When people recover from trauma, they often separate themselves from the person who caused it. But, what about recovering from being traumatized by your parents, the people you still see? Whether you still live with your toxic parents or visit them during the holidays, we understand that there’s no way to take back the pain, fears, or hellish nightmares you’ve experienced. That’s what makes it so hard, right? That despite everything that happened, somehow you’re still involved. Maybe it’s time to look beyond the fires of destruction for an exit—one you can find together. Psych2Go shares with you 5 ways to approach your toxic parents:
1. Find your calm. Step outside first if you must.
Emotions often distract us from problem-solving. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or angry, step outside and breathe in some fresh air. Getting out of the house for a while is healthy. The air inside may not be toxic, but the mood is. It’s impossible to shut down and stop feeling everything altogether. After all, we have emotions in order to detect danger. But rather than staying rooted in them, stepping out to cry it all out or scream on a rooftop before going back inside can give you a clear head.
You’ve been through a lot, and so have your parents. What you’re about to do is brave. Don’t expect yourself to have it all together, but be aware of the way you deliver your actions. It’s easier to do that when you’re not wrapped so tightly in your emotions that can explode at any second. So, go ahead and find your calm first.
2. Don’t point fingers or compare and contrast.
This will only cause the both of you to talk at each other, not with each other. Your parents will feel offended and the first thing they’ll want to do is defend themselves. They won’t hear where you’re coming from because they’ll feel attacked. Rather than saying, “Why can’t you be like so and so’s parents?” or blaming all of your problems on them, tell them that you’ve been badly hurt and negatively affected.
Replace phrases like, “You should know better than to invade my boundaries” or, “You should know better than to lash out on me like that” with, “I want us to get better. But it doesn’t happen from disrespecting boundaries or lashing out on me. I know this is hard for the both of us. Let’s work through it together.” Be the bigger person and express empathy. If your parents were ever highly critical of you, you already understand how scarring the experiences were. Rather than criticizing them back, steer your conversations in a more welcoming direction where the both of you can be more receptive to each other’s needs.
3. Be honest and tell them what you need from them.
Approach them gently and tell them honestly how you feel and what you need from them. It’s going to be uncomfortable when you’re open and vulnerable, but it’s clear at this point that your parents aren’t behaving right towards you. Nor does it put you in a place where you can grow and develop in a healthy fashion. Rather than screaming, approach them calmly about the issues. Tell them that you want things to get better between the two of you, but that you can’t carry the weight for the both of you, nor can you do all the work. Unfortunately, growth can’t be done for another person. They have to want it just as much. You can’t force someone to change, but you can still provide insights and perspectives they can eventually digest and understand one day.
When I first moved out because things became incredibly unstable between my mother and I, weeks passed before we heard from each other. One morning, I woke up to the sound of my phone buzzing. I checked the screen and saw that she was calling me. Half asleep and without much thought, I answered it. There was silent breathing on the other end before I heard her hang up. What did that brief silence mean? The most important things are the hardest to say, but when they’re all you have, somehow you’ll still find a way to say them.
4. Just hold them.
Your parents are flawed just like any of us, and you know it better than anyone else because their actions affect you every day. It’s funny—how layered people can be. There’s a fusion of sadness, longing, and disappointment baked into each of us. Some days, your parents may show their fiery, aggressive, my-way-or-the-highway side. It upsets you when they don’t listen to your input or give you room to explore who you want to be. You become aggravated, scared, and frustrated. But as you step into the kitchen for a glass of water and pass their bedroom on the way, you can hear their muffled crying. How is it that someone can be so angry and violent one minute, but fragile and shaky the next?
Sometimes, we don’t want words, because language can fail us. I am familiar with that failure everyday when language barriers are hard to break between my parents and I. So when it hurts too much to say anything, don’t say anything at all. Reach out and hold their hand. Hug them. Hold them when they’re bending over their bed, sobbing and breaking. This isn’t the end. Break together until there’s nothing left to break anymore, and then let them know that you still want to start over with them. No one said this was going to be easy, but it’s powerful when you step down and humanize your parents.
5. Demonstrate the love and support you’ve always wanted from them.
If they can’t understand how to love you better, then you can show them what you’ve been missing. It sounds a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? A parent learning from their child. But knowledge is power, and sometimes we gain it when we least expect it. Often, children who are raised by toxic parents either repeat the toxic cycle themselves or become the opposite of who they were always afraid to become. For instance, rather than being angry and unyielding, I’ve learned to become flexible and understanding.
Set an example for your parents and show them that it’s possible that they can still be anyone they want to be. You’ll come to find that inside each parent is a scared little kid, especially when they’re afraid of failing you again. Providing encouragement never hurts. But never trying does.
Are you scared to approach your toxic parents? We understand how difficult it can be and want to help. Please share your story with us by leaving a comment down below!
One of our dear readers asked for our help, which is why I took the leap and wrote this. I understand this advice may not be applicable to everyone, because all our experiences are painted differently. Unfortunately, there’s no “right way” to approaching toxic parents when their behaviors aren’t uniform. But, I wrote this from my own personal experiences and it comes straight from the heart—a place of terrible memories that also co-exists with the room I enter for healing. I thank each and every one of you for stepping into that room with me. ♥
Want to say hello or send a personal message? You can reach the author at email@example.com. ♥
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