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.

893 Comments

CS

Wow, this exactly describes my childhood. “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.”

In addition to being hit by belts when my dad was in a bad mood for nothing, and caning us with rattan canes for telling the truth when he wanted us to lie to other adults for certain things.

I have been in therapy for over 5 years and have only just realise the pattern of manipulation and sordid self indulgence. I have more anger than guilt or hurt these days, but being Asian and my confucius values I am unable to cut my toxic parents out.

My dad has been recently sending emotional videos about how children OWE their parents a living and the sacrifices, that never happened in my case, so I don’t know what he’s trying to hint it at all. I still pay all the bills and send money home, but there is only verbal abuse and not a word of thanks.

I might cut the cord soon. Parents wanted children as cash cows in their old age, but I think I need to learn to live my life and finally enjoy my life and be an adult.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Toxic parents will do whatever they need to for control. You are an adult now, and you don’t have to listen to the toxic messages, or respond to the toxic behaviour. This is your life. You don’t owe anybody anything. Be aware of which messages are yours and which ones aren’t. As we grow up, we introject – take on – a lot of messages from the significant people in our lives and the culture we grow up in. Some of these messages are important – respect yourself and others, be kind, be brave – but some of them are toxic. The problem is that they become so automatic and they drive behaviour without us realising. They feel so ‘right’ but that doesn’t mean that they are. One of our very important jobs as adults is to examine the messages that drive our behaviour and decide whether they are still relevant. For example, it might have been important to keep quiet and not express needs as a child because doing this might have lead to being punished, or being ignored. As an adult, things are different now – your environment is different, there are different people around you and you can be more self-reliant. Look for the messages that are driving your behaviour and decide whether or not you want to keep them. If they hold you back, let them go. This is a difficult process – it will take strength and a lot of self-examination, but it will be worth it. Live by the messages that keep you safe, happy, and strong.

Reply
Marina

Hi

I read most responses, I was raised the worst I think, a mobster for a father, prostitute for a mother, who sold me before I could walk, and a father who still insists on me being his legacy, I have two sons from a failed marraige, one I never thought could fail.
Until my husband who never met my father told me he was in my life because of my father..lets just say things got ugly from there on.
I have lived my life as differently as I possibly could and was making a great success until I learnt that my father (whom I thought I left behind dead or alive) was very much the author of much of my life.
I am lost, depressed, suicidal and so much more, but yet I keep trying to fight for my constitutional rights to a choice in my life, to write my own story, and to raise my kids with proper ethics..and yet the dark alley shadow of my father prevails, overpowering my decisions, halting my career and demanding recognition for his Godlike power over any life and thing – demanding respect, demanding submission. Demanding me to return to the fold.
Especially as he sees further legacy in my children, who “need” to be part of that black organized world, Obviously already arranging a new partner for me to marry as a strategic move of power.
I know there is no help..but some people have it far worse..horror movies are a joke compared to what I’ve lived.

Reply
Keri

Hi. Thank you for this article. My parents were never physically abusive. Im not sure they were emotionally or verbally abusive either. They came from a hard period where they had to work hard to survive, live through a civil war and didnt have parental support themselves. The things they did have hurt me. But im so caught up that i cannot distinguish whether i am at fault or whether it is an impact of the things they did and said. I know that i have alot of flaws too. I was not an ideal child in school. I did well in languages, english and social sciences but not well in maths and sciences which were my parents’ strong suit. And if my parents didnt chase after me, i wouldnt likely have completed my homework for subjects i didnt like. I remember though that maths didnt make sense for me. I remember learnig math from my dad and he got frustrated because i couldnt understand it at all. It was a really simple subject and i couldnt understand. He tapped me on the head and called me an idiot. Tht stayed with me for a long time. I remember when i started having problems in math, i stopped telling him i had problems and just started lying to him. So i wasnt perfect either. I think my parents realized i wasnt going to be the child that they wanted, they kind of left me alone. They didnt question me too hard about my marks and i started hiding my marks from them, they didnt question too hard. I know they were upset bc i didnt have medals or trophies on our wall like other children. When we went to parties my dad would mention how lazy i was and joke about how i never really did anything. And would later that i was being too sensitive. He would say that if my mother had let him, he would have disciplined me so i didnt turn out this way. When i started university, i told my parents that i wanted to do english and work my way into journalism. They told me that only the best make it into that field and that it was not stable. I finished university but was not able to make it into law school. My parents were devastated. My relationship with my parents evaporated from that point on. They had been telling me people that i was trying for law and now they had to tell them otherwise. They told me that i was shaming them. I was the reason they were laughed at by other people, that society considered them losers and they were going to die unhappy. Whatever freedom i had started eroding then. I began working at a regular job and decided i wanted to go back to school for another bachelors but my parents said two bachelors were a waste and i was too old… i was 23. I decided to do a two year program for HR studied. They said no to that. They asked me to try teaching and then when i said i wasnt interested, they pushed me to accounting. I had a curfew of nine pm. They used to wonder why i didnt have alot of friends but never let me out with friends past a certain time. I wasnt allowed to go on overnights. Boyfriends were a nono. Their reasoning was i didnt show my maturity by getting in law school or succeeding at life. My friends had accomplished these things and had a personal life. I was not mature enough to act on my own. Once, i stayed out past 2 am and i got the silent treatment for weeks. Every small freedom was a fight. My mother thought i wasnt interested in makeup and dressing up enough and my style didnt suit me. She berated me alot for my lack of interest and style. When i met my husband, my father was ecstatic bc my husband had a doctorate. He told me to accept my husband no matter what. I didnt have a real education, was not quite pretty, a little bit plump. I wasnt going to get anything better than this. Throughout my childhood, teenage years and early adulthood, i didnt have a voice and i didnt even realize i didnt have one. I didnt know what was wrong with me. I didnt have alot of motivation and desire to do much. I felt lazy. I had depression and i went to a counsellor after not getting into law school and i couldnt even articulate my feelings. I would swing between numbness and rage and i think that i never properly expressed my emotions to my parents. When i started doing to my husband the things that were done to me and he called me out on it, thats when i realized that something was really wrong with me. I dont even know my identity. I dont know what im good at. I only know what my flaws and negative points are. A few years ago, i asked my parents what were my good points… and they could only mention my positive traits in light of what they recognized as worthy such and analytical thinking and seeing the bigger picture. I realized that my parents dont know me either. And as a child or teenager who already had difficulty articulating and expressing, it really pulled on my confidence. I know i made mistakes. But i realize that my parents are well meaning and did love me, they just didnt know how to parent. I loved writing and expressing myself through that medium but i stopped writing when my mother started reading my journal and when my writing stopped, i stopped trying to do much of anything. I love my parents but it is so hard to limit my involvement. If i dont call every day, they think i am upset, they visit at least three times a week and get upset when i only come bt once a week. It is really hard to put limits on my interaction bc they will not change but neither do i want to cut them out. Im 45 and still trying to learn

Reply
Kitty

Sorry that was supposed to be fond thoughts
And apparently. Don’t you just love spell check.

Reply
Kitty

Hey sigmund
I was the oldest child of a toxic parents. I have a brother whom until today I thought dearly and fondly of. When I was 65 I’m now 72, I told my nursing home bound mother I would no longer go to visit her because of the abuse she gave me on each visit. How bad a child I was, how my career choices and my choice husband was a glaring disappointment. How literally everything about what I was wearing how I did my hair was a disappointment to her. So I told her I’d had it.
About the same time my brother started being distant and cold. After her death I was never invited to any more family gatherings at his home.
Because it was national siblings day and I’ve always had found thoughts of my brother I decided to call him and try to mend fences. Instead he told me I was as toxic as Chernobyl and he wanted nothing more to do with me and that his psychiatrist told him to tell me I was toxic

I’m not. I. A normal perplexed person who has no brother apparent
Y. Would a reputable therapist tell someone to tell their sibling this.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Kitty it’s difficult to believe that a therapist would tell somebody so say that to someone without knowing the other side of the story isn’t it. It’s also difficult to know what was driving your brother’s behaviour. If there is toxicity in your family, it’s very possible that your brother was also hurt and influenced by that. I understand why it is easy to take what he said personally – it’s a really hurtful thing to hear – but toxic parents can often have a very far reach. I think it was a strong, brave, open-hearted thing you did to try to make things right. You have done what you can, and that’s what is important. I hope he realises this one day and is able to work with you to heal the relationship.

