The Most Toxic Parents

Published July 6, 2016 by fotojennic

The Most Toxic Parents

child-ef33b1092f_640The most toxic parents are the parents that do not at all look toxic. To the outside world they appear as the most normal parents of all. Children of such parents do not even know that they are being poisoned. Nor does anybody else, until it is too late.

Some parents are obviously abusive, either sexually or physically. In this case it is also obvious that they are toxic, and children have less trouble understanding this kind of abuse and realizing how they have been harmed by it. They can therefore predict and learn to control such abuse to minimize its harm.

The most toxic parents are all about appearances. The are often leading citizens of their communities. They serve on committees. They give to charities. They are deacons of churches. They convince themselves, their children and everybody else that they have only the best intentions. And they really believe it. Their toxicity becomes lethal because it is hidden. Nobody would ever think that such people have a single bad thought because they themselves would never think it.

In one case to which I became acquainted a disturbed mother treated her oldest daughter as if she was disturbed. The mother projected her own disturbance onto this particular daughter. The mother was in complete denial of her own disturbance. It was her daughter who was disturbed, and this is how she “cast” her from the beginning. As the daughter (we’ll call her Megan) grew older, her younger brothers and sisters were made aware that Megan had problems and they treated her the same way her mother treated her.

In normal, healthy parenting, a child’s ego is supported and she is encouraged to be who she is and made to feel that she has great judgment, healthy instincts and is someone who is trustworthy and sensible. In the kind of twisted upbringing I am referring to, the child is made to feel abnormal, to have crazy judgments, unhealthy instincts and is deemed untrustworthy and not sensible.

Megan’s mother played the part of the long-suffering mother. She went to doctor after doctor and was extremely concerned about her daughter. This only made the daughter more disturbed, because deep inside Megan knew that her mother was being hypocritical. Megan had tried over and over to demonstrate the traits her mother seemed to value in her siblings, but her mother never noticed. In kind of disturbance, the parent has a need to demonize a certain child, and nothing can dissuade the parent from that goal. The need is unconscious and is often generated by an upbringing in which something similar happened to the parent. This is a particular kind of narcissism that I call the Demonizing Parent Syndrome.

To her mother, Megan was inexorably, inexplicably twisted. Eventually Megan gave up trying to be good and began being the demon her mother wanted her to be. Eventually she began to hate her mother. “I want to kill her,” she told doctors. The mother responded, crying. “I just don’t know why she got that way. My husband and I have tried everything we could to help her.

Megan started acting out at home and at school, and by the time she was an early adolescent she was put into a mental hospital. Her mother sobbed uncontrollably when she signed the papers to put her into the hospital. Her Dad was stoic. Her brothers and sisters were not surprised. Megan felt relieved. In the hospital there were fellow patients who listened to her and tried to understand her and also understand how she got that way. Some staff members listened too, and saw that the family was toxic to Megan, and they recommended keeping her in the mental hospital, where she was flourishing. Megan always knew that she was not as disturbed as her mother made her out to be. But because of crowded space in hospitals she was sent back to the family and became even sicker.

Such cases happen all the time and nobody knows about them. A disturbed parent—it can be a mother or father or other guardian—will project their disturbance onto a particular child. Often it is a beautiful and smart child, someone who is threatening to the fragile, disturbed ego of the parent. The parent perhaps had a childhood in which the same thing was done to them. These things can be passed on from generation to generation.

Emotional abuse of this kind is hardly ever detected. When a parent takes a small child to a pediatrician, who is the doctor going to listen to, the parent or the child? The parent cries and shakes and says he or she has done everything possible. “What else can I do? Please tell me, Doctor?” The doctor is going to listen to the parent. The child is too confused, too discombobulated to speak in a coherent way about what is going on. If the child says something like, “She is making me crazy. She acts nice to others, but she is making me crazy,” the doctor will reply, “There, there, I’m sure your mother (or father) means well.” No one wants to hear what this child is saying.

In such instances, the parent’s disturbance remains hidden, projected onto the child. On some level the child sees this deception and become confused, angry and eventually enraged. The parent expresses deep sympathy for the targeted child and her siblings express deep sympathy for her and the submissive parent, to whom she turns for solace, tries to support her, but the submissive is under the sway of the dominant parent. There is nobody to whom the child can turn.

Such children spend a life feeling they have been unfairly miscast by the casting director. They become the disturbed people their parents cast them as, and they begin to act more and more disturbed. The toxin is deep inside them and has rendered them helpless. And the world sympathizes with the poor parents who have to deal with such “disturbed” children.

Please Don’t Punish Yourself

Published July 3, 2016 by fotojennic

You ate a bowl of ice cream. The full fat kind. Maybe, you even ate two bowls. Please don’t punish yourself with cruel words. You are disgusting. You have no willpower. Please don’t drown yourself in shame, blame and regret. I can’t believe I did this. I’m the only one who can’t control herself around food. This is humiliating. 

You slept in instead of going to the gym. Or you didn’t work out “hard enough.” Please don’t punish yourself by saying that you’re lazy. By comparing yourself. Melanie gets up at 5 a.m. every day and has an hour-long workout. Why can’t I? Why do I have to be like this? Please don’t punish yourself with a double workout the next day. Fine, you screwed up today. Just wait until tomorrow. You will do twice the cardio and take two classes. 

You overate. You said something stupid. You broke your diet. Again. Please don’t punish yourself by feeding your inner critic. By neglecting your needs. By not letting yourself have fun. By taking away the activities you really enjoy. By believing that you deserve to pay some price for your supposed sins, for your terrible crimes.

Please don’t make up false, painful stories.  No one will love you. You’re only worthy if you lose weight. You’ve made too many mistakes and bad decisions. You are broken. And you are beyond repair. 

