Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

Stronger for the Breaks – How to Heal from a Toxic Parent

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Stronger for the Breaks - How to Heal from a Toxic Parent

It’s one thing to be dipped in venom by those you don’t really care about, but when it’s by the person who is meant to love you, hold you, and take the sharp edges off the world, while teaching you with love, wisdom and warmth how to do it for yourself, it changes you. There is a different kind of hurt that can only come from a toxic parent – someone who is meant to love you. Kind of like being broken from the inside out.

There's a kind of hurt that can only come from people who are meant to love you. 'Healing from Toxic Parents' Click To Tweet

The scarring and hurt that comes from a toxic parent probably isn’t something we talk about enough. None of us are perfect, including our parents, but there is a point at which imperfect becomes destructive, taking away from children the love, warmth and nurturing they deserve and replacing it with something awful.

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.

A toxic parent has a long list of weapons, but all come under the banner of neglect or emotional, verbal or physical abuse. Toxic parents lie, manipulate, ignore, judge, abuse, shame, humiliate and criticise. Nothing is ever good enough. You get an A, they’ll want an A+. You get an A+, they’ll wonder why you aren’t school captain. You make school captain, your sister would have been a better one. And you’ll never be pretty like her. They’ll push you down just to criticise you for the way you fall. That, or they’ll shove you off a cliff to show the world how well they catch you. They oversee childhoods with no warmth, security or connection. 

Any negative behaviour that causes emotional damage or contaminates the way a person sees himself or herself, is toxic. A toxic parent treat 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. The truth is that you, like every other small person on the planet, deserved love, warmth, and to know how important you were. You’re not useless at life – you’ve bought in to the messages that were delivered by a parent too broken to realise what they were doing. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. 

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.

How to heal from a toxic parent.

Here are some ways to move forward.

  1. 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. 

  2. And it’s okay not to.

    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. Accept that for now, this is where you’re at, and fully experience what that’s like for you. You’ll never love yourself enough to change your expectations if you’re flogging yourself for not being strong enough. It takes tremendous strength to keep walking into a relationship that you know is going to hurt you. When you’re ready, you’ll make the move to do something differently. For now though, wherever you are is okay.

  3. 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. Ever. If it was going to, it would have reached you by now. See their behaviour for what it is – evidence of their breaks, not evidence of yours. Put a forcefield around yourself and let their abuse bounce off. Love yourself and respect yourself enough to fill the well that they bleed dry. They might not be capable of giving you the love and respect you deserve, but you are.

     

  4. 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.

    The decisions aren’t conscious ones, so to move towards healing, the automatic thoughts and feelings driving the choices need to be brought more into awareness. If this is something that’s familiar for you, it’s possible that you are being drawn to the wrong people because they remind you of your toxic parent, and somewhere inside you where your wanted things stay hidden, is the wish that you’ll get from them what you weren’t able to get from your parent. Look at the people in your life and explore the similarities they have with your own parents. What do they do that’s similar? What do you do that’s similar to the way you are in your relationship with your parents? Which needs are being met? What keeps you there? The more awareness you have, the more you can make deliberate decisions that aren’t driven by historical wants.

  5. Own your right to love and respect.

    One of the greatest acts of self-love is owning your right to love and respect from the people you allow close to you. You’re completely entitled to set the conditions for your relationships, as other people are to set the conditions for theirs. We all have to treat those we love with kindness, generosity and respect if we want the same back. If those conditions aren’t met, you’re allowed to close the door. You’re allowed to slam it closed behind them if you want to.

  6. Be careful of your own toxic behaviour.

    You’ve been there, so you know the behaviours and you know what they do. We’re all human. We’re all going to get it wrong sometimes. Toxic behaviour 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. People who do this, who refuse to continue a toxic legacy, are courageous, heroic and they change the world. We’re here to build amazing humans, not to tear them down. How many lives could have been different if your parent was the one who decided that enough was enough.

  7. You’re allowed to make mistakes and you’re allowed to do it on your own.

    You may have been lead to believe that you’re not enough – not smart enough, beautiful enough, funny enough, strong enough capable enough. The truth is that you are so enough. It’s crazy how enough you are. Open yourself up to the possibility of this and see what happens. You don’t need to depend on anyone and making mistakes doesn’t make you a loser. It never has. That’s something you’ve been lead to believe by a parent who never supported you or never gave you permission to make mistakes sometimes. Make them now. Make plenty. Heaps. Give yourself full permission to try and miss. There will be hits and there will be misses. You don’t even know what you’re capable of because you’ve never been encouraged to find out. You’re stronger than you think you are, braver, better and smarter than you think you are, and now is your time to prove it to yourself.

     

  8. 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 unloveable? Unimportant? Stupid? Annoying? Incapable? Worthless?

