8 Strategies to Break Free from Toxic Parents

They Won’t Change is a step-by-step guide from psychotherapist Nina Brown on how to overcome childhood trauma, find freedom from parental toxic influences, and build healthy relationships with them. With the permission of the MIF publishing house, we publish an excerpt from the sixth chapter entitled “Eight strategies for getting rid of pain and several ways to get a positive revenge.”

Strategy 1. Letting go of fantasies

Let’s move on to more constructive things you can do to detox. The first recommendation is to give up fantasies. This can be tricky to do because you don’t even realize that you’re fantasizing about trauma and an egocentric parent. Fantasies are usually based on one or more of the following scenarios:

  • Your parent admits his mistakes and wrongs inflicted on you and atones for his guilt.
  • The parent is suffering because of what he did to you.
  • You manage to bypass the parent and rub his nose with your superiority and success.
  • Others were able to look at the parent through your eyes and rejected him.
  • You have been cleared of unfair charges.
  • You can do to the parent what they did to you, or someone else does to the parent and you know about it.
  • The parent changes, regrets his words and deeds.

These fantasies help you keep negative feelings in check, and the negative feelings in turn feed the fantasies. I call them that because they will not come true just because you wished for them. Neither your parent nor anyone else will change because you want to. The other person perceives the events and situation differently, is unaware of your wounds, or treats them without sympathy. Your desires, dreams, and fantasies about a self-obsessed parent are of no use to you.

Fantasies arise as a response to trauma and vary in intensity depending on the depth of the wound inflicted on the inner self. The strongest reaction occurs to the deepest psychological trauma. You may want to explore past events and your reactions to them in order to better understand and realize what resonated with you the most. It is likely that you did not realize how deeply your words or actions hurt you until you appreciated them. That is, you considered some event to be insignificant, that it brought you light or medium damage, but an assessment of the intensity of your fantasies indicates that stronger feelings are hiding here. You have been hurt more than you thought or were willing to admit. This understanding is of great value because you can continue to work with it and not repress or deny your emotions.

Recognizing your fantasies is the first step. But how to stop fantasizing? This is not easy to do. You will have to work and deal with your feelings towards the injury and the person who caused it. And there is one strategy that will help start this process – to initiate an internal dialogue every time you start to get carried away in fantasies, desires and dreams about that event or person. For example, if you have a painful desire for a parent to apologize for the wrongs they have caused you, start mentally talking to yourself. Here are some examples of what you can say to yourself:

  • Hopes that my parent will change are unrealizable, and mere desire for change will not bring them closer.
  • I cannot change another person.
  • I will rise above the insults that my parent inflicted on me, and I myself will become a better person.
  • I need to accept the parent and not expect him to live up to my expectations.
  • Nothing has worked so far, so why am I waiting to see what happens this time?
  • I don’t need to hurt a parent to feel better.
  • I will love, accept and approve of my inner self.
  • I can do more constructive and enjoyable things than expecting the impossible from a parent.

You need to keep working on giving up fantasies. They will not disappear simply because you decide to get rid of them: they will persistently break through from the unconscious and subconscious levels and appear unrecognized on the surface. There is no need to be impatient with yourself if you find yourself still fantasizing. Just tell yourself that you have work to do, that your wound is deeper than you thought, and that you will overcome it one day. Now let’s move on to self-shaping strategies that will also help get rid of fantasies.

Strategy 2. Negative and positive self-suggestion

The narcissistic parent is great at triggering self-doubt, negative thoughts about the essential self, feelings of inferiority, and other such things. The trigger can be self-hypnosis, which is often wrong, unrealistic, illogical, and negative. You can stop this process by simply tracking the moment when your thoughts and feelings become a reaction to negative self-hypnosis, and replace it with a positive one. Here are some examples of positive self-suggestions that can overpower negative ones. Also, try developing your own setups.

Negative self-hypnosis

positive autosuggestion

Criticism is true

I have many strengths and talents

I must meet the requirements and expectations of others, even if they seem unjustified to me.

I myself can decide what to do, and should not be subject to other people’s requirements and expectations

I must always live up to other people’s expectations, even if they seem unjustified to me.

I often live up to the expectations of others, but I don’t have to always do so.

