The scarring and hurt that comes from a toxic parent probably isn’t something we talk about enough.
When children are raised on a diet of criticism, judgement, abuse and loathing, it’s only a matter of time before they take over from those parents, delivering with full force to themselves the toxic lashings that have been delivered to them.
Toxic parents come in many shapes. Some are so obvious that they can be spotted from space through the eye of a needle. Some are a bit more subtle. All are destructive.
Any negative behavior that causes emotional damage or contaminates the way a person sees himself or herself, is toxic.
A toxic parent treats his or her children in such a way as to make those children doubt their importance, their worth, and that they are deserving of love, approval and validation. If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘Well yeah, my parent/s did that, but only because it was true – I’m pretty useless at life,’ then chances are that parent was a toxic one.
It is possible to heal from by toxic parenting. It begins with the decision that the legacy of shame and hurt left behind by a toxic parent won’t be the way your story will end.
It’s okay to let go of a toxic parent.
This is such a difficult decision, but it could be one of the most important. We humans are wired to connect, even with people who don’t deserve to be connected to us. Sometimes though, the only way to stop the disease spreading is to amputate.
It doesn’t matter how much you love some people, they are broken to the point that they will only keep damaging you from the inside out. You’re not responsible for them or for the state of your relationships with them, and you are under no obligation to keep lining yourself up be abused, belittled, shamed or humiliated.
Healing starts with expecting more for yourself, and you’re the only person who can make that decision.
Don’t be harsh on yourself if you stay in the relationship.
The act of returning to an abusive relationship can set trigger self-loathing. ‘Why aren’t I strong enough?’ Know that loyalty is such an admirable trait, even if it gets in the way of your capacity to protect yourself. Own where you are and give yourself full permission to be there.
Be honest about the possibilities.
If you’re going to stay, know that it’s okay to put a boundary between yourself and your parent. You can act from love and kindness if you want to – but don’t stay in the relationship unless you can accept that the love you deserve will never come back to you.
See their behavior for what it is – evidence of their breaks, not evidence of yours.
Be careful of repeating the patterns with other people
You might find yourself drawn to people who have similarities to your toxic parent. There’s a really good reason for this. All of us are driven to find an ending to things that remain unresolved.
Because love, warmth and nurturing are such an important part of child development, yet so elusive for the child of a toxic parent, it’s very normal for those children to be driven to find a resolution to never feeling loved, secure or good enough.
They will look to receive what they didn’t get from their parents in others and will often be drawn to people who have similarities to their toxic parent. With similar people, the patterns will be easier to replicate, and the hope of an ending closer to the desired one – parent love – will be easier to fulfil.
That’s the theory. The pattern often does repeat, but because of the similarities to the parent, so does the unhappy ending.
Be careful of your own toxic behavior.
You’ve been there, so you know the behaviors and you know what they do. We’re all human. We’re all going to get it wrong sometimes. Toxic behavior though, is habitual and it will damage the members of your own little tribe as surely as it damaged you.
You don’t have to be a product of the inept, cruel parenting that was shown to you, and this starts with the brave decision that the cycle stops at you.
Write a list. (And get yourself a rubber band.)
Write down the beliefs that hold you back. The ones that get in your way and stop you from doing what you want to do, saying what you want to say or being who you want to be.
- Were you brought up to believe your opinion doesn’t count?
- That parents are always right?
- That you’re unlovable?
Now beside each belief, write what that belief is costing you.
- Has it cost you relationships?
- Happiness? Freedom to be? To experiment?
Then, rewrite the script.
Thoughts drive feelings, behavior, what you expect for yourself and what you expect from relationships and world.
How are you going to change those beliefs? Just choose one or two to start with and every time you catch yourself thinking the old thoughts, actively replace it with a new, more self-nurturing thought – then act as though that new thought is true.
You don’t have to believe it – just pretend it is. Your head will catch up when it’s ready.
If it’s difficult to break out of the old thought, try this: wear a rubber band (or a hair band) around your wrist.
- Every time you catch yourself thinking the old thought, give the band a little flick.
- This will start to train your mind to let go of the old thoughts that have no place in your life anymore.
- You just need a little flick – you don’t need to hurt yourself – your old thoughts have been doing that for long enough already.
- There is no right or wrong on this.
- All the answers, strength and courage you need to do what’s right for you are in you.
- You just need to give yourself the opportunity and the reason to hear it.
Find your ‘shoulds’ that shouldn’t be.
‘Shoulds’ are the messages we take in whole (introject) from childhood, school, relationships, society. They guide behavior automatically and this can be a good thing (‘I should be around people who respect me’) or a not so good thing (‘I should always be ‘nice”). Take a close look at your ‘shoulds’ and see if they’ve been swallowed with a spoonful of poison.
It’s likely that the should that’s keeping you stuck has come from the person who wanted to keep you that way.
Nobody is all good or all bad. But don’t be guilted by that.
One of the things that makes ending any relationship so difficult is that there will be traces of exactly what you want. Even toxic parents can sometimes be loving, warm or nurturing, though it’s mostly, if not always, done to further their own agenda. .
Zoom out and look at the big picture. If you feel miserable in the relationship more than you feel good, question your reasons for staying.
Decide that the lifetime of messages that have left you scarred are wrong.
Breaking free of a toxic parent is hard, but hard has never meant impossible. With the deliberate decision to move forward, there are endless turns your story can take. Brave, extraordinary, unexpected turns that will lead you to a happier, fuller life. It’s what you’ve always deserved. Be open to the possibilities of you. There are plenty.
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