Posted by Soribel Martinez, LCSW
Our parents shape our world when we are young. Their attitudes, emotional health (or lack thereof), and relationship patterns set the stage for our own experience of life as we grow. This usually happens without us even being aware of it. Infants through teenagers naturally absorb and reflect their parents’ behavior.
While this is a normal part of growing up, unfortunately not all parents provide a healthy, balanced, nurturing emotional environment. They may pass down toxic behaviors they learned from their own parents. Or destructive addictions may overtake family life and overshadow everything else.
The biggest tragedy is that children are the ones who suffer the most in these situations. With time and experience, however, you may come to recognize your parents’ negativity. Often, it’s necessary to let go of them in order to find healing and emotional peace.
1. Recognize That It’s Not Your Fault
Children of toxic parents, whether still in the home or grown adults, often think that they are to blame for their parents’ toxicity. This is known as codependency.
Your parents may have blamed you for all kinds of things, including their own behavior and moods. You may have learned to avoid doing anything that would upset them to protect yourself. Even if you’ve been out of the home for decades, these beliefs and behavior patterns persist.
But the reality is that none of it was your fault–none of it! Children are not responsible for their parents’ issues.
2. Surround Yourself with Good People
If you’ve been raised with toxic adults, you may not even be able to identify what a healthy friendship looks like. Maybe you don’t even know if an emotionally safe person is a reality that exists.
But it is, and you can find people to come alongside you. You may find support groups such as Codependents Anonymous. An experienced therapist is also someone who can help you learn to recognize false beliefs and attitudes you’ve absorbed from toxic parents.
3. Surrender Control
Individuals who were raised by toxic parents often develop a desire to control situations. Again, this is a coping mechanism and a way to protect yourself from the uncertainty and volatility of living with toxic people.
However, the only thing you can control is yourself. You can’t make your parents (or anyone else) like you more or treat you better, no matter what you do. Learn to notice the ways you try to control situations in your life. Then start to step back.
4. Set Boundaries
Toxic people rarely know what emotional boundaries are. They will expect you to drop your plans to tend to their meltdowns or “emergencies.” You’ll receive intrusive advice or criticism about your career, your weight, your marriage, and how you’re raising your children.
But you don’t have to put up with this. When your toxic parent oversteps, you can make your boundaries clear. You can end the phone conversation or get up and walk away. You can even severely limit contact. Let them know that you’re not willing to tolerate their behavior.
Forgiving the very people who were supposed to protect and care for you but instead raised you in toxicity may sound impossible.
The benefits of forgiveness are tremendous, however, and are well-studied and documented. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that what they did was okay. It doesn’t mean that you have to allow them back into your life or allow them to continue to hurt you.
Forgiveness is mainly for you. When you forgive, you avoid trapping yourself in a toxic cycle of blame, anger, and manipulation. If you get stuck in bitterness about how you were treated, you’re only hurting yourself more. Forgiving is how you let go and find healing.
Having toxic parents is hard. In my practice, though, I’ve seen many people move through this experience and heal. I’d love to help you do the same. Please call my office to learn more.
If you are considering finding a therapist for you or your child, we have created a mini guide that shares with you 5 tips on how to select the best therapist for you and your family. You can click here to get your FREE copy:
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Soribel Martinez, LCSW, CEO of SMPsychotherapy