by: E.B. Johnson
The relationships held between parents and their children is a sacred one, and the formative pieces on which we base our core beliefs about life.
Damaging and toxic relationships between our parents and ourselves can cause deep emotional wounding that takes years of hard work and understanding to overcome. When the connection we share with our caretakers is muddied by conflict or trauma, the psychological weight can cause damage to your life for years to come. Healing from this injury is hard, but necessary. We have to let go of our anger to find happiness that’s ours.
Why you’re so angry at your parents.
There are a number of ways in which our parents can psychologically wound or scar us, all of them resulting in deep-seated pain that can cause serious problems in our adolescent and adult lives (De Bellis & Zisk, 2014). Everything from physical and emotional abuse to a lack of attention or connection can cause issues that are hard to overcome. When it comes to pain, anger and hurt — there’s no one-size-fits all example. The failures of a parent can come in many, many forms.
Physical and emotional neglect
It’s truly shocking, the variety of means by which our parents can physically and emotionally neglect us. Examples can include failing to provide safe and adequate food, clothing and shelter, or even providing adequate medical and educational care to their child when it’s needed. Likewise, withholding critical nurturing and affection from a child can cause serious and lasting consequences that can follow that child for years to come.
Growing up in an overly critical household can lead to children with lower self-esteem and poorer behavior than those kids who grow up in home without heavy criticism. When a child is constantly harped or picked on by a caretaker in the home, it can teach them to bully others and themselves, leading to adults who ruminate, internalize and abuse (both themselves and others).
Lack of support
Feeling as though you are never supported by the people who are supposed to love you most can lead to seriously toxic internalizations. Those who come to adulthood in homes that show little to no support for their dreams and ambitions often find themselves in pursuit of hazardous or unfulfilling relationships and professional careers — a result of chasing the approval and dreams of those who could care less.
Physical, mental and sexual abuse
Childhood victims of physical, mental and sexual abuse grow up to struggle with debilitating issues that impact everything from their self-esteem and self-worth to personal and professional relationships. Abuse — no matter what form it takes — is one of the most common causes of psychological and mental issues in adults, and is one of the most common causes of internalized pain and anger. If you were the victim of physical, mental or sexual abuse at the hands of your parents, it is often necessary to speak with a mental health professional in order to resolve those feelings and release that anger.
Being crushed beneath the weight of impossible expectations can cause you to harbor deep feelings of anger or resentment toward your parents. Even if the pressure exerted by them came with the best of intentions, being held to an impossible standard can cause your self-esteem to implode and lead to skewed perceptions of self and success. In order to break free of the limitations set by impossible expectations, we have to let go of our anger and learn to find our own path to happiness and fulfillment.
In the chaotic or abusive family, it is often easiest to scapegoat the most emotionally vulnerable child — pinpointing them as the “problematic child” even though most (if not all) of their problematic behaviors will be little more than a reaction to the abuse they are struggling to survive. Scapegoated children internalize the blame of their parents and can develop self-destructive behaviors that help to confirm the worst predictions of their abusive caretakers.
How to let go of the anger you feel for a parent.
You don’t have to be chained forever by the shackles of your past. If you are someone who is struggling with anger or rage directed at a parent, it is possible to be free again with a little understanding and a big dose of compassion. Learn how to open up and release your anger by utilizing these simple strategies. While these is no one-size-fits-all solution to the pain you’re feeling, you can find your way to freedom again by letting go of the emotions that are making you bitter and pulling you down.
1. Begin with acknowledgement
The first step in overcoming any pain is first acknowledging that pain. Stop minimizing and stop trying to justify the pain you’re carrying around like a hot, burning stone. Start letting go of your pain by acknowledging it and getting to the root of why you feel the way you do.
Spend some time in a safe and quiet space getting familiar with your hurt and the emotions that arise off the back of the pain you experienced at the hands of your caretakers. Let your feelings come to you as you are and try to reconcile yourself to the relationship you have with your parent now versus the one you wish you had during childhood. Those days are no more, but better days can be had in future if you just start acknowledging what you actually need.
Consider the full breadth of your past and consider the full scope of your parents’ as well. Consider the fact that their behavior may be little more than a generational perpetuation, or a passing on of their own trauma experienced at the hands of someone they once trusted and loved. Share your story — and your anger — with people you can trust and don’t shy away from the gory details. If you want to be free, you have to start with acceptance; a step that takes courage and the acknowledgement of hard things and hard feelings.
2. Get down to the root of the problem
It’s not easy to talk to our parents about the aspects of our childhood that caused pain, but it’s necessary in order to remove the roadblocks we set for ourselves and those around us. Lingering emotional pain can leave us isolated and feeling as though we’re stuck in a time and place which kills a piece of us each day. If you want to open the door to your future, you have to start having the hard conversations and address (with your parents) the issues that continue to cause you pain.
