Should we confront our toxic parents or not? Well, it all depends on us, them and the situation? But here are some guidelines we can use to decide what we want to do. And what’s the “right time, place and way?”
Should we confront toxic parents? It depends on what we hope to gain from the interaction.
- Don’t use the word “confront” on ourselves. It’s a dirty word that bullies use to get us not to protect ourselves and not to set our boundaries. Bullies demand infinite forgiveness and unconditional love – but from us only; not from themselves. We must “protect ourselves” and we must “set our boundaries.” That’s a much better way of saying it. Notice how “protecting ourselves” and “setting our boundaries” are good and necessary actions. And if toxic, bullying, abusive parents keep trampling our boundaries, we have to ask ourselves, “Why are we with such jerks and control-freaks? Why are we presenting our throats to vampires? Why are we still letting hyenas feast on us? Why do we let sick people vomit on our feet? Why do we allow them in our space? Why are we in theirs?” Protecting ourselves is a more important value than not hurting the feelings of toxic people or not getting them upset or not making a scene or not upsetting the family.
- Do we hope that “protecting ourselves” will change relentless bullies? Maybe when we’re young and they’ve just started, we might hope that standing firm and saying, “No! Stop! Sit! Stay!” will change them. Or maybe we might have succeeded by hitting them with a rolled up newspaper or biting them on the lip to show them who’s the alpha dog. But toxic parents have been mean, nasty, vicious predators for as long as we’ve been alive. A little kid really can’t resist them or change them. So by the time we’re middle-aged and they’ve been hurting and bullying us for over 40 years, we can release the hope that we’ll change them. I’ve seen toxic parents remain bullies even after near death experiences or being cut off from their grandchildren, although those two circumstances are the only ones I’ve seen effective in the rare cases of toxic parents who have changed. Standing up for ourselves probably won’t change them. But we can give it one more shot if we want to.
- Do we hope that we’ll feel better or more powerful after we stand up for ourselves? We may and those are great reasons for defending ourselves and enforcing consequences. Words are not consequences; words without consequences is begging. Only actions are consequences. Take power. Don’t wait for jackals to empower you.
- Will we speak up in private or public? We usually think of saying things in private the first time someone bullies us. But after a private talk, relentless bullies will think they can ignore us since we’re defending ourselves in private and they’re attacking us in public. Therefore, we have to speak out in public. Don’t let a lie or an attack or a put-down or sarcastic criticism pass unchallenged. We can protect ourselves in the moment, in public by saying, “That’s not true. That’s a lie. You’re still a bully and I won’t put up with bullying any more.” Don’t debate or argue whose perception is correct. We stick with our opinion; we’re the expert on us. Make them leave or don’t stay with they if they don’t change.
- Might protecting ourselves change the family dynamics? Too many families hide the truth and live on lies. Too many families protect bullies and perpetrators because “That’s just the way they are” or “We have to put up with abuse because it’s family.” No. We don’t repay a debt to toxic parents by being their scapegoats or whipping posts because they once gave us food along with abuse. Don’t collude with these crimes. Speaking out can change the dynamics. Test everyone else. We’ll find out who wants to be friends with us and who wants to repress us – for whatever reasons. We’ll find out who we enjoy being with and who we won’t waste precious time with.
- Should we say something if we’re witnesses? Definitely. Be a witness to these crimes, not a bystander. We can protect other people we see abused.
- Will protecting ourselves set a good example for our children? Yes. And it’s crucial for us to set great examples. Be a model! Don’t sacrifice our children on some altar of “family.” Protecting children is more important than any benefit they might get from being with toxic grandparents.
- What’s the “right time” to speak up? If we hope to change toxic parents, the “right time” and the “right way” can be considerations. But for any other reason, the time to speak up is always “NOW” and the place is always “HERE.”
- Should we talk to our parents in a safe environment with our therapists present? The first step in stopping bullies is connecting with our inner strength, courage and determination. We are the safe place in any situation! We’re adults now. So what if they attack us one more time. Don’t be defeated. Look at them as predators or jerks and score them “failed.” We’ll feel much stronger if we say what we have to say firmly and then be strong and apply our consequences when they attack us. If people aren’t nice, don’t waste time on them.
Notice that all these considerations are about us and our judgment, not about the right way to convert toxic parents. It is about us and the personal space we want to create and what behaviors and people we’ll let in.
How can we still relate to the nice people in the family? I think that we can only relate to those who want to have a wonderful relationship totally separate from the toxic parents. That is, we’ll talk to the nice and fun ones, text them and see them on our own without our toxic parents being part of that. Is that sneaky? No. That’s just cleaning up our homes and sweeping out the crud. And not allowing it back in. Tell the good relatives what’s going on and see if they want to have fun with us.
What if we don’t act dignified in protecting ourselves? We have to stop expecting ourselves to be perfect and stop bullying ourselves. Of course we won’t be skillful at first. But the more we practice standing up for ourselves, the more skilled we’ll become. Which is more important: protecting ourselves or looking dignified?
We each make our own decisions and choices. Now we can make them with a better idea of what’s motivating us and what’s likely to happen. If we try to talk with them one more time and they attack us again, maybe that will be our last attempt to carry the burden of making a good relationship possible. Maybe now it’s their turn.
We must ask ourselves, “Are we doing all the work of self-analysis, apologizing, appeasing, communicating and being perfect? Are we wasting our time trying to turn hyenas into vegetarians?” If we don’t defend ourselves in public when hyenas attack, we’ll only encourage them to go after us more.
Some toxic parents simply attack us relentlessly. Others lure us close with overtures of friendship or claims that they need us to help them now that they’re old only to attack us when we come near. These tactics are like those of a pervert trying to lure a little girl intro his car. Don’t get into a pervert’s car!
“Create an Isle of Song in a Sea of Shouts.” And don’t let anyone dump toxic waste on your Isle. Create a better life with better people in your space.
For some examples of stopping toxic parents, see the case studies of Carrie, Doug, Kathy, Jake and Ralph in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”
It’s your life. Be the hero of your life.