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

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.

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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.

    [irp posts=”793″ name=”Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal with Them”]

     

  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.

    [irp posts=”1042″ name=”Letting Go: How to Master the Art”]

     

  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.

937 Comments

Patricia

In response to “L” – as my therapist reminds me, “You can’t un-grow.” You have come a long, long way, and there’s no going back. You’re being too hard on yourself (a trait of children of TPs). Are you a perfect mom? No, and neither are the rest of us. That’s a picture painted for us by Hallmark movies.
What I’ve realized is that while everything was all about our toxic parents as we were growing up, at the same time they give us this sort of power over them, as if we are responsible for their thoughts, words, and actions toward us. “If I do this, she won’t hit me” kind of thing. To learn that I am only responsible for myself is a huge and ongoing lesson.
I made lots of mistakes with my kids, and they know it. I came clean and told them how I was raised; by then they could see that their grandmother was severely disordered. We all know I’m not perfect and it’s a subject of conversation. Part of ending the cycle is getting your own crap out in the open, and sometimes even laughing about it.

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L

Thank you, Patricia. It was kind of you to share your experience and it does help to know others go through this.
My kids do know that generally my parents were cruel and sometimes they interject with, “You’re being like Granny, stop it!” so yes I guess at least they have their own voices 🙂

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L

The first time I started looking out for myself was the day my baby was born. I looked at her and was sort of possessed with a madness, an intense need to protect her at all cost. And the first thing that came into my mind was to ensure my mother could not come near.
The trouble was that although I knew I didn’t want like my own mother, I had no idea how to parent positively.
In desperation I read everything I could get my hands on about parenting, I went to counselling and courses, I was crazy.
After about 6 yrs, when I was feeling more confident in my parenting and just life in general, I got back in touch with my parents. I was pretty clear about my terms.
My parents have died now and I have a sense of relief about being clear of their crap. Immense sadness about it all, too. My sister, who was the “golden child” has died too. It’s weird, like all the toxins turned inwards and killed them.
Despite all this, I still have days when I talk to my kids just the way my mother did to me. It is terrible for everyone and on the worst days, I have contemplated killing myself and my children just to end this awful cycle.
I think of my precious firstborn so fresh and innocent and then of her now, hurt by my craziness.
So I have to ask, does anyone ever really break free of it all?

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Hey Sigmund

Yes yes yes!! And you are breaking free of it. You have clarity and awareness and you are committed to doing things differently. We all make mistakes and we all have bad days that we wish we could erase – I promise you that. I have plenty. You might make the same mistakes that your parents made, but they won’t necessarily be having the same impact. The reason for this is because when you make yours, you are sorry, you are able to recognise the mistakes and you are able to acknowledge them. I expect this did not happen with your parents. The cycle is ending with you. You are also teaching your children that it is okay to make mistakes sometimes, it’s okay to be imperfect, and that it’s important to try to put things right when you get them wrong. These are such important lessons that will strengthen them and help to grow them into the wonderful humans you are raising. They would not be able to learn these lessons if you were perfect. Your awareness, your insight and your commitment to doing things differently is clear proof that you are breaking free and putting an end to the toxic legacy. I speak to my own children badly some days too. Some days I get impatient, tired or just cranky. We all do. What’s important is that you let them know that it’s not their fault, that you know they don’t deserve it, that you’re sorry and that you love them, and that you keep moving forward with your own healing and growth. It’s also important that you are able to celebrate the distance you have come. Breaking free of a toxic family isn’t easy but you’ve done that – you’re amazing. Celebrate that. What you focus on is what becomes powerful. Of course it’s important to reflect and learn from the past, but don’t let the mistakes and your past be the focus. Focus on the distance you have come, the growth you have made and the incredible lessons you have learned. Focussing on the good isn’t always easy and it will take a deliberate effort, but the effort is important and always worth it. Keep moving forward. The decisions you have made to do things differently, and your commitment to that is helping to grow your children into wonderful adults. The mistakes you make from time to time and the bad days you have now and then won’t change that.

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Stacy

Great article and so true for me in many ways. After 40 years of her abuse, I had a falling out with my mother and enabling father. I do not have very good memories from childhood and have always felt not good enough. For instance, when I was about 10, while driving me and a friend home from sleep away summer camp she said to me “Oh, I got your letter from camp!” and then in the next breath, “it had to be the worst written letter I’ve ever read.” I just remember the horrified look on my friend’s mom’s face. Another example, I was unhappy in college and was thinking about transferring. She wrote me a letter telling me I was more comfortable with “poor people” and couldn’t handle the people at my college. When I moved about an hour away, I had to leave my cat at her house. We grew up with cats and she always loved them so she was used to them and agreed to take him. Shortly after taking him, she took him to the local ASPCA to put him up for adoption without telling me first.

They stayed with us for the week between Christmas and New year’s this year. She yelled at my niece for something very innocuous and then I heard her whispering to my father that she was a little “sh*t.” She also told him that I was struggling in life and that my daughters and husband were “propping me up” and that I had very similar behavior to my grandmother whom she really hated. I confronted her and my father. She denied at first that she had said these things but thankfully my father said that she had and apologized for it. She finally acknowledged that she said it but quickly blamed me for listening to their conversation and said I needed to go to counseling. They left and she hasn’t called to apologize. Very sad but it is what it is and I feel much better for standing up for myself and for my niece.

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Hey Sigmund

It’s never easy standing up to toxic parents but your voice is strong and important and I’m so pleased you were able to use it to stand your ground for yourself and your niece. I hope it gets louder and louder. Your courage and clarity is wonderful.

