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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 March 30, 2020

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

2. Be Honest

A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

4. Succeed at Something

When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

Final Thoughts

When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
[2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
[3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
[4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
[5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
[6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
[7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
[8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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