Reply
Linda

I’m 48 years old and have never felt loved enough… when my children were little and needed me was when I felt loved but once they grew up I felt they no longer lived me either…. I have always downed myself, I’m not pretty enough, good enough, etc. I know now it was the way my mother treated me… she loved and adored my brothers but everything I did wasn’t good enough and it got worse when my dad passed away when I was twelve.. I left home at 17 and I still went around my mother, she was my mother and I just wanted her to love me.. as years went by she would always try to take what was mine.. like my middle child, she had her convinced she was better and needed her more than me and I never fought back because I had to respect my mom. but my daughter returned home before my mom had her in her hand… but she then eventually get my granddaughter… my granddaughter thought no one could take care of her but her.. my mother become sick and I knew she wasn’t going to be here much longer… she went as far as telling my granddaughter that when she dies she hikes God takes her (granddaughter) too so they could be buried together and be together forever… I knew at this point I had to step in. I didn’t get mean I just started taking care of my mom so I could convince my granddaughter that I loved her and would always be there… and when my mom died I was there right beside her and her wonderful sons were no where to be seen. its been three years since she passed and thankful my granddaughter us doing fine, I watch her closely and just shower her with encourgment, something I didn’t have from my mom. the thing that bothered me the most of my moms death was that I was relieved it was over… no more hurting me with how I wasn’t good enough….. I went in a depression because I wasn’t supposed to feel like that… all my relationship with men has failed and I’m just starting to see why, the insecurities I’ve had has left me thinking I wasn’t good enough so I was jealous, I wanted assurance and I’m sure some tried to give me that I was just to broken to see…. but I know now why I’m like this it was because of her and now I have to find a way to start healing and mostly love myself… advice would be appreciated

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Linda it’s really understandable that if you have grown up with someone important in your life telling you that you weren’t good enough, you would eventually believe it. You have so much strength and love in you. I can hear it in the way you talk about your granddaughter and the way you have fought to protect her. Inside you is a little girl who needs the same love and protection. Don’t pick up where your mother left off in criticising yourself. That’s her voice and her messages. You sound so ready to find your own. You are not broken! You’re a fighter. You’ve survived what has been put in your way and now it’s time to really heal. You can do this. Start by finding ways to nurture yourself. It will feel strange because you haven’t had it before, but go with it. Just because it feels strange, doesn’t mean it isn’t right. Find something for you that feels good – it might be a hobby, a group, maybe just going to the movies once a week – whatever works for you. You will probably be tempted to say that you aren’t worth it – but don’t! Don’t talk yourself out of doing something for yourself. When you start to be kind to yourself and show yourself love and protection from the awful messages of your past, the world will start to respond. You can do this. Love and strength to you.

Reply
Agata

Hey H.S.

I came across your website when I realised I should reach out for help, I don’t think I can handle my situation on my own. I’ve tried enough times and it only gets worse..

My relationship with my father was always bumpy and difficult. He would praise me whenever I was following the path he ‘designed’ for me. Then he would reject me whenever I’d do something completely different.

My father comes from a fairly poor family, his parents got divorces as he had an abusive father who would be violent towards him and his mother. He was a genius who significantly contributed to the science but then unloaded pressure in his house. My father became a professional sportsman with big achievements, he was fighting on stage, which I’m guessing was his form of unloading aggression he received at his family home. Later on he left abroad to make some money to set up his own business back in his motherland. The business is still going and I am blamed for not wanting to take it over and continue what he created. Unfortunately, I am not interested at all in this discipline and I don’t feel I am obliged to do something my father has chosen for himself 30 years ago. I, myself, can make my own choices too and this is the thing he cannot deal with.

He tells me I do not appreciate what he’s been working hard for, and all the money it brought and ‘funded’ my childhood and later education. It’s putting me in a position of being obliged to ‘repay’ what he’s given me. Up until 3 years ago, my mother was there to kind of act as a bridge between him and me, although their relationship wasn’t easy as he also overtook her life to the point she wasn’t allowed to spend holiday by herself, and her small business she was longing for and set up- gave him an opportunity to humiliate her and highlight that this is nothing comparing to the company he owns. He was trying to get her to work in his company but she resisted, and kept running her little business which I guess was the only way to have something independent from him.

But 3 years ago, my mother passed away, during holiday abroad, from one day to another she just didn’t open her eyes in her sleep, and the cause is still unknown. She was healthy, in her early 50s, and I never had a chance to say goodbye..

I live abroad and am constantly bullied by my father for ‘leaving my family’ alone, for ‘betraying my origins’, by ‘not wanting to take over his business’. I live only 2 hours away by plane and visit my hometown every month or two. Unfortunately, every time I visit him, I’m being told that I will ‘regret the decision I’ve made’, and he refuses to talk to me under threat that I should come back where I was born.

My sister who’s been living abroad until 6 months ago and whom I had a good relationship with (she is 5 years younger) now started acting like my father, and since he doesn’t talk to me she talks on his behalf. She tries to harass me with small, everyday activities- and recently started humiliating me when I pay for my own things or refuse to take part in their daily routines (I guess financial dependence is the only way her and my father think could tie me back to them).

I constantly live with a feeling of guilt, I try to visit them as often as possible and then return completely destroyed emotionally. I don’t even see a point of going there anymore- my father doesn’t talk to me, my family runs a campaign for me to ‘come back’ as if I abandoned them, they cannot perceive that life is different now and one doesn’t have to work 9 to 6 in fixed place.

I would like to talk to my father to understand what he feels but there is no way I can go through- he only demands certain things, and doesn’t even know where exactly I live, not even mentioning my feelings and that I also miss my mother and suffer.

I’ve exhausted all my ideas on how to deal with this situation and got stuck in a point of not talking to him. I’m thinking the only way this could work is if we go for a therapy together but I’ve tried proposing this once and he got offended saying he is not ‘insane’ and I just have to grow up (I’m reaching my 30s btw).

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Agata, you are very clear about what the relationship with your father does to you. If this is the way things have been for as long as you can remember, it is very unlikely to change. If you keep responding to the manipulation and attempts to control, your father will continue to do this as it has always worked. People do what works. We all do. If you want things to be different, it will be for you to make that happen. Decide what you will tolerate and what you won’t. You don’t have to explain your decision to anyone. It is true that you have to be kind and generous, but you have to be all of these things to yourself first. When you change what is acceptable, it will be up to your father to respond and preserve the relationship or not. You have to do what is best for you. Nobody wins if you feel resentment because you are being so controlled or manipulated. Make the decision about what is best for you, because nobody else will do that for you. You will likely be criticised and judged, but that is not something you can control. What you can control is whether or not you stay in the path of hurtful behaviour. You are under absolutely no obligation to keep lining up for the poor treatment.

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Violet

I liked this article but how do I break free of toxic parents if I’m a minor still living with them?

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Hey Sigmund

Violet if you have to live with them, then it becomes about protecting yourself from the messages that you’re getting. If the messages are shaming, humiliating or demeaning, see them for what they are – a reflection on the other person, not on you. Realise that you don’t have to take those messages on. Leave them where they belong – well away from you. At the same time, let the messages you give yourself be nurturing, loving and uplifting. Say to yourself the things you would say to your best friend. They are the messages you deserve to hear and hearing them will change the way you are in the world and the way you experience the world. Write them down. Read them when you wake up and before you go to bed. Let those messages be stronger than any others that would harm you. You deserve to be loved and protected. I wish there were people around you who could give you this. If there aren’t, it is so important that you give these messages to yourself. You’re a fighter, a survivor, capable, brave, smart, amazing. I promise you – there would be evidence of this all around you.

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Kevin

I’ve been in and out of therapy for years due to this. I’m 43 and still trying to get over it all.

I was raised by my Aunt and Uncle. My real mother was a mess. An alcoholic, druggie etc. I don’t know if it would have been better or worse for me to have been raised by her, or the hell that was my life with my Aunt and Uncle.

