it sets up some pathways for future exploration.
Beck, D. E. (1999). The search for cohesion in the age of fragmentation: From the new world order to the next global mesh. Retrieved April 26, 2009, from http://spiraldynamics.net/DrDonBeck/essays/search_for_cohesion.htm