Because this becomes a never-ending cycle. You do something you deem wrong. You bash yourself. You feel the pressure. You slip up, again. (Because you’re human. And because your expectations may be unrealistic and unhealthy in the first place.) You bash yourself even more and more with harsher words and bigger punishments.

Instead, pause. Remind yourself that these behaviors are information. Maybe you simply love ice cream, and it’s been a while since you’ve had some. And dark chocolate brownie is your favorite flavor. Or maybe you’re upset, and you tend to turn to food and overeat when you’re upset. Maybe it’s something you’d like to work on, because food isn’t the answer to all our needs. Maybe you don’t eat enough during the day, so you often overeat at night. Maybe you’re stressed and exhausted so, of course, your body has a hard time getting up (especially if you don’t enjoy going to the gym).

All of this is information. It is not a weapon to use against yourself. It is not a reason to tighten your whip. It is not a reason to declare yourself hopeless and undeserving and a failure or a loser. Rather, it is information that you can use to take compassionate care of yourself.

Naturally, if you’ve spent years punishing yourself, it’s become a habit you know all-too well. Which means that change is tricky and tough. And it takes time. But it also means that you can change. Because it is a habit. And we revise, update, reduce and relinquish habits all the time.

So give yourself the chance to learn self-compassion (it’s a skill). Give yourself the chance to try. And seek support if you need it. Because punishing yourself is not only ineffective. It’s also not the way to spend this beautiful life. And, whether you realize it or not, you deserve better.

Source: Please Don’t Punish Yourself

4 Lies Your Unloving Mother Told You (and You Probably Believed)

Published July 3, 2016 by fotojennic

I’ve written about verbal abuse and how culturally we tend to downplay the impact of hurtful words mothers (and fathers) utter before but I think it’s worth revisiting from a different perspective, concerned less with the words themselves but the conclusions drawn from statements mothers make. Because mothers get a pass in our culture unless they physically damage their children, unloving mothers aren’t held accountable for their words as long as the kids are fed, clothed, and have a roof over their heads. But even an orphanage provides those services, doesn’t it?

What about the lessons the unloving mother teaches about the world and how it works? I would ask you to consider how it took multiple teen suicides for the culture to pay attention to bullying, rather than see it as a childhood rite of passage which was unpleasant but “normal.” The mythologies which surround motherhood—that mothering is instinctual, that all mothers love, that maternal love is always unconditional—effectively prevent us from having a real discussion about how many children actually don’t have their emotional needs met during childhood and are wounded in the process. We don’t begin to address the emotional damage inflicted by words which disparage or humiliate a child and make her feel inadequate, unlovable and unworthy—even though science knows that words wound as surely and perhaps even more lastingly than physical blows. Verbal aggression literally changes the structure of the developing brain.

Parents rule the small world in which a daughter goes from infancy to childhood; its parameters are dictated by the parents who decide whom the child will come into contact with and how far away from the four walls she’ll go and when. Not only is the daughter hardwired to need and rely on her mother’s love, guidance and support but she will internalize the lessons learned at home as “truths” about how relationships work in the larger world.

I’ve come up with a list of these so-called “truths”—some of which I actually remember from my own childhood—and the harm they cause to the daughter’s psyche.

1. Love is earned.

The daughters of unloving mothers describe the strategies they used to somehow wrest love from their mothers—bringing home good grades, doing extra chores and helping out, being careful not to displease them in any way—only to fall short. They drew the only conclusion they could about what love is and how you get it: That it’s earned through some magic formula that lies beyond their reach, never given freely, and that they are somehow deficient, not worthy enough to warrant that love. Only children feel this way but so do daughters who grow up with siblings who somehow are worthy of the mother’s attention. These daughters often grow up to be adults distrustful of those who seem to able to love without condition; while the love proffered should fill them with joy, it fills them with anxiety instead, as they wait for the other shoe to drop

2. There are bad children (and you’re one of them).

All children make mistakes—possessions get lost and broken, rules disobeyed, things go wrong—but the unloving mother attributes mistakes to her child’s essential character, not her behavior. A vase is broken not because the outside was wet and it slipped through the daughter’s fingers but because she’s stupid, careless, or sloppy. Her new red sweater disappears from her locker and it’s proof positive that she’s worthless, ungrateful, and undeserving of every nice thing she owns. Every mishap is personalized and understood as a function of the daughter’s worthlessness. These words are internalized and become a part of the daughter’s self-critical voice, the unconscious chorus that tells her that she’s less than and undeserving of happiness.

3. Children should be seen, not heard.

This slap-down not only articulates the mother’s power but conveys the message that a daughter’s very thoughts and feelings aren’t worth listening to. This type of dismissal—sometimes articulated as “I don’t care what you think” or “What you’re feeling is wrong”—cuts to the quick because it makes the daughter mistrust herself and her understanding of experience. Many daughters—and I count myself as having been one of them—know that something’s not right and they worry that they’re crazy or what they’re hearing and thinking isn’t somehow real. This kind of inner conflict—the very opposite of the validation a loving mother bestows upon her child—is highly destructive and because it gets internalized and becomes an unconscious default way of thinking about yourself, very hard to unlearn.

4.Big girls don’t cry.

Shaming is the nastiest weapon in the unloving mother’s armory and, alas, many chose to use it often and freely. Humiliating a child in this particular way—making her ashamed of her feelings and vulnerability—is a specific kind of abuse and a daughter may, in response, begin to cut herself off from her emotions so as to assure herself that she’s indeed not just a big girl but a good one. Daughters who suffered from disordered eating or other self-destructive patterns such as cutting often report having had to drive their feelings “underground” in childhood to escape the mockery and humiliation by mothers and siblings alike.

The idea that some mothers might be tyrants runs counter to every myth we hold dear about motherhood and maternal love but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.



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