    Now beside each belief, write what that belief is costing you. Has it cost you relationships? Happiness? Freedom to be? To experiment? To explore? Then, rewrite the script. Thoughts drive feelings, behaviour, 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 is in you. You just need to give yourself the opportunity and the reason to hear it.

  9. Find your ‘shoulds’ that shouldn’t be.

    ‘Shoulds’ are the messages we take in whole (introject) from childhood, school, relationships, society. They guide behaviour 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. Our ‘should’s’ come from many years of cultivating and careful pruning, so that when that should is fully formed, it direct you so automatically that you don’t even need to think.

    It’s likely that the should that’s keeping you stuck has come from the person who wanted to keep you that way. Were you brought up feeling indebted to your parents? Like you owe them? Like you’ll never cope if you separate properly from them? Were the messages delivered to keep you small? Quiet? Hidden? Believing the messages may have worked when you were younger, steering you way from their foul mood or toxic consequences, but it doesn’t have to be that way now. Don’t pick up from where they left off. You’re older now, with different circumstances, and in a different environment. Bring your ‘shoulds’ out in the open so your actions can be more deliberate. If your ‘shoulds’ are working for you, love them up and keep them, otherwise let them go. 

  10. 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. In the same way that being ‘a little bit bad’ probably isn’t enough to sever an important relationship, being ‘a little bit good’ isn’t enough reason to keep one. 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. If it’s because your toxic parent is old, frail, sad or lonely, that might be all the reason you need to stay, and that’s okay. If it is, own the decision in strength and put limits on contact or how much you will give to the relationship. You’re entitled to take or give as much to the relationship as you decide. Just whatever you do, do it deliberately, in strength and clarity, not because you’re being manipulated or disempowered. The shift in mindset seems small, but it’s so important. 

  11. Build yourself up.

    Toxic environments are toxic to the brain – we know that with absolute certainty. The human brain is incredibly adaptive, and in response to a toxic environment it will shut down so as to protect itself as much as it can from the toxicity. When this happens, as it does during prolonged periods of emotional stress, the rate at which the brain produces new neurons (neurogenesis) slows right down, ultimately making people vulnerable to anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, memory loss, reduced immunity, loss of vitality, reduced resilience to stress, and illness (research has shown that migraine and other pain conditions are more prevalent in people who were brought up in abusive environments, though the exact reason for the relationship is unclear).

    We also know, with absolute certainty, that the damage can be turned around. Diet (omega 3, green tea extract, blueberry extract, reduced intake processed sugar and unhealthy carbohydrates), exercise (anything that increases heart rate), and meditation (such as a regular mindfulness practice) will all help to rebuild the brain and heal the damage done by a toxic environment. Increasing neurogenesis will help to build resilience, cognitive function, vitality and protect against stress, anxiety and depression.

Healing from a toxic parent starts with deciding that the lifetime of messages that have left you hollow or scarred are wrong. Because they are. It means opening a heart that’s probably been closed for way too long, and receiving the love, approval and validation that has always been yours to own. Sometimes, it means realising that parents break too, sometimes irreparably, sometimes to the point of never being able to show love to the people in their life who deserve it the most. Sometimes it means making the brave decision, in strength and with the greatest self-love and self-respect, to let go of the relationship that’s been hurting you. 

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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752 Comments

Sandra

I’d like to know how some of you are coping with not having been loved or wanted by their parents and especially mothers. I have moved 10,000km’s away from a toxic mother who basically only didn’t abort me because I was a cash cow (biological dad had money and they only had a brief extramarital affair so I hardly knew him). My dad didn’t want me either because he already had a family and only had affairs with other women, in fact he insisted on a paternity test for me and I saw him maybe 5 times in my life. I grew up in a dysfunctional household with an absentee mother and her alcoholic boyfriend. The worst for me was being left alone at home for days on end without food or any other humans around. I am coping fairly well but have huge regrets, such as not having a good education and career (I developed panic attacks in high school due to my upbringing and had no support or mentorship to achieve anything), and the fact that I had to move to a different country far away from my toxic mother and brother and don’t have a family of my own. Also, it depresses me that it seems I was just used as a pawn, for money or other gains by both my mother and my brother. One piece of advice to anyone struggling is that do not expect any apologies. They often do not come with narcissists and once you stop expecting it/them, you personally feel like a large weight has lifted. Now, I simply don’t care about my mother at all. But as I spelled out above, I do struggle with having been unloved and used and I often have flashbacks.

