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Toxic parents: how to deal with them


Even though she didn’t know the term “toxic” yet, Rashawnda James knew something was wrong with her relationship with her mother when she was only 13 years old. “I realized that in conversations at school, they spoke as if their parents were around a lot,” she says.

James’ parent, a crack addict, was not. “There were times I had to go get my mom because I didn’t know where she was,” James says. “I felt responsible for my mother. Once I made that connection, I knew it was unhealthy.

Common toxic traits

Signs that you might have a toxic parent include:

  • They are egocentric. They don’t think about your needs or your feelings.
  • They are emotional cowardly guns. They overreact or create drama.
  • They share. They share inappropriate information with you, such as details about their intimate life. They use you as their main source of emotional support.
  • They are looking for control. They can use guilt and money to get you to do whatever they want.
  • They are harshly critical. Nothing you do is ever good enough. They don’t respect your good traits or your accomplishments.
  • They lack borders. They can come to your home without being solicited or attack your lifestyle choices.

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Now an Atlanta-based therapist, author, and personal care expert, James can name his mother’s toxic behaviors. These include manipulation and gas lighting, a technique that makes you question your ability to say what’s true or what’s really going on. “As a child, I couldn’t avoid my mother. I couldn’t set any limits, ”says James. “The lines were blurry. There was no filter. “

However, his mother was successful in involving James in positive activities. “It has become my safe haven,” says James. She excelled in athletics. One organization offered free therapy when she was in grade 12. “It literally changed my life,” she says. This same counselor became his supervisor years later when James decided to become a therapist.

Get rid of the guilt

As adults we have choices that we didn’t have as children and we don’t always have to do what our parents want, ”says Sharon Martin, a licensed clinical social worker in San Jose, in California. She is the author of The CBT workbook for perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

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If you’ve been brought up with respect for your elders, obey your parents, and please them at all costs, setting limits can seem foreign. Martin urges his clients to question this mindset. “Remember your parents’ inability to love, accept and appreciate that you are not your fault and have nothing to do with your shortcomings.

“For example, ask yourself if you think it is wrong to set boundaries, ask to be treated with respect, prioritize your needs or those of your immediate family over those of your parents, or limit the time you spend with your parents, ”she says. “Would you tell a close friend that it is wrong to do these things in response to yelling, manipulation, lies, harsh criticism, smear campaigns or threats?”

Don’t try to change them

A big ‘aha’ moment for James was realizing that she couldn’t be the reason his mom stopped using drugs. “I have become the golden child. I thought if I did well maybe she would stay clean. If I graduated from high school… college…. ” And so on.

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“I had to start living my life and let go,” she says.

“It’s okay to want to please your parents, regardless of your age,” Martin says. “But be realistic about whether it is possible and what your efforts are costing you emotionally, physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually.”

“The most harmful thing for yourself to do is believe that you can fix them,” James admits. “If you know this, you don’t have to stay there and take what they give you. You can choose yourself. It frees you up, when you don’t have to fix something. “

Borders are essential

Fifteen years later, James’ mother is clean. The two live 22 minutes away from each other and speak to each other about twice a day, although they have taken a 2-year break. James points out that even if she chooses to continue their relationship with her mother, you need to do what’s best for you.

“It took me 10 years to enforce the limits,” says James. “I say ‘No, mom. I can’t give you money. “No mom, I can’t be that to you. ‘I can’t go there where these people make me uncomfortable, but you are free to come here.’ “

“Just because she is my mother, her priorities should not take precedence over mine,” she adds.

This helps her mom become more self-aware over time and can sometimes catch up with old patterns.

No need to explain

Have a short answer to the questions about why you are not in contact with your parents, ie, “I don’t talk to my parents because they are emotionally abusive.” It can help you remember why you set limits, even if others don’t understand them.

“When others judge or criticize your decision to limit contact or set other boundaries with your parents, it’s usually because they assume you have emotionally healthy parents who treat you with respect,” Martin says. . “But you limit contact because your parents treat you badly. And your parents don’t have a free pass to abuse you just because they’re your parents.

However, you still don’t owe anyone a reason, Martin adds. “You have the right to say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.'”

Practice self-care

Children of toxic parents might not be used to taking care of themselves, Martin says. “Use a mantra such as ‘Taking care of yourself is not selfish’, ‘My needs matter’ or ‘I am an adult and have the right to make my own choices.’

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James plans a personal activity like journaling or exercising after spending time with his mother. “I love keeping a journal. It’s a great way to have internal dialogue, to free my thoughts. I don’t keep my thoughts inside and burden myself with this, ”she said. She also enjoys the dance sessions to the music of Miami, as Florida is her home state.

Listening to gospel music is another way for her to stay grounded. It helps me realize that my struggle is not just my burden, she said. “It’s a good reminder that my mother is not my responsibility. God can do more than I could ever do for her.

Configure a support system

“A support system is essential,” says Martin. She suggests support groups or one-on-one therapy with someone who works in narcissistic violence, developmental trauma, or codependency.

To find a therapist, call your insurance company or go online and get a list of providers. If you don’t have insurance, affordable online options include telehealth and BetterHelp.

Change your story

“At a young age I saw what life was like and made a commitment not to repeat that cycle,” says James. “I didn’t have the roadmap or the master plan, but since grade 12 I have acquired the tools to live in a healthier and more positive way.”

She is raising her three children with this in mind. For example, she doesn’t share too much, like her own mother did. “I really try to maintain their innocence as much as possible,” she said. “I don’t burden my children with other people’s problems. I allow them to see my emotions, because I want them to experience a full spectrum.

“I am the principle that my limits of happiness are not placed in other places or things. I can be anywhere, I can have anything and still find joy. It’s one of my super powers! “

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