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A Letter To My Toxic Parent

A Letter To My Toxic Parent

Dear Mother,

I’ve written, edited, deleted, and rewritten this about four times now, struggling to find the words I want to say. It’s all so complicated; finding the right words is difficult. This is what I’ve come up with:

“The thing about parenting is that it doesn’t come with a manual.”

That’s a saying we’ve all probably heard at least once or twice in our lives. Usually when it’s said, people are talking about anxiety regarding the proper ways to raise a child into a happy, functional adult with as little childhood trauma as possible. It’s meant to be a soothing statement reflecting that most parents are just trying to do what they can and hoping for the best, like I know you did.

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I know you did.

But the other thing about being a parent is sometimes the lessons we learn from our own parents is more of a guideline for how children should not be treated than a model we should follow in raising the next generation. That’s true for you, isn’t it? I know about the terrible cruelty you suffered in your own childhood- the screaming, torture, and neglect- and so I cannot hold the things that happened in my own against you; you were simply using the tools you were handed. You didn’t know they were broken.

Learning to forgive

It took a long time to get to the point of being able to talk openly about these things. Even now, I am trembling and anxious and I want to stop, but I know someone out there needs me to be their voice in this. Someone needs my help to say one simple, powerful phrase:

I forgive you.

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I want you to know that I forgive you, and I do not hate you. Now that I am an adult- now that I may potentially raise children of my own- I understand how important it is to tell you these things. I will not deny that I was angry; I was so furious it consumed me for years. But I can tell you the exact moment I realized I could not hold on to that anger any more.

It was on one of my many visits with you in the hospital. I believe it was your second time being admitted for threats of suicide, and you were sitting across the table from me in the cafeteria. I remember looking at you and realizing you were not there. Your eyes were vacant and your movements were slow and stilted; I remember realizing in that moment that you were doped up to your eyeballs just to have a moment of peace in your own mind so you could visit with your kids.

I was angry then, too. Not at you- or at least not directly. I was angry because I felt like once again you were running away from us. Now I realize what I was feeling was misplaced guilt and insecurities; throughout my entire childhood I thought if I was just good enough you could love me properly, like the families you see on the television. I was wrong- not for wanting that affection, but for thinking your inability to give it to me was because of something I did. It wasn’t until much later that I understood how deep the scars of your childhood traumas ran. By then it was because I had scars of my own.

My forgiveness came from understanding, which is key, because it would not have happened otherwise. It took many years and an earnest desire to understand why, which in all honesty was born from the desire know what I did wrong. I think that’s where you and I differ: I was able to get to this point much sooner than you.

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Learning From Experiences

I will never fault you for seeking treatment for your mental illnesses. Chronic depression is serious disorder, and I am glad you are such a fighter and survivor. I only wish you would have sought treatment sooner; then perhaps things would not have gotten so intensely toxic. If you had dealt with those nasty, vicious demons sooner, you may have never contemplated suicide, or… or tried to take my brother and I with you. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so many days sitting outside of your bedroom hoping you would come out and offer some affection rather than disinterested tolerance or violence.

Maybe then I wouldn’t still live in fear of the day I get the call that you finally succeeded.

However, I also realize now that the way I was raised is something no child should have to endure. No, it was never as terrible as what you survived, but it still wasn’t okay. Twenty-four years, and I’m still trying to teach myself not to flinch when you are angry with me. Twenty-four years, and I’m still terrified of being forgotten and abandoned. I cope, I try to improve myself, I try to live outside of your shadow, but I still struggle some days. I suppose that’s part of the reason this is suddenly coming out so easily.

But I would be lying, mother, if I said even once that your influence on me in my childhood was all terrible. I strove to be the very best I could be so that you would be proud of me- and I know you were, because you said so. It’s just, that seemed to be one of the only things you could express toward me: pride or anger. So I would get so terribly upset with myself at even the smallest missteps, because I just had to be perfect. For you. Always for you.

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Because of that, I got top scores in all the standardized tests. I got a scholarship for that, do you remember? I swore to accept no limitations on myself because I knew I had to fly for you- the bird with clipped wings, locked in a cage far too long. I wanted and will always want you to be proud of me.

