Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

Adult Consequences of Childhood Parenting Styles

By Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.

Most of the content in these two charts is based on the ideas developed by Hugh Misseldine in his book, Your Inner Child of the Past. Material has been added to reflect the Adlerian perspective of a democratic parenting style.

Adult Consequences of Childhood Parenting Styles - Chart I

Democratic Feels connected, part of life. Positive attitude. Willing to improve life. Willing to help, share with, contribute to, and cooperate with others. Work useful to others. Does his best to offer value. Can lead or cooperate on a team. Sex as expression of mature love, caring, and giving. Feels equal to partner.
Over-Indulgent Self-indulgent, bored, apathetic, restless, no initiative. Passive expectation of getting from others. Expects them to anticipate his wishes. Hates to work. Can't find a job. No career decisions, no preparation, or persistence. Attaches to partners who indulge him. May use attractiveness or pretend weakness.
Over-Submissive Very impulsive, hard to set limits, extravagant, has tantrums. Used to getting own way, thoughtless of others' rights. Impulsive, distractible, impatient, tyrannical. Expects admiration for modest effort. Wants to be waited on, chooses a servant. Selfish, inconsiderate. Feels hurt if not catered to.
Over-Coercive Divides life into "top dog" -- "bottom dog" categories. Imitation: becomes bossy. Compliance: a follower. Internalization: compulsive. Rebellion: refusal to comply. Resistance: procrastinator. May be resistant to schedules and expectations, or may push self and others unmercifully. Sex and marriage may be seen as duties and be carried out resentfully without satisfaction.
Perfectionistic Life is a tedious chore, without color or sparkle. No pleasure in effort or result. Frequently depressed. Unable to accept compliments. Feels superior to others who have lower standards. Can be critical and impossible to please. May drive self to exhaustion. Must outdo himself, again and again. Overly concerned with detail. Never satisfied with work of self or others. Usually unaffectionate, and unexpressive. Relationship may be too time-consuming. May search for "perfect" mate. Makes rules for performance.


Super-responsible. Hard time letting-go and playing. Anxiety about relaxation. No mental refreshment. Takes on excessive obligations, often depriving others of their share of responsibility or opportunity. Always feels hard-pressed and driven. Fears everything would "go to hell" if he lets down. Can get stale with all work no play. Never gets around to carefree times. Inability to relax and play with spouse or children.

Adult Consequences of Childhood Parenting Styles - Chart II

Neglecting Tends to be impulsive, filling life with compensation for a feeling of emptiness. Lonely. Does not make close and meaningful contact. Superficial, exploitative relationships. Hides behind aloofness. May strive compulsively after wealth, success, or fame to relieve feeling of emptiness. Stage performing may offer fantasy identities. May yearn for partner to play a parent role, offering unlimited attention, acceptance, or affection. May be promiscuous, getting what he can from many.
Rejecting Bitter, hostile, suspicious, and distant. May suffer from intense fears or anxiety. Feels worthless. May resort to substance abuse to relieve pain. May see self as an outlaw, unacceptable to self and others. Very sensitive to rebuff. Suspicious, tests others with hostility and aggression. Prefers working alone. May feel more comfortable with animals. Starved for love, but expects rejection and provokes it. Has urge to hurt and reject others. Often attracted to unkind partners.
Punitive Keenly feels injustice and longs for retaliation. Views world with envy and jealousy. Harbors a burning inner hatred. May feel "bad" and seek punishment. May punish others who are smaller and weaker. May continue to act out whatever parents forbade. Can be excessively critical and self-righteous. Can be attracted to harsh, aggressive occupations: police, army, boxing, football. May become ruthless businessman who "crushes competition." May punish self with excessive work. May physically abuse partner. May engage in extravagant spending, drinking, speeding, fighting, and infidelity to punish partner. Often insanely jealous.
Hypo-chondrical Constantly doctors self, doesn't feel well, and cannot participate in activities. Preoccupied with aches, pains, and disease. Social life is restricted to those people who offer sympathy, service and indulgence. Likes others to call or visit and listen to his misery. Frequently absent from work. Does barely enough to hold job. Work is felt as a burden to be endured, hardships are exaggerated. Often prevents marriage. Mate is seen as a sympathetic doctor or nurse. Sex is often painful or curtailed. Unable to do housework, cooking, and shopping.


Tendency to over-sexualize many aspects of life or reject it entirely. Preoccupied with sexual attraction and experience. May devalue friendship and non-sexual feelings for other sex. Sexual attractiveness may be used for profit or influence. Preoccupation with physical aspect of sex. Emotional intimacy and love is avoided. Partner is used to trigger fantasy. May act out rage against partner.

Initially, it would be helpful to read Impact of Parenting Styles on Children to gain a perspective on the early childhood influences. Recognizing and changing a dysfunctional parenting style to a more democratic one, or dealing with the adult consequences of that style, often requires the support and insight of an experienced Adlerian psychotherapist.

For additional information about democratic parenting, read Adlerian Child Guidance Principles.

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