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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 May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

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