"Don't fence me in!!!" That response indicates an intense "rebellious child" having a major freak-out in reaction to what they experience as an attempt to tie them down like Gulliver in Lilliput. They in no way want to be pinned down on anything, and they react instantly to anything that even hints at control efforts or restrictions of their total "freedom".
They are the product of an authoritarian and rebellious system combined, either in the form of one parent being one and the other being the other, or in the form of both components being within both of the parent(s). The result is a massive knee-jerk control-avoidance and "authority-freak" pattern. They'll "NO!" themselves to an early grave if they're not careful.
How did they get this way?
The most usual situation that creates the "rebellious child" is one intensely authoritarian parent and one over-indulgent/engulfing subservient but collusive parent. Usually, the father is the one who assumes inherent evilness in everyone, and who therefore has an extreme need to control absolutely everything, out of the assumption that if he doesn't, he and everyone else will be engulfed by the "black plague". The authoritarian control can either be overt or subtle, but in either case, it is insidious and intensely suppressive.
The acquiescing and undermining parent often is a fearful power-avoider who is so abandonment-paranoid that s/he is willing to "settle for" tyranny over rejection-ejection. They usually are rather primitive in their thinking, matching the authoritarian parent in this regard. They have a pronounced propensity to split the world into mutually exclusive "good" and "bad" categories, like the authoritarian does.
Both parents never recognize or allow selfhood or identity to form. The turning point comes around the first indications of the emergence of personal power in the individual, with the result that the "rebellious child" ends up stuck in the "great toilet struggle". They become fixated in a permanent control battle to preserve their personhood against extremely intrusive and controlling parenting.
They become a terrible tantrumming two tearing through life in a stance of opposition and negation, glorying in the power of "NO!", though thereby arresting their cognitive development in the "either/ or" pattern of that period of initial initiative. "No" is a simple, powerful and flexible self-determination and event-stopping strategy. It draws off whatever is going on and seizes control of it. However, in this situation, it is functioning as a total disruption and "constipation"-producing process. The "rebellious child" can become fixated on this strategy because of the abandonment-avoidant and vicarious shadow-acting out by the colluding, interference-running and intervention-deflecting of the "passive" parent.
There are, of course other ways and situations in which this out-come can be generated. For instance, both parents can themselves be "rebellious children", which will automatically guarantee that their offspring will be also. In this as in all cases of rebellion, the control-avoidance is simply a 180 degree reversed expression of authoritarianism (paranoid distrust and fanatic control-seeking). Another way it can happen is when the child becomes the "shadow act out" of both parents' rebellion, so they bemoan the child's oppositionalism while internally unconsciously reveling in it. In any and all cases, though, the common element is a developmental arrest at about age one and a half, so that the individual is fixated at a very simple level of functioning, trapped in the simplistic black/white thinking and reacting of that age period.
Where are they coming from?
At base, the "rebellious child" is actually desperately desiring a fusion/merging experience with the "God" figure and with the cosmos, but they have been so deeply programmed and developmentally arrested that they can't come in contact with that. All they experience is their ferocious determination to in no way be affected by or become like the "authoritarian assholes" of the world.
But underneath, they long for approval from the "Critical Parents" they were cosmically destined to bring the Truth to. They are extremely despairing over the fact that they have never attained the "God Housekeeping Seal of Approval". They feel guilty if they do their rebellious thing, and they feel rejected too. But they can't live with themselves if they don't "trailblaze" for the parents and parent-stand-ins (bringing cosmic reality to them). The trouble is, their "cosmic mission" gets all tangled up with their script, and they end up neither completing their mission nor being constructively "rebellious" (by bringing new forms into being).
They are essentially operating out of a dual "Mission Impossible". One is to please unpleasable parents (because no matter what they do they displease one or the other component of the family system). The other is to teach reality to their parents. Their "Inner Authority" goes off, telling them that they are "doing it wrong" when they attempt to do either of these. If they try to please the parents, they are not doing their mission, but if they do the mission, they run afoul of the self-destructive nature of trying to tell the Truth to two-year-olds. They feel they are in a lose-lose situation for life.