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Sara

Wow, sounds like my mom, I think she was nice to me up to about age 5, then just became mean and hateful. I was a great student, would bring home a report card with all a’s and a b and she would ask why they weren’t all A’s. I self taught piano and was a band star playing the flute. She never cared, never went to parent teacher conferences, school conferences etc. She said it was dumb. She would physically abuse me, swinging me by my hair, spanking with shoes until I had welts. She would listen to me cry in my room that my mom didn’t love me anymore and never did anything. There were never apoligies, instead telling me how she wished she had never had me, or commenting that my friends were so pretty, but never me. My dad was an over the road truck driver, not to mention depressed and a raging alcoholic. He would often storm out if the house with a gun, threatening to come back to kill me and my mom. That left me with a balling, hate filled mother. If he wasn’t drunk, he was leaving suicide notes on my pillow for me to find, then screaming at me in a rage how he would never forgive me for calling 911 to report it. I wasnt allowed to play sports, and often caufht heck for my school requiring ne to pkay pep vand at hone basketball games. She didnt want to drive tge 8 mikes obe way to drop me off/pick me up- instead insistibg tge school was ridiculous. When I was 14, my 27 year old brother committed suicide, my mom told me she wished it had been me instead. That year I got my first job and 2 years later began working full time and moved out. We had a minimal relationship. My mom didn’t help me shop for prom dresses or even watch me at Grand march. I graduated with honors from high school, my parents wrote me a check for $50. I moved 3 hours away for college, of which my older boyfriend at the time cosigner for because my parents refused (mind you neither of them have more than 8th grade education) they didn’t visit me the entire year I was there, nor did they help financially. I moved to another school about the same distance away, I talked tgem into coming to visit once by telling them I would take them to the car races. They came one more time for my graduation in tge 2 years I was there. I graduated with a 4.0, it’s the only time I remember my dad ever saying he was proud of me. I later moved 4 hours away. My parents would come stay with me 1 weekend a year, that was about the extent of our relationship. I would get an occasional phone call, where my mom would talk about her dog and the dogs pooping, vet visits etc, but never to ask about me. My mom would ridicule my job if tge topic ever did turn to me. This went on for 3 or 4 years until I married and saw how great my husbands family is. (No my mom didnt helt me plan my wedding or even dress shop with me. They wrote me a check for 1500 as a wedfing gift to put toward our caregully budgetef 10000 wedding and thwn acted like id owe them forever) I got pregnant and tried to get closer with my parents-wanting my baby to be to know and love her grandparents. MY mom finally came to visit 3 weeks after she was born (no she didn’t have a job to be at) for 2 years, I drug my family (2 srepsons, baby, dog, and hysband) 4 hours one way to see them because they were too busy to come our way (hello I had a full time job, 3 kids etc!!) Not to mention, it must not have been a financial hardship to us. Last spring my dad got cancer, I dropped work and everything and spent 2 weeks (time off without pay)taking my mom to the hospital(driving my car 160 miles a day and didn’t accept a penny for gas) cleaning her house, weeding her garden, etc while she would play solitary on the computer, nap, or watch “her shows” I was so happy when my dad pulled through that none if it mattered. After the cancer my parents bought some houses near where I live to rd model and rent out for income. I had just quit my very demanding but we’ll paying job to become a realtor where I could set my own hours and be a better mom. My parents stayed with us, which gave my mom the perfect opportunity to sit on my couch and tell me that I need to dust, or ask me what my plan was when I failed at real estate. As luck would have it, my dad broke his back and got put in the hodpital. Of course my mom is too scared to drive in a town of a whole 70000 peopke, which once again left me to drop everything and take her to the hospital, and run her to home improvement stores, and help her remodel- and don’t forget taking her dog to a sitter (yep, true story) long story short about a week in I was exhausted, I had argued with my mom about replacing a door know…she flipped out and screams all you want to do is spend our money (yes, over an $8 DOOR KNOB) I lost it, I just quit my job and fave up working on my new career to help you, and tgen when I’m done with that I go home to coom my food for you, then take you to the hospital, but yes I’m in it for your money. Since then the last 6 month have been horrible, every time my dad or mom call they start out talking nice and are belittling me and degrading me and screaming and yelling to the point that I’m in tears. If I am on the phone with my dad I can often here my mom belittling ne in the background. I feel so guilty but it’s time for me to end this. I feel like the stuck 16 year old did when she moved out. I feel so much guilt because I don’t think my parents (70’s and in poor health) have long left, and I feel like I am taking my daughters grandparents away…but they don’t appreciate anythibg I do, and the harder I try the more they tell me I fail. It’s to the point they are outright lying and then yelling at me for it. I’m only 29…but I can’t believe I’ve spent this many years hoping I could try harder and be good enough and gor tgem to see how special and caring and amazing I am. I think my only mistake ever has been holding onto the hope that things could change…but really can I live with the guilt of knowing somehow maybe I could have tried harder?

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Anita

You’re 29 and came to this realization that some people NEVER get. Good for you!! I’m 52 and finally cut all ties with my parents. My children are old enough for my parents to contact directly. Held on this long because I didn’t want to jeopardize their chances to have a decent relationship with them. Didn’t make any difference. They never reach out to them and live 3 blocks away. Not sure what I did wrong and probably ever won’t. Only thing I’ve come to realize is that I have a narcissistic mother who envies and is threatened by my independence. She also tore apart the wonderful relationship I had with my father. She is incapable of having a healthy relationship with anyone. So if she can’t have a relationship with me, he won’t either.
Just wanted to let you know you are strong, smart, and intelligent to come to this realization at an age where you can recover and have a long happy, healthy relationship with your children. Don’t look back, only forward 🙂

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Dinah

reading this article, i felt being understood and comforted. i feel i’m not alone and its ‘OK’ to be a mistake or an error. it’s OK to be just me. thank you very much.

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Hey Sigmund

Dinah it is absolutely ok to make mistakes. It’s important because it’s how we grow and learn. Nobody – nobody – gets through life with a clean slate. We all mess it up now and then and sometimes those mess-ups will be monumental. People are not defined by the mistakes they make but the by things they learn from making those mistakes.

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Lisa

Hi, great stuff here, thanks so much for it. I am about to turn 40 and am currently in the process of cutting ties with my abusive mother by waiting for her to receive my letter in the mail (my brother left years ago and doesn’t speak to me anymore either, which is my own fault for blindly taking her side, but anyway).

Mom beat us, berated us, humiliated us, and lied to (if not about) us. I had forgiven her, although she gave a half-hearted apology, which was filled with excuses and absolved her of wrongdoing, but lately I just started to finally face the truth that she hasn’t really changed: instead what has happened is that I’ve merely started enabling her with my compliance and silence as she repeats her old abusive ways to a new family of which she has married into. I will really miss my step-dad, who is sick and who I love dearly, but staying in her life has brought me to the brink of mental disability; that is, until a wonderful therapist helped me come back. He showed me that I was entitled to set boundaries with her, but the boundaries didn’t stick with my mother, nor do they last with other abusive people; boundaries merely elicit more of their rage, abuse, and guilt trips. I refuse to let her take any more of my life.

I haven’t read all the comments, but a word about abuse as a legacy that was passed on to our abusers by their own parents: That may be so, but it doesn’t give these people a pass. In fact, the last thing they need is any more excuses and justifications for their cruelty. Personally, I don’t buy that a person really cares about hurting others if, when faced with the reality of their harmful behavior, makes excuses for the abuse and expects a pass. If they really cared, they’d get help. Period. And they wouldn’t burden their loved ones with demands of forgiveness, which is something abusers notoriously do. Besides, all these excuses do is keep them from accepting consequences that the rest of humanity is not immune from.

As well, there are abused people who do NOT, in fact, go on to abuse others. They seek help for learning the correct way of treating others and they remain vigilant of any abusive tendencies attempting to slip to their surface. They are, in short, committed to being good people, even at their own great, personal cost.

I would encourage people here to also look at luke 173 ministries online. There is a wealth of invaluable information, even for those who aren’t Christian. The bottom line is, you don’t deserve abuse. You don’t have to be a saint and forgive the unrepentant. You have no obligation to those who can’t or won’t love you and respect you.

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Annie B

Hi Lisa,

I am sorry for your loss. Your loss of childhood, of self, of joy. You can overcome this as I have…time is on your side. I am 57.
I too wrote my mom a letter in 2007. It was hideous; I didn’t hold much back. Ouch. See, there is a perfect example of my ‘training’: don’t talk back or think for yourself or give dirty looks. So of course, guilt pervaded my every cell after I emailed it and subsequently when she got sick I blamed the letter. I was the thorn in her side always. And then she died 6 months later at 69.