Changing the Path

If one day I become a mother to children of my own, I want to keep all of this in mind. Perhaps I’ll print this out. Maybe one day I’ll even let you read it and the other things I’ve written to express myself. I would say I wonder if you would read them, but you have never been overly concerned with my life much beyond whether I’m still on the straight and narrow. Don’t get me wrong, mother, things between us are better than they have ever been. I’m glad for it. But I know you and I cannot have the relationship I longed for all those years ago, or even now.

One day I may have your granddaughter or grandson; I want you to rest assured I will do everything in my power to give them the things you wanted for me that you simply could not facilitate. Just as you gave me a better childhood than the one you endured, I will give them better than I ever had. I’d like to think I can be the one to finally end this legacy of toxicity and trauma which began generations ago.

Or maybe I won’t have children. Maybe I’ll live a life filled with travel and experiences you never allowed yourself to dream about. I could send you a postcard from each exotic land and hope you get the message I have never been brave enough to say to your face.

I made it mama. I’m okay. You didn’t fail me. We both made it out fine.

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Last Updated on October 14, 2020

Had a Bad Day? 7 Ways to Rebound From It and Feel Good Again

Had a Bad Day? 7 Ways to Rebound From It and Feel Good Again

Today didn’t turn out as you planned, but it doesn’t mean you’re weak. It simply means that you’re human, and you’re not bad just because you had a bad day.

“Not everyday is a good day but there is something good in every day.” -Alice Morse Earle

It’s not the end of the world when you find yourself thinking “I had a bad day,” but it can feel like it. You may have had plans that fell apart, experiences that set you back, and interactions that only did harm.

You may have started the day thinking you could take on it all, only to find you could hardly get out of bed. When you have a bad day, you can forget to look at the good.

Sometimes, self-care helps us to remember why we are worth it. It helps us to recharge and reset our mindset. It helps us to know that there are still options and that the day isn’t over yet.

Love yourself today, no matter how hard it’s been. That’s the way to find yourself amidst the hardships you have. That’s how you center yourself and regain focus and live a more meaningful life. Give yourself some credit and compassion.

Here are 7 ways to rebound from a bad day using self-compassion as a tool. If you had a bad day, these are for you!

1. Make a Gratitude List

In a study on gratitude, psychologists Dr. Robert A Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough conducted an experiment where one group of people wrote out gratitude lists for ten weeks while another group wrote about irritations. The study found that the group that wrote about gratitude reported more optimistic mindsets in their lives[1].

Overall, having a gratitude list improved well-being and made one truly grateful by counting the blessings in their lives.

Write a list of what you are grateful for if you had a bad day. Make it as long as you like, but also remember to note why you’re grateful for each thing you write.

What has given you the most joy? What has set you up for better days? Keep a tally of triumphs in mind, especially when you do have the bad days.

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The day doesn’t define you, and you still have things of value that surround you. These could be material things, spiritual connections and experiences, relationships, basic needs, emotional and mental well-being, physical health, progress towards hopes and dreams, or simply being alive.

Here are some other simple ways to practice gratitude.

2. Write in a Journal

Journaling affects your overall mental health, which also affects physical health and aids in the management of stress, depression, anxiety, and more[2].

All you need is a pen and paper, or you could do an online, password-protected journal such as Penzu. The key is to get started and not pressure yourself on how polished or perfect it is. You don’t need to have prior experience to start journal writing. Just start.

Write out everything that is bothering you for 15 minutes. This helps with rumination, processing problems, and can even aid with brainstorming solutions.

However you approach it, you can find patterns of thinking that no longer serve you and start to transform your overall mental state. This will impact all areas of your life and is a great coping skill.

3. Meditate

Meditation can help you overcome negative thought patterns, worrying about the future, dwelling on the past, or struggling to overcome a bad day[3]. It shifts your mentality and helps you focus on the present or any one thing you truly want to focus on.

Here is an example of a meditation you can do:

Get into a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Rest your body, release tension, and unclench your jaw. Tighten and release each muscle group in a body scan for progressive muscle relaxation.

Focus on your breath, taking a few deep breaths. Let your belly expand when you breathe in for diaphragmatic breathing. Empty yourself completely of air, then return to normal breathing.