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Ana

I just wanted to send you so much love and positive vibes. Please know your worth, don’t let people and circumstances in your life define you. You are just amazing🙂

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Paul the otherone

I have a mother who neglected us. I was always the parent to her. As a child I was in care, firstly with her mum and brother who sexually abused us. When I told my mum about this she said that she was sorry for what I went through but continued to invite her brother to family functions. I just cut myself off as an adult and my children never had a meaningful relationship with their nan. In 2013 my brother died unexpectedly, I requested that our abused never came to the funeral. He did. The morning after I reported him to the police. Some 46 years later he was sentenced for the child abuse. My mother’s family genuinely believe that I acted maliciously in reporting my uncle. He got 14 years I have not seen my mum in 5 years, it is was a one-sided relationship anyway and occasionally I feel empty for the love that I do not have, but mostly I feel free.

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Am

Hey love. Better things will come to you. You’ll be in my prayers. You need to know how strong you are. Sending loving and healing vibes.

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K

Hello and thank you for the great article!
I am in desperate need of advice.
I have established that my mother is toxic. She manipulates me, is disrespectful, and completely self centered most of the time.
I am a very understanding and patient person, but I have been putting up with this for my whole life and I’m just tired of being anxious all of the time.
We had lived in the same town as each other for our whole lives, and I just recently moved out of the state with my husband, as I graduated college and got a job – so I have some distance between us, but she continuously demands that she is going to come stay with me, and my husband and I barely have our feet on the ground in this new place yet.
I love my mom and I don’t necessarily want to cut off contact with her, but I am at a loss. I finally decided to have an adult conversation with her. I told her that I feel that she doesn’t respect me, my boundaries, or my wishes, and that she tried to manipulate me – I then gave an example to her. I thought that this might help, but she just got incredibly mad at me ( like a child throwing a fit type of mad) and told me she didn’t want to talk to me or see me for a while.
Now she has started talking to me again and it’s all starting over.
I love her and I want her in my life, but I am so worn out.
I also want to say that I am incredibly respectful to her, and I always let her talk when she is having a bad day etc. I am a good daughter to her, and I think I deserve more respect then she is giving me.
Just typing that all out made me feel a little bit better.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated, and again – thanks for the great article!

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Penny

K Please read Susan Forward’s book Toxic Parents Overcoming their……
You are very young and this is the start of your adult relationship with a toxic parent, please try to leave this relationship before she dominates your adult life as well. When you confronted her she punished you by removing herself and hurting you, this will get worse maybe to the point that all your decisions will taken with her reactions in mind instead of what is best for you. Start by NOT letting her stay in your home or hers on visits. Book or pay for accomodation nearby. Dont discuss decisions you and your husband are making. Make sure some holidays are parent free, but PLEASE read the book and see what has happened and try to change the future.

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s

Hi, K. Just thought my comment could help you a little bit.

This resonated with me: “I told her that I feel that she doesn’t respect me, my boundaries, or my wishes, and that she tried to manipulate me – I then gave an example to her. I thought that this might help, but she just got incredibly mad at me ( like a child throwing a fit type of mad) and told me she didn’t want to talk to me or see me for a while.”

From what I’ve learnt in therapy, when parents are narcissistic, there’s no use on trying to talk to them reasonably – they won’t listen and try to turn it around and say you are the problem. I gave up trying to change my father, who is just like your mother. Also, like you just said, I also learnt parents like this act just like little kids – so we should treat them like children, too.

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Sandra

I agree, in fact it took me 40 years to understand that my now 70 year old mother acted like a teenager all her life…and still does. It is difficult to grasp that this level of immaturity is even possible in a reasonably intelligent human.

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Donna

Yes I have an immature mother who is always putting me down, she tells me when I visit her that I’m not a good mother, tells me she only moved 18hours away from me because she had to help me for 3 years with my first child because I was unlucky to have met the wrong man. My nan did everything for my mum, took me weekends, on holidays, my mum only had 1 child “me”.
We have a horrible relationship, she tells people in front of me, that when I call, she puts the phone on the bench and just says yes here and there and I doesn’t listen to me…
I left home at 19, couldn’t wait to leave, had emotional abuse as long as I could remember.
I had my first son at 20, I’m 40 now, met an amazing man when my son was 18 months old, loved him everyday for the past 18 years, have 3 more amazing children. I visit my mother once every year or 2 and she won’t cook for me without being negative, she won’t babysit so I can have a rest, she tells me I’m no mother, it’s ironic because I’m a wonderful mother, my children adore me, even my 19yr old son tells me often how lucky he is to have me as his mum. I see my mum projecting her crap on me like, she’s certainly not a loving or devoted grandmother… I’m reading this blog to gain insight on whether I should cut ties with her… And I relate well to the comments… It’s so sad but immaturity seems to be the common factor. 🤔

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TZyg

There is a book about toxic parents that helped me a great deal. Toxic Parents : Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward and Craig Buck (2002, Paperback)

It was very helpful. It had exercises to help you work through the hurt. It also helped to work through setting boundaries and sticking to it. Wishing you the best. Stand strong.