Finally releasing me fully in order to proceed on a path of TRUE healing. Through Christian readings I have learned much in the past 9 months. Reading about NDE’s; scripture; then books for Christian women and even Quotes from Einstein! I am a Jew for Jesus…Messianic Jew I have heard said. No matter. I was saved when I was 25. I was led to this site and it’s great! I was looking for human contact, enough reading. LOL

From age 5 on, Mom beat me nearly every day. Hairbrushes, hands, belts; face arms legs head back my whole body was hers to do with whatever. I read a good title: Private Holocaust/ No Escape. Good one. She was an adulteress with my (adopted) father’s boss and we moved to follow him/his family to L.A. for Dad’s work. Dad was an auto mechanic. He never stood up to her when she was beating me, in the beginning he tried that, big mistake: My child, back off.
When I was 13 she told me about the love affair; he had dumped her. She had a MeltDown! He dealt Pornography, my parents had this stuff in their underwear drawers in plain sight to me as I did my chores one of which, you guessed it: put underwear away. I hated them for exposing me to these sick & confusing pictures and books.
Mom & Dad are gone, my husbands parents are gone…Mine were physically abusive/passive~aggressive where my husband’s were completely passive. Ignored as if he did not exist: maids, prep school, lotsa money.
Good news: therapy/counseling from age 14 on til 22. Helped immensely. I have never hit my children. People say We have the greatest kids. Over and over again so I do believe it. Raising them correctly was my only priority, for both of us. Son in the Nuclear Program in the Navy having re-enlisted for 6 more years and daughter was an elementary teacher but more money was found in selling BMW’s! We hated what had been done to us so much we were devoted not to repeat the cycle. Our 40 year marriage has suffered, I have severe R.A. which I recently read in a book by Jean Hunt that prolonged physical and mental abuse can also cause actual physical disease: if she caused my arthritis through this tortuous childhood I hope she’s happy! I am an only child BTW so is hubby.
Your site was very helpful to me thank you so much. I hope to talk to others!!!! This is great sharing and I will respond and help if I can. Blessings

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Laura

What a relief to find such an article that understands & empathises with those from toxic parents.
My childhood was very similar to others, I was brought up by a single parent mother who was I believe a combination of depressed with a personality disorder & narcissistic tendencies.
My whole childhood felt as though I was walking on egg shells, the mood swings daily not knowing each day what was going to unfold either verbal or emotional abuse with a pinch of physical abuse. Now at the age of 32 and with a daughter of my own I am finally realising the damage that one person has had in my life all these years, I’m finally free to find my own path in life & to rewrite the rules that have been etched & engrained into my brain for so long. It’s a scary feeling knowing you need to start a new life & find a new direction to follow but inside you know it will be worth dipping your toe into the ‘normal’ world of freedom and that feeling of waking up each morning & saying to yourself be glad to be alive, cherish the ones you love & enjoy today. For to tomorrow is a new day which gives us all hope x

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Yvonne

I left an abusive relationship with two daughters who are now in their early teens. The children see their father and love him and understand that he is a difficult person. When we left we tried mediation with him, counseling to help the children and I asked him to go to anger management which he did. We have been separated from him now 7years but it is still difficult to manage the relationship. The problem is he has not changed, each of us love him very much but we are all still susceptible to his criticism. For me I am highly aware of what I am dealing with but the children are hurt by wanting to love him but being hurt by him when he is cruel or critical. They chose to be involved with him and I respect their choice but I really want to equip them with the skills to deal with him and their feelings that I did not have. I have been searching for a solution to the children staying in the relationship but not being damaged by it and this helps very much. Is there any further advice you would recommend? I think life skills would help and further counseling but I don’t want to define our lives with this. It’s a balancing act not to allow this to be the be and end all of our lives but to give it the attention it deserves. I think work shops for children would be great.

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Hey Sigmund

You sound as though you are dealing with this so amazingly well. You are giving your girls the space and support to have their own relationship with their father which is so important. It will be an important thing for them to know that they can talk to you about their father and the things he does that hurt them without then feeling as though they have to defend him. The best thing you can do is listen and validate how they feel. The information in this article might also help. It’s about toxic people, and I’m not saying at all that he is toxic, but it has information that can help kids deal with difficult qualities in adults such as criticism or judgement. You might need to adapt some of the things because I wouldn’t necessarily advise withdrawing support for the relationship or https://www.heysigmund.com/teaching-kids-how-to-set-boundaries-and-keep-toxic-people-out/. It’s really about helping them realise that they can love him, but reject his behaviour and that just because he is their father, that doesn’t mean that he will always do things the best way. Anything you can do to encourage their conversation with you is great, because it will be the way you can help them to make sense of the things he does that don’t seem to make sense at all.

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LK

Thank you for your encouraging words! It seems like every time I visit my parents, it takes two weeks to recover a sense of self-worth and to overcome a deep depression that hits me full force. This holiday was particularly rough because both my siblings and all our respective children were there. It became even more starkly apparent how much my parents alternatively ignore, reprimand or convey to me that I (and my husband and daughter) are a burden to them, while praising my siblings and my nieces and nephews. While my siblings also sporadically receive harsh treatment, they seemed to have moved on with their lives and to have a strong sense of self-worth. The emotional assaults do not seem to hurt them as much. I wish it were so for me. The moments of nurturing from my parents have kept me hoping against all the evidence that I can be loved and valued by them. I have punished myself for years for believing the lie that I still need them for my own survival and for my own self-worth, for then exposing myself to extreme pain in reaching out to them and allowing myself to be vulnerable, and then suffering the debilitating emotional consequences. Your article reminds me that I need to forgive myself and let go of this falsehood and honor where I am in my healing process. I really wanted my daughter to have supportive grandparents, but I do not believe they are capable of that. I really want to heal, to let go of resentment and anger, to have realistic expectations, and to love myself. What a long road, it seems! I hope that I can continue to cultivate supportive relationships outside our immediate family so we have a network of loving people in our lives.

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Hey Sigmund

Yes, the greatest thing you can do for yourself and your family is to let go of the fantasy that your parents will be capable of more than they are. I wish they could give you the love you deserve, but if they aren’t able to do that, it’s important that you are able to act with strength and self-love and take yourself out of the way of any further hurt they can put upon you. You sound warm and strong and clear, and I’m sure if there was a way for you to have a healthy, kind, life-giving relationship with them you would have found it by now. Keep moving forward and drawing to you the people who deserve you. They will always be the relationships that matter.

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Anna

This article was interesting to read. For so long I thought that I was the problem. At least my parents made it seem that way. For years my parents would always push me to do well in school and sometimes say some very degrading comments about my achievements in school. Even though I was trying what I thought was my best. I would make a B in a class that was historically difficult and they would question why I didn’t make an A. Then they would say that I was slipping academically and would show all this disapproval even though I was trying my best. I would stay up past midnight to study and be prepared for a test. And when I would try to explain that their words were hurtful they would turn it on me and say I set those high standards for myself even though I was trying to address the issue of them hurting my emotions. My parents, particularly my dad, would continue to say hurtful statements directed at my academic achievement and would always point out my mistakes and criticize me.
The worst thing was that when I tried to talk to my mom about it, she would always take my dads side and say he didn’t mean what he was saying and that I was misinterpreting his words. Then they would say that they are my parents and they will always love me but their actions just didn’t seem to match up. However, I didn’t have any other place to stay so I would just forgive them and forget about it but then the same thing would happen again.

