What Impact Can A Parent’s Mental Health Have On Their Child?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

This week’s series of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast is all about daddy issues. In this episode, Dr. Amen and Tana Amen explore the ways a father’s brain health issues can affect his children. Whether a father suffers from OCD, Depression, ADD, or certain other genetic vulnerabilities, it’s important to look not only at how these conditions affect the father, but also how they shape the behavior of future generations.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The brain warrior's way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years. Using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
Tana Amen: The brain warrior's way podcast is also brought to you by brainMD where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. This is daddy issues week. And I told you a little bit about mine. In this podcast we want you to ask yourself, how did my dad's mental health, brain health impact my life? I think that would be a good question for them to begin upon under.
Tana Amen: I like that. Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And you have some reviews you want to read?
Tana Amen: Just one short one. This is my Chin Shing. It's from my YouTube channel. You are touching my soul and spirit. Thank you. So we post the podcast on a few places that they can access it and then pick it up.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So how did your father's mental health, brain health affect your life?
Tana Amen: No, this is really interesting and I think that it's important for us to sort of touch on this because so same dad, but there's me and my two half sisters. And it affected us in extremely different ways. So I think it's because we had different mothers as well. So I think it can be different. But if you talk to my sisters, the impact that my dad and his erratic behavior had on them was significantly worse.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, they lived with him.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And you didn't, you only visited periodically. So dose exposure.
Tana Amen: Very true.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So how much exposure you got?
Tana Amen: But I had a very strong mother too.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So your dad might be schizophrenic but if he raised you day in and day out, that left a much more intense lasting negative imprint perhaps then if he wasn't in the picture at all or only periodically. So dose response is really, I mean that really does matter.
Tana Amen: So let's talk about some of the issues that the people deal with and talk to some of those issues that-
Dr. Daniel Amen: I mean, as a [inaudible 00:03:02] for 40 years, this has been one of the major themes in my practice. Is not only how'd you get along with your mom, but how'd you get on with your dad?
Tana Amen: And isn't this really important for girls and how they go into relationships with men?
Dr. Daniel Amen: It is, but it's also really important for boys about how they actually feel about themselves. That if you can never please your father, often other people can't please you because you have this pain inside. And we have talked about Eckhart Tolle's concept of the pain body, the sum of all the unresolved hurts you have that can get triggered at a moment's notice without anybody doing anything but looking at you a funny way because they had gas. You can often be triggered for no clear rational reason because internally you have a lot of unresolved pain.
And so for example, when I was a young medical student, someone I loved tried to kill herself. It's why I became a psychiatrist and when I sent her to see a really great psychiatrists, we came to find out and she denied this for a long time, is that she grew up in a severely abusive alcoholic home.
Tana Amen: Isn't it weird how you deny things?
Dr. Daniel Amen: And she had such shame and felt so disloyal saying he was an alcoholic even though the definition of an alcoholic. So if you ever wonder if you're an alcoholic, it's your drinking gets you into trouble and then you do it again. It's like you don't learn that this behavior, in this case alcohol, is potentially toxic to your health, your work, your relationships or your relationship with the law. And the police had been called multiple times, ended up getting divorced. There was a lot of drama and chaos around the relationship with her father. And so you know what it's like to have addiction around you.
Tana Amen: Oh, yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And the impact that that has on children.
Tana Amen: Well, it's not true. My dad actually did have issues with substances but I-
Dr. Daniel Amen: But you know, in your extended family, the impact on children. And what happens is deep in your brain, there's a part of the brain called the limbic system. It's your emotional brain. And when you live in an unpredictable environment where there's moments of holy terror. Your dad beating your mom or him beating you or embarrassing you by the whole neighborhood knows that there's struggle in your house. Even though that may only happen 2% of the time, you never know when it's going to happen. And so it activates your emotional brain and pretty soon you're always watching for bad things to happen-
Tana Amen: Oh yeah. That I totally get.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And it changes your brain. And unless you purposely do something to change it back it can always be like that.
Tana Amen: Yeah, but some of us don't want to.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes, I know you don't want to.
Tana Amen: Because we don't trust that it's not ... Yeah. I mean I don't live in a state of fear, but I live in a state of preparation.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But then your emotional brain is chronically heightened.
Tana Amen: Yeah. I'm never going to stop that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: In large part because of the craziness you grew up in.