These conversations are some of the most powerful and healing conversations we can have as adults and as children of adults. Wait for the ideal moment and address your issues candidly — and with compassion — in a space and a time that feels comfortable to you. Don’t get defensive and don’t play a blame game. Simply state how you’re feeling and what led you to feel (or believe) that way.
For some parents, this conversation is not possible. Some will always deny or defend. The point is not for you to get an apology. The point of this conversation is strictly for you to get the closure that you need by bringing to light (thus making real) the issues and the pain that you are experiencing. Until that anger and that pain is vocalized, neither party can be sure it exists and neither party can address it. Though justice may never be acquired, the truth can be; your truth. Give it to them, whether they want it or not.
3. Set concrete boundaries
As children, it’s not easy or always possible to escape or defend yourself against abusive or damaging parents. As an adult, however, it is possible to cut yourself free from these bonds and set assertive boundaries that allow you to heal and maintain your inner peace and wellbeing.
Though it will feel foreign and uncomfortable at first, it is possible to create the space you need to begin setting boundaries as an adult. Find a way to tell them that you will (from this moment forward) always be treated with respect, and that they no longer have the power to influence the decisions you make or the life that you choose to lead.
The most important part of setting any boundary line is making sure it is one that meets your needs and your needs alone. Boundaries are not for the benefit of others, they are for the benefit of ourselves, and one of the main ways by which we create the lives that give us fulfillment. Believe in yourself and your ability to stand on your own. No one has the right or the ability to define your life or your happiness but you.
4. Start falling in love with yourself
As children, we have an almost god-like sense of awe, love and respect for our parents. We see them as omnipotent beings, the sole reason for our survival and existence — but when those feelings extend past childhood, we often forget to extend that same love and respect to ourselves.
No matter what happened in your past, or what is happening in this current moment, it’s all moot if you can’t love yourself for who and what you are. In order to find happiness, you have to find a way to love yourself — the good and the bad — and you have to find a way to forgive yourself for the missteps and mistakes that led you to where you are today.
While the influences of our parents can have a deep and lasting impact on who we are and how we flourish, the only one that can choose whether we actually sink or swim at the end of the day is ourselves. You’re a survivor just for being here today, that alone makes you worthy of the love and respect that you shower on parents who aren’t deserving of it. Open up your heart and let go of their baggage. It doesn’t suit you, and it’s dragging you down. Rather than waiting on the love of others, learn how to love yourself. After all, you’ll know better than anyone else just what that love needs to look like.
5. Be a better you than they were
If you truly want to overcome a problematic child-parent relationship, you have to become committed to becoming a better version of yourself. These specific types of toxic relationships take a lasting toll on our confidence, our emotions, and even our understanding of self. In order to overcome these lasting effects, you have to commit to becoming a better person than your parents were, while letting go of the pain they’ve left you.
Shed the guilt and the heartache that your parents have handed down to you. Be the authentic and courageous person they didn’t have the chance to be. Be a better version of yourself than they were ever able to imagine for themselves. They say that revenge is a life best lived, so live well and live without fear of their judgement or their condemnation.
Reach for your enlightenment and your truth and don’t let anyone hold you back. Your parents — when it all comes down to it — are just people. They are no better than you, and they never were. Your knowledge and your experience are sufficient for you to make decisions for yourself. You are smart enough and capable enough to determine the flow of your own life. Stop clinging to their darkness and reach for a light of your own. Be better than they were and heal yourself through a life better lived.
Putting it all together…
Letting go of the pain caused by neglectful, dismissive or abusive parents or caretakers isn’t easy, but it is necessary in order to find our health and happiness again. If you grew up in a home in which love came in the form of impossible expectations, harsh criticism or physical, mental or sexual abuse, then you have to find a new way forward for you and for you alone; and that starts with letting go of the anger that’s weighing you down.
Learn how to spot the effects of a damaged parental relationship in your life and start acknowledging how those shortcomings make you feel. Get down to the issues with the root of the problem and open up to your parents (if possible) or someone trusted (if not). While resolution is not always possible, release is, and we can protect ourselves in future by learning to set boundaries with our caretakers or those who echo their damaging and limiting behaviors. Above all, however, learn how to forgive yourself; for the years of pain, the years of hurt. Learn how to fall in love with yourself and accept the beautiful, incredible and strong soul your anger has kept buried all these years. They’re in there, just waiting to get out. The decision to be free, however, has to start with you.
- De Bellis, M., & Zisk, A. (2014). The Biological Effects of Childhood Trauma. Child And Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics Of North America, 23(2), 185–222. doi: 10.1016/j.chc.2014.01.002