One time at a family dinner when one of my aunts made a comment about how beautiful I was, my dad pointed out in front of everyone how my braces made me look unattractive and it hurt so much and was very humiliating but he just laughed it off. Additionally, my parents would always make everything about them. When I went on college tours they would complain that they were bored and would look uninterested and not engaged the whole time I was there. And when I picked the place that I wanted to eat following my graduation they complained that the food wasn’t as good as the place they wanted to go and then while we were eating they would tell me how I almost slipped up my senior year and how the devil had me good and all this stuff and I didn’t get why they had to point out my mistakes on a day that was supposed to be celebrating me. I was having issues in high school my senior year and went through a state of depression. My parents laughed it off and said that I needed to change my bad attitude. Then when I stopped responding to my mom and isolated myself in my room she forced herself in and kept screaming questions at me asking me what was wrong.
My parents continued over and over again to make hurtful comments and when I tried to talk to them about it they would deflect the conversation and make a joke about it saying that I was too sensitive and needed to stop internalizing everything. They would refuse to acknowledge that there words and actions were hurtful.

The worst part is that there is virtually no one that I can talk to about my situation because my parents are pros at making it seem like they are the perfect parents to the rest of the world. And everyone else says I am being ungrateful and they side with my parents. Now I have little self confidence and feel worthless.

I feel like my parents are toxic because when I went off to college this year and had very little interaction with my parents, I was no longer as depressed and sad. I started getting better and building back up my self confidence. However, I still have to depend on them for a place to stay during breaks and for money. If I leave, they wont help me pay for college anymore.
At this point I don’t know what to do. When I try to talk to them about what they say to me all they do is say I need to let it go because it is in the past and doesn’t matter anymore. They say that I am believing a lie and that their words aren’t hurting me, its my interpretation of their words that is messed up. I feel so broken and hurt that I don’t talk to my parents when I see them at home. I want to break off the relationship but I can’t because I probably wont be financially dependent from them for the next 5 to 10 years. I feel as though I have come to an edge .

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Hey Sigmund

Anna, if a comment hurts you, it’s hurtful. It doesn’t matter whether your parents call it a ‘joke’ or laugh it off or accuse you of being over-sensitive – if it feels bad, it is. The clue lies in how you feel when you spend time away from them. Explain to them how you feel and what is okay and what isn’t. You can’t change their response or what they do but what you can do is feel confident that you have every right to expect to be treated with respect and dignity and kindness. Families get stuck in ways of responding to each other but that doesn’t mean they are acceptable or okay. If your parents are unable or unwilling to let go of their hurtful remarks to you, it is up to you to decide what you do in relation to spending time with them. Let them know where your boundaries are – perhaps it is around the comments they make around your grades, your personality or the way you look – I don’t know, it’s for you to decide. Boundaries aren’t about control or a lack of love, but are a necessary part of having relationships that work. In any loving relationship it’s important that everyone knows where they stand, what’s okay and what’s not okay. Don’t second-guess yourself in relation to the way you expect to be treated. You deserve to be treated with kindness and free from ridicule or jokes at your expense. If you don’t find it funny, it’s not, it’s just cruel. You might need to limit the time you spend with them or talk to them or you might need to make sure you are well energised before you see them. If they ask why you don’t spend as much time with them as you used to, let them know how much you love them and the things you are grateful for (it’s important that you let them know this) but that the things they say feel hurtful. Your parents will be capable of changing, but that change will be up to them. Above all else, always remember that you have every right to decide how you want to be treated. To be able to do that is a strength, never a weakness.

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Kara

Hi Anna,

I understand you deeply. I went through the same ten years back while I was still in college. I remember them telling me that the only reason I passed my entrance tests was because my Stepdad would “edit” my essays. They drilled on it so much that I started to believe that they were the reason I even got into any of the good schools, which, let’s be honest, is not the case. It never was. We all deserve to get the appreciation and the validation for all our hard work and it’s especially painful when our own parents would rather put us down than lift us up. Believe me, I’ve been through it over and over and over again. But let me tell you what no one told me back then. You don’t have to listen. I once promised myself I would leave the house right after I graduate but it actually took me several years after to leave. The whole time I was taking it all in, I felt worthless. Until, I got tired of it and decided I’m going to do things for me. I’m going to validate me, give myself a pat on the back, and appreciate all my achievements, big or small. Sometimes my parents still try to get to me and when they do, I block them off. I hum a tune, hug my dog, daydream, or start focusing on tasks I need to accomplish for the week like what I need to buy, read up on, etc. Fill your heart first with love and you will find that despite what they do to you, you’ll turn out okay. Stay strong, focus on loving yourself, and find joy even in the littlest of things.

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Rebecca

Anna,

Please go to your admissions office and ask for the paperwork to get full student loans. Declare yourself financially indeoendent. That’s what I had to do. I used my student loans for living expenses as well. I’m 32 now and debt free. It took me 10 years to pay off my student loans, but it was better than dealing with my toxic parents. I still don’t speak to either of them. My life has never been sweeter. You can make the decision to let go of them. You have that power within you.

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Lewis

Anna,
I can understand your pain. My dad did the exact same thing to me. I was at a family reunion and my cousin said how handsome I looked, but before I could say thank you, my dad(biological) said no he ain’t. I wanted to punch him in the face, but the sad thing is I could not nothing about it.
Another event is when I was at a music store, and SARS was going around. I really anted to see if I could play and instrument like another one. I think it was a cello i was trying to play into a double bass. But then I asked him, if I could get a spray out of his sanitizing for hands bottle, he looked crazy but I kept it too myself. So then he said, “This is for my survival, I could make another you.” Knowing that I had suicidal thoughts in the past. It just came back flushing and I am so happy I did not let my emotions take over because I would not be here typing this. As of today I do not have them anymore because I cut off all contact from my dad.
One last thing, he tried to make me do something that I did not like which it was excessively working out. After the first three days or so, I said can we do this another day because I could not stand running around a 3-mile like every day and doing 30 push-ups every 15 minutes, etc. It got very tiring very quickly, then he proceeded to say, “You look so weak, you need to get muscle or you are going to get your a** beat by grown men. If you cannot do this then you are a weak piece of s***.” As I quote him exactly.
In my mind I wanted to say well everyone can’t get big and buff like he is. And I got into a physical altercation with another male, and I won easily. He knows that, but then he always finds the slightest imperfection that I have and pick on it.
Also I get treated so unfairly compared to my other siblings. And I am the middle child of three children. He treats my older brother very well almost like a best friend, and treats my little sister like a young lady, and me the worst he can possibly be. I fell that he is jealous about my musical talent and treats me horribly because of it. My siblings and my mom have agreed with me on seeing this happen. So I told them to cut off all contact with dad, which they did but he always found someway of contacting them. It is so outraging because he is always trying to tear me down. I even thought about having kids but then I am like, what is he going to do to my kids. It is scary, so I could never have them because of that constant fear of him treating them like the way he treated me.
I wish to never see my dad again and never be treated the ay he treated me.

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Melanie Bollinger

Thank you soooooo much for this article. You nailed it! have been contemplating closing the door on my parents and even my siblings because of their toxicity has spread to them and I do not need it in my life. I have four beautiful children to raise and they do not need a mother who feels anxiety and gets depressed because of her parents lack of love and respect for her. I’m turning a new leaf in my life. I’ve transitioned out of a controlling religion (Mormon) and am rediscovering who I am. So much of your article rang true to me and I am excited to be free from the guilt and anxiety that I haven’t “tried hard enough” to please my parents and it now I will be my authentic self. Thank you for this gift of wisdom!

