Relationships with toxic parents can be hard to walk away from. You may need distance from your parents to create the boundaries that you’re unable to make verbally. Some people cut off from family for that reason or due to unresolved anger and resentment from childhood. Cut-offs may be necessary in very abusive environments. However, although they reduce emotional tension, the underlying problems remain and can affect all of your relationships. Many family therapists suggest that the ideal way to become independent from your family is to work on yourself in therapy, then visit your parents and practice what you’ve learned. It’s far better for your growth to learn how to respond to abuse. (See “Do’s and Don’ts in Confronting Abuse.)” I’ve witnessed clients who felt uncomfortable returning home do this. They gradually transitioned from reluctantly staying in their parents’ residence during visits, to becoming comfortable declining invitations home, to staying in a hotel or with friends without guilt. Some could eventually stay with their parents and enjoy it.
When you visit, pay attention to unspoken rules and the boundary and communication patterns. Try behaving in a way that’s different from the role you played growing up (see Codependency for Dummies). Pay attention to the habits and defenses you use to manage anxiety. Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” Remember that although you may feel like a child with your parents, you aren’t one. You’re now a powerful adult. You can leave unlike when you were a child.
Where active drug addiction and abuse are present, consider what boundaries you require in order to feel comfortable. Know your bottom-line. Is it a one-day or one-hour visit or only a short phone call? Some adult children of addicted parents refuse to talk on the phone or be around them when their parents are drinking our using drugs. You may have siblings who pressure you to rescue a parent, or you may be tempted to do so. With difficult family situations, it’s helpful to talk with a therapist or other people in recovery from codependency.
Some Truths about Having Toxic Parents
Healing a relationship begins with you — your feelings and attitudes. Sometimes working on yourself is all it takes. That doesn’t imply that your parents will change, but you will. Sometimes forgiveness is necessary or a conversation is required.
Here are some things to think about when it comes to your family:*
1. Your parents don’t have to heal for you to get well.
2. Cut-offs don’t heal.
3. You are not your parents.
4. You’re not the abusive things they say about you either. See “Codependency is Based on Fake Facts.”)
5. You don’t have to like your parents, but you might still be attached and love them.
6. Active addiction or abuse by a parent may trigger you. Set boundaries and practice nonattachment. Get “14 Tips for Letting Go.”
7. You can’t change or rescue family members.
8. Indifference, not hatred or anger, is the opposite of love.
9. Hating someone interferes with loving yourself.
10. Unresolved anger and resentment hurt you.
What You Can Do
Start therapy and attend CoDA, ACoA, or Al-Anon meetings. Learn to identify abuse and manipulation. Learn How to Raise Your Self-Esteem and heal shame and childhood trauma. (See Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.) Have a support network, and become financially independent from your parents. Do the exercises in my ebook, How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits and webinar, How to Be Assertive. With abusive and difficult parents, my ebook, Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People lays out particular and specific strategies for confronting bad behavior with highly defensive people.
©Darlene Lancer 2018