I’m looking for approval from the outside to feel my worth

I value my inner self and do not need outside approval

I have to control everything

I am able to handle most situations

I shouldn’t let others get upset

I can take care of others if I learn to “catch” their feelings.

I must be perfect

I have many strengths, and I work on those that I consider my weaknesses.

I must never make mistakes

I can learn from my mistakes

If I was better, my relationship would be better too.

I consider myself good enough and can build serious relationships

I have to take on the feelings of others and take care of them.

My personal boundaries are strong enough that I can take care of others without getting caught.
into other people’s experiences.

I acknowledge my limited responsibility for the welfare of others

Strategy 3. Altruism

Altruism is a gift to others, made without obligations, expectations, demands, mutual favors or conditions.

You freely give, not because you are coerced, shamed, or made guilty, but because it gives you satisfaction. You share because you want the person to have it. Gifts can be both physical and intangible.

Modern research on altruism unequivocally points to a benefit for the giver. Yes, the recipient receives a gift, but the giver also benefits, even if the recipient does not know the giver. Therefore, you can give a gift without notifying the recipient and still feel the joy of altruism.

The instruction that it is necessary to do “selfless good deeds” testifies to the manifestations of altruism. You are giving an unexpected gift of kindness without any strings attached, and that is altruistic. You consider yourself a good person, and most likely you are, but express kindness only to certain people or only when you expect to receive some benefit or reward in return in the future. In other words, you choose when to share your kindness. Altruism, on the other hand, is doing good deeds towards any person without the expectation of getting something for yourself in return.

To understand altruism, let’s look at it in contrast to actions that can also be considered kind and helpful (or not), but not altruistic. These behaviors and attitudes include:

  • Reminding others to say “thank you” is both an expectation and a demand.
  • A need or desire for approval.
  • Performing actions based on attention and admiration.
  • The habit of asking people if they like what you have given them or what you have done for them is indicative of a need for approval.
  • Reminding people of what you have done for them and what you have given them.
  • The expectation of something in exchange for a service rendered or a gift.
  • Using gifts to manipulate people or form alliances.
  • Attempts to “buy” the location of another person.
  • Bragging and self-praise for a gift or deed done for the sake of another person.
  • Anger and feelings of dissatisfaction if you think the gift was not appreciated or not appreciated enough.

As you can see, these good deeds are not free from demands, expectations, and conditions.

You may be interested in the question: what can be done to make it count as altruism? First, you must tell yourself that your act is completely cleared of any secret promises and that you are doing it voluntarily. Second, you must remind yourself of the first rule from time to time. Thirdly, you can make your own list of altruistic actions, you can start with one of these examples:

  • Volunteer work of any nature, such as helping elderly neighbors.
  • Tutoring or mentoring work with children.
  • Visits to the elderly or bedridden.
  • Conducting lessons in needlework or handicraft in a community center, kindergarten and other similar institutions.
  • Collection of things for the homeless.
  • An offer to babysit a single mother to free up some time.
  • Recording audiobooks for the blind.
  • Addressing people with words of support and encouragement.
  • Expression of gratitude.
  • Helping those in need without waiting for a request.

You will see that being an altruist is easy, and the benefits of this activity are enormous.

Strategy 4: Reaching out to others

When you learn to reach out to others without feeling obligated or overwhelmed, you will take a big step forward on the path to a strong inner self. Our relationships and connections with others greatly support a positive self-image, improve our physical and emotional well-being, and bring meaning and purpose to our lives. Thus, you will get a lot of benefit if you start reaching out to others.

If you’re reading this book, chances are you’ve had multiple painful experiences that have given you plenty of reason to be wary and wary of interacting with others. Indeed, learning from experience is wise. However, you may have overdone it so much that you now feel isolated and unsociable. If you find a way to reach out to others, you can get rid of these feelings.

Try starting an encouraging self-talk with yourself, such as: remind yourself of your goal, try not to feel frustrated, understand the other person, and don’t give up if they aren’t as responsive as you’d like. Trusting relationships tend to develop over time, and “instant candor” is more likely to lead to disappointment.

What opportunities do you see for sincere communication with others? Read the list in the previous section on altruism to get you thinking. Use these ideas as a starting point for connecting, but if you expect something in return, then your act falls out of the altruistic category. For example, if you provide assistance, but at the same time you are trying to throw a bridge to another person for your own benefit.

