Well first, let’s be sure that you had a toxic parent. Here are 10 signs that you grew up with toxic parents who had an impact on your emotional well-being, according to Healthy Way:
Signs You Were Raised by Toxic Parents
1. Their feelings always came before yours. (You had to quickly learn emotional independence.)
2. They didn’t recognize your boundaries. (Parenting becomes toxic parenting when there’s no respect.)
3. They controlled you using guilt. (And the guilt worked.)
4. They demanded your attention. (A healthy relationship is attentive but not overly attentive.)
5. They didn’t talk to you. (This can be considered parental alienation.)
6. They took away their love. (This is also sometimes considered parental alienation.)
7. They were overly critical. (They expected too much out of you.)
8. They competed with you. (They may have been a narcissistic parent.)
9. They made you responsible for their happiness and well-being. (This is not okay from a family member or anyone else.)
10. You’re still scared of them. (Your parent-child relationship wasn’t healthy, and neither is your parent-to-parent relationship these days).
Let Go !!.
These two very little words — five letters in all — are hugely important, because contrary to the popular opinion, which always tells us that it takes the effort to keep trying and hang in, default position for the humans is persistence. What’s hard is quitting and letting go. The reasons are both complicated and simple.
What letting go isn’t
But letting go doesn’t mean pretending that the past never happened, that you weren’t hurt or affected, or that your parent or parents should be somehow let off the hook and not held responsible. It means learning to discriminate between ways of thinking you must let go of and emotions that need to be tossed aside that keep you stuck, and way’s of thinking and the feeling that will help you move you forward and help you heal.
The fancy name for the kind of letting go I’m talking about is goal disengagement. This isn’t a one-step thing, like the image that comes into your mind when you think of the words “let go” — you’re likely to visualize the string falling free from your grasp and the balloon rising in the air, or the moment your hand slips and what you’re holding falls with a thud — but a process, and a complex one at that.
It’s basically a four-step process that involves letting go of the thinking patterns that have maintained the status quo (cognitive disengagement), managing the emotions that accompany giving up or quitting (effective disengagement), giving up on that earlier goal (motivational disengagement), and putting plans into action for a new goal (behavioral disengagement).
Each of these steps requires a slightly different skill set:
Cognitive disengagement requires that you stop thinking about why you didn’t achieve the goal you set and worrying and/or ruminating about it, stop running “what if” scenarios in your head that are likely to convince you that maybe you shouldn’t let go after all.
Effective disengagement requires that you deal with all the emotions that are aroused when you fail to achieve what you set out to do; that includes feeling guilty, beaten down, or blaming yourself.
Motivational disengagement requires you to stop thinking about that goal and start planning new objectives, including where you want to go now and what you want to try. Finally,
Behavioral disengagement requires you to act and start planning how you will change your future.
How this applies to a toxic childhood
In case it sounds too abstract, let me put terms into the context of dealing with toxic childhood.
Your childhood was one in which you felt the unloved, unseen, and the marginalized, and were subject to endless criticism and perhaps the scapegoating. You did what you could to armor yourself, or perhaps you placated others instead; in any case, you did what you could to deal until you finally moved out into your young adult life.
It’s at that moment that you began to make your own choices about where to live, friends, how to support yourself, partners, and lovers, but also how to deal with your family of origin. Most unloved the daughters — relishing the fact that they’re out from under mothers’ direct influence — do little to challenge status quo and do what they can to manage situation.
It’s when their efforts to manage begin to fail — they are still hurt by encounters with their parent or parents or perhaps siblings, are unable to manage the resulting emotions, still feel adrift, and are unable to set healthy boundaries — that they realize they’re stuck and have to disengage and find a new way of relating to their family.
Cognitive disengagement is made difficult, because the cultural tropes about family underscore the importance of staying the course and because the unloved daughter is likely to mistrust her own judgment after years of being told she’s less than and likely to be prone to second-guessing (“Maybe she’s right, and I am too sensitive,” “She’s done the best she can, and maybe I’m wrong to ask for more”).
Effective disengagement is hard not just because of the past pain, which arouses all manner of the emotions, from anger to the sorrow, as well as the feelings of the guilt, shame, and disloyalty at even the contemplating managing your connection to your family differently. Then, too, is fear that they’re right about you, and you’re just wrong on every level. Add in fact that the children who don’t get attuned attention they need in the infancy and the childhood have trouble regulating the emotion anyway, and you can see why this part of process of letting go is so hard.
Motivational disengagement is thwarted by what I call the “core conflict” — the tension between your recognition that you need to manage your relationship with your mother and family of origin and your continuing need for your mother’s love and support and your hopefulness that it can be won. The conflict effectively keeps a daughter stuck in the status quo.
And as long as the core conflict continues, acting is impossible, so the stage of behavioral disengagement — of setting new goals for your life and relationship — never happens.
Small steps to letting go
If you find yourself stuck, these strategies may help you break the logjam. Working with a gifted therapist is the best route, of course, but there are things you can do to help yourself.
1. Recognize that it’s not your fault.
Self-blame, which is a default position, keeps you stymied, and thinking that there’s some flaw in you that you could fix and things would be fine does too. Realizing that you’re not to blame brings with it the recognition that you cannot fix this on your own; your parent or parents must cooperate.
2. Don’t normalize abusive behavior.
Children normalize the behavior experienced in their families of origin, and it’s not uncommon for them to continue to do so as adults. Don’t excuse or become inured to verbal abuse; register that it’s happening, and react calmly and in a straightforward way. You have the right to set rules about how you wish to be treated, even with a parent or relative.
3. Set boundaries.
You will need to carve out the mental space to figure out how to manage relationship. Do whatever you need to — cutting down the contact or limiting it — to be able to do so.
4. Build your emotional skill set.
Try to identify your emotions as precisely as you can — an important part of emotional intelligence — and see if you can trace the source of your feelings, especially when you think about your relationship with your mother and other family members. Work on distinguishing guilt from shame, for example, as well as negative feelings about yourself as either deserving of poor treatment or undeserving of love.
5. Manage your thoughts.
Rumination and worry can keep you totally stuck. Research on intrusive thoughts shows that trying to suppress thoughts only results in their being more persistent, so you need to try other techniques. Assign yourself a worry time; another is to permit yourself to confront those intrusive thoughts and think about the worse-case scenario if those worries came true, and you had to deal with them.
Letting go is an art that is hard to learn, but can be mastered.
The main reason is that most significant individual adaptations to emotional environment happen unconsciously. According to the attachment theory, these are internalized mental models or working the assumptions about how world operates, how people connect or don’t, and basic nature of the relationships.
Evolution has engineered the human infants to survive and part of the survival involves reducing the huge stress; if baby’s emotional needs aren’t being met or are answered unreliably, brain simply adapts rather than feel continued stress of deprivation. This adaptation changes how the child thinks, behaves, and interacts with her primary caretakers, most usually her mother. All of this takes place in first months and years of life, and are carried with unloved child into the adolescence and the adulthood. Science deems these children insecurely attached—not having been able to forge secure and dyadic connection to their primary caretaker. (source) (source) (source)
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