The "rebellious child" is extremely strongly motivated by irrelevance-anger and restriction-resentment arising from all their unmet needs and from all the imposed suppression. It's a bitter hostile dependency situation where they feel deprived and double-binded, and yet guilty over having to go outside the family for their needs or fearful and avoidant of the "in loco parentis" wrath for doing so.
Their basic belief is that their identity is defined by not being, doing, thinking, feeling or having what is requested, required or restricted in the dictates of the situation. Their basic feeling is, "You're trying to turn me into your slave/robot!", and they assume that all demands are harmful because they don't take into account who they are, and they don't have their best interests at heart. In fact, their experience is that no matter what they do, it is self-destructive, the way the world is set up.
They therefore feel that all requirements and requests must be totally resisted, and "No one is going to tell ME what to do!" becomes their life-stance. To them it feels like nothing ever allows for personal will, needs, independence, desires, freedom or selfhood. They are convinced that they are only in control of their life when they don't allow control of any kind to be applied to them. They feel utterly powerless and helplessly going down the tubes if they don't maintain their control-avoidance with "sentry-eyed" vigilance. So they do things like violently react to any form of labeling out of a paranoia that they are being treated as an object, with clear implications and ramifications involved. And "Never admit you're wrong!" translates out as, "They'll take it and KILL me!". They have almost no trust in the universe because of their experiential history.
The "rebellious child" is rigidly defensive of their "negating identity". They will not allow any change for fear of losing all identity to the "other side" (their authoritarian, uncaring, selfish "shadow" figure and their "God-representative" parents). Their rebellion is a reaction formation bending over backwards "proof" that they are NOT like their parents. Their oppositionalism is driven by self-anger and self-betrayal-rage projected onto authority and external control systems. It is anger over their own powerlessness, and it is rage at the uncommitted parenting they got. It is in effect self-destructive frustration in action.
There is a strong refusal to grow up, as if they want to coerce the world to give them the parenting and commitment they never got. They have a "magical thinking" thing commensurate with their developmental arrest where they assume that their inherent "magic child" will magically take over and know precisely what to do on an adult responsible and competent level with no need for training, experience or preparation -- childhood preserved for life.
There is also a fear of responsibility, accountability and "growing up" and being like their parents. They want to remain disenfranchised and "fancy-free" to "bitch and resist" the rest of their life. It is an extremely immature and responsibility-preventing pattern because it reflects the toddler age at which their mental and emotional development "flatlined". Their pattern keeps them "forever young" and powerless through obstinate, obstructionist and obtuse functioning. It prevents the development of positive, goal-directed action and worldwise sophistication.
Furthermore, they'll be damned if they'll give their parents the satisfaction of their succeeding in the world. They cut their nose off to spite their face as they say in effect, "See how you screwed up!" See how you never got control of me!". Yet paradoxically, they stay permanently under the thumb of the parental programming by doing this very thing, and they remain incapable of commitment, productivity, and achievement beyond a certain point.
They seek to make the parents "pay" for the neglect of their needs by forcing them to come to them on their own terms: "You wanted me to hang around. O.K. You got it -- in spades!" (even from three thousand miles away). There is tremendous resentment-revenge motivation, in conjunction with a real fear of independence. Some dramatically leave home, but they carry the rebellion replays of the home scenario everywhere they go. They are responsibility-avoidant to the max because it means "capitulation" and identity-loss or catastrophic consequences if they take any responsibilities on. Their fear is that the local authorities will "nail them to the wall" for every false move, and that they will lose all self-determination. Underneath, they are desperate to open their parents' eyes and to bring them around, as well as to make them feel guilty for what they did/didn't do.
Some go the other way, and they are afraid of stepping out of the family system, anticipating that that might result in a monumental escalation of parental control efforts or cataclysmic betrayal/abandonment. In either case, they are afraid of the demands and potential losses that would be involved in self-development and in true identity and independence. They would have to give up the quest for the "God Housekeeping Seal" (of parental relevance and commitment). In their experience, they would have to relinquish forever the hope of nurturance and true parenting if they grew up. They would have the "left alone to die in the desert" experience.