Let’s imagine that you initiated a contact with the goal of establishing sincere communication. What will you do next?

Try something from the list below:

  • Show interest in the other person and try to talk about them rather than yourself.
  • Listen to others more often than you talk about your experiences.
  • Find something valuable in each person and proactively inform the person about your “find”.
  • Respect the psychological boundaries of the other person and make sure your boundaries are respected too.
  • Don’t rush to solve other people’s problems. Show that you have confidence in their ability to take care of themselves.
  • Do not try to appropriate someone else’s life for yourself and make sure that no one takes your life away either.
  • Recognize and respect different opinions, values and thoughts.
  • Find common interests and activities with the other person and be actively involved.

Learning to be the first to reach out does not mean forever protecting yourself from new wounds. They may appear, but if you both form and strengthen the essential inner self, the injuries will be shallow and you can quickly calm, heal, or let go. This is part of your primary goal of healing old wounds and minimizing present and future painful episodes.

Strategy 5. Beauty and amazement

Beauty cannot be defined, because everyone has an individual aesthetic perception. Different people find different things beautiful, and what seems beautiful to one person is not at all impressive to another. Amazement is also individual – it is a childishly naive ability to notice the new and unusual, to be inquisitive and draw inspiration and interest from this. Imagine how a child discovers something for the first time in his life and feels excitement, admiration and interest.

Beauty and wonder fell into this section because they enrich a person, and everything that enriches us and our lives is constructive. These new facets expand the boundaries of awareness of our world and ourselves. They help to make everything ordinary, everyday and even dreary brighter and more exciting, and this leads to inspiration and a mood for spirituality.

Although the perception of beauty varies from person to person, let’s focus on what seems aesthetically pleasing to you. Try the following exercise. Notice the beauty around you right now, and make a promise to yourself to see something beautiful every day. This practice helps nourish and refresh the inner self.

Often we focus on things that we can’t change, problems that need to be solved, and plans, so we don’t see the beauty of our world. Pay more attention to the beauty that appears along the way.

You will be able to enrich yourself even more by expanding the concept of beauty, including new objects in this concept. Consider the following list and decide which of them fit your definition of beauty.

  • Smiles and other pleasant facial expressions.
  • Summer, spring, autumn and winter day.
  • Landscape, such as mountains, desert, or beach.
  • Playing children.
  • A well-formulated statement, sentence, or book.
  • Music, not just your favorite.
  • Live performances such as sports or theatre.

The world is full of beauty, and to see it, you just need to be open.

You can find marvelous wonders everywhere if you have a sense of humor, curiosity, interest and openness to learning new things. When you look at something in a new way, it becomes different and you learn something new about that object. The ability to be surprised is inherent in inventors, scientists, researchers and everyone who creates and makes discoveries. Children have an abundance of amazement. For them, everything they encounter for the first time is a source of miracles, and it does not stop being such, even if they have seen it several times. That’s why kids so often ask the questions “what?” and why?”.

If you cannot get the joy, passion, and pleasure from past activities and new beginnings, then you are probably in a depressed state. Moreover, this describes one of the symptoms of depression. Although this condition can be mild and situational, it is still best to get psychological help before it develops into a full diagnosis.

Perhaps you feel like you’re too old to enjoy childish activities, or you may have physical or other limitations. However, this does not hinder the search for something amazing in life. You can develop interest and passion. These feelings come from within and are completely under your control. People get new ideas when they notice everything that surrounds them every day. They are amazed by many things, and they ask questions:

  • How it works?
  • Why did this happen?
  • How did she do it?
  • What would happen if…
  • Can I figure out how…
  • How can this be improved? What useful thing can I do? What is contained here? Why did they do so?

If you have a sense of wonder, then you can always find something interesting. You will never be bored and will continue to grow and develop in constructive ways.

Strategy 6. Change of pace

The routine process is reassuring because it is familiar and consistent. No need to be vigilant, careful and think through various options. People who grew up in families where there was no routine, usually nervous, tense, always remain wary. They tend to expect difficulties to arise, they have many physical and psychological problems. Disorganization, chaos, unpredictability and insecurity are very frustrating, especially if they are part of ordinary life. They make you yearn for the routine, orderliness and predictability that promise rest, relaxation and tranquility.

