The term 'toxic' is used in any relationship that not only does us physical harm but where mental abuse and internal turmoil play a huge role. It is a relationship that prevents our growth as an individual and could make you feel unworthy and unhappy. These relationships are usually close to our hearts and have the ability to play havoc in our private lives mostly without the knowledge of the outside world.
While all relationships have their ups and downs, a 'toxic' one in particular is one which pokes at our self-esteem. Unfortunately, it is common to have such an equation even with a parent. Yes, even someone who you feel has devoted their lives to bringing you up, but as a mature adult you might find it did more harm than good.
If you do feel this way, here are some ways to help cope with, and understand this complicated bond.
Not all abuse is physical
Just because you can't see the scars, does not mean they don't exist. It is important to understand that some toxic relationships with parents may stem from childhood memories, for example, only remembering your parents fighting or times you felt neglected as a child.
Sometimes, a parent may not even realize the damage caused to a child, it is only when we grow up and look back in disappointment, do we see how it has impacted our lives as adults. For example, the time when a teen girl might be called 'fat' by her mother or the time a young boy was constantly shamed for not being able to run as fast as the 'other' kids.
Their feelings always come first
When everything revolves around a parents needs and feelings while yours are disregarded, that can be termed toxic. As an adult, you might have accomplishments you wish to share with your parents, but if you are unable to do so, because they are in a 'bad mood' or you feel there will be no appreciation from their side, this is a time to re-evaluate your relationship. You need to give your parent a listening ear but not to the extent where your voice and feelings go unheard.
You feel you need to take care of them
While one does have a certain responsibility towards one's parents during their golden years, which should be taken seriously, it is not your responsibility to be at their beck and call at every moment. For example, if your parent has a meltdown in the middle of the day and is overreacting to a situation, and wants you to drop everything and talk to them for an hour, it is not feasible as an adult to stop your day. Be there for your parent to help them through a turmoil but if you see this as a recurring event, where things are blown out of proportion constantly and you need to be there to save the day, it is not healthy.
They need to be the center of attention
While this might be considered as child-like behaviour, it is often seen in adults with low self-esteem or feel the need to be louder than the rest to show their presence. However, in a toxic relationship it is where a parent might want to overpower their child's time to shine by bringing in their own baggage, for example, on your wedding day if your mother seems to only be talking about her failed marriage to guests (yikes!) or if you have just secured an exciting new job, but all your parents focus on is the fact that they will now be 'lonely' and 'ignored' then that not only undermines your accomplishments but is a painful scenario. This is where they feel they are losing their reigns on you and feel the need to express control.
Using guilt as a weapon
In every relationship, we are caught somewhere for using a tiny amount of guilt to get that last piece of cake or for our partner to stay home with us on a lazy weekend, this is miles apart. Here, when a parent uses emotions of guilt on you it is to show their importance and superiority over your emotions or to tug at your feelings. For example, if you have ever been told by your parent that you have reached success as an adult only because of their sacrifices or while going for a much deserved night on the town you are shrugged by a comment saying, "you are lucky you have friends, I have no one." That is using guilt in a malicious form to make you feel you are doing something wrong when you are not.
When all their problems are yours
Again, we must show respect to our elders with the understanding that if problems come their way, we address them to the best of our ability. However, there needs to be boundaries. If you have ever been in a scenario where your parents have blamed you for their marriage going downhill or for why your mother does not have a successful career, it is unfair. You are not responsible for why their lives have not worked out for them and it is shameful to blame you for it. If their problems have to become your only priority you will feel this brunt consuming other aspects of your life.
Never a happy moment
Happiness spreads tenfold when we share it with dear ones and sometimes the first who come to mind are our parents or siblings. However, if you feel every time you share your excitement or good news with them there is only a spur of negativity then stop! Do not ruin precious moments of your life with their incapability of being happy. For example, if you just got engaged and want to share this amazing new chapter with your mother, and all you get is a backlash of questions and disapproving comments then you are allowing this unpleasantness to ruin your special moment.
If you can relate to any of the above points, what do you do about it?
If you are constantly feeling antagonized by their disapproval or the burden of their dejection, you need to make changes, these things do not simply fade away as you get older but tend to increase and creep into other aspects of your life.
Understand why they may behave in this manner, is it because of their childhood trauma or have they lead an unhappy life?
Talk to a therapist asking for ways on how to deal with situations your parents are a part of where you can maintain your composure. Make sure to maintain close ties with other members of the family who might understand your plight better than others. It will help to talk to your partner or close friends about an episode you might have with your parents in order to not feel isolated.
Most importantly, you are not your parents, so do consciously make an effort to stop the cycle right here right now.
- Sanobar Mistry is a published journalist and currently works as a kindergarten teacher in the UAE