The whole pattern is in effect a desperate plea for needed parenting, and they feel totally unprepared to take on the world with their inadequate and overwhelmed resources. They want to be re-parented, not parented like they were, to be de-programmed and re-programmed. Yet they never want to be parented by any system, and they assume the worst about everything. They are convinced that the world is in need of deprogramming and reprogramming, and they want to do the "re-parenting" of the world THEIR way. In effect, what they desperately want is real relevance in the world, finally. "Their" way is the way they wanted to be parented or the way they found the out-route from under their parents' thumb.
Engulfment respects no boundaries, and both the authoritarian and the passive dependent aspects of their parents violated their boundaries, with disastrous results in "flatlined" development. There is a real distrust of all authority and structure, due to the selfhood-undermining parenting they got. They don't believe anyone in power can be relevant, trustworthy or committed. They therefore have a terrific need for control, and they trust only their own control in order to preserve their identity. They end up with a self-defeating "resistance-fighter" as their identity.
All structure is reacted to, resented and resisted, as they are locked into infantile rebellion, leaving them "at effect" rather than "at cause". It also leaves them identityless as they 180 degree-react to everything. It feels like death to them to "give in" on anything, but they never really self-manifest as a result. They end up a "shadow-authoritarian in reverse". They have no faith, and they are commitment-avoidant, change-anxious, and identity-confused. They become a "knee-jerk" authority-freak with an inability to surrender, cooperate or contribute.
How do they function?
"Rebellious children" are compulsively control-avoidant, and they are heavily into "doing their own thing". Structures are things to get around, and they are forever fighting restrictions, regulations and requirements. It is a mindless reflex process, and a key effect of it is to precipitate their "going off" if confrontation or responsibility or requirements are involved. "Don't bug me with that shit!" and "It's all a game so what the fuck does it matter!?" are favorite responses in this context. They then are apt to rationalize it as their taking a "devil's advocate" approach. In general, feedback activates splitting into "good guys and bad guys", projection, and whirlwind "victim-prosecutor-rescuer" effects that totally blow you away. They double talk, self-contradict and double-bind with total obliviousness, while paying no attention to reality, substance or content. This melee' (a confused mingling or turmoil) is so aversive/destructive that it keeps people away and their trip intact very effectively.
They have to have the last word or move, for fear of losing their control and their identity. They are past masters at not getting caught in their "freedom-preservation" process, and they are superb duck out artists. They cleverly weave, manipulate, delude and distract from the truth of their sly control-avoidance. Almost all they do is subtly resistive and not doing what they are told or are supposed to do. They are very withholding and non-sharing, and they are totally self-sealed and self-generating. They invalidate and self-justify all the time, and they operate out of an "us versus them" psychology, with a lot of "getting them on your side" thinking. They can't open up -- they're just too distrustfully manipulative to do so.
They won't contribute or produce, out of a refusal to capitulate to their parents, to give up their negating identity, or to precipitate the ultimate abandonment. They are masterful at weaving a web of "validation" for their distorted delusional control-avoidance moves. They are very commitment-resistive, because of their fear of engulfment, restriction and capitulation. They don't accept any demands for performance and standards, and indeed they have a "They owe me!" stance. They throw the responsibility off on everybody else completely, and they refuse any form of accountability.
They can even act out anti-socially in a "bleedthrough" of their repressed rage. They get a smirking kick out of putting something over or out of getting away with something or out of pulling something off, in a "snickering kid" kind of thing. Indeed, they have a very young child's systematically naive view of the world and expectations of having their needs met, and they use this as justification for their "rebellious child" beliefs and strategies. They are also magical thinkers, expecting instant miraculous transformations and transmutations.
They will often success-avoid in a manner where they start to become successful and then "snatch defeat out of the jaws of success" so they can remain powerless and rebellious. They are highly prone to patterns like injustice-nurturing, cause-aholism, self-destructiveness, and enslaving family-addiction. Some are "competent controller" authority-relishers, while others are competence-avoidant power-resisters, but all are afraid of being "fenced in".
One type (of "rebellious child") which is very difficult to deal with takes on issues and strategies that overlap a lot with reality, but they twist them to fit their orientation and priorities. That results in much support, validation and realistic reinforcement in response to the reality aspects of their functioning, but then they use that to avoid the perception of the need to change and it results in massive resistance to giving up the pattern and their point of view. They then compulsively impose coercive control on the environment on behalf of their "cause". They ironically become what they hate, and they allow no one but them to have any influence or impact on things. They thus end up doing unto others what was done unto them, all the while yelling about freedom, self-determination, self-expression and reformation.