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Hey Sigmund

You are so welcome Melanie. It’s not easy to end a legacy of control, guilt and toxicity that can come from toxic family relationships but you have done it. It is one of the greatest things you can do for your children. You are a brave and wonderful mother.

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Nicolette Hayes

I enjoyed this article and shared it with friends. I have a very toxic mother but she appears like a perfect mother to the rest of the world. It is so difficult to deal with that, because as another reader commented, society will judge the child for cutting the parent off. Religion plays a role in this, honor thy father and thy mother etc. But we need to be healthy first and make sure we are not self destructive by allowing ourselves to be victimized.

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lisa

Like others I wanted to extend my thanks for this piece. This is my first Christmas and holiday time without contact from my parents. It’s harder than I thought that it would be. After a year of not contacting me ( and me not reaching out) and moving away without telling me (found out from other relatives) guess who sent presents for my kids and a note insisting I be done with “this”. Just today I was thinking about whether or not it was okay to not respond . The hard thing is that as you mentioned they aren’t all bad all the time. But the constant demand to be the number one and only priority in my life , the total disregard for any boundary , the fabricated versions of my life they share with others that slander me and my husband have made me think that reconciliation is probably not in the cards. They offer no remorse or intent of repentance. Its hard to love those who aren’t safe to be with.

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Hey Sigmund

You have said it beautifully – ‘Its hard to love those who aren’t safe to be with’. It’s even harder when those people are meant to be easy to love, and love you easily back in the way you deserve to be loved. Nobody is bad all of the time. It’s more about how you feel in the relationship. If you feel bad more than you feel good, then the relationship is a tough one. Whether you respond or not, and how you respond is completely up to you. There will be no wrong decisions there. You don’t have to respond if it doesn’t feel right. Similarly, you can respond with a simple thank you and resist extending towards them too much. Whatever you do, do it in strength. There is a very good reason you feel the way you do.

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Kara

‘Own where you are and give yourself full permission to be there.’ Hit home for me. I recently (just this year!) figured out why my parents are the way they are and how it is affecting me.

If not for people like you, I wouldn’t have been able to identify the problem and learn how to properly deal with it. So thank you from my overflowing well of love.

I did consider cutting ties with them but I couldn’t bring myself to not show them I’m here and I care. Given, every time I come home to my parents, I dread it. I automatically think of “what will I be doing wrong next?” And when I leave their home unscathed, I’m always relieved and I know that’s not normal. At least now I know.

Despite having realized what’s going on in my relationship with them, I still decided to visit every weekend. I put myself inside a shield and try my best to not be affected by how they are. But, the shield at times can be weak. I still wish, hope, and pray that my parents would look at me in a different way–which of course leads to disappointment and a lot of pain. I think it’s about time I let go of that “hope”.

I will still visit them, but not with the purpose of seeking the love and care that I deserve from them, but because I am capable of giving them the love and care they deserve from me.

And to the ones who are going through the same– you are brave, you are beautiful, you are fully capable to be who you want to be. And if you’re feeling unloved, c’mere and I will give you loads of warm hugs!

Thank you, really.

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Hey Sigmund

Kara you’re so welcome. I’m so pleased this has been helpful for you. One of the best things you can do is to let go of the hope that things will be different. It will set you up to be hurt every time. I wish your parents could look at you a different way too, and see the person you are. You’re warmth and wisdom is beautiful.

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Francine

My best to Helen. I know exactly how she feels. Her words are mine as well. I don’t know that a person ever makes it beyond the shattered sense of self inside that is wrought by one parent or two. In my case two parents and even though they are deceased I have three brothers and not one of them are able to have healthy relationships with each other or with me. The damage was too great, and after years of seeking to affect change, I realized it was just not going to happen. Anger is the default and punishment the measure. I cannot abide that for myself so I am making myself detach from them by not interacting in any manner. Thankfully we live miles apart.

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Jen

I am slowly starting to heal from a toxic childhood, and this article is the best I have seen so far on things that can help.
Thank you. I’ve subscribed to your mailing list and I am hopeful to learn much from you as I read more and more!!

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Grey

This is the first article I’ve come across that makes the most sense. Most I already figured out myself but I really need reassurance. I’m a dealing with a very difficult situation right now and could really use some advice. My story is too long and too confusing but I’ll do my best to make it short.

I’ve grown up with two families my parents divorced when I was about 6. My mom lived in Alabama while my dad lived in North Dakota. Both re-married. When I turned 15 I made the choice to live with my dad who we’ll call Bob. I had visited every summer and every other holiday.
He had always been pretty verbally abusive talking horrible about anyone, me, and especially my mom. I always blamed it on the fact he was still in love with her so I didn’t say much, but it was really mean and disgusting. I was the child who never was good enough in his eyes.But yet he treated me like a princess at times too. Then one night he beat me (over something stupid) but he had never layed a hand on me before EVER. After that night it became more and more. I went to visit my mom on a break and she was so scared she told me he wasn’t my biological father. I was CRUSHED. So I went back it was weird he was still mean and still abusive. My mom was driving to come and take me away when he told her if she did he’d bury me somewhere they’d never find me. Finally my moms dad came and got me. Bob cried to me the night before I left for the first time ever asking me to stay and I didn’t. I’ve always felt bad for that.
Now some 8 years later it’s awkward anytime (4) times I had went to visit him, he makes me feel different. He talks about how people praise him for taking on a child who wasn’t his. He refers to my family up there by just their names now and not things like aunt/uncle. I have a little sister with him and now she even says “her dad” and How she tells her friends I’m not really her sister. I don’t understand how you can go from being a family to just treating someone like a kind of out cast because of blood. I am supposed to be daddy’s girl.
He was rude to my husband when he met him. I have a child he doesn’t know and I am confused on if he even deserves to know. I’ve gotten married, had a child, and had 2 heart attack and not one of those times has he came to me. On July 4, 2015, I finally mustered up the courage to quit talking to them. Because he’s nice in one sentence the next it’s negative. But now in the past week he’s been calling my phone. I never answer, I get anxiety so bad, I get emotional. but he literally just texted me for the first time. I don’t know what to do. I am so torn and lost. I really need help. Is it so wrong of me to just quit talking to him? Do I not respond? Do I respond and say I can’t do this anymore? I don’t know. There’s a ton more but like I said it’s a lot.

I’m sorry, I know this is everywhere. Thank you for reading and thank you for writing this article.

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Hey Sigmund

Thank you for sharing your story. You’ve been through a lot and what a survivor you are. You’re the only one who can decide what’s right for you, but there is certainly nothing wrong with walking away from any relationship, whether it’s with a parent, friend, sibling, partner, that is bad for you. You have to be your own hero first, and sometimes that means cutting ties. You can love people and not be with them. The cutting of ties can be made in strength and love – it doesn’t have to be angry or mean. Listen to your heart on this. If it tells you to walk away, there’s nothing wrong with that. You have incredible strength and clarity – look what you’ve made it through. You’re amazing, and deserve to be with those who make you feel safe, loved and good about yourself. Relationships shouldn’t feel dangerous or difficult and they certainly shouldn’t feel bad more than they feel good. Trust your own instincts – they’re there for a reason and will serve you well. I wish you all the very best.