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Shay

Hello,
Thank you for having this community. I came upon this as I was searching for toxic parent relationships. My entire life I thought it was only me, but I can see that this is not something that is openly talked about or addressed. I am inspired to see there are blogs and support groups for these types of life events as they also impact adulthood.
Oldest of two children, I had a brother that was like god to my mom. My brother and I always got along. My mom always treated me differently. Never came to any school events and often yelled at me for the smallest things, accidentally spilling something or breaking a dish ware. She complained to family members in case I said something she didn’t like or if she was wrong. Luckily, my father was my guardian angel. He protected me and loved me like no other. He treated both myself and my brother with respect and ultimately created a friendship among us. I lost my father a few months ago and everything changed. My world turned upside down. My birthday was a few months ago and other than a phone call from my mom, nothing. I didnt expect a gift at my age but a simple gesture of having dinner would have been nice. I asked my mom the other day, why did/does she treat me differently than my brother? Her response was because back in the day girls and boys were treated differently. But why continue to treat me like that after all these years? If I have a daughter in the future, will she treat her like that? The conversation ended after that and all I can think of is, because I am a girl. I am very blessed to have a supportive husband, but I wish I had a childhood where my mother was as loving and comforting as the other moms I see. I know she gave birth to me and is the only mom I have, but it is truly hard for me to let everything go based on what I have experienced as a child and growing up. I often feel I have no one and I am all alone in this big world.

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EJ

Only when I started recently talking to my partner about some of this did I realise how bad my relationship with my father was. He died when I was 26 and we were in mid argument and I always felt this unresolved thing lingering in my mind, and the idea that I was incompetent and useless. As a kid I thought it was funny and would joke with my friends about it but looking back its not funny at all. Heres a few things. He would not let me make my own lunch or breakfast until I was 17 and even until I moved out at 18 he would get my breakfast bowl, milk etc out of the pantry ready. If i tricked him by eating toast or getting up late or early he would fly off the handle. Once on Christmas day when i was 25 I crashed my motorbike outside my house and I dragged it off the road alone. He then walked out of the house, told me I was an idiot who had bought a motorbike they couldnt handle and walked back inside. I had never crashed it before, and he didnt ask if I was ok, didnt help me clean up oil and piece it back together. Never apologised! He once flew into a rage because i couldnt eat dinner the night after having 4 teeth removed, he said i was trying to spite him by not eating the meal he cooked (he was an ex chef). He was never like this to my brother. Oh well, life moves on and I am healing 🙂

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Jess

I just want to put how I’m feeling out there to get it off my chest!

I thought I was doing so well and actually getting my life on track albeit decades after I should have. I thought , too, that I was managing the relationship with my narcissistic parent. I felt grown up and happy…

…then he contacted to say he wanted to visit to drop a gift off (he won’t contemplate alternative meeting arrangements)…

And now I’ve lost all the good feelings over this little thing. I can’t face him being in my house. This is my sanctuary and where I’ve worked on getting myself better. I know it’s maybe overreacting but I’m in a real state. Gone is all the self care I’ve been doing to be replaced by being unable to get anything done. I had plans for the next week and now all I can think of is how I am going to,be able to protect myself on the visit. I can’t even lose myself in a book or tv I am so scared and anxious.

Thanks for listening!

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Auswoman_33

Hi Jess,
Wow, I can’t believe this but I am now so much further down the track, I can help others. Amazing.
YOU have the right to say no. Boundaries. You can say you’re not available. You can say no, let’s meet at a cafe. You can say I’m busy. Whatever message you can come up with and stick to.
You don’t deserve to feel this way. The only way to stop this behaviour is to put up a strict boundary. My mum was EXACTLY the same. And I just kept saying no, I’m not available etc. Now she doesn’t drop in, and I don’t get phone calls, only emails which I filter to another inbox. it’s still difficult when I see her occasionally but it’s all on my terms xxx sending you love

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Jess

Thanks. Those are the techniques I’ve been employing with what I thought was great success which is why I was feeling so good! It really was great having the boundaries.

I guess he has just got wise to it and this time is so determined that it will be his way. He is away this week and I had a nice week planned but his last message was so forceful that he will see me next week, whatever, that I have totally lost the plot (while he is away having a great time!) . The stress of it means I can’t concentrate and wake up upset.

I am angry at myself for not being able to keep the boundaries up and for letting him upset my life once again. It would probably have been better to have just seen him last week and got it over with – by trying to protect myself I seem to have made it so much worse.

I need a strategy to cope with seeing him but every time I try to think of one the panic of all he will say just paralyses me. I’m losing yet more of my life which makes me feel such a failure.

Well done you on setting boundaries your mother will stick to. I know how hard it was for you too from your previous posts. I guess I’m feeling worse this time because I had a taste of the relief that came with a year of boundaries that worked!