Tana Amen: Yeah. But I also was attacked on the street and that had nothing to do with it. So there's just this idea of it's not safe.
Dr. Daniel Amen: What do you mean it had nothing to do with it? It took your already heightened emotion brain-
Tana Amen: No, no, no. I mean it had nothing to do with my parents.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And it made it worse. But see we are a sum of all the things that have happened to us and how we reacted to all the things that happened to us. So getting back to the question, how was your dad's mental health brain health and how did that impact you?
Tana Amen: I like that. And also though, what about stepdads?
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's who's the primary male figure in your life. So your biological father was mostly gone except for a couple of weeks in the summer. But your stepdad was very important to you even though perhaps he didn't get an A for being a stepdad.
Tana Amen: He was crazy, but he ended up having a huge impact on me. Whether it was good or not is a whole nother question.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So stepdads are very important. And so I have an adopted child and his biological father was abusive. Was ADD from the hell, his mother said she had to chain him, not literally, but to the chair at night so he'd do his homework and the principal had been called and was abusive to his wife. And when my adopted son was nine, he shot and killed himself. And given that Anthony, my son, who's now 42 hard to believe, was raised primarily by me, he didn't have nearly the same level of trouble that his biological father did.
Tana Amen: That was a big question that I had. So in my case, I had a stepfather who was a little bit crazy. I mean, although he did have a big impact on my life, but for people whose fathers, maybe you have daddy issues because your dad is either absent, he's an alcoholic, he's abusive. But if you have a stepfather who's actually stable, consistent, and loving, I'm going to guess it makes a big difference.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It helps you [inaudible 00:09:39] And so what are some of the issues that can really cause trouble for a child if the dad has OCD? There's so much time spent around negative thoughts and rituals that obsessions compulsions, that it's chronically stressful for the children. That's why if you have a problem, you want to get it treated so that the stress doesn't roll downhill.
Tana Amen: But how do these things present in pupil later? If your father was an alcoholic, if your father had OCD, if your father was severely depressed, what ends up happening to people later?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, sometimes they develop empathy and become therapists or psychiatrists or psychologists. Sometimes they feel damaged or defective because of what they grew up in and their self esteem really takes a negative hit. Sometimes they become superstitious, so if you have an OCD parent it's like, well, if I do this, then bad things will happen because they've got that modeling. There's also, if you have genetic vulnerability, well you're more likely to struggle with some of those problems unless you get serious about brain health. So yes, depression runs in families, but not always.
Tana Amen: What about attachment?
Dr. Daniel Amen: It can significantly affect attachment because your primary attachments were unpredictable and that may mean when you're in a really good relationship and everything's fine, you may actually unconsciously stirrup trump.
Tana Amen: Or just not believe that maybe it's not your template of what is normal. When I met you, I kept thinking you are manipulative because I'm like nobody's that nice.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I am manipulative.
Tana Amen: Well everybody's manipulative. I met in a negative way. It's because if you grew up in chaos-
Dr. Daniel Amen: I repeat this all the time for my patients, which is we're all out for ourselves. It's just the sophisticated you are, the harder it is to tell. And I am naturally a very nice person, but I'm really nice to you because I love you.
Tana Amen: But if you grew up in chaos and this is one ... So we started off with a question we always end with a challenge and this is probably going to be one of my challenges. If you grew up in chaos, you may not have a template set for what's normal and healthy and nice. Like I didn't. So that wasn't my template for how a relationship or a man is. I mean my examples growing up were insane. So of what it should be like. So when someone was overly nice to me, overly nice to me, see even I phrased it? It felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to fall.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Always.
Tana Amen: And so I actually had to consciously do therapy on that and fix my picture in my head. Which you can do. It's actually not that hard, but you have to be conscious about it. So that's my challenge.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So if you can answer that question, how did your dad's mental health brain health impact you and what can you do about it? And you just said in a very powerful way is you can change your template and it doesn't just happen overnight.
Tana Amen: It wasn't that hard. It just takes time.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But it takes focus on what do you want? Is this helpful? Is this healthy for you to do?
Tana Amen: And it starts with awareness.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So please link to this podcast. Share it with your friends on brainwarriorswaypodcast.com.
Tana Amen: And we want to hear your comments.
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Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're interested in coming to Amen Clinics, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.