How can they be helped?
In effect, we co-create our environment, and the "rebellious child" needs to know this. They are not at effect, but rather at cause of their world because anything we do affects the whole. They externalize their internal conflict and project their own motives on their "enemies". They have to learn that they are fighting themselves, defeating themselves, and preventing self-commitment.
They have to be taught to control their own internal authoritarian. They are rebelling for a sense of identity, and they end up feeling, "How much of me is really me?". They identify with their rebelliousness as all of who they are. They have to get in touch with their true identity above and beyond their eternal "NO!".
Despair about what they haven't achieved due to their compulsive rebellion is a good "pitchfork motivator". Another tactic that can be used is to co-opt their strategy and ask them what they can't/won't do, in order to "process of elimination" them into being willing to make a commitment for themselves. Also, demonstrating the value of self-discipline via their own direct experience by means of contracted "tiny targets" that are trivial in and of themselves, but which represent a commitment to their own true identity/destiny is a powerful process because it is self-administered and self-monitored. They just keep at it until their resistance is played out, and then they can sample what real accomplishment feels like.
They have to have permission and protection to find their true self and to manifest its first crude expressions. After all, they stopped developing in this area during toddlerhood. They need a benevolent authority with strength and successful outcome challenges of their "tyrant" concept of all authority and power positions. They also need personal power and destiny manifestation maturity-inducing training. They need to be put in a self-determining and self-responsible group decision process situation in order to learn how they are co-creating their reality and to find via cleansing conflict who they really are.
Direct assault of their system generates exactly the pattern you don't want, and you never want to control battle with them -- they have too many options and they'll win every time. You also have to work with them to put responsibility back on their own shoulders. You question them socratically about what they are doing and how they are reacting, so that they can come up with their own solutions. Another valuable strategy to use with them is "therapeutic metaphors", stories, vignettes and imbedded suggestions to bypass the control-avoidance system.
They can also do a kind of "bend over backwards" thing while in healing and go into an over-conforming reaction, because they have no center from which they are coming. This can also lead to over-rebellion, of course. So they need to generate a core identity and set of values and destiny directions to guide them in their functioning. Get them to come up with their own re-frames and re-decisions through the "better ways to achieve the same thing" search approach. It helps enormously to structure in as much payoff as you can for their emerging strategies along the way.
Finally, a rather risky approach that can sometimes be used is the reverse psychology and "prescribing the symptom" type strategies. Here, you use provocative, paradoxical and indirect induction methods with them. But you have to be very careful how you do it so as not to re-activate the very response your are trying to re-deploy into constructive problem-solving.
What is their purpose?
They have been in rebellion against the world and its ways since they were knee high to a grasshopper. In that richly variegated experiential history was imbedded a great deal of enrichment about how to go about doing things another way. They have also preserved their "natural child" creativity through all this process. The net effect is that they make masterful "trailblazers" and "rebels with a cause". They love to go against the odds and the powers that be to come up with solutions that really work. And they are really good at it.
Raising a rebellious child
Most people are thrilled to learn they are going to be parents. When we finally meet our precious gifts (Psalm 127:3), we are often overwhelmed by the experience. Many men cry. As our children grow we teach them to walk and talk and do “big kid” things. We have dreams and aspirations for them, for their life. We want them to be smart and kind. We want them to be likeable, respectful of others, successful. For those of us who are “religious”, we desire for them to share our faith and walk with our God, to grow in spiritual stature. But in many families, the parents’ goals are never realized. The “plan” does not unfold as planned. The cute little guy in the baby blue onesy is still a baby - except now he’s 15. Our precious “princess” is now a “royal” pain. Our incredible infants are now teenage terrors and not at all following the “game plan” we had in our mind. What happened? Can we blame public schools? Hollywood? Our culture? Allow me to share just a sample of reasons as to how you may have unintentionally raised a rebellious child:
- You are their friend, not their parent. Many parents make the mistake (early on) of trading down the authority they have been given. Although none of us want to have our children mad at us, God requires us to parent them towards His standard – regardless of their response. Since foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child (Proverbs 22:15), we (as wiser ones) must remove the folly from their heart. Friendship will come but only after proper parenting.
