The Diana Myth And The Need To Stop Idealizing A Parent Idealizing a parent in adulthood is a pathological defense mechanism

Do Prince William and Harry need to have a statue of their mother, Princess Diana? As adults, they need to stop publicly idealizing their mother and acknowledge that like most people, their mother far from perfect.

Frankly, I don’t understand their obsessive need to keep reminding the world how amazing their mother was.   They need to let her rest in peace.

Sure, she was remarkable and charismatic but in most parts that was a facade that hid a deeply flawed person.

She may have been the people’s princess, admired and revered by the world. But by no stretch was she Mother Mary – the ideal mother, considering her numerous cringey affairs.

According to Sally Bedell Smith, author of Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess, Diana suffered from borderline personality disorder. This could explain her struggle with bulimia, self-mutilation, suicidal ideation, mood fluctuations, among others.

The Diana Myth And The Need To Stop Idealizing A Parent
We can love our parents deeply without idealizing them

No doubt, her unstable childhood could have been the cause.  Being abandoned by her mother at age 6, in addition to being the 3rd girl child in an aristocratic family longing for a male heir must have seriously affected her personality development.

Feeling Unwanted and The Need For Adulation

Growing up feeling unwanted could have played a huge role in Diana’s need for adulation and fame. Marrying into the royal family and the global fame it brought her, was the perfect antidote to her feeling rejected and unworthy. It was a drug that once she tasted, she was addicted to.

From the pretty shy Di, she transformed herself into the royal supermodel whose fashion style was widely emulated.  She used the media to splash out stories, particularly to get back at her husband, Prince Charles. Totally disregarding the ramifications of flaunting her affair with Dodi – how it would affect her sons’ mental health.

However, tragically and suddenly she died. I cannot imagine the utter conflict of a child having to deal with the guilt of hating your mother for her embarrassing behavior while coping with her untimely death.

I know from personal experience, losing a parent at a young age is hard. Moreover, it is the things unsaid and emotions unexpressed that keeps you stuck in a state of cognitive dissonance.

After all, how can I think bad about my mother, I love her and I know she loved me but… I hate the embarrassing way she behaves.

For years, I struggled with my conflicting emotions with regard to my mother. Having had to live with the consequences of her bad decisions.

Development of  The Fantasy Parent

Diana with all her mental health issues was far from the ideal, perfect mother she was portrayed to be. Sure she loved her sons, but unfortunately, she was not emotionally mature. Like most people who suffer from BPD / CPTSD symptoms are similar), she had the ability to present a charming sunny public façade while having extreme mood swings in private.

I went through that – it is tough parenting while dealing with the trauma of growing up in a dysfunctional family.

There are reports that William at 10 playing a parenting role as Diana wailed inconsolably behind a locked bathroom after a fight with her husband, Prince Charles. Young William would try to assuage her torment by stuffing paper tissues under the door.

Growing up with emotionally immature (EI) parents can leave a child feeling lonely and neglected. Thankfully, the close bond between the brothers may have helped alleviate their loneliness. Having each other helped them survive the aftermath of their mother’s fatal car crash.

However, like most children who have unstable parents, they had played along with their mother’s public projections of an ideal mother. Which child wants to displease their parent, more so one who is revered by the whole world. And it seems, they can’t seem to let it go.

As children in order to cope with one’s ambivalent feelings, children form a fantasy of their parent – an idealized version. Focussing on all the positive and nice things instead of the times they failed or hurt us,

Idealization – A Defense Mechanism

Idealization is a psychological defense mechanism about another person, exaggerating their virtues and ignoring their defects.

It is psychologically too painful for a child to believe and fully confront the fact that someone with so much power over him/her is flawed. Parents are our gods who are not supposed to have clay feet.

Furthermore, immature/abusive parents are usually highly intolerant of any criticism and often become very angry when their flaws are pointed out.

I know my grandmother did not tolerate any negative feedback. She would immediately switch into her silent treatment mode and reject anyone who dared criticize her. As a child that was so painful, so I continued pretending that she was the great, loving, benevolent grandmother.

Not surprisingly, many children, both consciously and unconsciously, learn to hide their negative feelings towards the parent and ‘overlook’ their faults.

The Fantasy Bond – Dr. Robert Firestone

Letting Go Of Idealizing Our Parents

Sometimes our deepest healing comes from letting go of the pathological need to idealize our parents. It means releasing the fantasy that our parent is /was perfect and loved us the way we needed to be loved.

We have to face the truth – acknowledge and articulate the ‘repressed/distorted’, explanations of painful parental behavior.  And no longer feel guilty for having negative thoughts with regards to their actions.

It also involves reviewing our illusions from the perspective of adult thinking and experience.

True growth into adulthood happens when we are able to understand and integrate those painful, previously split-off versions of our parents. And understanding that our parents’ behaviors had nothing to do with us rather that it was their own childhood trauma or indoctrination that caused them to behave badly. We accept their flaws without internalizing their treatment of us.

For me, it meant writing a letter to my dead mother, how she failed me by not discussing sexual matters and how it damaged me.

Putting Princess Diana’s Legacy To Rest

It seems Prince William has been able to learn from his parents’ mistakes. He found a wife, Kate who comes from a stable intact family.  Who you marry plays a huge role in your mental health and happiness. Kate is the antithesis of Diana, not wanting to steal the limelight from her husband. Moreover, William’s destiny as the future monarch has protected him from staying stuck in his mother’s distorted narrative of blaming the royal family for her problems.

Sadly, Harry seems to have picked up his mother’s bad habit of blame. And now with his highly manipulative wife has taken the idealization of his mother to a whole different level. Only time will tell how their children will deal will this albatross around their necks. I particularly, feel sorry for poor little Lilibet Diana.


Ref: Frozen in Time: Idealization and Parent-Blaming in the Therapeutic Process

Image Source: WikiTree

Further Reading:

Diana – Closely Guarded Secret Ken Wharfe 

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents. How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents – Lindsay C. Gibson

Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World – Richard Mollica

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