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Alex

This is a great article because it offers both compassion and solutions. I’ve been working for years on my relationship with my toxic mother, sometimes distancing and sometimes not; learning to build that shield. Meditation is helping me get to the roots of the blind assumptions I inherited from her, mainly self worth issues. It’s also helped me see what happened to her to cause her to be that way. I also aware that she didn’t have the resources then that I do now… But it often feels like a painstakingly slow process, unraveling the patterns and assumptions. It’s frustrating and there is no short cut!

Thanks again for the great article. I think this is the best I’ve seen on this subject. 🙂

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Alex. You’re absolutely right – there is no shortcut. You sound as though you have found a lot of wisdom around your relationship with your mother and the impact that has had on you – that takes courage and an open heart and you sound as though you have a wonderful amount of both.

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helen

Ive known my parents were toxic for many years and was a scapegoat and bellringer at the same time. despite more then 25 years consistently in counselling i still remain feeling hopeless, forever tainted and shamed by my background, lack of family and belief i am inherently unloveable. I fear for my life as i have never been able to break free from my horrible childhood despite a head full of knowledge. i wish it were true you can get to the end of this an break free but i’m out of hope now.

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Hey Sigmund

Helen there are so many reasons you need to keep moving forward. I know how difficult it is, but if you’re not there yet it’s because you haven’t yet reached the end. I want you to know how important you are. There are so many people who would feel the way you do, and even just posting your comment would have made them feel less alone. You have the power to make a difference and you would have made a difference to somebody just by giving voice to what you’re going through. I’m so grateful to you for doing that. I hear how shamed you feel about your background, but feel proud that you survived it. It didn’t swallow you because you can see it for what it was. Rather than looking to your head for your knowledge, look to your heart – there is a little girl inside you who is waiting for you to love her the way you needed to be loved all those years ago, and you can give it to her. Don’t continue the legacy of no love that was put upon you when you were little. Backgrounds like yours do change people – the make them brave, strong, fierce, wise and so insightful. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – that you could have gone through when you were younger that you deserve to carry shame for. You should have been loved and protected, and if you weren’t, that’s not your fault but the fault of the adults who weren’t able to give this to you. Don’t carry what belongs to them – the shame isn’t yours. You deserve to be here. You haven’t been buried you’ve been planted and you will continue to grow. Stay with your counselling and try little shifts. This takes courage and it can be so exhausting – I know how exhausting it can be – but you’ve made it this far, so there is a woman of warrior daring in you somewhere. Keep fighting for her. I wish you all the love and light you need as you keep moving forward.

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Mini

Hi Helen,
I feel the same at the moment – like I’m never going to get better and heal, though I have tried so so hard. Thank you for sharing so much as it made me feel not the only one. I think what is so hard is that because the wounds are so deep, it is so easy for them to be opened again – ‘triggered’. Recently I made the mistake of reacting badly to a friend who made me feel judged for leaving my birth family, and I stupidly sent them an angry and hurt email, but then I felt so bad about it afterwards. I feel like I’ve gone miles backwards to respond in this highly traumatized and impulsive way. I did ring them in tears to say sorry afterwards however I feel very down that I have done this. I am finding it so painful to accept that healing is a long process and there won’t be a day when I feel like it is all better and perfectly able to cope with hurtful emotional triggers. The wounds and trauma of having abusive parents will always be there. Maybe it is the the most hurtful thing that could happen to a person? I am trying to love and forgive myself for this recent mistake I made and to understand that it was just all too much.

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Lynn

I just recently had to cut ties with my toxic mother. I had lived with her for the last 10 + months. I lost my own place, due to the owners intent to sell. My 17 year old moved in after a suicide attempt. Over the last 5-6 months, my mother has been more aggressive towards my daughter. Finally, I had had enough. I realized that my mother has started to treat my daughter the way she treated me when I was around my daughters age, abusive, verbally, physically, and emotionally. She screamed at my 21 month old grandson for dropping an empty water jug, then slapped my daughter.

My daughter survived 3 years of child abuse from a family member. She has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and PTSD. As you can imagine, my hands are over loaded, and this action has just crushed her.

The final straw was when my mother told my daughter that it was my child’s fault for being sexually abused. This was unacceptable, as I am also a survivor of sexual abuse by a family member, the difference was my daughter was able to tell me what was happening to her, and I couldn’t tell my mother. I did tell her several years after, and was hit and called a liar. By this time at 14 years old, I knew she would react that way.

I am grateful for these articles and have read several, and have seen all the behaviours in my mother. I love her, will always love her, but for the sake of MY FAMILY she has been cut from our lives.

I have never had counseling or therapy, but I do believe at this time I need help, to work thru my guilt, and to help me help my baby, and not be like my own mother.

Thank you for helping me see this was the right choice to make, my dad seems to think that she will change, but I know she won’t. She has been like this too long and only sees herself as a victim, and paints herself in this light with other family and friends. They don’t know her as well as my older brother and I do. My brother and dad have tried to talk to her about what she’s doing, but she turns her venom on them.

As for my little family we are on our own now, it hurts to think I no longer have the family, or support I once had, but my little family will be better for this.

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Hey Sigmund

You have shown so much strength and courage in protecting your family. I know that sometimes even when something feels right, it’s not always easy. It’s so important that you have been able to move in such a way as to give you and your little family what you all need to be safe and happy and I wish that your mother was able to give this to you – it’s what you deserved. It sounds as though you have been through a difficult time, and a counsellor would certainly be able to help you to find comfort. I wish you love and strength moving forward.

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O

I absolutely needed to read this. I grew up in a very toxic household, both my mom and step father made my brothers and I into what we are today. I think my younger brother made the best decision by running away and he made it out a lot better than me and the middle brother.
I have kids of my own now, and I notice sometimes my mom coming out of my mouth and I’m so disgusted with myself. I’ve fallen so deep into a dark depression but I aim to come out of this. I need to be here and I need to fix me and with that fix my oldest who’s now 8. I never want her to feel this hurt and inadequacy. I’m hoping she hasn’t already. I want us all to know we are worth way more than this.
Thank you I f eel I have enough to start with in this journey.

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Hey Sigmund

It sounds as though you’ve had to grow up in really difficult circumstances, and now you are refusing to let that be your legacy. That takes courage, strength and self-awareness – and you have plenty. You’ll probably never know the difference you’re making, but it will be a remarkable one – to you, the people around you, and the next generation in your family. You absolutely have enough to start on your journey. In fact, you’ve already started.

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Patricia

To O – take heart. You are already far on your way by just recognizing that you need to make changes. Don’t worry about your children, especially your 8 year old. I was in my mid-30s with two babies before I recognized the dissonance between my mother and me, 55 before I sought counseling because she was so out of control. Can you believe it, I still thought it was all my fault? After 4 years of therapy, my husband, kids and I can talk openly about the craziness and the things I could’ve done differently, but they understand the spot I was in. Maybe they and my therapist would tell you different, but I think I’m pretty normal now. Lol. When you’re raised in a toxic environment, you can only do so much, most of which is just trying to get by every day. When you know better, you do better. It’s a process. Good luck!

