Toxic parents – how can we release ourselves?

Toxic parents - Saying no

Most parents are trying to raise their children in a positive manner, loving them and offering them what they need, and in spite of all these, sometimes they fail. There is nothing unusual about it. We are not perfect, we make mistakes and we learn from them so that we won’t repeat them again. But there are parents who constantly behave in a damaging manner with their children, and in this situation we can’t talk about occasional mistakes, but about toxicity. Any behavior that produces an emotional wound or negatively influences the way a person perceives himself is a toxic behavior. So, such a parent traumatizes, abuses and denigrates his child and, most likely, continues to do the same even after he has grown.

In addition, a toxic parent ....

  • Is always critical - there is a difference between criticizing one's behavior, giving a constructive feedback to his or her own good and constantly criticizing someone, no matter what they do. In this case, the child starts to doubt himself, loses confidence and courage and becomes extremely critical of himself.
  • Is doing everything he can to pay him attention - although he can put this to the fact that he wants a close relationship with you. Parents should usually give children enough space to grow and develop without asking to interact with them permanently, to satisfy their own needs. Even in adulthood, we meet those parents who ask their children to give up their activities or plans to get them as close as possible for as long as possible.
  • Doesn’t allow you to express negative emotions - a parent who isn’t responsive to the child’s emotional needs and he punishes him, one way or another, when he cries or expresses his anger, will teach his child that is wrong to express your emotions, and if you do that it won’t help you, but on the contrary, you’ll face a negative reaction from those around you. The child, who has grown up, will fear to express himself and to be authentic.
  • Tries to control you, inducing you guilt feelings or through money - the purpose is to please him and to obey, and often manipulates and emotionally blackmails you. Such parents will tell you how much they have done for you and how ungrateful you are, they will buy you gifts or they will help you with money so that you feel indebted and to respond promptly to their solicitations and claims.
  • Places the responsibility of his happiness on you - continuing with the idea mentioned above, some parents reproach to their children the sacrifices they’ve made for them, the fact that they gave up their dreams to raise them, making them feel guilty for their misery, and pressing them with unrealistic expectations. But no child should be responsible for the happiness of their parents, and no parent should ask them or impose on their children to give up on what makes them happy to balance things and pay their "debt."
  • Does whatever he can not to distance yourself from him and he behaves as if you were still a child - it’s natural to want to become more and more autonomous and independent and it’s not right for our parents to undermine our ability to make our own decisions about our life and to determine us to give up on them just because they disagree. By doing so, they try to control us like they used to do when we were kids.
  • Breaks your personal limits and boundaries - every person needs to learn to set certain boundaries with those around him. A toxic parent thinks it’s appropriate to interfere in your life, even though you’re not a child anymore. He thinks he’s entitled to call you at any hour of the day or night, to tell you anything that goes through his mind and to ask you to talk about certain personal things, even though you don’t want it, to tell you what to do and how to live your life, what friends or partner you should have. And if you fight back, he will get angry or upset to make you feel guilty.
  • Doesn’t express his thoughts and feelings directly, but he has passive-aggressive attitudes and behaviors. One such example is when the parent chooses not to talk to you for days or weeks to make you feel guilty and give up.
  • Doesn’t realize what’s his role and tries to turn you into the Parent - it's like the roles are reversed, and you become the parent of your mother or father, they being, in fact, at a psychologically level, some emotionally immature children. In this case, parents expect you to solve their problems, to take care of them, to support them, and to sacrifice for them. I am not referring now to the situations where the parent is ill and can’t take care of himself or when he faces certain difficulties in life and needs help, but I’m talking about those relationship patterns when, although the parent could take care of himself, he prefers not to take responsibility for his life and burdens the child with all kind of demands and claims.

Where did our parents learn to behave like this? Most likely in their own family, from their parents. In this case, it may be quite difficult to realize the impact they have on their own children, to understand how wrong they behave, especially since they aren’t aware of the patterns they have taken from their parents, if they were conditioned not to question these things, to overlook their faults and not to criticize them because "you can’t do such a thing." It may be hard to see your parents as they are and to admit that they hurt you, but you are the one who can stop the transmission of this trans-generational pattern. Be aware of what you took from them. Do you find yourself in situations where you behave exactly like them, either with your own children or with other close persons, even if this doesn’t do you any well nor does well to others? What can you do to change these patterns?

Children who have been abused, neglected, mistreated, rejected, humiliated, criticized will form in time a negative opinion of themselves and, in one way or another, almost all will feel inadequate, worthless, unworthy of being loved  Most of the times, these children are feeling guilty for the way their parents behaved with them, as if it were easier to accept that they were "bad" than the fact that the parent, who should be the protector, is a bad person you can’t trust. As adults, they will carry with them feelings of guilt and shame, which will stop them from forming a positive opinion of themselves, and this will be reflected in all aspects of life. Maybe they will accept abusive and destructive relationships in their lives, they will be afraid to get too close to someone for fear of being hurt or abandoned, they will undermine their successes, not considering that they deserve them, they will be afraid to open themselves in front of others, lest their weaknesses and defects be noticed; maybe they will expect the worst from others and life in general, and it will be hard for them to figure out who they are, what they feel and what they want.

In their relationship with their parents, they will feel responsible for what they feel and will think it’s their duty to please them, to make them happy, and they will make most decisions according to their parents approval or disapproval, avoiding to argue against them. They will also feel that anything they do is not enough and will try to please them hoping that they will receive the affection and approval they lacked and hoping that one day they will change for the better.

How can you change the situation? Changing the way you relate to them and to yourself. Most likely, if your parents haven’t changed their attitude and behavior toward you until now, they won’t change it either from now on. The fewer expectations you have from them, the less you’ll suffer. What part of yourself is looking for the acceptance, love, validation and approval of your parents? The inner child who is still suffering. Perhaps they haven’t been able to give you the affection and respect you deserve, but certainly you are the one who can do that for yourself now. If you still behave following the same patterns, you will do nothing but to maintain the relational dysfunction and the unconscious psychological games. Maybe you are fighting, trying to change them, hoping they will accept you as you are, but this struggle is useless and drains your power. The solution is to get out of the game, to stop maintaining the same destructive patterns; to stop trying to change them, stop doing everything you can to please them, hoping that they will be nicer to you; to act consciously instead of reacting emotionally to them, to give up the illusions that you have created and which concern them.

See them as they are - their actions talk about their own flaws, not about yours. It’s your duty to delimit yourself from them and to stop anyone from breaking those limits, from devaluing you or from controlling your life. You are the only person on whom your inner child can rely. Observe him, acknowledge his suffering and help him heal. Give him what you feel he missed, accept and protect him. You are not responsible for the way your parents behaved with you when you were a helpless child, but you are responsible for the way you live from now on and what you can do to heal and stop allowing others to break your limits.

When you redefine your relationship with your parents, when you take control over your life, when you let yourself to see the  reality as it is and to change those things that harm you, you will begin to feel more and more free, more confident and stronger.


Dr. Ursula Sandner



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