In our childhood, we have a huge problem. We idolise those who brought us into the world unconditionally. They are Gods to us and our source of supply for everything we need and wish. As children start to develop, they come to realise that the Gods who could do no wrong are just as flawed as anyone else, sometimes more so. We have nothing to compare them to until we have the reasoning skills needed to make a judgment. By that time, the damage has been done as mere mortal practices become evident.
There is no perfect parent or perfect parenting style and most parents rely on “learning by doing”. This generally means taking influence from their own childhood and the parenting style they were subjected to. Sometimes this works and sometimes not. However, some parents are just toxic and in these cases a child’s self-esteem does not stand a chance and an adult is produced that is ill-prepared for being an adult.
Let’s define a toxic parent. This is one that sees normal development in a child’s life, any rebellion as a personal affront to their authority. They are usually abusive with an authoritarian parenting style and put their own needs before their child. They promote dependence and conformity and punish anything outside their rigid idea of behaviour. From learning to walk, through toilet training to puberty and adulthood, their negativity damages a child’s self-esteem and development. They, in fact, constantly undermine confidence and development and this is consolidated by society and religious practices that render such phrases as “don’t shout at your parents”, “do as I say, not as I do”, “children should be seen not heard” as valid. Punishment is often dispatched with such sayings as, ” this will build character or this is good for you”. Religion often talks about “obey thy father” or “God the father”. All of the above leaves a child confused and wondering what will happen next. This brings a sense of fear which becomes deeply ingrained, leaving the subsequent adult feeling powerless and afraid. Inside every afraid adult is a child that is also afraid and has been taught to be by parents who felt threatened by their children.
As a child’s dependence grows toward a toxic parent and self-esteem diminishes, so a sense of responsibility for the toxic parent’s actions becomes part of the problem. Children will believe that the beatings or verbal abuse they took were justified because of the God-like image they hold of their parents. They believe it must be them as their parents are “perfect” in their eyes. As I hear quite often in my work, clients will often say, “they said I was bad, so I believed them” “My parents said I was always wrong, so I believed they must have been always right”, “I felt my parents were strong and I was weak”. With such thinking, even understanding these statements are false on a logical level does not help cure the emotional pain associated with them.
We are often in denial about how our childhood went and sometimes refuse to see that our parents were also in denial about their own development. Such denial creates a fantasy about what truly happened. Later, as children become adults, parents often deny that certain events even happened, making their children confront the confusion and denial again.
By treating our parents like God-like figures who can do no wrong, we are putting them on a very high pedestal. To recover from the effects of toxic parenting, we have to use the energy used in denial and fantasy to knock them off the golden pillar they put themselves on and look at things realistically. By continuing this fantasy, we are accepting that the judgment, rules and punitive punishment handed out by toxic parents was justified and we are agreeing to live by it, even imagining we might deserve to do so. We are also accepting painful feelings as part of our lives. We are additionally running the risk of passing the toxic lessons learned onto our own children.
One of the best methods for healing the effect of toxic parenting is Inner Child Therapy and Internal Family Parts Therapy. If you are interested in knowing more about this, feel free to contact me using the form below.