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Auswoman_33

Hey Jess
Honestly, I still get super anxious when I see my mum, well I was, but every time now it is not quite as bad. I agree sometimes by avoiding them we make it worse. I was moving towards no contact but now I’m sticking with having a civil connection.
A few things that help me are remembering that the way it makes me feel is what I let it (easier said than done) but I try to deal with whatever comes up and then move on and then catch myself if I start obsessively thinking about whatever it was. I.e. if my mum calls me or emails me, I will catch myself thinking about it a lot for a period of time. If I’ve said no or ignored the communication, then I am just trying to build the muscle to respond and then move on.
Your dad doesn’t have the right to invade your personal space. They do catch onto these things. My mum sends me a lot of emails. They will just try to weasel their way in however they can. Remember your feelings are the most important thing. And ‘no’ is a complete sentence.

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Erica

This article was meant for me to read! I am 40 years old and I am graduating with my first Masters degree in just two months. Also, I am getting married for the first time in three months!
I have been planning my wedding for the past three months and my father just dropped the ball on us and he is not paying for our wedding. He blocked my phone number and I feel like he threw me in a pit. I have an eight year old daughter of whom is his grand daughter. He is not wanting to see her either. The last time I spoke to him he was calling my daughter and I obese. Thank god she did not hear. I need to lose maybe 30 pounds. But the weight issue comes up every time I see him. He compares me to his Vietnamese future wife and how she is a size zero.
There is so much more. I realize after reading this article that my father is abusive. I have always known but I continued to stay as I tried the force field of positivity when I did see him. This was so exhausting and he always found a way in.
I am now finally cutting ties or amputating him according to the article. With him messing around and playing games with my graduation and wedding, I have finally had enough! I am so much better than what he perceives of me, what he gossips to others about me.
I am now believing he is doing me favor by blocking my phone number.
There is so much more. I am just now coming out of the dark and this article really helped. I am so thankful to have come across it.

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Jess

I love the “no is a complete sentence”. That is going to be my new mantra!

I need to remember it as, quite frankly, I’m a bit like a performing monkey. He does or says something and my mind whirs into constant thinking and I start defending and explaining and rationalising – like I’ve just been wound up and let go to perform. Like on of those old wind up children’s toys where you turn the key and the monkey starts clapping cymbals or turning round etc until it runs down. I can see the funny side but ther is definitely a more serious not so funny side.

Thanks so much for the replies, it means a lot.

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Auswoman_33

You’re welcome Jess. And the wind up monkey, I can relate. The rationalising, justifying, that’s trauma speaking… I see a psych who has helped me work through all of this xxx

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Monika

Hi Jess, I called myself a puppet on the strings, where my mother would pull the strings and I dance to her music and wishes… funny and sad, I also have been feeling like this. I also need to learn how to stop the guilt (I have been raised as a “good” daughter and I was not allowed to stand up to my mother) so when I stopped the contact year ago it still makes me doubt myself and my choice. But I also know how much my life had changed for better.

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Tina

Hey, Monika.

I think I am as same as you. I love my mother. But she wants things to be done her way and I can’t standup for myself. Everytime I do it, she couldnt accept it even if im right.

She also being manipulative towards me like asking me to be transparent towards her and tell her everything. And when I did, she’ll use it to point it out when I did a mistake. Even the things/mistake that I have done before is already settled (like there is no need to talk about it anymore), she’ll bring it up agaib and shouting it at me.

Sometimes, when she calls me, like as if she hates me. She yells at me during calling like in anger.

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Debra

I had a physically, verbally and emotionally abusive mother. However, she was just the opposite to my sister. Warm, loving and kind. Why? Because my skin is darker. My sister and I have the same mother and father. I am the eldest and they married before I was conceived. My father was the buffer between my mother and myself, but they divorced when I was 13. I’m sure my mother’s behavior was the reason for the divorce as she also verbally abused my father. By the time I was 15, her abuse was even worse so that I asked my father to live with him. He had not remarried, but had a girlfriend with children of her own, and believe it or not, she was so kind to me that I often wished she was my Mom.

My mother’s verbal abuse never stopped and over 20 more years, I would contact, end contact, then renew contact hoping her attitude would improve, which it did, briefly, then she would renew the abuse, except physically when I stood up to her at age 22 as she was about to hit me, and yelled at her that I was an adult, the same size as her, and she had better not ever put her hands on me again. She didn’t. I finally had enough when in my mid-30’s, she accused me of having a sexual relationship with my f ather, which was not true. She said that so she would have an excuse for her abusive behavior and the reason I went to live with him at age 15.

