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How to Recover from Toxic Parenting

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Parents are human. They make mistakes. Good parents realize their mistakes, often apologize, and typically try to do better. Toxic parents are so self-absorbed that they don’t see their behavior as a problem. While a ‘good’ parent’s actions may lead a child to therapy, the differentiator is that the behavior of toxic parents is deeply damaging and chronic.

Do you have Toxic Parents?

If you wonder- your parents are toxic, then they unfortunately probably are to some extent. While physical or verbal abuse is extreme and obvious, some emotional and verbal toxic behavior is subtle. Any behavior that causes physical or emotional harm or negates your self-perception is toxic. 

  • Is nothing ever good enough for your parents? 
  • When you get upset, does your parent make you feel as if you have no right to be?
  • Does your parent judge, humiliate, or constantly criticize you? 
  • Are you ignored, given the silent treatment, or made to feel like a burden to your parents? 
  • Is drama the norm in your home, with your parents getting upset and blaming others?
  • Is your parent selfish or passive-aggressive? 
  • Does your parent try to control you, perhaps using guilt or gifts to do so? 
  • Are your boundaries disrespected? 
  • Does your parent make you feel responsible for their feelings?

If even one of these questions resounds with you, then you have been exposed to toxic parenting to some degree. You may excuse the toxic behavior by believing that your parents love you, doesn’t mean it, or it’s not really THAT bad, especially if they take care of you well in some ways. You will need to separate their intent from their action. They may not consciously mean to hurt you, but they do.

How does Toxic Parenting Impact You?

When the person who is meant to love and protect you abuses you, it’s so deeply damaging that victims often normalize it. As a child, it’s easier to believe what your toxic parent says and that you deserve the abuse than to accept that you have bad parents. 

Toxically, parented children, are often self-destructive and repeat the behavior in their own relationships. Many seek what they didn’t get from their parents as a child from their adult relationships. Victims are more likely to have low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. They don’t have a strong sense of self and feel like they aren’t entitled to or doubt their feelings, opinions, and actions. Setting boundaries and expressing feelings and needs is challenging. 

How to Heal from Toxic Parenting?

Breathe a sigh of relief, for once you are aware of the problem, you can address it. 

The only thing you can control is yourself – your own feelings, actions, and beliefs – so start there. You are entitled to your emotions and deserve to be treated well. Develop self-love and acceptance will fill the void created by your parents. Your thoughts drive your actions and results. Learning to love yourself will radiate positively throughout your life. Assess your behavior and relationships and change what doesn’t serve you. Be patient with yourself, as the trauma you experienced will take time to process and resolve. Find strength in knowing that you have the ability to break the pattern of toxic behavior in your family.

Ending the abuse is essential. You need to emotionally detach from your toxic parent. Don’t react to their behavior. Don’t feel responsible for their feelings or requests. If a mental illness or substance abuse is causing their behavior, show compassion but do not use it to excuse. In extreme cases, you may need to physically detach from your abusive parent.

Do some inner child work. Think back to your earliest memories of your toxic parent. Where were you? What were you feeling, thinking, and doing? Visualize that child sitting on a bench in a safe environment. Approach that child and say what you needed to hear back then but didn’t. Comfort that child. Let them know that they are valued and will be ok. Repeat this exercise as new memories rise to feel lighter and empowered.

After doing some work on yourself, determine if it would help to talk directly with your toxic parent. Use I-statements about how you feel to sound less blaming. Tell your parents what you need to heal yourself and your relationship. At best, you will get a healing apology or a promise to do better. At worst, you will trigger your parent’s toxicity, so be prepared. Either way, calling attention to the situation in a positive manner will allow you to take back your power.

At last!

Toxic parents aren’t necessarily all bad. Many of them have a mental disorder or a serious addiction. Show compassion in this situation but don’t use this to excuse their behavior or make it your responsibility to save them. In most cases, parents do the best they can with what they have. Sometimes it’s just not enough. It’s ok to love them, anyway.

In extreme cases, or after getting as far as you can on your own, therapy may be needed to fully heal. Seek whatever help you need. Do it for yourself and for those you care about, especially your own children. Unresolved anger and resentment are deeply damaging. You do not have to be like your parents.

“When you know better, you do better.” –Maya Angelou

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