One challenging task of adulthood can be accepting your parents as highly flawed individuals. If they’re generally wonderful, mentally healthy people and occasionally exhibit a fragile, irrational, quirky, or upsetting aspect of themselves, that’s one thing. It’s another to accept them being considerably mentally unhealthy. Yet, acceptance is essential for your own emotional health and, often, for becoming a “normal” eater.
Most clients, over time, come to see that their emotional problems today are due in major part to their upbringing. However, it can be far more difficult for them to view their parents today as highly toxic and people to protect themselves from. This is due to the residual childhood, hope-driven wish to see parents in a rosier light, the unattainable yearning for their love and approval, and because many adult children of dysfunctional parents continue to see themselves as defective and powerless, rather than recognizing that their parents’ behavior is seriously below par.
Facing reality is imperative for mental health. Here are some questions to help you see why it might be a challenge to view your parents as irresponsible, cruel, insensitive, selfish, unloving, uncaring, manipulative, narcissistic, unethical, etc. and accept that this has nothing to do with your value and everything to do with who they are:
- What do you feel when you acknowledge that your parents are any of the above?
- What reaction do you have to having those feelings (eg, shame, fear, guilt, panic)?
- What view have you chosen rather than seeing your parents accurately and realistically?
- How does this view serve you? How does this view harm you?
You have various options in dealing with parents who mistreat you, but first you must have an honest, valid assessment of their attitudes and behaviors. Accepting the truth doesn’t mean you’ll be a victim to their moods or misdeeds. Quite the opposite. Only when you take off the blinders will you be able to figure out how to take care of yourself around them. Maybe you’ll decide to keep your distance—to see them less frequently or for shorter periods of time. Or make sure you’re not alone with them. Or take a firmer stand when they act inappropriately toward you. Or set firmer limits. Or ignore their behavior and detach from your feelings about them. You may even choose to not have them in your lives which is a tragic, drastic move to make, but often necessary.
Viewing mentally unhealthy, toxic parents as they are is essential to taking care of yourself. It is part of maturation and practicing self-love and self-empowerment.