For me, that was the last and final straw. I cut off all contact and never spoke to her again. In my 40’s, my sister was in the hospital for minor surgery. When I called, my mother was with her and asked, through my sister, to speak to me. My response was a flat no. My sister then said ” I understand.”. My sister had been a witness to all of my mother’s abuse. Sometimes she stood up for me, sometimes not.

I never spoke to my mother again after her last verbal abuse. I never missed her, I didn’t go to her funeral, didn’t mourn her, and have no regrets. In fact, the freedom and peace I experienced after severing ties with her in my 30’s could almost be described as overwhelming.

I am now 62, have a good, happy and fulfilled life for which I am so grateful. Would I have my peaceful and happy life now had I remained in contact with my mother? I have no idea. But if the opportunity to find out presented itself, I would immediately reject it. What I have now is too precious to take chances with.

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Kuro

But I dont want to be hurt I dont get it…what force field? how do I protect myself??/

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Emma

thank you for a great article, i have been living in denial of the toxic relationship that i have , as i look back i have been hurt so much i have cried thousand times , i have done all the things she wants she gets happy for that moment then its forgotten and i am thinking to myself till when, i have been blamed for all the things she did not achieve because of the sacrifices she did for me, the school fees that was paid for me its too much , if ever i say no to something the emotionally blackmail that follows it its unbearable., i am married now but she still treats me like a child, i have to report my plans, i am still being told i have to learn educate myself at first i thought this was out of love,i am actually thankful to have admitted that this is toxic and i think i am healing now i have been that person who opted to talking to my diary from the early age of 13years and this honestly has affected me i can not be open to people who care about me, my friends and my husband i prefer talking to my diary, i want to be a loving woman to myself ,my husband and to my friends i am scared i might grow old and adapt this toxic behavior.

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JW

I get up everyday and my prayer to the Lord is so simple…’Lord, dont let me hurt anyone today. Set a guard upon my lips.’ We have to let the pain go and change ourselves. Changing a toxic parent or friend is impossible, no point in even trying their conscience has been seared. I have 49 yrs of experience with multiple family members that are very toxic

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Claire S

Hi, I just wanted to thank you for this article. My dad has been emotionally and physically abusing me all my life. He forced me to go into the military; I am now out because I suffer from PTSD due to his treatment towards me. He’s cut me off now, I’m in college, and says that I need to come home because he is not paying for anything. He’s never told he loved me unless it was to manipulate me. For so long I felt as though I was being crucified to gain someone’s love and protection. Getting space and going to therapy helped me solidify that, that is not love but manipulation and control. I know that was a lot and there is so much more of this story that I am still trying to process. Anyway, again thank you for this.

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Ellie

Hi everyone.
I discovered I was the daughter of abusive parents about 2 years ago now. I remember the exact moment it happened.
I was reading something online and someone was saying something to someone about how their wife was behaving in such a manner. Someone responded to him and said he should look up the term “Gas Lighting.” Because I am always curious about things, I did the same. I was beyond devastated at what I discovered in articles when relating to parents who gas light their children.
Upon reading some of the replies to this article I think some of you should perhaps look it up yourselves, as you don’t seem to be aware you may be in a similar situation.
I have been at the hands of a gas lighting parent for all my years. When I first discovered it, I think the only term I can express is grief. I went through a grieving process. I was brought up to think family is everything, and my family is quite small.
I have a father who although was physically abusive, actually didn’t seem to have done anywhere near the damage to me as what my emotionally abusive mother has done.
I was sexually abused as a child and several years ago during a visit, I told my mother. Her response was : “What? It was X? I knew something was happening to you because you had the signs. (She was a teacher, she knew what to look for in children.) But I just thought it was your dad.”
She was always beating me and screaming and shouting at me, including insulting me because i’m blind in 1 eye, making me extremely self conscious about that eye by the way. Simply because she was always jealous of the time I spent with my dad. Until that day I never knew why. I also suffered a kidnapping attempt at 16. I’m a girl.

I have been in all different therapies, I see all types of therapists from psychologists psychotherapists, psychiatrists. I actually found out I have PTSD from the things I suffered.
My father was a physically abusive alcoholic. I witnessed him beating my mother quite severely once, apparently the only time it happened. But stumbling upon your beloved parents with one standing over the other a bloodied mess when you are a toddler leaves anyone scarred. My dad has repeatedly closed fisted punched me. My mother however.. She has played with my mind so much there were times I didn’t know what was real and what was fake. I didn’t know the difference between what I made up myself or what was real because I was so confused. It’s part of the gas lighting process to mess you up so much you don’t know your own reality.
Oh sure, she emotionally blackmailed.. The worst is that she knows she is doing it too. Her trademark “I’m going to make X pay for that, i’m going to say X and make them feel X” She would revel in someone’s misery and feel good about herself when my father would go to bed early feeling bad.
I understand now why my dad resorted to alcoholism if that’s what he had to put up with.
It has taken me literally 14 years to finally begin to mature, be aware from my parents and only now. Only now am I finally putting up strong boundries and severing the connection to them. I am so proud of myself.
I have limited connection to my mother to only a single and sole email address I check very infrequently. Otherwise she will hound me.
4 years ago I began having seizures. My doctor told me stress was causing them after I was in hospital for over a week having them every day non-stop for 6 days, every 20 minutes. Then they told me if I didn’t sort myself out, stress would kill me. My seizures are purely non-epileptic and just caused because my body and brain can no longer tolerate the stress my parents put me under.

