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Poisonous Parents: Should You Cut Them Off?

Poisonous Parents: Should You Cut Them Off?
Most therapists have a bias to salvage family relationships and heal family rifts and estrangements, even when the bond is abusive and hurtful to our patients.   I am a therapist who has worked with many people in this situation as well as having experienced a family rift myself.  Many years ago I was also a therapy patient and experienced the exact problem I am describing.  “Tell your parents what you feel toward them,” one therapist advised.  I listened.  I wasn’t a therapist at that point, but he was a therapist after all, and had helped me in many ways.  Disaster, however, was the outcome, and my feelings were responded to with a barrage of invective that was exceedingly painful to hear.  Another therapist at the time suggested that my problem was my own feelings about myself, with the implication that if I had better self-esteem, I would not be so deeply affected by my family’s abuse. 

Before I go on, I want to point out that there are also toxic adult children who divorce their parents for reasons that are generally related to perceived injustices or simply personality disorders.  I’ve worked with many parents whose adult children stopped speaking to them, and they were the ones who were trying to reconcile even while their child remained obstinately silent.  In other words, it is not always the parents’ fault, and many parents of adult children who have estranged themselves sit with broken hearts every day and remain terribly frustrated because their grown child has rebuffed all attempts at reconciliation.

This topic gets almost no notice because of the shame and secrecy involved, but the issue need not be disposed of with such gloom. I say that out of personal, as well as professional, experience.  It is difficult at first to contend with this level of family dysfunction, but in my experience there are definitely great benefits when you dispose of abuse from a family member.  It most certainly can be a growth experience, but even more than that perhaps, it makes family events and special occasions much more fun when you don’t have to worry about an abusive family member ruining the event.

I and my wife had lived with abuse from my family of origin for many years, and when we finally walked away from the abuse, it turned out that life was much better, happier and full of joy, absent of abuse. Time heals.  I’m blessed with a great deal of inborn resilience, but I also went through this trauma with a wonderful support network of my family of creation and choice.  I knew I had made every effort possible to repair the rift and I did all the “right” things to try to make peace.  Ultimately the right thing was the wrong thing. I realized that life without toxic parents could, ultimately, put the “fun” back into dysfunctional.


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