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paul

I sometimes wonder whether toxic is the right word always. My mother fits the description here – and I went from there into toxic relationships and marriage .. However what I see is not people who are intentionally mean or evil – simply insecure, and afraid and create the prickly exterior as self-protection, and perhaps in their eyes protection also for their children. This can clearly be exhausting, upsetting and damaging and influence a child’s view of the world. It did for me, for sure. And at the same time you still love them of course. But somehow by keeping my reserves stocked as you mentioned, and making my own decisions about good/bad, morality and so on I have survived. I can still find time and sympathy for that parent, as tiring and upsetting as it is – because I do feel that of course beneath it all is a good person – she is my Mum! Just one who never learned how to smile, be brave and confident and share love, and be proud of her 4 successful, healthy children. She is a great-grandmother now and is still bitter, jealous and lonely. Very sad. So I wish strength and joy to all who are caught up in these types of relationships. Self-preservation is important no matter how much you think you can help these type of people .. keep your batteries well-charged!

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Patricia

Amen to that, Karen. I know some people refer to their N as evil….and I suppose there was a time I felt that way about mine too. But after a while of learning and trying to understand, We come to realize that these people must have some very deep pain to have caused them to be this unhappy, controlling, manipulative, etc. My NM is 89 and she’s still doing it. I feel pity for her, sadness for myself not to have had the kind of mom I needed.
I’ve used all this to try to be that kind of mom to my kids, and to learn mercy toward other people’s circumstances. For those reading this and still struggling: It’s a process? I still struggle almost every day with guilt, and am learning that my issue is wanting to be heard and valued. I’m not where I want to be but thank God I’m not where I was!

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Margie

I dont know if my abusive mom even had an idea that shes being abusive. You know, Ive’d tried my best to be there for her especially during her very hard times, i have this prodigal sister who never even gave her a damn! Neglects her and has always been the blacksheep of the family, but i keep guessing, why is that my mom still thinks shes the best?? By the way, i lived for 35 yrs of my mom comparing me to others and when I do succeed, she ‘s not happy with my success. She still keeps on looking for faults in me eventhough i am trying my best to please her and love her. Sometimes I am very much tired of all of these. It drains me so much when someone is always putting you down, most especially if they are your family, esp if she is your mom.

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Hey Sigmund

This must be so exhausting and hurtful for you, especially when you are doing everything you know how to make the relationship a better one. It’s so important to that you remember that when people treat you badly, it’s a reflection of their own wounds and not a reflection of you and who you are. You sound loving and generous and you deserve so much to be loved and appreciated back. I hope that love finds you, if not from your mother, than from someone else who is deserving of your open heart.

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Kylee

I often think of my parents funerals one day and can’t detach completely. However, I’m learning to love from afar… at least with my dad. My mom on the other hand who had never really been stable from the first day I was born, had a fall 3yrs ago causing brain damage as well as the discovery of MS. She went from being a nurse to being at home 24/7. She’s difficult to medical staff to the point where they no longer can assist her and my step dad, who’s a saint does his very best even when she’s verbally abusive. However, when he goes out of town my grandma, aunt and I have to rally in shifts to help her and even then can be verbally abusive and had tried to hit people. Im an only child. I wanted to meet my dad when I wss 6 and they was about a half a dozen meet ups, then n’t mom handed me the cordless one night while in the bathtub to tell him I can no longer see him. When in jr high, my mom called him saying he needed to parent me and basically tapped out. Im almost 30 now and look at my mom and think even if it’s been bad, we’ve been together just her and I for that long. It’s hard for me to walk away. My dad… I don’t love him the way I do my mom’s side. He’s taken on others ppls children being a teacher/mentor/full in patent for some. Im simple there when it’s convenient for him and it truly hurts to the core. I was a good teen and in my 20s, somewhere along the line, he’s just given up on me. And when we do get together, it’s uncomfortable and feels fake. Not including the humiliating, neglecting/ignoring, belittling comments hrs said thought the tests that if I think of them takes me back to that very time and disregard all over again.
But like I said at the top, the tine lapse and then their funerals, I feel like I would regret it for the rest of my life.

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Hey Sigmund

Yes, it often works that way. Everyone has a story, and when you understand enough of that stay, what people do starts to make sense. That doesn’t mean what they’re doing is acceptable or excusable, it just means it makes sense.

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Hey Sigmund

You have the wisdom in your words, ‘learning to love them from afar’. You can still love the people you need to keep an emotional distance from. You sound warm, open and deeply compassionate, and I imagine it would be difficult to be close to your mother and your father and difficult to detach. The main thing is to say what you need to say to them, whether that’s, ‘I love you,’ or whatever that might be, so that there’s no unfinished business for you if you decide to pull away. Try to think of what you would regret not saying if the opportunity were taken away from you, and see if there is some way you can say it. I wish you peace with this moving forward.

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Ewa

I love this article. I’ve read this several times and I was crying. I have to let go of a toxic parent but there are so many thoughts: ‘you can’t do this’, ‘you must love your mother’, ‘every child is supposed to love its parents’ etc… I’m at this moment of therapy that I have to decide what to do with my mother. She never loved me, she neglected me. And I wait. I cannot decide. It’s so hard and so painful.

Thank you for this article and for this website. This is a big support for me.

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Hey Sigmund

It is incredibly difficult and painful to let go of a toxic parent. One reason is because it can feel as though ‘letting go’ means ‘not loving’, but you can love people and let go of their influence on you. Take the time you need to make the right decision for yourself moving forward. There’s no hurry.

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Laurel

Your article was helpful, even at the age of 70!
I have often felt I was picking men to get a better result than with my father (? Parents)…of course this did not work, and ended up in divorce.
When asked how I contributed to the demise, I felt ,”I pick the wrong men”– emotionally abusive, emotionally unavailable, appear to be wonderful, then change chameleon-like.
Wow…

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Hey Sigmund

Your story makes so much sense – it’s completely understandable that you would choose the wrong men based on your relationship with your father. I’m so pleased this article has been helpful for you.

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Cathryne

Thank you for this article I grew up with toxic parents who abused both my sister and I. We both decided that we had to sever all ties in order to have peace and normal lives…enter societal judgement..we have both been judged harshly by our peers and partners for this conscious choice that we made, it seems that society feels sympathy for those individuals who are orphaned but judges those who have had to cut their family out of their lives to to abuse why is that?

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Hey Sigmund

I really understand this. One of the problems with toxic parents is that they can sometimes seem so nurturing and loving to the outside world. In these cases, they will go to great lengths to present themselves as great parents, but that is more about a self-centred need to look good to the rest of the world, rather than to show love and nurturing to the children. For people who haven’t grown up with toxic parents, it can be really difficult to understand how children can cut ties with their parents, particularly if those parents have been careful about the way they present themselves to the world. Know that there are also many people who would completely understand your decision, and see that decision as a really strong one. Nobody would understand more about what it was like growing up as child in your house than your sister, so you will be a great source of support and healing for each other. The most important thing is not turning the judgement of society onto yourself. It’s never an easy decision to cut ties with a parent. Remember the reasons you needed to leave the relationship, and that it was a decision made in great strength, self-love and self-respect.

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Cathy

My sister and I called it the “Mom of the Year Award”. This was the perfect image that our mother presented to the world. When we asked people to help us or told them about the emotional and drug abuse going on in our house, they almost invariably said “but your mom is so nice” or “it can’t be that bad”. We always felt like we had a double-hit. Firstly, our mom and step-mom were very toxic and then we were discredited by our friends and potential support system.
We have cut ties with our step-mother and even our mother is surprised that we have walked away. No one fully believes us.