I actually thought my mental health issues stemmed from everything but my mother, until i was in therapy and found out the way BOTH my parents treated me has caused more damage to me than anything else that has happened to me. It’s truely shocking how much damage, long lasting and sustaining the damage can be that parents can inflict without people knowing. On the outside, she was nice and an ok Parent.. But behind closed doors, she was worse than the devil.

It can be very, very hard to find out you’re the victim of abusive parents too.. But it is worth finding out just so you can get the help needed to be able to move on. I am glad i found out the things i did so that enabled me to ask my doctor and therapists the right questions and tell them the right things they needed to know.
Although it’s also horrifying, i’m kind of glad i’m not alone. For a long time i felt like i was alone in being someone the victim of abusive parents. You only ever see people say “Oh they’re your parents! You can’t just leave them!” Or “They’re your parents, they love you!”
Nobody ever talks about when those parents don’t love you the right way.

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Anon a Mouse

The stories and feeling attached to this are so similar. I can’t believe I thought I was alone for so long.

Both of my parents were addicts, but they said it was just how it was in the 80’s. It seems that they both grew up in abusive homes, but no one was encouraged to speak out, so instead they acted out and turned to substances.

My mom and dad divorced when I was 9 leaving me and my brother to be raised by my father who had trouble coping with single parenthood and had problems with anger control and would get violent or really irrational while under the influence.

As I got older I wondered why my mom wasn’t around, she floated from one relationship to another. Needless to say I was a reasonably “rebellious” teenager. I just had no guidance and no self esteem so risky behavior and school counselors saying they needed to address any feelings or emotions I had usually just led to punishments for “acting out” but mostly for embarrassing them, or acting like they were bad parents.

I know they love me, but I feel like they wanted me to represent them as good parents more than they wanted to actively participate in parenting.

I got pregnant and immediately sought therapy which inevitably destroyed the unhealthy bonds I had formed with the father of my child because we had similar parents and promised we would “break the cycle”.

He was very emotionally manipulative and we weren’t really able to reconcile our past traumas while we were together. Leaving that relationship was scary because I knew I would have to ask my parents for help. Knowing my mom had three other children younger than me. One a few years younger than my child.

I didn’t want to need them, but had no other options, I was the only working parent, and had a mountain of debt with no money and no childcare help.

I find that my parents taught me to blame others as they blamed each other for my emotional or financial problems. I just decided if my child’s father wasn’t going to be there, and no one else was there. I had no choice but to figure out how to overcome this. Not just for myself, but for my teenage child.

Boundaries, emotional honesty and loving people for who they are, without allowing them to diminish your value has taken me a decade to realize.

I just want to make sure I don’t raise a child who feels alone. Having healthy relationships is difficult for me because I don’t want to tell people anything about my life. But I don’t want to hide my personal truth, or the journey I’ve been on.

My parents get bummed out when I share anything personal that could make them look bad. My siblings have learned how to manipulate them and get what they want by appealing to my parents. I’m the “bad one” and the “mean one” the one who hates her family.

But I think the worst part is that I still love them. But maybe I just love the idea of a warm and loving family. I know they aren’t evil, terrible people. But I felt like I spent most of my childhood parenting them.

I know the lifelong repercussions of parents who don’t put their child’s needs first. But self care isn’t self medicating. I feel a lot of pressure to be a good mom, but I think just being loving and supportive of my child’s emotional needs and being open minded and admitting when I’m wrong when I am are the most important and difficult lessons I’ve had to learn.

I love the heck out of my kid, and I didn’t realize how hard it is to love like that knowing you never and may never receive that same type of love from another human. I would do anything, to assure this person knows their worth, feels respected, and isn’t vulnerable.

We recently moved into our own place and finally got to see what life is like without all of the other family members in the mix. I’m so happy to have come across this article and read all of these comments. Thank you for sharing. Thanks for affirming, I’m not alone and the distance is healthy, so I can remind myself not to keep repeating those patterns. <3

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Robin

I have felt so held back in life by my primary abusers, my mom and my cousin. But recently I realized that I am held back because I have made myself small and invisible because I do not want others to be jealous of me, threatened by me, don’t want to rock the boat. Has anyone on here healed from this type of thing? What perspectives, meditations, therapies, books helped?