- You threaten but do not discipline. Parents prefer threats because threatening is easier. Discipline is just plain hard. Threats, though they may work occasionally or for a season, do not produce the “harvest of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11) that discipline does. Every time swift discipline does not follow your threat, the reliability of your word is questioned.
- You are inconsistent. Consistency is critical to be an effective parent. When you parent inconsistently, you reveal to your child that you operate on a sliding scale. You might discipline them for one offense on one day but let them slide on the next offense the following day because you are distracted or tired. Nothing will frustrate a child faster than being inconsistent with him.
- You let them make too many decisions too early. “What would you like to eat?” “What would you like to wear?” “What would you like to do?” Our intention in these questions is harmless. What parent does not want to make their child happy? The problem lies in that younger children are not emotionally mature enough to handle making their own decisions in such matters. As author Gary Ezzo points out, they become “addicted to choice”. They do not just become addicted to their choice, they become allergic to yours.
- You over-indulge them. This should not need elaboration since we all know what this looks like. It is totally appropriate to bless your children. It becomes inappropriate when your children can no longer handle the blessing. How can you tell if they have become over-indulged?
o They are no longer grateful for what they receive.
o They have developed an “entitled” attitude.
o When you say “NO” (to test their heart) their reaction is a tantrum, manifested in a number of different ways; crying, whining, begging, complaining, anger or violence.
- You parent behaviors, not their heart. Parenting behaviors is easy. Reaching the heart is not. Simply changing behaviors, though good for the moment, only teaches your child to obey when they are governed. It does not teach them to govern themselves.
Instead of addressing the heart, they simply learn to be more discreet with their sin. It is true that only God can change hearts, however, He loves to use parents as His primary tool.
- You give suggestions instead of commands. Most people do not obey suggestions. Suggestions allow your children an option out of your desires. Commands do not. Suggestions place the “ball” in their court. Commands keep the ball in yours. Commands do not need to be harsh – just direct. There is a world of difference in. “Please move your bike, ok?” (suggestion to be obeyed eventually) “Please move your bike now.” (command to be obeyed immediately) Do you ask your children for favors or speak in an authoritative, firm, “I mean business” tone.
- You encourage friendships with the world. Have you kept constant watch on the influences in your child’s life? From neighbors to classmates to television and the internet – there is a world seeking to bring down God’s standards. Calculate how many hours a day your child is around worldly influences. Is it affecting him/her negatively? The Bible is clear, “Friendship with the world is hostility toward God.” (James 4:4)
- You shield them from God’s Word. It is amazing to me how many parents (even in the church!) do not place their wayward child under the consistent teaching of God’s Word. God’s Word is the ONLY remedy known to man that can change a human heart. If the doctor told you that chemotherapy would cure your child’s cancer, you would make sure your child was given chemotherapy on time regardless of their complaints. Of course a wayward child does not want to go to church or youth group, be with other Christians or endure a Bible study. They know it is the very thing that can combat their rebellious heart and they are enjoying their black heart right now.
Have a rebellious child? What should you do?
- Pray! God knows all about rebellious children, after all, He has you, doesn’t He? From the first child (Adam), God has been dealing with way-ward hearts. Ask God to help you first become a better child so that your child can see what an obedient child looks like.
- Repent. Most of the time, our children learn rebellion from us. We may not be as overt about it as they are, however, many children’s sins can be traced to a parent – even if it is manifested in a completely different fashion.
- Reverse direction. If you are guilty in one, some or all of the areas listed above – change course. Do the opposite. If you have been giving suggestions, give commands. If you are not consistent, be consistent. If doing it “Frank Sinatra’s way” has not worked, try God’s way. It will not be easy and the results may not be immediate but you will go to sleep at night with the satisfaction that are you now doing the right thing.
A Guys' Guide to Loneliness/A Girls' Guide to Loneliness
A Girls' Guide to Conflict / A Guys' Guide to Conflict