Suppose your toxic parents want you to forgive them for the way they treated you years ago. They sound sincere and they say that they need you to nurse them now that their health is failing. They don’t have enough money to live well so you should support them like they once supported you. Also, they need your help to deal with a health-care bureaucracy they don’t understand. Can you forgive them and do what they want?
Forgiveness is a loaded word. To most people, especially toxic ones, forgiveness means not only you opening your heart to them, but also you giving them what they want. At the very least it means increased relationship and, usually, endless arguing and debating, endless servitude.
But, suppose also that, trying to help them, you’ve bounced between anger and feeling guilty. Suppose that the last ten times you’ve forgiven them and tried to be a dutiful child, you’ve gotten entangled in painful interactions. Every time you get close, they try to control you and you feel angry again. They don’t listen to your needs; they think their need to have you help them is more important than your values of independence and freedom.
Forgive them and move far away – physically, mentally and emotionally. What I mean by that is:
- Forgive them, have compassion for their struggles, and also stop thinking about them – about 2 minutes a week might be okay. Forgiveness means that you don’t replay all the old incidents; you don’t get angry; you don’t try to justify yourself in your eyes or theirs; they occupy very little of your mental and emotional space.
- Get far away physically so there are no more incidents that will trigger you again. End contact by telephone, email, social networks.
- Test the relatives and acquaintances. Who begs you to relieve them of the burden of taking care of your needy parents? Who tries to twist your arm so that you take care of those toxic parents? Who tries to convince you that you still owe those toxic bullies loyalty and duty?
- You don’t have to confront your toxic parents. You can simply tell them the way it is for you – calmly, firmly; no debates, no arguments, no justifications, no asking for their approval or permission. Don’t waste your time in further confrontations.
- When they pursue you, keep your distance. Don’t engage. Of course they won’t respect your desires and boundaries. They’ve always known what’s right. Disappear again.
Think of your personal space as a target with a bull’s eye and many concentric circles going out from the center. The more toxic people are, the further away from the center of your life you move them. Every time someone pollutes your environment, for whatever reason, move them at least one circle further away from you; or more if they did something you particularly don’t like.
If someone apologizes, do not move them closer. Watch their behavior. How long before they revert to the old harassment, bullying or abuse? Keep moving them further away.
What if they don’t want you to forgive them? They just want you to forget what happened and do what they want and need now.
What if they’re angry at you for what they claim you did? What if they want you to apologize to them before they’ll forgive you?
In what circle do you want to put your toxic parents? You’re in charge of your personal space. “Because I want to” is more than sufficient reason for placing them in any particular circle and moving them closer or further away. At what circle do you drop them off your map?
I’d also take the same approach with toxic friends, extended family and adult children.
It’s your life; take charge of it. Be the hero of your life.
Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps. We can design a plan that fits you and your situation. And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.