I used to go to bed every night, from the time I was about 5, and pray to God that he would be dead in the morning. Every day I lived in constant fear, never knowing what I was going to get hit with next.
We lived on a farm, and by the time I was 12, I was milking 100 cows by myself, and taking care to ensure that it was done properly…..it’s not just as simple as simply milking cows, you can contaminate your milk in multiple different ways, causing the entire batch to be scrapped. Anyway….I just recently looked back on those days, and it finally hit me. I was freaking 12!! I never got any praise or even acknowledgement, for doing the chores that I did at that age. I don’t know of any 12 year old kid that I’ve seen these days that could be entrusted with the kind of duties I was required to do…..not even close. But yet, I was convinced when I was there, that I was stupid, worthless, a bastard, never going to amount to anything, and no one loved me..after all, my own mother had abandoned me…..( I was constantly reminded of this my entire childhood)
I recently wrote him an email. I finally got a way to get through to him like I had always wanted. I had written paper letters in the past, but I knew my mother always intercepted them. But, I knew that he would be sitting there at his computer now, and he would get the email.
Oh, he got it! I broke loose. I told him every thing that I had always wanted to tell him. I really let him have it. I saw another reader say that she felt bad after sending her letter….not me! I felt amazing! Keep in mind, I have had much therapy at this point, and had pretty much severed myself from my “parents”, yet I still wanted to really let him have it while he was still on this earth. I didn’t expect anything….didn’t expect a reply. I was just happy knowing that I told this freak exactly how I felt, and all the damage he had done to me.

I think this is because I couldn’t understand how anyone could do such things to a little kid….I just don’t get it. I still don’t.

I did get a response however……it threw me, it really did. The response was a guilt trip…lol! He said something to the effect that if I got God in my heart I would feel better.

I wrote him back again, and said…”Let’s leave God out of this one. Trust me…I’m fine and right with God…he’s what got me through YOU!!”

I laid into him some more, and the next day he actually called me. He invited my wife and I up for lunch. I couldn’t believe it!

We had a “talk” out on the deck while my wife and aunt were out in the back yard. I actually got to confront him in person. I wish I had had the courage to say even more than I did. He kind of got the best of me that day, but when I got home, I mulled over all he had said, and laid into him again….finally telling him, to QUIT blaming me! I told him…I was the CHILD….YOU were the adult. Nothing you did to me is MY fault. I told him that I actually wanted to forgive him, but couldn’t do it if he didn’t apologize, or at the very least admit to the things he did to me, and tell HIS kids that I’m not a liar like they think I am, because I’ve told them what he did to me, and they think I’m a liar and pretty much hate me. He never did that to any of his own kids…..a fact he actually admitted to me that day we talked. He said, he didn’t know why he did it. That was really the best I got out of him….and later…in another email, I told him that he did it because it was obvious that HIS parents we abusive. All of his brothers and sisters have various issues….I have another aunt that has the exact issues I have.
I’m in a bit of a conundrum with what to do with the parents now actually…I had cut all ties with them, but…now…we’ve gone up there a couple times….it’s …ok…they’re “nice” Nothing bad happens etc…but…there’s no love from them of course…they still don’t call. I’ve told them many times, just give me a call….like you do with YOUR kids!
My final issue that I have yet to resolve, and I don’t know that I can….is the connectivity issue…..ie…love. I “love” my wife….but I love her like I love the rest of my friends. I’ve been in too many relationships to count…because I end them all…..eventually. I can’t love anyone more than on a friend level…and even at that, I can cut ties in an instant and not look back. I don’t feel bad about it until much much later. I’ve been down this road so many times it’s not funny.
I am in my longest relationship that I’ve ever been in….going on 6 years. She’s a wonderful, amazing woman. I know she loves me, I know she would never hurt me, yet, I can’t open my heart…..I’m completely incapable of it. I stay with her at this point because there’s really no good reason to leave her right now. Actually it’s because she’s in nursing school, and working full time, so, I don’t want to be the cause of her not finishing nursing school. I’m planning on waiting till she’s done and passes her final test and gets her license.
I know it’s probably wrong…but then again….is it? It’s not fair to her. We haven’t had …you know….in months….and it’s because of me. I get that way with any woman I’m with for any length of time. Once it’s intimate…as in when there’s love involved….I’m done. The very thought of intimate relations with her invokes a visceral reaction. And it’s not because of her. I just don’t do love.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to get past that….and at this point, don’t know that I even want to bother. I’m happy with myself, my life, my career, my friends….and I know that I’d even still be able to be friends with her…when she’s ready of course. I just do not see myself in a monogamous relationship with any one woman for the rest of my life.
I guess I’m wondering if you know of other people like me. People who can get over pretty much everything else….move on, become happy with themselves, are able to get over the self loathing etc….but just can’t do love?
I was in love once….with my first. And I ended that too. And I was a wreck for a long time after that. Years. I think I pretty much ended it because my aunt disapproved of our relationship, and convinced me that I should…I am pretty sure that’s what happened…. so they got their claws into that too.
And I think that was it. That was the last straw for my heart. I haven’t felt anything since.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Kevin I wish you could have received the love you deserved when you were growing up. It sounds as though you have made a happy and healthy life for yourself now. In relation to your intimate relationship, nobody can tell you what is best for you. What’s important is the you are clear about why you are making the decisions you are making. If it is because you are fully satisfied not being in a relationship and you are fully aware of this, then there is no harm in this (provided of course that you are not knowingly hurting someone else). If however you are wanting to avoid intimate relationships because they bring up old feelings and memories that are painful, it might be worth talking a closer look at that.

Reply
Kevin

Hi H.S.

Thanks for the reply. I know what you’re meaning. I know that you’re talking about being in sexual relations with women while letting them believe that I want more than that.

No, I don’t, and wouldn’t do that, but the question is more about the current relationship I’m in right now. My questions is kind of….should I stay with her, or not?
I don’t believe that I’ll ever be able to have normal intimate relations with her, probably ever again. I don’t want them, and the very thought of them is repulsive.

As I said, it’s not her….there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her, and it wouldn’t matter who was involved, or who I was with…..it never has mattered. Once there’s love involved, or when love should be involved, I’m out.
She doesn’t press, she doesn’t demand, she doesn’t complain, but, at the same time, I know it bothers her. Who wouldn’t be bothered by it? Your partner never wants to have sex with you?

She’s suggested the magic pill, you know which one, but….I don’t need that. My issue is not a physical one, it’s a mental one. I wish it was just an unfortunate physical issue, but I know that even if I took that pill, and somehow it worked in the physical sense, I still wouldn’t feel right while it was happening…..the magic pill can’t make one feel intimate, or, the chemistry.

The only time I feel any kind of “chemistry” is when I’m first with a woman, or if I get together with a woman I’ve been with before, but it’s been a long time. In other words, I only feel chemistry when it’s simply lust that’s involved. No feelings, no baggage, no intimate knowledge of each other, just simple lust.

I seriously doubt that there’s any hope of this ever changing, and, as I said, I don’t know that I even want that to change. I’m not bothered by the notion. I’m fine with it. Maybe when I’m old and getting closer to death, the fear of being alone will become more pressing.

But for now, it’s really hard to stay in a relationship where I want to have sexual relations with pretty much any woman other than my wife. I’m very certain I would be entirely happy in a permanent “friends with benefits” relationship. That’s the level of commitment, and intimacy that I am willing and able to give.
I think I’ve pretty much answered my own question, I just know that it’s going to break her heart…….I don’t enjoy that. I’ve broken many hearts along the way. But, I know it’s not going to break mine….that’s the issue. It’ll suck, I won’t enjoy it….I’ll feel bad because I don’t like hurting people, but….what’s going to hurt more in this situation? Staying together and never being intimate ever again, and dealing with that pain for the rest of our lives, or ending it, and dealing with a short term pain? I won’t feel any pain personally….I’m incapable of it. The only pain I’ll feel is basically guilt. I’ll feel bad for hurting her, and after a while I know I’ll miss her, and call myself stupid for ending an otherwise good relationship with an incredible woman, but I just don’t know that there’s any hope of fixing what’s wrong here!

Reply
L

Kevin I feel that way too, like I can’t do love. Even with my daughter who is only 13. She’ll curl up next to me and tell me things and I have to focus to ensure that I don’t push her away because that’s my instinct. All the awful things my mother said yo me arrive in my brain and I have to. Work hard to stop them coming out.

It’s different with my son, I can only think because I don’t have the mother-son script rushing to my brain.

But I can’t do partner love either. I married someone I thought was great who turned into a violent alcoholic. He says I pushed him to it and I think he is probably right. I think I drive people crazy just like my mother drove me crazy so I just steer clear now.

I watched a video of a boy dancing with his grandmother and it was just pure love, it was beautiful. And I thought, I can’t do that. It terrifies me. Opening up to love leads to terrible pain.

I know a lot of pople achieve healthy loving relationships but I’m guessing they haven’t had their souls trampled on from birth.