Next, focus on the idea of self-love and let it erase negative thoughts. Think about the ways you’ve been judging yourself, with the narratives coming up that your mind may create.

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Give yourself unconditional love and release judgment. Take your time meditating on this because you matter. This is particularly important if you had a bad day.

Check out this article for more on how to get started with a meditation practice.

4. Do Child’s Pose

Yoga Outlet says:

“Child’s Pose is a simple way to calm your mind, slow your breath, and restore a feeling of peace and safety. Practicing the pose before bedtime can help to release the worries of the day. Practicing in the morning can you help transition from sleeping to waking.”[4]

When you do Child’s Pose, it can be between difficult positions in yoga, or it can be anytime you feel you need a rest. It helps you recover from difficulties and relax the mind.

It also has the physical health benefits of elongating your back, opening your hips, and helping with digestion[5].

To do Child’s Pose, rest your buttocks back on your feet, knees on the floor. Elongate your body over your knees with both arms extended or tucked back, with head and neck resting on the floor[6].

Had a bad day? Try Child's Pose.

     

    Do this pose as a gift to yourself. You are allowing yourself to heal, rest, get time for yourself, recover, and recharge. When you’ve had a bad day, it’s there waiting for you.

    5. Try Positive Self-Talk

    Engage in positive self-talk. This is essentially choosing your thoughts.

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    When you have a negative thought, such as “I can’t do this,” replace it consciously with the thought “I can do this.” Give yourself positive affirmations to help with this.

    Negative self-talk fits into four general categories: personalizing or blaming yourself, magnifying or only focusing on the negative, catastrophizing or expecting the worst to happen, and polarizing or only seeing back and white[7].

    When you stop blaming yourself for everything and start focusing on the positive, expecting things to work out, and seeing the areas of grey in life, you reverse these negative mindsets and engage in positive self-talk.

    When you speak words of kindness to yourself, your brain responds with a more positive attitude. That attitude will affect everything you do. It’s how you take care of yourself if you had a bad day.

    Check in with yourself to know when you are having negative self-talk. Are you seeing patterns? When did they start to become a problem? Are you able to turn these thoughts around?

    6. Use Coping Skills and Take a Break

    Use your coping skills. This means not letting your thoughts take control of yourself.

    You can distract yourself and escape a bit. Do things you love. You can exercise, listen to music, dance, volunteer or help someone, be in nature, or read a book.

    It isn’t about repression. It’s about redirection. You can’t stay in thoughts that are no longer working for you.

    Sometimes, it’s okay to get out of your own way. Give yourself a break from the things going on in your head. You can always come back to a problem later. This may even help you figure out the best course of action as sometimes stepping away is the only way to see the solution.

    If you had a bad day, you may not feel like addressing what went wrong. You may need a break, so take one.

    7. If a Bad Day Turns Into Bad Days

    “I believe depression is legitimate. But I also believe that if you don’t exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consume positive material, surround yourself with support, then you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance.” –Jim Carrey

    If you’ve been feeling out of control, depressed, or unstable for more than a few weeks, it’s time to call a mental health professional. This is not because you have failed in any way. It’s because you are human, and you simply need help.

    You may not be able to quickly rebound from a bad day, and that’s fine. Feel what you feel, but don’t let it consume you.

    When you talk to a professional, share the techniques that you have already tried here and whether they were helpful. They may tell you additional ideas or gain insights from your struggles of not being able to rebound from a series of bad days.

    If you’re having more than just a bad day, they will want to know. If you don’t have the answers, that’s okay, too. You just need to try these tools and figure out how you’re feeling. That’s all that’s required of you.

    Keep taking care of yourself. Any progress is progress, no matter how small. Give yourself a chance to get better by reaching out.

    Final Thoughts

    If you had a bad day, don’t let it stop you.

    Know this: It’s okay not to be okay. You have a right to feel what you feel. But there is something you can do about it.

    You can invest in yourself via self-care.

    You are not alone in this. Everyone has bad days from time to time. You just need to know that you are the positive things you tell yourself.

    More Things You Can Do If You Had a Bad Day

    Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

    Reference

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