Normal Parents are considered next to God’s in our society. They are the people we want the most to turn to when we are in joy and in distress. Biologically they are programmed and adapted to understand us in the best way. Since the time of birth they have known all our weaknesses and strengths, they knew how and what comforts us and discomforts us. All the time we spent together teaches them about our fears and phobias. They always knew and wanted the best for us. And when we talk about Indian culture, they are also physically present in most of our life, from arranging and financing our weddings, sponsoring our kid’s various ceremonies, etc. to provide physical and financial support during childbirth and other medical issues. As per the different cultures, kids are and should also reciprocate accordingly. Sometimes there is an imbalance in the give and take between kids and parents due to valid reasons like medical, financial, or social issues. But as long as there are unconditional love and support from both sides then the relationship is perfectly healthy for both.
But, not everyone is blessed with normal parents. And that’s when we need to erect firm boundaries, physical or emotional or both as per the severity of the problem to save ourselves from being destroyed in the hands of the toxic parents.
In a society where parents are treated like God, it’s not easy to talk about issues like “toxic parenting” or “bad parenting”. Before you start feeling guilty for being disloyal to your parents for reading this article, let me clarify what “toxic parents” are. For having an insight into “toxic parenting” read my article by clicking on the following link:https://www.theexhaustedsouls.com/2021/03/shocking-reasons-why-some-people-cannot.html
So, now you know what parents are we talking about. This article never intends to teach adult kids to be rude or insensitive toward their parents, rather it intends to teach them the ways by which they can stop their parents from destroying them. No one is born bad, it’s the circumstances and health conditions (personality disorders, etc.) that make people bad or abnormal parents. You can very well understand this by analyzing yourself as a parent. If you were raised by unhealthy parents then you will notice that sometimes you too behave toxically towards your kids. This happens because of your “affected personality” due to the “abuse” caused to you by your parents. You should forgive yourself for it because you couldn’t control what happened to you as a child. This understanding helps you to reach the following three conclusions:-
- Your parents’ toxic behavior could also be an outcome of their childhood distress. (eg .some trauma like the divorce of parents, one or more abusive parents, domestic violence, abuse by a relative or family friend, sexual abuse, extreme financial crisis, prolonged illness, a tragedy like the death of a parent, etc.)
- They too should be forgiven, because they didn’t have control and understanding of what they did. (Doesn’t applies to extreme cases of sexual abuse or physically lethal attacks. Such cases must be reported to the police)
- Now, since you have the understanding of the underlying problem, so by taking the necessary steps you can stop the ongoing cycle of abuse, i.e., Your parents abusing you and you abusing your kids and hence passing on the legacy to the coming generations.
Ongoing abuse by the people who are meant to protect creates trauma-like feelings in the brain of the child (also adults in case of domestic violence). There is a continuous fear of the expected extreme negative reaction of the parent(s). The child dreads taking a stand or mentioning the abuse. There is a mixed feeling of:-
- Wanting to be accepted and loved by parents and
- Wanting to cut the ties and run away.
The more the child gives in to be accepted the more the abusive parents want by rejecting and criticizing the efforts being made by the child. Running away is not possible because of the following two reasons:-
- “Trauma Bonding”(Stockholm syndrome-A condition in which the abused develops an emotional bonding with the abuser because of the tit-bits of acts of kindness shown by the abuser here and there. The helpless isolated victim lives in the illusion that if he/she puts more efforts then it will be possible to win the affection of the abuser)
- Affected mental health (extreme anxiety, depression, loneliness, fears and phobias, isolation from society done by an abuser, low or no self-confidence induced by abuser by constant criticism and judgment)
Therefore, the abuse victim, i.e., the child of toxic parents goes for the formerly stated feeling of being wanted to be loved and accepted by parents. The more they give, the more toxic parents want. There is a suppressed feeling that they can never win them, still, they keep trying hopelessly with more and more energy every time enabling the toxic parents to hurt more and more deeply.
It’s impossible to keep a toxic parent happy. I will take an example from a friend’s life:-
Amar is my childhood friend. He had a very physically abusive father. His father was a bully towards his wife and kids and would think that being the head and only breadwinner and being the “Man of the house“ he was entitled to scold, beat, bully his family whenever he wanted, and was not bound to justify his behavior to anyone. Amar’s father was so manipulative that he would induce false guilt in his kids to justify his own behavior of abuse. Amar’s father had a wonderful social image and was a charming person to society.
His father always made him feel guilty for his education. They were a middle-class family and could easily afford education, but due to the spendthrift nature and tendency to show off to society, his father would spend all his earning in showing off the society that how rich he was and when it came to school/college fee he would make Amar feel that they were poor and there was a financial crisis and arranging fee was very difficult for them. He would also make Amar feel that he owed all his life to his father because he is educating him with so much pain. Amar grew up thinking he owes everything in his life to his father. As soon as Amar started earning, his father made him take responsibility for his younger brother Arjun’s Master’s education as well. Amar didn’t do masters because he was already too guilty for getting a bachelor's with his father’s money and felt obliged to educate his brother to relieve his father of the pressure. Amar got married. His parents and elder sister started inducing the guilt in him that now he will devote more of his time with his young wife and might ignore the needs of old parents and siblings. His wife was a career woman. Now due to emotional and financial pressure from his father he was so anxious not only about his expenditure but also his wife’s expenditure. He was bound to take care of his brother’s extra expenditures and showering gifts to his parents and other siblings to show his gratitude towards his father’s contribution to his education. This caused tensions in his married life. After doing master's Arjun had a better career than Amar. Now their father would leave no chance to compare their careers and make Amar feel less than Arjun. Amar was still struggling to get his father’s validation of being a good son. He gave his time, love, attention to everything to his father but he was never good enough. He always preferred his parents over his wife and kids during every good and bad time to prove himself as a good kid. The more Amar gave, the more his father wanted. Moreover, Amar also saw his father ignoring his wife(Amar’s mom) and her needs all his life and that’s how Amar thought that it’s an ideal way of life. Gradually all this took a toll on his married life and his wife left him. Now his father who never minded Amar mistreating, ignoring, avoiding, depriving his kids and wife suddenly took his daughter-in-laws’ side. Being nice in the eyes of society was his priority in life, remember? Now Amar’s father started blaming him for all the problems in his life, education, career, marriage, etc.