Anyway, I think you have a lot to be proud of because despite being abused for years on end, you have made a good life for yourself.

Maybe more therapy could help with intimacy issues but in the meantime please be assured that it isn’t just you.

Reply
Kevin

Hey L,

Thanks so much for your comment. It helps.

Sometimes I feel so alien in this world when I see and hear other people. Especially when it comes to relationships. I feel terrible knowing what’s probably coming for my current relationship, but as I said before, I can’t see how it’s fair to her. And I’m not that happy with it either. I mean I am…..but, I’m not!
I just think for me, it’s just going to have to be that I love people at arm’s length.
But before I do give up on the concept of me staying with her, I do plan on going to see another therapist. I do care about her, and she’s a wonderful person, and I know that if I can’t make it work with her, I will never make it work with anyone.
And who knows? I know she has had her own issues in her childhood, and she says she understands me, and she never pressures me into anything. She never complains, never asks me for anything in the way of emotions etc. Maybe this is how it’s meant to be for me. I guess if she’s ok with me being pretty much numb, then why hurt her by leaving………except for the never having intimacy thing….I still do want to have those kinds of relations with a woman, I just can’t have them with a woman I’m in a long term relationship with. As I said, once there’s feelings involved, I shut down. Can’t do it. Once there’s “love” involved, sex becomes repulsive. It doesn’t matter who it’s with.

I could probably be in a “relationship” with someone forever if we didn’t live together. I think that’s another aspect of it. I’m starting to think that the whole arm’s length thing could apply if we didn’t live together. I think maybe as long as I don’t feel “trapped” or “family like” I could probably be happy.

It’s a very strange situation. I do care about her, and I know that there’s absolutely no reason that we shouldn’t be together. And even the thought of us NOT being together seems stupid. I know that on the surface. It’s sad really. It’s a lonely life. And it’s lonely even when you’re with someone.

But it really does help knowing that there are other out there who struggle in the same way. It’s not fun feeling like a pariah.

Kevin

Reply
Y

Thank you so much for writing this article. This was exactly what I needed to read.

I cut ties with the woman who gave birth to me just 2 days ago and i feel like my whole world is crumbling around me. Even after everything that i have been through i find it hard to believe how a mother could be such a toxic person to their own child.

Ever since i started living with my mom (she had left me with my grandparents at age 3 after she split up with my dad for 3 years), she has physically and emotionally abused me. She has burned my hands, hit me with hangers and broken them on my back, hit me until ive been on the floor bleeding, belittled me, insulted me in every possible way, and even continued feeding and basically taking care of the man (my former step father and my baby brother’s father) who continuously raped me as a teenager after he was removed from the home. I could honestly write a book about everything thats happened to me while under her guardianship. I have more bad memories from my childhood than good. I tried to escape from it but to no avail because our social services system in this country sucks. To my fortune she kicked me out at age 18 and i havent lived with her ever since but despite not living under her home anymore now at age 23, I have still endured her emotional abuse when she creates unnecessary situations just like 2 days ago. Once again she belittled me, called me everything that came to her mind to humiliate me, but the thing that topped the cake was when she told me to Rot (PUDRETE which is the last message she ever wrote me) it shattered my soul so much i didnt know what to do with myself and if it wasnt for my husband and my dad i probably would’ve done something stupid like hurt myself.

I look at my own kids and it breaks my heart because my 3 year old autistic son adores his grandma and grandpa (different stepdad than the rapist) and his uncle (my 8 year old baby brother) who he loves playing with and now he cant see them because my mom is incapable of having a healthy relationship with me no matter how hard i try. At the same time everything shes told me motivates me to not be that type of parent to my kids and being a special needs parent has been teaching me thw importance of having a loving home. I dont ever want to put my kids through the emotional distresses ive been through especially not my daughter. I refuse to be my mother i refuse to play a negative role in my children’s lives.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Your strength, your courage, your commitment not to repeat what was done to you is extraordinary. Your children are in wonderful hands having you as their mother. You have so much awareness and insight. Your childhood sounds like a traumatic one and I wish you could have had the love from your mother that you deserved. I understand that cutting ties with your mother has comes with its own pain in terms of what you have lost. Hopefully it will be possible in time to have a relationship with your grandparents and your brother independently of your mother. Love and strength to you.

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Chris

Thank you so much for this article. It is oddly comforting to know that I am not alone in my journey to heal which only started back in 2011 with a breakdown. It’s my Mum’s birthday tomorrow but I have chosen for my mental sanity to cut ties. I remember in floods of tears in therapy stating my relationship with her is over and my wonderful, supportive therapist saying “no, your relationship with her hasn’t ended it’s just changed” I didn’t take her up on that point but knew for all her help and wise counsel that she was wrong. Our relationship never ‘started’. I think after 45 years of her as a rageaholic and a belligerent commitment to denial of her physical and mental abuse of me, my Dad (yes he was avoidant/enabler) and my siblings she left me with no other option. She was consistent if nothing else, in her own words “you are either for me or against me” that roughly translates to I am free to abuse you at will and you will take it or you are not my son. Other classics were being told “there are givers and takers in this world and you are a giver, I am the taker”. I ended up with a child psychiatrist at 7 years old and after weeks of therapy they told her that I was a lively, well adjusted young boy but they would like to offer her therapy, her reply was an outburst of rage, indignant that they should presume (as professionals) to know anything. All that remains is the grief of never having being mothered and the relationships she denied us with other family members on her side. One thing I can share about the journey is, it is slow and requires patience. I pray for courage and compassion each day as I wake, it helps me. Good luck all

Reply
J

J again,

Thank you for your reply.

I had to wrtie again.

I had another “discussion” today. Where I told my mom that I had another way of looking at things. That I didn’t really need family feeling to feel complete, that I was looking for enlightenment and to find myself by doing good and serving humanity.

Then she altered all that I told her and said:

“So you don’t need family, then why were you even born if you don’t need family? And why do you want to serve humanity and do all those stuff when you are not serving your family first?”

I think that my family needs no serving at all, they have it all served by now… Why can’t I do what I believe I am meant to do?

Do I really have to put my family as a restriction for my dreams?

She has this belief that family must be together always. But I can’t be together with them, because I am the black sheep. And it’s not because I want to, it’s because they don’t think that what I believe in or think is correct.

My mother is the most toxic woman in the world, but she has this ability to make everyone look up to her as the perfect mom or the perfect woman.

I need some space from my family, I don’t want to meet with them on sundays, or special days. I just want to be alone doing what I believe is going to connect me to humanity.

Am I wrong? Am I selfish? Am I a bad person?

That’s what she wants me to believe.

But deep inside of me, I know that I am meant to be great and thrive around people who I help be better people. Shame my family think they are superior and don’t need someone else to be better people.

I think my mom is selfish, because she wants it all for her. And if she doesn’t get it, then everything is wrong.

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GA

Thank you for posting this article. I am a 53 yo married woman with two wonderful boys, er, young men. The light came on for me when I too had my first son. I was determined not to repeat her patterns. When I did have that anger come out when the boys were younger (that I learned from her), I always made sure to tell my boys that my anger was not at them, but at the situation. Yikes, they still had to hear my words and voice of anger!! I do regret that. I have always, always made it my mission though to apologize to my children for any mis-directed anger they were witness to. As a parent, I have made mistakes and continue to. I apologize to them when I am wrong. My mother has never apologized for anything. In family or personal conversations, if anything was brought up from the past, she would say that ‘she didn’t remember that.’ I continue to look, learn and grow from what I know from my youth. Still at 53, I continue searching for answers as to why, “WHY?”, why did she break brushes over my head, why did she always yell at me, “Why don’t you think?” Why did she push me down, and when I saw blood I screamed and then she yelled at me more and louder … why, because I stuffed too many of my clothes in my drawers (age 8). Why? I am still yearning and searching to know the answers. I am the third born of seven children. She was a stay at home mom, who wasn’t really home. While we were away at school, she read her thin grocery store romance books everyday, all day and into the afternoons, continuing when we would come home from school. The television was our babysitter and for physical entertainment we fought amongst ourselves as there was no real supervision or interaction with her . When it came time to make dinner, she would start her tirade of why wasn’t this done? and why wasn’t that done? … and the anger would start and after dinner couldn’t come soon enough, when the chores were done and it was more tv time, and less interaction with her. She was always very good at showing her nice side to the outside world, but on the inside of our home, we were scared of her. Her lighting up a cigarette was always a good sign and knew we could approach her. She had ‘go itis’ as she called it, and was always up for a party! ‘Her truth’ would come out “in her hangover.” When we saw the writing on the wall, we would all hide. In therapy, I had to learn and be given permission that it’s okay to make that break from your family, that I don’t have to continue living with her abusive patterns in MY adulthood.
I highly recommend therapy for those who eperience or have experienced childhood abuse. Learning now that your parent wasn’t right and that you are lovable and that you ARE a good person …there is a road to freedom. I am proof of that, although I continue to search for the answers. Her favorite saying to me in my adulthood prior to my break, ‘was’ that she doesn’t like the way I do things.’ She has always called me passive-aggressive. She “diagnosing me,” is hillarious, and if it is true, it’s due to trying to learn to deal and cope with her. I had to take what she dealt (and it didn’t matter if I made a face, rolled my eyes or she didn’t like the tone of my voice) there was a consequence. So, as a child I/we weren’t allowed to speak up for ourselves. I read an online article recently from Hoffpost.com, that really rang true for me that I’d like to share, titled, “Parents Who Drive You Crazy: Four Steps For Handling Emotionally Immature Parents”. Wow, I fit in as the sensitive child who learns to read others, due to my having to read and be ready for her mood swings. In reading this article, I think I also found my answer, My mother was and is emotionally immature and she really was never ready to have 7 children, because she was and is still, a child herself.