However, it is possible to get so immersed in a routine that it turns you into a victim of your own limitations. You are afraid to expand your horizons, meet new people, take on new challenges, learn and develop your resources and talents. Thus, you impose a framework on the original inner self and hinder your growth and development.

The occasional change of pace will help energize you and your thoughts, enrich your inner self, and give space for beauty and wonder in your life.

I do not urge you to abandon the established order of life and end the usual regime. A few routine processes won’t hurt you. For example, I sit down to write in the morning right after waking up. First I go through the documents and drink coffee. And then I take a notebook, a pen and start writing. Yes, I still live in the ancient times of notebooks and writing instruments. They travel with me everywhere and are always ready to work, which cannot be said about the computer. I’m so comfortable. I feel like it’s a constructive habit and I won’t give it up as long as it’s productive. You, too, must maintain your constructive routines.

A change of pace is not a revolution, but a willingness to try something new in a test mode to see if it suits you, energizes you, or brings some other positive changes. For this, almost anything that differs from your established routine is suitable.

Now that you’ve got my point, you may have your own ideas about how you can change your pace.

Try to implement them, and if it turns out that they do not suit you, then come up with something else. Just don’t give up. Also pay attention to how you feel after you try something new. Some innovations will be unacceptable for you, and they can be discarded. And this is also valuable information. You know what to do. Changing the pace is fun, but you don’t want constant changes either, because they cause stress. A little novelty that appears from time to time and is under your control – and you will get the desired result.

Strategy 7. Mindfulness

Mindfulness teaches the art of managing attention and helps you stay focused on what matters. It is very necessary in moments of interaction with an egocentric parent, when a tense emotional state can be very distracting. As soon as you are distracted or lost, the parent has the opportunity to take advantage and leave you to once again relive old, long-familiar feelings.

Mindfulness comes with conscious thought and intention. You expand your understanding of the present moment, notice, appreciate and sometimes even taste your experience. Mindfulness helps you notice things you couldn’t see before, focus fully on something, weed out conflicting stimuli, and focus on the things that matter most. It allows you to relieve anxiety and feel in control of the situation. Let’s assume that you are practicing mindfulness following the instructions below, have already mastered it and have achieved some success. You have decided to try being more mindful during your next encounter with a self-absorbed parent, and you can look forward to the following experiences:

  • You will notice signs of aging in the parent that you have not seen before.
  • The parent says the usual hurtful things, but you no longer wonder why he does it. You can see the parent’s fear of getting old and losing control.
  • The words your parent is addressing you seem meaningless and wrong, and although they are deliberately chosen to annoy you, they bounce off you without causing any harm.
  • You can recognize a parent’s anxiety without accepting it as your original inner self, or even feeling like you should do something about it.
  • You are aware of the ongoing process of role reversal and that your parent is resisting it even though they don’t notice it.
  • You leave the meeting not as upset and depressed as usual.

Mindfulness helps both of you expand and contract. You push the boundaries of awareness and narrow your focus. Choose a mindfulness practice for yourself and repeat until it starts to come out effortlessly.

Strategy 8: Reduce self-absorption

The idea behind this recommendation is that self-absorption and the behaviors and attitudes associated with it are not constructive or helpful at all. It must be remembered that just as an egocentric parent fails to notice their undeveloped narcissism, you do not realize that your behavior and attitudes indicate signs of the same “pathology”. Your personal undeveloped narcissism may manifest itself in the following ways:

  • Prevents you from detoxifying and developing your inner self.
  • Reduces the ability to build personal boundaries strong enough to protect against the wounds inflicted by a selfish parent.
  • Keeps you in a state where it is very easy to hurt your parent and other people.
  • Prevents the formation and maintenance of serious relationships that bring mutual satisfaction.
  • Prevents you from reaching out to others and connecting with others.
  • Forces most of the time to be alert and in protective mode.

There are many reasons why it is necessary to reduce self-absorption. And when you do that, you’ll find less toxins in yourself, you’ll feel like your relationships have improved and your self-confidence has increased. I warn you that this task may take a lifetime. And although you most of the time do not notice your selfish behavior and attitudes, they have a serious impact on your inner self and your relationships.

They Won’t Change is written for adult children who struggle with their parents and themselves. It will help you heal from the pain of growing up in a toxic family, open the door to understanding yourself, your feelings and reactions, and finally heal.

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