Dysfunctional Parental Attachment: Becoming Emotionally Independent

There is a deep unconscious belief that humans like animals, will grow, mature and become independent of our parents; however, although one may move out and become economically independent, unlike animals we tend to still hold on to the invisible psychological chord that attach us to our parents–the thread that binds us to our childhood runs deep.

It is important to feel one has the support of a parent, but what happens is one grew up with toxic or abusive parents? Usually, most people will either choose one of two options: They will sever all contact without seeking to heal the childhood pain or they will begrudgingly continue to make up excuses in order to maintain an idea of a relationship. There is a third option however, but it requires mental maturity and strong will; mental maturity allows us to make decisions based on what is best and with a peaceful heart instead of making decisions based on feelings of anger or revenge–I will elaborate more on this third option as the article unfolds.

There are two types of toxic parents, the first are the ones who like to control every aspect of their grown child’s life under the guise of love. These types of parents do not see their actions as toxic, for they are in denial of how much they project their own desires onto their kids. Other times, they do it because they like to get recognition from everyone else who watches their “sacrifice”. In behaving as such, they do not prepare their offspring to learn to function on their own; typically, children of parents like these tend to always call upon their parents before making any and all decisions. This may sound like a great thing, but when it is based on fear and the inability to trust one’s own choices, it is no longer a healthy habit to maintain–there is a big difference between sharing one’s plans and considering advice if it’s sound, objective and requested vs. waiting for one’s parents to determine how we should act, think or what we should say.

The second type of toxic parent is the abusive parent, the one who belittles and imposes or perhaps even uses physical punishment to get children to obey. Often people who grew up within family atmospheres with these types of parents, have a strenuous and very challenging battle ahead of them, for their mental foundation was rocked from day one–the scars these individuals carry run deep.

As you can imagine, emotionally freeing ourselves from our parents when there are codependent or trauma dynamics, is an arduous task. Although many people become aware of this problem, there is usually a certain fear of dealing with it openly.

So, what do experts say is the best way to help us free ourselves from dysfunctional or toxic parents?

First analyze and identify your specific family situation. Do you have parents who fit the above profile or did your parents do the best they could but made mistakes. If so, it is important to recognize the difference between parents whose mistakes may have hurt us but whose motivation was never to do so, and parents who choose to hurt or control us because of their own level of toxicity and unresolved wounds.

If you had “normal” but imperfect parents, then you will need to work on your wounds but also on your forgiveness towards your parents. Remember that no one is perfect, and they too are human like you. I am sure you have made mistakes, perhaps even with the best of intentions but fell short–we all have at one point or another, so don’t be so hard on your judgments. If your parent did the best they could provide for you psychologically, emotionally, economically but still made mistakes, let me tell you that is a normal and part of life. Your parents were also raised by parents who did not have all the answers. Your pain is valid and so is theirs; trying to punish them or to emotionally blackmail them for not doing everything according to how you would have liked, will only lock you in the victim seat and hinder your level of emotional maturity. Part of letting go of the grudge that binds you to them is also seeing the other side of the coin–that provides emotional balance.

If on the other hand, you grew up with toxic and/or abusive parents, then you will also need to work on forgiveness– but forgiveness of self. When we grow up being abused, we tend to internalize everything; in our desire to carry on the fantasy that all parents love and protect their children, we take on the blame, seeing ourselves as damaged, broken, useless and everything else we can think of that would somehow rationalize what they did to us as “normal”–deserving of it.

If the relationship wasn’t abusive but toxic, identify whether or not your parent can acknowledge the toxicity imposed on you, if they can’t, then is best to set boundaries and work on forgiving yourself and them. Don’t confuse forgiveness with justifying, no one should ask you to approve any mistreatment you may have suffered at the hands of your parents’ emotional instability.

If, however, the acts were those of abuse or deeply toxic, then it might be best to sever all ties and mourn the loss. You have the right to walk away from someone who abuses you, and you have the right to choose to sever ties instead of blaming yourself for not being able to forgive them in the way society claims you should. Walking away is very different than condemning, and even this is not contradictory to the process of emotional release necessary to rid ourselves of the influence imprinted on us by their abuse.

Do not try to change your parents. Wether you can work with them to heal the emotional wounds, or whether you sever ties due to the pain their abuse caused, do not try to seek to control them or change them. The desire to change fundamental aspects of their personality is born of intolerance and the unconscious immature idea that if they can only behave and say exactly what you want, all will be well–this is not true, instead all the control you may want to impose will only bring up severe complications which you will have to live with. If your parents do not want to change, you cannot force them anymore than they can or should force you. It is better to accept it and make the relevant decisions.

You are not responsible for your parent’s emotional happiness as adults, and neither are they responsible for yours once you reach adulthood. This may sound cold but beneath the original sting lies compassion and respect–the moment you and your parents are adults at the same time, everyone is responsible for their own happiness. They have no obligation to make you happy or vice versa.  To live expecting them to live to make you happy or vice versa only leads to victimhood, resentment and suffering.

If despite time and trying to mend things maturely, your parents still continue to be toxic or abusive, then you will need to set limits; you can do this respectfully, this shows maturity towards yourself and towards them. If your abusive parents still try to contact you, blaming you for everything, it is best you cut all communication; no one has the right to belittle, insult you or mentally rape your inner peace. You are not a child anymore, you can maturely defend yourself by walking away; do not succumb to their authoritarian or bullying attitude.

In serious cases of abuse, it is advisable to get away from toxic parents as soon as possible so as not to continue damaging our self-esteem and our physical and mental health and equilibrium. In the cases of minors, it is important that you reach out to a family member or close friend who can intervene and remove you from the abusive environment. If you do not trust your extended family or friends, reach out to a schoolteacher, a mentor or Social Services and other public or private institutions–You deserve to a safe environment; mental and physical abuse are not ever acceptable.

By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!

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