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J

Thank you for the article “Parents Who Drive You Crazy: Four Steps For Handling Emotionally Immature Parents”

! It also helped me a lot! I needed that advice! 😀

Reply
J

Thank you very much for writing this! Specially point 2 helped me a lot.

I often feel like I can thrive and become the best person I can be, until I think about my parents.

How to explain them that my dreams and actions will make me a better person, and this will be great even for them.

But there come the questions:

Why do you lose time dreaming, when you haven’t yet done your room or finished school or earned X ammounts of money or have a house, or a car or bla bla bla? And I believe the list would go on even if I got all the mentioned before…

Why are you again dreaming about something that didn’t work for you the first time you tried it, stop taking risks, you have to mature and start doing what you are supposed to do, which is work, have a social life and love your family (meaning, nothing special, just routine.)

I feel like they have never really helped me in anyway to achieve my dreams, sincerely. You know why? Because even though they have given me a good education, money and things, and even love, I don’t think they would accept the real me, they just love the image of who I should be.

They keep telling me I can be whoever I want, but when I start, they just “bring me back to earth” in a way of helping me not to fall again.

BUT I WANT TO FALL. I WANT TO LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES.

And no, I can’t learn from their mistakes, because they have none! Because they do nothing! They live their life in routine and everything outside their comfort and secure zone is bad.

I feel like Eep in “The Croods”, with the difference I’m a guy.

I went to this “become a leader” workshop that took 3 or 4 weekends and I really felt very good, and started enjoying my time with people who really wanted to see me grow and helped me, with ideas, by encouraging me, and giving me advice, but positive and constructive advice. But my parents influenced so much in my I ended up ruining the process, because they said I was being “brainwashed”.

That’s when I learned I preferred to be brainwashed than stuck in this life…

The advice I receive from my parents is:

“Don’t do that, you will hurt yourself”
“Don’t go there, it’s dangerous”
“Don’t talk like that”
“Do this, don’t do that”

But NEVER have I heard this:

“Wow, that is a great idea, why don’t we work it even more, what do you need for it to work?”

NO!

You know why? Because they don’t want me to change their routine.

If they travel and do different things, it’s because it is in their secure zone, to 5 star hotels or stuff like that.

I have tried to escape from them once, and it worked almost perfectly for me. But because of poor choices and mistakes, plus a feeling of guilt, I went back to them, but I’m working my way, having learned from my mistakes, to escaping, and point 2, helps me to understand where I am right now, and not having guilt when I leave again.

I know my story is incomplete, there are many things more I should tell. But thank you for creating this space.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome and thank you very much for sharing your story. You sound as though you have so much clarity. I’m so pleased that you are able to see through the messages that dampen you – they are not your truth. Your truth is this – you will make mistakes because everyone does and from those mistakes you will grow and thrive and flourish and be so completely amazing. Not all of your decisions will work out the way you planned, but that’s so okay because if you don’t find out what doesn’t work, you also won’t find out what does. The only way to avoid mistakes is to avoid all chance of growth – and that is that greatest mistake of all.

Reply
K.R.

I have a toxic mother. I was always in trouble as a kid, nothing I did was good enough. I was blamed for everything from the time I was about 9 years old, after my younger brother was born. I mostly remember my mother always being angry with me everyday after she would get home from work. My father moved out around then and left us alone with her. I saw him rarely and our visits were superficial “fun dad” visits – he never talked about how we were coping, of course.
My mother compared herself to me one time when I was an awkward 15 year old with baby fat. We had joined “family fitness” gym and were working out. She had breast-implants and was wearing tight-fitting leotard and tight t-shirt, I had a baggy shirt on – and she asked the guy standing there which one of us looked better. How humiliating that was for me! Especially when the guy said, “that look!” and pointed at her.
Who does that?!?!?!
My whole life she has been very self-absorbed. She completely forgot my birthday one year. I am now 45, married with three kids. She takes zero interest in her grandchildren – we only live about three blocks from her and she never sees them. In fact, when we informed her that the house we wanted to buy was in the same neighborhood she lives in, she became EXTREMELY upset. She didn’t want us “encroaching” on her, apparently. We (as in my husband and children) were intentional to never stop by or even walk by her house on the sidewalk – she lives one street over, so we just avoid it.
I could go on and on describing stories about her behavior, but I can surmise it as her being disengaged, dismissive, cold and narcissistic. Sometimes my hubby and I laugh out loud at the absurdity of things she says, she honestly has NO idea how she is perceived by me or my husband or my children.
Two days ago it was her birthday, so I invited her to lunch and I bought her a fit bit because I heard her mention a few months ago that she might like one. She has complained to me incessantly for the past two years that she has NO MONEY. She even implied I could help her financially (she has always made terrible money choices, choosing to travel or remodel when she should save); I quickly informed her that my money was all invested for retirement.
So anyway, I bought her this “fit bit” for her gift and when she unwrapped it she quickly covered her mouth and then showed me her wrist. “I already bought on for myself for my birthday!” (it was the more expensive model than what I had bought) and then she announced, “I decided THIS year is all about ME!”. I had to bite my tongue because I wanted to shout, “WHEN HAS IT NOT BEEN ALL ABOUT YOU, LADY?!?!?!”
She also was very manipulative during our lunch, saying that “Daughters stay close, but sons break your heart” referring to my brother who has completely separated from her and wont even answer her phone calls. She completely monopolized the entire lunch conversation, didn’t pick up on cues that I had to go back to work (here I am taking my keys out of my purse, putting on my jacket and she is still chattering away about n o t h i n g ….)
Sigh.
I confronted her once about her behavior about 5 years ago and she became very defensive and angry and then stopped talking to me at all for a while.
I don’t think I want to go there again – it seems like I am just attacking her character. I thought I had gotten away from her, but then she and her long time boyfriend broke up and now, suddenly, she wants to spend holidays at my house because she is all alone. I have so many years of feeling unloved and lonely from growing up. The only good thing that is coming from it, I am aware of all of this and try my damnedest to not repeat this behavior with my own kids.

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hello

It sounds like your brother realized there needed to be a separation from her. Narcissists are not able to be reasoned with ever. I grew up with one of the biggest and the only peace came in getting away. Some of the advice on here doesn’t seem to weigh the dangers involved with telling people to try “other ways” of relating to toxic people who cannot be related to.

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Jessica

I’m English and I moved to America almost 6 years ago now and my life is incomparable to the past. I am married to a wonderful person and it’s like being released from a long prison sentence!

I’m now 27 and as much as I know my relationship with my mother is terrible, she has tried to commit suicide twice now. I’m not sure I could handle it if I cut ties and found out that she has succeeded on a third attempt.

I love her so much but she reverts back to her old ways so easily. I don’t live in the same country as any of my family anymore so I feel as though I have much more control over the situation. But still
I was forced to cut ties with my sisters because even from this distance they were able to effect me so easily. They are just like her. Months go by and they seem to be the most supportive wonderful people and then they talk about me together and find a new problem with me! I just couldn’t take it anymore. They constantly made me feel guilty for being where I am now, like I didn’t deserve it.

