Many people still feel like children when their parents boss, belittle, criticize, demean, blame, shame, bully, abuse and guilt-trip them. The now-adult children still feel afraid, just like they did years ago. Angry, hostile, harassing, taunting parents still elicit the most primitive responses from their adult children – fight, flight or freeze.
How can these adult children free themselves from uncivil, impolite, nasty, manipulative or toxic parents who trample their boundaries?
Grown children need to mature into adults; to free ourselves from our childhood rules expectations and roles, from our fears and guilts. In many ways it’s like shedding our old skin and growing one that fits better, or going into a cocoon and emerging as a butterfly. It’s also just as natural.
We must make up our adult minds and hearts about what we will allow in our personal space. Will we allow anyone to treat us like a child or simply treat us badly, or will be allow only our parents? If our answer is “yes,” then we’ll probably be bullied, abused and terrorized by toxic parents for the rest of our lives.
That is a life choice many people make. If we make it as an adult, not only as a beaten and submissive child, then it’s our choice and we get to live with it.
Many cultures consider that duty, obligation, respect and catering to parents – even vicious, abusive, bullies – as the most important duty of a good child. It’s often called “filial piety.” The principle is that we owe them our lives and must pay that debt as long as we live. If we’re lucky, our children will pay their debt to us in the same way. Some cultures have been organized around filial piety for thousands of years; it works and is self perpetuating.
However, the negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode our spirit, sap our strength, ruin our focus and destroy our courage. Looking at ourselves with demanding, toxic parents’ hostile eyes and talking to ourselves with their critical, perfectionistic, never-pleased voices can be demoralizing and debilitating. Constant repetition of all our imperfections, mistakes, faults, failures and character flaws can lead us down a path toward isolation, depression and suicide. Don’t go there.
In many ways, the Enlightenment in the West broke with that old tradition of filial piety championed a new way of being in the world.
As adults, we have the freedom and responsibility to make a different choice. We have the moral right, permission and strength to stand against our parents and other people’s commandments. We may and can and must choose for ourselves.
We can choose not to look over our shoulders and bow to our ancestors in fear and obedience. Instead we can look ahead to our descendents with hope. We can focus on taking care of our physical and spiritual children more than our parents.
The old way was to ask authorities, ask “What’s right?” Now, we say, “That’s for us to decide. We will follow the call of our Spirit, not the roles, beliefs and ideas we accepted when we were children.” Of course, the Enlightenment’s way has its own downsides, but I’d rather have its upsides.
Maturing requires us to stand our Spirit’s ground, especially with our parents and extended family. The longer we endure what we think of as mistreatment, the more our Spirits will shrivel and die, day-by-day. We must say some form of, “I love you but I’ll allow you in my space only if you treat me like I want to be treated, like you’d treat a person whose affections you’re trying to win. I’m an adult; treat me nicely, kindly, respectfully and with fear that you might anger me.”
Often, we hold back because of our fears – fear of offending a moral code, fear of the condemnation of the “elders,” fear that we must think they’re evil, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of going too far, fear of our bullying parent’s power and retaliation, fear of being on our own emotionally even if we’re already married and have our own children. We hold back because of the Golden Rule. We hold back because we accept their excuses and justifications.
If we hold back, their bullying and abuse will continue and escalate. If we still try to beg, bribe, please and appease them in order to get them to treat us decently, they’ll keep thinking they’re right and safe in continuing to beat us into submission. We’ll get what we’re willing to tolerate.
Instead, break the game. We don’t have to be perfect before they have to change how they act. We’re not mature until we simply tell them what we want and have rewards if they’re nice and consequences if they continue abusing us.
Many people think that before they act they should do psychoanalysis until their fear is gone. That’s a seductive trap, especially because it means they don’t have to act. That way makes us think we’re weak and cowardly – it fills us with anxiety, stress and self-recrimination; we lose confidence and self-esteem; we’re more easily subject to physical ailments; we isolate ourselves and become depressed.
Speaking up and acting to make our words real is the way of courage; it builds strength, confidence and power. Those fine qualities are developed only by overcoming fear and strong challenges. Don’t wait until we’re “ready” to act in a way that’s perfect. Act now; act next time. We don’t have to be perfect the first time. If we go too far or not far enough, accept no blame, shame or guilt. Simply adjust so we get closer to the way we want next time…and the time after…and the time after. There will be more “time after’s.”
Some parents will finally see the consequences of losing contact with us; they’ll change their behavior. Some won’t. They also have free will and choice.
We’re not mature until we make an adult decision about what we’ll allow in our personal space and then back up that decision with rewards and consequences.
Of course the predicament is the same for parents with abusive children, or even worse since the children can deny their parents contact with the grandchildren
Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances. We must plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation. With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome our fears and hesitations, and parents who won’t treat us right.
“How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” contains the case studies of Carrie, Kathy, Doug, Jake and Ralph taking charge of themselves and stopping bullying parents and extended family members. For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).