‘Parent Conditioning: What Is It We Don’t Realize’

Have you all heard about a popular experiment on a dog and its salivation? Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist was the first one to discover that desired behavior can be achieved with a certain amount of training and conditioning. On the first day of the experiment, he rang a bell before giving food to a dog. The dog immediately salivated looking at the food. After a series of repetitions like this, the dog started salivating as soon as he rang the bell even after bringing no food. That was because the dog associated the bell with the food i.e., it thought every time the scientist rang the bell, he is going to bring its food. This famous experiment is called ‘Classical Conditioning’. Later B.F.Skinner experimented on rats, came up with ‘Operant Conditioning’, and proved learning can be achieved through reinforcements and punishments. Now, you might be wondering why am I talking about learning? So, here it is.

We all know our parents love us. Many kids see their parents as role models. We call it unconditional love but let us stop for a second and question ourselves is it truly unconditional? Is it true that our parents don’t expect anything in return? I think not. As mentioned in the previous article on parenting, parents work hard for kid’s bright future but they also expect kids to follow their path and reach their expectations. So, what happens if a kid likes to choose something outside his/her parent’s expectations? Will parents accept his decision? Many don’t. They like to get back their control. They convince the kid and force him to make decisions against his will and that’s where the conditioning by parents becomes toxic. Toxic conditioning has a greater impact on the kid than we can all imagine. So, how does it work?

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Toxic Conditioning and How it Works:

Have you ever heard phrases like this from parents?

‘I left the village, moved to the city and sacrificed my entire life for your future and this is how you repay me’? or

‘What is left for me to live when my kid turned against me’ or

‘You are worthless, selfish, and don’t understand the pain you cause us’ or

You are my blood and I have complete right to make decisions for you’

etc. etc.

As said earlier many parents like to get back their control and they use ‘Emotional Blackmailing’ as a tool to achieve it. The saddest part to this is many kids empathize with their parents. They leave their interests and agree to what their parents say. I know a friend who decided to get himself adjusted to the pain rather than taking a stand because he thinks that will hurt his parents. He said ‘if doing this makes my parents happy, I am fine if I have to suffer for life’, and sadly, he is still suffering. Other is conditioned by her parents that she is nothing without them. Despite the evidence, she still believes that she cannot live without her parents and is scared to move away from them.

Emotionally manipulating kids to sacrifice their desires and interests to satisfy the parent is very disturbing. Our society makes this easy for parents. How? our parent’s love is very glorified in our society and is considered as a greater sacrifice. No love matches a parent’s love. Everything parents do is in the best interest of their kids no matter how toxic it is. A kid who takes a stand against the toxicity is judged for using their parents. When an adult admits their parent in an old age home many of us immediately judge his intentions but how many of us think about what made him take that decision? Did he suffer because of his parents? Were his parents toxic? No, because our society never talks about how much kids love their parents, sacrifice for them, and suffer because of them.

In a social media post I watched last week, when asked what is the most hurtful comment you heard? Many answered that it was from their parents. They were comments like ‘You are worthless’, ‘Why you are alive just kill yourself’. It is no new thing to know that most of our insecurities develop from childhood. Parents questioning kid’s capabilities, comparing with others, insulting or being unsupportive in front of relatives and many more like this cause severe damage to mental health. There is no greater pain to a kid than parents choosing to criticize his/her flaws rather supporting and helping them. Moreover, most times they weren’t any flaws. It’s just parents getting disappointed with the kid as he/she could not reach their expectations.

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What is it We Have to Realize?

Parents are humans. They are not always right. They do mistakes. They might not intend to be toxic. Sometimes it’s just they are and it is completely okay to take a stand against parents. Toxicity only spreads from generation to generation until one realizes and breaks the pattern. Toxic parents are also a product of toxic parenting. They were wounded and continued to wound their kids as they did not realize to break the pattern and we as a society should support and help the kids who are trying hard to break it. So, if you find your parents toxic and continue to not break the pattern, remember your kids might become a victim to your toxicity.

‘Remember to live and let live’


Sravani Mangalampalli