Mum would always say “don’t tell anyone my business!” and like an idiot I believed her. I never told anyone what was happening. I’d forget something or there would be a crumb on the counter top and I would have to endure an afternoon of a very intoxicated her yelling at me. Calling me various swearwords which I shall not list, telling me how fat and disgusting I was and that I was lucky she didn’t kick me out. That I was such a drama queen for being depressed.

She must of hit me with almost all the unbreakable objects in the house in the duration of my 20 years living with her. It’s when she had something sharp in her hands that really scared me, when she had those scissors to my throat I truly thought I was going to die. I still remember the pure rage on her face. It still brings me to tears now.

I keep pretending everything is fine but I’m depressed and started having panic attacks again this year. I don’t want my brother to have to deal with her if something does happen. Apart from my husband, he is the only family that I have now.

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Hey Sigmund

Jessica, I can hear through your comment the pain you are carrying. It sounds as though you grew up in an environment that was frightening and cruel too often. I understand the loyalty you feel towards your family – it’s a difficult weight to carry when they are so difficult to be around, but from what you are saying, your mother has put you in a position where the only way you can be healthy is to be away from her. What the rest of your family does in relation to your mother is for them to decide, not for you to be responsible for. You can support your brother, without making yourself vulnerable again to your mother. It doesn’t have to be a package deal. Decide on the terms that feel safe for you. It is always okay to distance yourself from relationships that cause damage, and you can let go with love. Tell her you love her and decide on the level of contact and the terms of that contact – perhaps it will be a monthly phone call, where you talk about nothing personal – it’s up to you.

It’s okay to admit that things aren’t fine. When you distance yourself from a toxic environment, the protective walls you put around yourself to keep yourself safe while you were there can start to fall. This is when you start to see things more clearly and the pain can set in. You’re in a safe place now, and because of your strength and courage and the decisions you’ve made, you can be more clear about the terms of your relationships with your family. You deserve to be treated with love and respect, and if there are people in your family who don’t agree with that, then they don’t deserve to be close to you, or connected to you at all. If you are feeling fragile, please talk to someone – you don’t have to do this alone. You have been so strong for such a long time – there is no other way you could have got through the way you have. Sometimes we all need a hand to carry the load – you deserve that.

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Lis

Okay. I’m not sure about anything anymore but I’m telling my story in hope for some advice because I seriously need it. I’ve been living with my grandparents for three years, just recently started the fourth. Before that I lived with my mother. My mother was a very loving person and we got a long even if we had some rough times, because I have clinical anxiety and depression. I don’t know for how long I’ve been living like this but let’s say a 9-10 year old shouldn’t imagine throwing themselves from a second story building as peaceful thing to do. I lived at my grandparent’s at the time too, but I actually felt like that because I was being bullied by my peers at school, but I survived that and I finally found myself surrounded by very loving and wonderful people (both in real life and online). The thing is, my mom is really ill now, (she has paranoia and schizophrenia) and she became very violent towards me, she insults my family and one of my friends, she’s once gone as far as punching me in the nose but I’ve managed to become more assertive with her and our relationship is better than it was after I started going to therapy.
The fact that I was bullied made me really strong to endure people criticizing me outside my house, but it made me really vulnerable to the people I love. I said I started going to therapy, and it’s because my grandparents’ economical support. The fact is my grandmother thinks my mom is okay, and if she’s fine (and she’s not, she just got into another bad period where she thinks someone is after her and my family is bad for us, and only I have to deal with her because I try to validate her but it’s a hard thing to do while I have to validate myself to her too), my problems do not exist. When my grandmother learned my uncle wanted to pay therapy for me she got kind of angry and said she was going to do it for me, but I noticed she was only doing it reluctantly. My uncle got concerned because he saw me crying and I try not to do that in front of anyone in the house because they think it’s weak (they pretend not to but in today’s incident, which I’ll aboard eventually, my crying and words were mocked). My grandparents’, specially my grandma, have always had really big expectations from us (my mom and I) and they are always comparing me to themselves or to my most successful friends or to my cousins (the last one is very ironical because she used to think so lowly of them) and making me feel bad about my mom not getting better; like I could just magically cure her, and they also use her illness as an excuse to make me feel worse at times, which created a small eating disorder and sleeping disorder that’s only been getting worse, and of course she blames my meds, which have been of amazing help, and I already feel much better about my self worth.
I don’t know, but today I was feeling so weak, and depressed and anxious that I didn’t leave my room until my grandma knocked on my door, she said she wouldn’t be supportive of my therapy because she didn’t see any improvement (like if seeing your granddaughter feeling confident with her own appearance and capabilities and wanting to live, not being badly affected by one of her mother’s episodes isn’t a major improvement) and she’s not paying for it anymore. I got into an argument and I saw in her and the rest of my family (which joined her and supported her), it started being a chat about why I didn’t want to eat and it escalated quickly into how much my mom and I are a disappointment for the family and my mental illnesses are just excuses. I started crying, she started mimicking me. I got angry and pointed out that if she wanted to throw me out of the house she could gladly do it (which now that I think about was a toxic behavior) but it’s true, I’ve already heard her say it once. Then my grandpa said that all I had said before (on Thursday, of how I wanted to do things and I felt very capable of doing it on how I wanted to live rather than be dead) was all a lie, I decided to stop talking back and just hearing them say things at me. Then they casually wanted me to eat something but I didn’t feel hungry and I had to drink a glass of milk instead, just to keep them happy (not that not eating anything is good, I feel awful because I like eating but I just don’t feel like doing it, and I’ve gotten thinner and I’m worried about my physical health now). I went outside, thinking maybe I could think and cry by myself for a while but my grandma came out and I told her I wanted some time alone, and she mimicked that too… I don’t even remember well what happened next, but I know I was left alone in the garden and cried for a longer while and went back inside.
I’ve always believed that I’m the one that’s manipulative and it actually worries me so much I try to keep people away from me (but I also don’t want to get hurt so it’s a two way thing), I’ve even considered having BPD (which I haven’t discussed with any of my therapists, but probably will tomorrow, because it’s my last chance to know if I have that or not); but I’ve started to notice it might not be only be me, or at least my behavior might have been learned rather than just an hereditary trait. I thought I was inherently bad, but there might be more to it than what it seems.
I need advice in this situation because there are a lot of matters that stress me out about the life I lead by living with them, because besides all of that my gender, sexuality, romantic orientation and religious views aren’t really well seen by anyone on my household (I’m closeted and I’m agnostic theist). I can’t go out of the house because that would mean I’d have to find a way to economically support my mother and myself (I’m not leaving her with them) and I wouldn’t be able to get a well paid job just yet.
I also have a question am I becoming a toxic person myself? And if I am, how can I not turn into that kind of person?
Thank you in advance.
Sorry for my poor grammar, English is not my first language.

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Hey Sigmund

Lis I need you to hear this: You are NOT a bad person! I can hear how much you want to be good for the people you care about. This is not something that toxic people do – it is something that warm, loving people do. It sounds as though you have grown up in an environment that has been difficult at times, but your past is not your destiny. Hang on to your truth. I understand there are some important things about you that your family will not accept, but that is about who they are, not about who you are. You are a loving, strong, brave person and your sexual and religious orientation has absolutely do not change any of that. Always be looking for ways you can be better – that’s important for all of us, but also be true to who you are, because it sounds as though you’re somebody pretty amazing.

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M

Thank you for writing this. I graduated college last year but moved back home because my parents were going through financial difficulties and I gave them the money I had saved up for an apartment to help pay their mortgage. I haven’t been this depressed in years. My mom is fully toxic – constantly blames my lack of a job for their financial troubles – though she herself hasn’t worked in over 20 years and pushed my dad to buy a house that they can’t afford. She injured herself recently, and has lorded this over the rest of the house, making us attend to her every need and throwing psychotic tantrums about how we don’t care about her if we miss her phone calls. I’m afraid to do anything in the house because she’s going to throw a fit about how I’m an worthless for doing everything wrong. My friends don’t understand when I tell them that she’s a narcissist with no empathy – she presents herself well to the outside world – and just tell me to talk to her, as if my father and I haven’t been trying for the last 20 years. She throws & breaks things all the time, especially when we try to talk sense into her – she never admits that she’s wrong and constantly threatens to abandon the family so “we can see how difficult life is without her”. I feel like I’m at a very exciting age where I should be meeting people, seeing new places, and getting started in a career, but I just feel depressed and severely anxious when I live here – unmotivated to go out, lacking energy to do well in job interviews, too depressed to hang out with my friends. I know I need to move out in the next year or so or I’ll go insane, but besides lacking money I also feel bad abandoning my dad and brother in a time of financial need.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re absolutely right – this should be an exciting time of your life but it is hard to thrive under these conditions. I understand your feelings of responsibility for your dad and your brother, but you aren’t helping either of them by keeping yourself in a situation that diminishes you and causes you to be less than the person you are capable of being. You don’t have to be living with them to be able to love and support them. The better you are for yourself, the better you can be for the people you love.

