Have you been longing for scientific confirmation of what every adult has figured out in therapy or learned from watching TV? Well, you're in luck. It's now been proven that our parents can fuck us up like almost nothing else can. And it's not just our mothers who mess us up. It turns out our dads are equally capable—and often extra capable—of kneecapping our developing psyches. Take that, centuries worth of analysis that blamed everything on moms!
So what is the most powerful weapon in a parent's arsenal? Why, rejection, of course. This satisfying—if not exactly mind-blowing—conclusion was reached by conducting a new analysis of previous studies about how our personalities are shaped. Researchers Ronald Rohner and Abdul Khaleque looked at 36 different studies that involved more than 10,000 people. They were all based on surveys that focused on people's personalities and the degree to which they'd been accepted or rejected by their parents. Rohner, of the University of Connecticut, explains their findings:
In our half-century of international research, we've not found any other class of experience that has as strong and consistent effect on personality and personality development as does the experience of rejection, especially by parents in childhood.
He added that when it comes to being rejected, we are all one:
Children and adults everywhere — regardless of differences in race, culture, and gender — tend to respond in exactly the same way when they perceived themselves to be rejected by their caregivers and other attachment figures.
In kids, the reaction to rejection tends to be anxiety and insecurity, plus an increase in hostility and aggressiveness. If the rejection goes on for a long time during childhood, it can affect people into adulthood, when it can make it harder for them to feel secure and have trusting relationships. Sound familiar? Anyone? Anyone?
As for who is capable of doing more damage, mom or dad, it depends. It seems that even if we experience rejection equally from both parents, one parent can have a bigger influence than the other. It is often the father whose rejection has a larger impact, and a team of psychologists from the International Father Acceptance Rejection Project has come up with one possible explanation for why that is. They posit that kids are more likely to be affected by rejection from the parent they perceive as having "higher interpersonal power or prestige." So if the father is perceived as being more prestigious than the mother, then his rejection would have an outsized influence. Of course, there could be a gazillion other reasons why we're affected by the rejection of one parent or the other, but at least now we know why we're all such a mess.
So what are we supposed to learn from all of this, other than the fact that rejection sucks and we should not wound our children? Well, Rohner says this should change the way we look at why we ended up in our fragile mental state:
The great emphasis on mothers and mothering in America has led to an inappropriate tendency to blame mothers for children's behavior problems and maladjustment when, in fact, fathers are often more implicated than mothers in the development of problems such as these.
Everybody grab a shovel and let's start spreading this steaming pile of blame around. But seriously, Rohner says this analysis shows that fatherly love is as important as motherly love, and it should ultimately encourage dads to be more involved in "nurturing child care." Well, there you have it: Don't be a distant asshole parent, and you'll save everyone a lot of trouble later—and, most importantly, you'll increase the chances that your children will not reject you when you need them to care for you in your old age.