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Monika

Hi Robin, I have felt similar. I was treated badly and there was so much control form my mother and brothers and their beliefs were put on me. I have denied myself so much over the years. I have not even went on holidays for 10 years as my mother believed I can’t go because of the money situation I was in. It was always what my mum thinks about me what would she approve. Since cutting the ties with her and brothers, I went on holidays 3 times in a year. I treated myself to nice clothes, made better friendships( the friends who treated me badly/ignoring) fallen apart. I cleared my house of all clutter. I started to knowing myself better and I started allowing the joy entering my life. Now it’s what I WANT not what they want. Good luck Robin on your journey.

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Marie

I should kick myself in the rear. I have such a big heart I attempted to make contact again with my narcissistic mom and I got DEAD AIR! I am done with the madness and I wish her well!

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Monika

To everyone attempting to leave a narcissistic mother/father/brother/sister I wish you good luck. Recognising that you WERE abused it’s a first step. You CAN’T fix narcissistic person, does not matter how “big” your heart is, how loving you are. You need to break away and heal yourself, save yourself, save your children. How can you treat your children self-love and self-respect when you allow them watching you being abused. Stand up for yourself. You are worth it. Narcissistic person will consume you, will take the best out of you, and they don’t care. They don’t love you, even when they said they did. Cross that bridge over, don’t look back. Leaving an abuser behind its an act of self love, self respect. You deserve to be loved and respected. Since I walked away from my narcissistic mother so much have changed in my life- for better of course. I have realised, I loved too much. I was naive that she will see my worth and will change. Now I’m protecting myself- it is essential to love yourself the hardest you can to heal that broken pieces inside you. Because it’s your parent or sibling does not matter they can treat you badly, repeating to hurt you, abuse you. Does not matter what kind of abuse is this, mental, emotional or physical, they have no rights to do this to you. Wishing you all strong will and self-respect. Stay strong.

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Auswoman_33

Wise words Monika. For those beginning this journey, you can progress. It will get easier to put up those boundaries. You are not alone. We are right here.

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Fred

Get as far away from toxic parents as you can and don’t look back!
My parents divorced forty years ago and my my father sadly passed away a few months ago. My fathers entire estate went to my mother after she lied to him about me so that he would change his will in favour of her. I had previously been estranged from my mother for 9 years but foolishly allowed her back into my life thinking she had changed.I was living overseas and agreed to let her visit, the trip was a disaster and she returned to the UK and filled my fathers head with a load of lies, telling him i was out of control on alcohol and drugs. My Thai partner and i recently had our first child, my mother told my father it was all lies and that the scans i sent him were all downloaded from the internet. News of my fathers death wasn’t forthcoming, my mother tried to conceal it from me and told everyone that she couldn’t locate me this was an utter lie but typical of her. I was given the sad news by my uncle over the phone, once my mother found it was my uncle that had told me, she exploded into rage and announced that she was ‘done’ with him. She hasn’t spoke to him since. I could write a book about the terrible things this manipulative, dishonest woman has inflicted to me over the years. I will never allow her back into my life again, the best way to deal with these monsters is cut them loose….for ever!

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WishMyMumLovedMe

This is my story to a tee…

There was once a group of people that were imprisoned since they were born. In that prison there was no light at all. They had never seen light before. Outside the prison they did not know a world existed. They were in shackles since they were born so they thought the shackles were jewlery and often compared who has the best jewlery (shackles).

One day, one person from the group dared to take off the shackles. She was a rebel. She in her heart knew that this could not just be it. She knew, there must be more. The others thought she was crazy for taking off her jewlerry, and they argued that this was life and outside the prison was hell. She didnt care, she took off the shackles and walked outside the prison towards the light.

The light was burning. Non of them had ever experienced light. The others scolled her for walking towards the light and said “told you so” in regards to her eyes burning. The brave girl continued on outside despite the pain.

After much endurance, her eyes slowly became accustomed to the light slowly. To her amazement, outside the prison the world was nothing like she could ever imagine. She was right, the world outside was beautiful there was so much to see, birds, people, LIFE!

She couldn’t beleive her eyes, she wanted to run back in and help the other and show them the way also.

She went back in and told them all about it. (Note, the prison was NEVER locked.) They all laughed at her and told her she was mad and that she has gone crazy. They did not believe a word she was saying about the outside world. She tried to convince them, tried to even break their chains but they fought back instead.

No matter what she said they could never get what she was talking about because they never dared to experience what she did and she could never express with words what she knew of the other world.

I managed to escape to some degree with limited contact but still find each day a struggle. Definitely getting stronger by the day but it still hurts. Much love to all xxx

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