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hello

Your mother is not a child and you are not responsible for her upkeep. Please get out and save yourself so that these people do not pull you down to their level. Narcissists are incapable of change and only drain their narcissistic supply (which is you).

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Dj

I’m not truly old enough to say I’m able to stay away from my mom. She is a single parent and has no issues reminding me of the fact that she is all alone. I’m obviously still a minor but even now I struggle to remember why I continue to live. I’m an inconvenience to her. She lies to and about me. She has no problem pointing out all my mistakes and then calling me a bitch for them. Simple stuff like not doing the dishes fast enough gets rewarded with a punch and a bitch thrown my way. I’m in a way glad I don’t bruise easy. If I’m happy she believes it’s her job to make me depressed or mad. After she goes on her daily rampage she apologizes for hitting me several times and then goes on to say why something I said or did caused it. Because of her I have decided not to have kids. When I’m an adult that is going to be one of the first things I take care of. I couldn’t subject a kid to her or me who I fear will turn out as toxic and abusive as she is. She has everyone around her fooled. Her violent tendencies are hidden beneath a facade. She tears me down daily. She had someone who I trusted tell me no one would ever love me. I was unloveable. When I took a razor to my skin that was what I thought about. I’m not trying to make anyone feel sorry. I just want to say thank you for creating this article. It won’t change anything but it gives me some hope for the future.

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Hey Sigmund

Dj please listen to me. There is absolutely nothing in the world that you could do that would deserve what you mom is doing to you. I also want you to know how incredibly strong you are to be able to live in the environment you do and to keep going. You are not unloveable. Gosh it’s crazy how LOVEABLE you are! Even just in your short letter there are so many things I can see that would be so wonderful about you. Your honesty, your courage, your strength, your resilience, your open heart. Don’t let her make you believe otherwise. They are her messages, they are not the truth.

I know you don’t want sympathy and I can see that you’re too strong for that. Sympathy is an unhelpful thing anyway. I can see that you’re a survivor and a fighter and I have the most incredible respect for you. What I want is for you to be safe and for the things your mother says and does, not to stop you from being the person you are capable of being. Keep this comment somewhere handy and whenever you feel yourself believing what she is saying, I want you to read it and I want you to remember how important you are and the amazing things about you and the way you have impacted me, a stranger. Find your own truth and keep coming back to it. I wish you could have a mother who is able to love you in the way you deserve. Be careful with the messages you say to yourself. Be gentle and loving with yourself and know that what your mother is telling you and doing to you is all about her dysfunction, not yours.

What’s happening to you is abuse. It’s not normal and it’s not okay. Is there somebody at your school or another adult that you can talk to. Perhaps a friend’s parent? And is there somewhere else you can stay, again, maybe with a relative or a family friend. Just because she is your mother, there is no obligation for you to stay with her. Here is a link to a place in the US that has counsellors online 24/7 if you would like to talk to someone https://www.childhelp.org/hotline/. I’m not sure how old you are but they would deal with minors of all ages. If you are not in the US, please let me know and I will let you know other places you can find support. If you can, look at the site on a school computer. If you look at it from a home computer, it might be wise to delete the browser history afterwards. If you want to talk to somebody in person, perhaps somebody at your school but you aren’t sure how to start, I would be really happy to help you with this. My email address is .

Finally, I’m not sure how far off adulthood you are and how close you are to being able to make a decision about making sure you can’t have kids, but I do have some advice I would like you to think about. If you choose not to have kids that’s completely your decision but it is a big decision, and you might feel differently in, say 10 years or when you meet someone who loves you and who you love just as much back. Before you make the decision, it might be worth waiting until you have been away from your mother for at least 12 months and you are more free of her influence. You are not her. You will never be her. She has done enough damage and you don’t want to add to that by being influenced by her into making a permanent decision, one way or the other. I’m not saying that having children is important, but the decision about whether or not to have them is an important one and needs to be done with as much clarity as possible.

You are amazing – strong, brave and amazing. Please think about talking to someone about what’s happening in your home. When you have so many toxic messages and abusive actions coming at you, it’s important to get love, kindness and support coming back the other way to push against that. We all need that. There are people who can give that to you. Don’t feel as though you have to do this alone. Much love and strength to you.

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Robyn

Hi Dj. I had a toxic mother. I think she had an undiagnosed Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and if we were to sit down and chat I think we could swap pretty much identical stories.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that it really became clear what I’d lived through, that it was abuse, the effect it had on me and how my response to it had influenced the decisions I’d made in my life. I didn’t have children because I didn’t think I’d be a very good parent. When I hit the pause button now and think about that notion, I can see it came from a mixture of taking on her often-repeated view that I wasn’t good enough for anything, and not knowing how to do it differently because she was my parenting model.

Now that I’m away from her and have come to understand myself better, I’m sad about how her toxic behaviour was such a factor in influencing my choice in such a personal matter.

I think Karen’s advice is sound – give yourself some time to recover. Treat yourself with kindness, cherish the good that certainly does lie within you. Think about the future and all the great things you can achieve. As a friend of mine once said “If you’d had supportive parents you could have been Prime Minister by now!”

The weaknesses she berates you for are the weaknesses she doesn’t want to acknowledge in herself. It must be truly miserable being her.

There will be tears, DJ, but here’s something for you to hold close : You are loveable, and you are loved.

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Dj

Thank you for the support. I know she has stuff wrong with her but I can’t separate myself from her. I have tried for years to distance my feelings and tell myself they weren’t true but I couldn’t. I set myself up every time when she apologizes because I forgive her and allow her to continue telling me this stuff. My tears are what she wants. My sadness. Wish I could talk to someone but then if they actually believed me, I would be taken from her. Only because I have been taken before do I know that me and my brothers would be separated. She loves my two brothers. Treats them like a normal parent would. I couldn’t live with the guilt of splitting them apart. From her and each other. My goal was to try for Stanford university, when I told her she was simply like I definitely won’t be paying for that. I said she wouldn’t have to since they are need blind. I told her I would get accepted for just my brains. She said sure you will, I’ll be surprised if you ever go to college. No college will accept your dumb ass. I’ll see you at Mc Donald’s in a few years. The one thing she can’t do is take my dream. If I make it to 18 and past I’m going to become a trauma surgeon. Helping people and healing people. Thank you both for the support you’ve given.

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Hey Sigmund

Dj you are so extraordinary. You are articulate, intelligent, strong and resilient. You’re incredible. I understand your reluctance to talk to someone and your need to stay with your brothers. I can hear how important that is to you. I want you to know that I believe you completely, and that I am not going to do anything that will disempower you. You have my email and you have the website link I sent through. If you ever want my help to talk to someone, or if you just want to drop me an email, I’m here. I want you to know that. I believe in you completely and I have absolutely no doubt that you will make it to Stanford and give something to the world that would not have been there without you. It’s difficult to understand why your mother treats your brothers differently to you. Perhaps she sees in you the great potential that she never realised in herself. Don’t ever believe the things she tells you about yourself. Keep your dream, keep working towards, and don’t ever stop! I know that you will get there. Stanford and the world will be so lucky to have you. Work hard in school – it will make all the difference, and don’t ever believe that you won’t achieve everything you want. You will – you really will. I hope you feel the arms of the world wrapping around you and willing you on, believing in you and knowing that you will get to where you want to be and that you will make a difference. Email me whenever you like – you don’t need a reason. If you want to let me know how your doing at home or at school or to celebrate when you get a good mark or a disappointing one – whatever you like. I’m here. You are truly wonderful.

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Stephanie

DJ, your story is my story also. Everything you are describing is exactly what I went through with my mother. I also had 2 younger brothers who I was concerned about, and I felt like if I left then who would be there to show them what normal should look like? I did finally move out early when I was 17 and stayed with friends until I was old enough to get an apartment. Just keep remembering, this too shall pass..