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Hey Sigmund

I believe you completely and there would be so many others who do as well. Nothing surprises me with toxic people and pretending to be the perfect parent is such a common thing. What you are saying makes complete sense. You are absolutely right – you have taken a double-hit. You have made a strong, courageous decision to walk away. That wouldn’t have been easy.

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Chris Cornog

Excellent piece! I really like your posts (and process). Another thing children of toxic parents need to watch out for is addiction stuff, and suggest just a mention of this in #6 (and link to the great stuff you’ve written about addiction).

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scorpio1108

This is what I was doing to deal with the stress that my mother was causing me. I am 21 now and plan on moving out as soon as I get my first paycheck.

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Steve

Thank you. This is enlightening and helpful. I know children that are suffering because of a toxic parent who, it seems, is transferring the pain he felt from his parents to his own children. This gives me ideas of how to lift up these kids in a positive way so as to break the pattern. It’s actually a big part of parental alienation.

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Hey Sigmund

I’m so pleased this article will help you to lift these children. It takes a village doesn’t it. It sounds like you will be starting the ripple. Their lives will be better because of you, and so will the lives they touch.

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Patricia

Thank you so much! I’ve read so much other stuff on this subject, and as validating as it’s all been, what you write is truly affirming for me. It’s hard work, grief work, but this article is a road map. Especially #6 – you’re the first to ever point out that we need to monitor ourselves for the negative behaviors that we learned. As you said, “how many lives could have been different?” Thank you for what you do.

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Anne

Great article that I could’ve benefitted from many years ago. I have been so stuck for many years because of my family, and at 55 I am not sure it even matters anymore. No life at all, just existing

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Jon

Hello Anne, I wish we could talk in real time. I feel the same way as what you described. I feel like a ghost. Sometimes I truly do wonder if I died back when I got shot at 18 yrs old. I am 44 now. And I wonder sometimes if I really bled out. Because I dont know anyone who has seen me be abandoned by my parents at 15,survive getting my leg blown off and survive cancer. I am supposed to just pretend that I am just fine. When I am having a difficult time remembering when I was fine. Anyways,I hope you can find some true meaning and some level of fulfillment through some friendship with people who at least try to understand you.

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kellie

thank you so much for this article at the exact time i myself am braking away for good from my toxic abusive mother .I am 42 and have the most wonderful ,loving fiance i am so blessed to have in my life ,im also a mother and stepmother of my three beautiful sons .I just cant take any more abuse off my mum,she is also so critical of my boys and now my fiance ,i cant stand by and let her do this ,im used to it ,but i love my boys and partner so much im not standing by her for one more second ,i just keep thinking “why doesn’t she love me ?” what is so wrong with me ? i have a nice circle of friends and a beautiful ,positive mother in law to be ,and they show me the love i only wish my own mother would show me ,but after finally realising ive did all i could ,im leaving with my fiance to interstate by the beach to physically leave behind my toxic mother ,i am excited at the thought of making this step ,and i know my guilt will come along with me to ,but im planning ,along side my love to look out at that big wide world and live ,truly live ,and be someone i love maybe one day,someone more than what my own mum thinks ,and its not nice,lookout world here i come ,thank you thank you ,thank you ,Kellie

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Separation anxiety can come with a tail whip - not only does it swipe at kids, but it will so often feel brutal for their important adults too.

If your child struggle to separate at school, or if bedtimes tougher than you’d like them to be, or if ‘goodbye’ often come with tears or pleas to stay, or the ‘fun’ from activities or play dates get lost in the anxiety of being away from you, I hear you.

There’s a really good reason for all of these, and none of them have anything to do with your parenting, or your child not being ‘brave enough’. Promise. And I have something for you. 

My 2 hour on-demand separation anxiety webinar is now available for purchase. 

This webinar is full of practical, powerful strategies and information to support your young person to feel safer, calmer, and braver when they are away from you. 

We’ll explore why separation anxiety happens and powerful strategies you can use straight away to support your child. Most importantly, you’ll be strengthening them in ways that serve them not just for now but for the rest of their lives.

Access to the recording will be available for 30 days from the date of purchase.

Link to shop in bio. 

https://www.heysigmund.com/products/separation-anxiety-how-to-build-their-brave/
The more we treat anxiety as a problem, or as something to be avoided, the more we inadvertently turn them away from the safe, growthful, brave things that drive it. 

On the other hand, when we make space for anxiety, let it in, welcome it, be with it, the more we make way for them to recognise that anxiety isn’t something they need to avoid. They can feel anxious and do brave. 

As long as they are safe, let them know this. Let them see you believing them that this feels big, and believing in them, that they can handle the big. 

‘Yes this feels scary. Of course it does - you’re doing something important/ new/ hard. I know you can do this. How can I help you feel brave?’♥️
I’ve loved working with @sccrcentre over the last 10 years. They do profoundly important work with families - keeping connections, reducing clinflict, building relationships - and they do it so incredibly well. @sccrcentre thank you for everything you do, and for letting me be a part of it. I love what you do and what you stand for. Your work over the last decade has been life-changing for so many. I know the next decade will be even more so.♥️

In their words …
Posted @withregram • @sccrcentre Over the next fortnight, as we prepare to mark our 10th anniversary (28 March), we want to re-share the great partners we’ve worked with over the past decade. We start today with Karen Young of Hey Sigmund.

Back in 2021, when we were still struggling with covid and lockdowns, Karen spoke as part of our online conference on ‘Strengthening the relationship between you & your teen’. It was a great talk and I’m delighted that you can still listen to it via the link in the bio.

Karen also blogged about our work for the Hey Sigmund website in 2018. ‘How to Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Children and Teens by Understanding Their Unique Brain Chemistry (by SCCR)’, which is still available to read - see link in bio.

#conflictresolution #conflict #families #family #mediation #earlyintervention #decade #anniversary #digital #scotland #scottish #cyrenians #psychology #relationships #children #teens #brain #brainchemistry #neuroscience
I often go into schools to talk to kids and teens about anxiety and big feelings. 

I always ask, ‘Who’s tried breathing through big feels and thinks it’s a load of rubbish?’ Most of them put their hand up. I put my hand up too, ‘Me too,’ I tell them, ‘I used to think the same as you. But now I know why it didn’t work, and what I needed to do to give me this powerful tool (and it’s so powerful!) that can calm anxiety, anger - all big feelings.’

The thing is though, all powertools need a little instruction and practice to use them well. Breathing is no different. Even though we’ve been breathing since we were born, we haven’t been strong breathing through big feelings. 

When the ‘feeling brain’ is upset, it drives short shallow breathing. This is instinctive. In the same ways we have to teach our bodies how to walk, ride a bike, talk, we also have to teach our brains how to breathe during big feelings. We do this by practising slow, strong breathing when we’re calm. 

We also have to make the ‘why’ clear. I talk about the ‘why’ for strong breathing in Hey Warrior, Dear You Love From Your Brain, and Ups and Downs. Our kids are hungry for the science, and they deserve the information that will make this all make sense. Breathing is like a lullaby for the amygdala - but only when it’s practised lots during calm.♥️
When it’s time to do brave, we can’t always be beside them, and we don’t need to be. What we can do is see them and help them feel us holding on, even in absence, while we also believe in their brave.♥️

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