Luster from rough gems: making the best of the Thanksgiving holidays

Learn how to manage toxic family relationships and heal from past traumas

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In the past few days, listening to conversations during a train ride or overhearing pals catching up during lunch break probably keeps reminding you of Thanksgiving Day. You must have thought about the need to hit the roads for a family reunion, or maybe not! 

When it comes to families that breed toxic relationships, a reunion is seldom an occasion to which members will look forward. It is common for relatives to make excuses for not joining such gatherings. 

If you look forward to catching up with family during this Thanksgiving but want to avoid rifts and rancor, this article shares some tips on how to deal with toxic family members. 

What is toxic personality?

The term “toxic personality” does not have a clear-cut definition. It is a topic that has only recently come to the light of scholarly scrutiny. “Toxic parents” imply individuals who fulfill their parental obligations using extreme methods. Yelling, neglecting, denial, irresponsibility are some of the many vices of toxic parents. 

Toxic parents may be suffering from a backlash of environmental or work stress. However, there is no excuse for not giving a child the right nurture required for healthy growth. Toxic behaviors in parents often leave indelible emotional scars, and sometimes physical ones, on children. 

Identifying the attributes of toxic parents

Many children raised by toxic parents do not even realize how much they endured until adulthood. Here are the signs that mark out a parent or co-parent as harmful, as discussed in Susan Forward and Craig Buck’s book – Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life. 

The inadequate parent

Parents with this attribute are often young or emotionally immature. Responsibility is not a word they take seriously. Such parents do not see anything wrong with forcing kids to do their bidding. 

Inadequate parents are okay with splitting the utility bills with their teenagers. They abandon the family for days on end, while the oldest child has to hold the home front – taking care of younger siblings’ welfare. 

The controllers

Guilt-tripping and emotional manipulation are the go-to tools of parents with this attribute. They are good at making a child the fount of its own or the parent’s predicament. Making a mountain out of a mole-hill is an easy task for such parents. They are good at blowing situations out of proportion. The bedrock of this attitude is wielding maximal control of the child’s life. In effect, the child becomes a dependent and unhealthy appendage of the parent. 

The alcoholics

Parents in this category are usually addicted to alcohol. In their recurrent states of delusion, they are very likely to abuse their wards.

The verbal abusers

These parents tend to pull down their kids verbally. Children of verbally abusive parents often lack self-confidence and the necessary push to forge through life.

The physical abusers

Parents with this attitude vent their anger on their kids. The children eventually get the blame for whatever physical assault that occurs. But in reality, such parents merely use children as an outlet of bottled up emotions.

The sexual abusers

This attribute is the most destructive to the personality of children. Whether subtle or outright sexual abuse, the child is likely to never recover from the experience. Perpetrators of this category of toxicity often infringe on their children’s privacy. They do this by taking down the legitimate boundaries that a child ought to enjoy.

If you’re a victim of parent toxicity, it’s time to isolate such unhealthy trends. Parents should equally conduct a self-audit and be ready to seek professional help. Acknowledging the need for assistance will salvage the parents and children from potential hurts. 

Potential effects of toxic parents on their wards

If only toxic parents could have some foresight into the effect of their unhealthy behavior. Perhaps, they would consider soft-pedaling or doing a complete about-face. 

Family is the default ground from which children will expect to receive support and encouragement. The reverse is usually the lot of the kids if their parents are toxic. Whatever impact, positive or negative, that a child experiences in the family may remain for a lifetime. The treatment a child gets in the family is likely to change their outlook on life. The family sets the ideals by which a child interacts with the world in the later future.

Lindsay C. Gibson elaborates on the effect of toxic parenting on children. She states in Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents that:

“Children who have emotionally immature parents often suffer from emotional loneliness.”

The implication of this is the child seeks intimacy outside the family. Intimacy seeking may expose the child to emotional vulnerabilities from stalkers and narcissists. 

If you are an adult that experienced neglect or abuse during childhood, I’m sure you do not want the cycle to come around to your children. Perhaps you excuse away your parents’ inadequacies and toxicity as a way of coming to terms with the reality of that time.  However, it becomes crucial to correct seeing such unhealthy trends as usual. It becomes essential to make some sensible adjustments to your worldview as a parent. Such effort should be irrespective of your personal experiences of toxicity as a child. 

With a little proactive effort, you can be well on the way to adjusting your orientation about parenthood. Your children will then enjoy what you lacked during the formative years. And if your toxic family members are flexible, you may be able to help them detoxify. 

Healing — building beautiful edifices with the dirt of life

Straightening out a long-dead carcass is an almost impossible task. It may be a daunting task to change the selfish attitude of some family members. But you can put some measures in place to protect yourself, particularly when interacting with toxic family members as an adult.

No matter how terrible your experience is (was) with toxic people, resolve to take the following steps this Thanksgiving. It will undoubtedly assist with revitalizing your emotional health:

Own the pain

Sweeping the toxic experiences under the carpet will not help matters. Some occurrences are difficult to forget by children raised in toxic families. For example, adults that were victims of sexual abuse may find it difficult to ignore the experience. Thus, the first step to recovery would be acknowledging the pain; cowering won’t help. 

Starve yourself of the filial approval diet

Toxic parents often play the approval card on their children. They make their children emotionally subservient. By implication, such children lack self-awareness or fulfillment. And by extension, the child feels incomplete without the toxic parent. 

After you identify a particular family member as toxic, it becomes necessary to sever emotional connections with them. This period of personal independence will help you grow your self-awareness.  The healing from the hurtful experiences can then begin after the emotional boundaries are up.

The resultant emotional independence does not necessarily entail cutting off ties with relatives. It simply means living a separate life, independent of relatives. To achieve such autonomy, you have to self-prioritize. 

The hurt encountered from experiences with toxic family members may be challenging to salvage without professional help. 

This Thanksgiving, you can self-detox by polishing the dirt off your gem. Harvest helpful insights from professionals. Reading the following book summaries on the Headway Library will go a long way:

  • Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life — Susan Forward, Ph.D. with Craig Buck
  • Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents — Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD
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