It took me until I was 40 to realize that I am not responsible for my mother or my brothers, and that I can’t make them healthy or happy. What I can do, is decide to be healthy and happy for myself and my own family. I haven’t had any contact with my mother or my brothers in a long time (they believe the things she says about me, and are very dysfunctional themselves) but they know where I am and how to contact me should they want to. I am here, and willing to have a HEALTHY relationship if and when they are capable. I will not chase them or beg for their love and affection any longer though.

Concerning the issue of having children, I felt the same way that you do — how could I know how to be a mother when I essentially had never had one? I knew what I didn’t want to do with my children, but how do you know what you should do instead if you’ve never seen it? I went to college (with no parental support — and you can do that too — look into being legally emancipated so they won’t require you to list your parent’s income on your financial aid forms) and I got a degree in Early Childhood Education which is the best thing I ever did for my children. I learned what children need from the caregivers in their lives, and I learned how to be nurturing and supportive. When I had my children, I vowed that they would always be the most important thing in my life, and I would do whatever it took to change the pattern of abuse that I was taught. I am not a perfect mother, and I have made plenty of mistakes, but I am not my mother. I refuse to be.

Good luck to you, DJ, and God bless.

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Barbara

Thank you for giving me hope that maybe (one day) I will be strong enough, and that maybe, just maybe it was not all my fault like I was always told. I stopped having contact with my parents about 2 years ago… I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t a conscious decision, I just … couldn’t do it anymore. I had tried to limit my contact with them, but the phone calls (which also mostly made me curl up in fetal position) of course were not enough and resulted in even more accusations of how other daughters were so much better and on better terms with their mothers. The last Christmas I spent with them … I had a cold, so after spending 3 hours in an ice cold church all I wanted to do was to curl up in bed… where my mother cornered me and explained to me how I was the reason that she wanted to kill herself, all she ever wished for was a daughter and then she got one, but it turned out to be me. How even as a baby I did not return their love and turned away. How she always thought to herself “Well, she is just a stupid kid, when she grows up she will come to her senses”. How I was a grown-up now, supposedly, but still had not… Followed by 2 days where I was supposed to take care of their technical needs, fixing computers, teaching them how to use various devices, like nothing ever happened. And still I came back. Because they were my parents after all.
My older brother had cut ties with them a few years prior already which of course was added to the list of things that were my fault. After all it was my duty to tell my brother that this was no way to treat his parents and drag him back to them. Only … I couldn’t blame him: He had become a father and told me that while he was “fine” with being treated like crap himself, he had realised that he never ever would subject his own kids to our parents and their crazy world views. We had grown up with them telling us how bad everyone and everything else outside our family was, how we would come to realise that friends don’t really care about us and would always betray us, how only our parents would stand by us. How everyone else had it better or easier. And, of course, our parents were always right. My dad was a judge, so he was being paid for being right after all. (One of his bon mots)
Recently I’ve been forced out of my “ignorance is bliss” hiding state as my mother became terminally ill and suddenly me and (mostly) my brother were contacted again, more persistently. Once again, the cancer is my brother’s fault and mine… So, for my own sanity, I’ve decided that I would not go there. And this time it is a conscious decision.

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Hey Sigmund

Barbara you have done the right thing in deciding not to go there with your parents. You deserve so much better than what they have given you. The way your parents have treated you is a glaring sign of their dysfunction, not yours and I wish so much for you that you are able to see their behaviour for the truly toxic behaviour that it is. It sounds as though you are well on your way to this. I’m so pleased you have been able to make a conscious decision in relation to your parents. Your decision to not go there is strong, brave and important. It would be almost impossible to thrive and be the person you are capable of being when there are such belittling and cruel comments being directed at you. Here is an article that might also be helpful for you, in case you haven’t read it https://www.heysigmund.com/toxic-people-when-someone-you-love-toxic/. Keep moving forward with strength and courage and don’t look back.

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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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When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.
Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

Our kids need this too, but as their important adults, it can be hard to hush without needing to fix things, or gather up their experience and bundle it into a learning that will grow them. We do this because we love them, but it can also mean that they choose not to let us in for the wrong reasons. 

We can’t help them if we don’t know what’s happening in their world, and entry will be on their terms - even more as they get older. As they grow, they won’t trust us with the big things if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn that we can handle the little things (which might feel seismic to them). They won’t let us in to their world unless we make it safe for them to.

When my own kids were small, we had a rule that when I picked them up from school they could tell me anything, and when we drove into the driveway, the conversation would be finished if they wanted it to be. They only put this rule into play a few times, but it was enough for them to learn that it was safe to talk about anything, and for me to hear what was happening in that part of their world that happened without me. My gosh though, there were times that the end of the conversation would be jarring and breathtaking and so unfinished for me, but every time they would come back when they were ready and we would finish the chat. As it turned out, I had to trust them as much as I wanted them to trust me. But that’s how parenting is really isn’t it.

Of course there will always be lessons in their experiences we will want to hear straight up, but we also need them to learn that we are safe to come to.  We need them to know that there isn’t anything about them or their life we can’t handle, and when the world feels hard or uncertain, it’s safe here. By building safety, we build our connection and influence. It’s just how it seems to work.♥️
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#parenting #parenthood #mindfulparenting
Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

It’s completely understandable that new things or hard things (such as going back to school) might drive thoughts of falls and fails and missteps. When this happens, it’s not so much the hard thing or the new thing that drives avoidance, but thoughts of failing or not being good enough. The more meaningful the ‘thing’ is, the more this is likely to happen. If you can look behind the words, and through to the intention - to avoid failure more than the new or difficult experience, it can be easier to give them what they need. 

Often, ‘I can’t’ means, ‘What if I can’t?’ or, ‘Do you think I can?’, or, ‘Will you still think I’m brave, strong, and capable of I fail?’ They need to know that the outcome won’t make any difference at all to how much you adore them, and how capable and exceptional you think they are. By focusing on process, (the courage to give it a go), we clear the runway so they can feel safer to crawl, then walk, then run, then fly. 

It takes time to reach full flight in anything, but in the meantime the stumbling can make even the strongest of hearts feel vulnerable. The more we focus on process over outcome (their courage to try over the result), and who they are over what they do (their courage, tenacity, curiosity over the outcome), the safer they will feel to try new things or hard things. We know they can do hard things, and the beauty and expansion comes first in the willingness to try. 
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#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
Never in the history of forever has there been such a  lavish opportunity for a year to be better than the last. Not to be grabby, but you know what I’d love this year? Less opportunities that come in the name of ‘resilience’. I’m ready for joy, or adventure, or connection, or gratitude, or courage - anything else but resilience really. Opportunities for resilience have a place, but 2020 has been relentless with its servings, and it’s time for an out breath. Here’s hoping 2021 will be a year that wraps its loving arms around us. I’m ready for that. x
The holidays are a wonderland of everything that can lead to hyped up, exhausted, cranky, excited, happy kids (and adults). Sometimes they’ll cycle through all of these within ten minutes. Sugar will constantly pry their little mouths wide open and jump inside, routines will laugh at you from a distance, there will be gatherings and parties, and everything will feel a little bit different to usual. And a bit like magic. 

Know that whatever happens, it’s all part of what the holidays are meant to look like. They aren’t meant to be pristine and orderly and exactly as planned. They were never meant to be that. Christmas is about people, your favourite ones, not tasks. If focusing on the people means some of the tasks fall down, let that be okay, because that’s what Christmas is. It’s about you and your people. It’s not about proving your parenting stamina, or that you’ve raised perfectly well-behaved humans, or that your family can polish up like the catalog ones any day of the week, or that you can create restaurant quality meals and decorate the table like you were born doing it. Christmas is messy and ridiculous and exhausting and there will be plenty of frayed edges. And plenty of magic. The magic will happen the way it always happens. Not with the decorations or the trimmings or the food or the polish, but by being with the ones you love, and the ones who love you right back.

When it all starts to feel too important, too necessary and too ‘un-let-go-able’, be guided by the bigger truth, which is that more than anything, you will all remember how you all felt – as in how happy they felt, how loved they felt were, how noticed they felt. They won’t care about the instagram-worthy meals on the table, the cleanliness of the floors, how many relatives they visited, or how impressed other grown-ups were with their clean faces and darling smiles. It’s easy to forget sometimes, that what matters most at Christmas isn’t the tasks, but the people – the ones who would give up pretty much anything just to have the day with you.

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