Above is one such case where the abused child is still struggling in the adult body to get the approval of his father. This adult child of a toxic father, Amar has sacrificed everything but his father wants more. Amar is “Trauma Bonded” to his father. He is still thriving for his father’s love and acceptance. In such cases, two ways are possible by which an adult child can save himself i.e., physically cutting off or emotionally cutting off. In a society where parents are considered equivalent to God, it is very hard to physically cut off parents, no matter how abusive they are, especially if they are very old and have no one else to take care of. But, loving or caring for your parents doesn't mean that you should run your own life, career, relationship, and mental well-being on the way.
Following steps can be taken to recovery from childhood abuse:-
- Try to seek therapy as soon as you discover any health issue like depression, anxiety, etc. If you have financial issues then various meditation and self-help techniques can be tried at home.
- Keep a check on your behavior towards your own kids. There is a high possibility of the repetition of parenting traits. Be gentle with yourself. Forgive yourself for how you had been and start training yourself to be calmer, gentler, more honest, and kind towards your own kids than your parents were towards you.
- Maintain emotional distance from your parents.
The last point is where we have to focus the most because you cannot heal a wound if it’s allowed to be hurt continuously. Toxic parents stay in their kids’ heads even when they are not around and control them the way they would do when they are physically present. This happens because they mold their kids’ thinking like theirs. These are termed as “Internalized parents” in psychology. Emotional distance can be achieved in the following ways:-
- Accept that they are toxic and forgive them because they are not aware. This will reduce anger and bring peace to your life.
- Reduce the frequency of visits and phone conversations. Do so only when required genuinely.
- Do not answer every question involving your career, personal life, and relationships. Even if you want to, then take some time Do not feel obliged to answer immediately. You are an adult.
- Stop listening to your “Internalized Parents”. Start trusting your guts and try taking your own life decisions(career, friendship, spirituality, parenting, relationship, social life, eating, clothing, entertainment, sleeping)
- Do not fear your “Internalized parents". Allow yourself to feel all types of emotions. Do not fear or suppress them. Suppressing emotions is very unhealthy. Feel whatever you feel like, love, anger, sadness, loneliness, excitement. Sometimes we need to hide some emotions in professional life, but otherwise, we shouldn’t. Emotions exist for a reason. Your body sends you signals by sending emotions When you honor your emotions and express them it helps you. Never feal or feel guilty for having an emotion. It's perfectly normal.
- Ignore the criticism from your “Internalized parents”. Have your own views. You don’t need to line up with other’s views to please or impress them. It's possible to get along with people having views different than you. Intelligent people like to hear and understand different views on a topic.
- Disarm your “Internalized Parents” by reducing “alone time” with your parents. Try to meet them in large groups where they won’t find it easy to bully you.
- Stop taking “gifts” from them. Toxic people never give anything because they love. Everything they do for you has a “string” attached to it. They give so that they can burden you with the feeling that they are doing so much for you. Start practicing “No” to their “gifts” and “favors” politely. This will make you feel less burdened.
- If you are financially sound and they are in crisis, you can offer monthly financial help to them without visiting them. This will not give them any chance to use society to make you feel guilty.
- Visit them when they genuinely need you like illness and other distress, but make sure to have the least conversation possible and avoid meeting in person. Stay in groups.
- Start repairing the relationships that have been damaged because of your “Parents” or “Internalized Parents”. Do what you feel and don’t do what you don’t feel like.
- Build relationships with other people of your parent’s age but be very cautious they should be very healthy and normal. This can be determined by observing their own family dynamics.
- Maintain distance from those siblings and relatives who don’t know about the toxic side of your parents and make you feel guilty for not being the perfect child. This is a very common dynamic in toxic families. Parents deliberately stay nice to one child (golden child) so that they can abuse the other child(scapegoat child)easily. Golden child is pitted against the scapegoat child and is made to believe that the scapegoat child is hurtful towards the parents and hence deserves to be abused. Toxic parents make sure to present a perfect family in front of relatives and the golden child helps them. This causes more difficulties for the scapegoat child and makes the condition worse.
- Do not confront your parents. This will worsen the problem. You can write a letter to your parents telling them how much they have hurt and how hard you have tried, that you feel sorry for their circumstances which made them toxic and you forgive them for what they did. Tell them you love them and will always do. Tell them you wish they would understand and change, tell them you know that this will never happen, tell them you are giving up on them, and tell them everything you want to. But do not send this letter. Sending it to them will worsen the situation. Burn it after writing. This will bring you a lot of peace. You will cry a lot while doing this, but it will be worth it.
- Love yourself the way you wanted yourself to be loved by your parents. Take care of your emotional and mental health.
- Set boundaries in your life. Dare to say “Yes” to the things you never dared to and dare to say “No” to the things you never dared to.
Share your story with me or with a trustworthy friend.
Enjoy a “New” you.
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