Just as it is difficult to deal with an abusive boyfriend or girlfriend, it is horrible dealing with a toxic parent. One woman says that her mother left her a message on her birthday once wishing that she gets a disease. That’s horrible for anyone to say to someone else, let alone a mother to a daughter, let alone on a birthday. Her mother was then approaching death, and she was faced with the decision to forgive her or continue to ignore her. Unlike with an unhealthy relationship with a spouse, you can’t get a divorce from a toxic relationship with a parent, unless you choose to lose contact, but he or she will always be your parent.
One man in his mid-20s had come out as gay with his religious parents, who responded by disowning him. At a later family dinner, his father took him aside and told him that it would have been better if he, rather than his younger brother, had died in a car accident several years previously. This obviously was a very harsh and cruel statement, which could probably make the son depressed to know that his own father wants him dead. And the son did end up becoming depressed, with low self-esteem. It is powerful to know that words have such a dramatic effect. When the parents met with the therapist, the therapist could not convince the parents that the son’s sexual orientation was not his choice. The therapist decided that he should lose all contact with his parents. He still, however, thought of them because research on early attachment, in human and non-human primates, shows that we are hardwired for bonding, even with those who aren’t very nice to us.
Sometimes parents can be critical with their children as students, demanding phenomenal performance all the time, thus creating perfectionists who fear taking risks and fall short of their potential. If the child’s standards get in the way of being successful and happy, something is wrong. These children are terrified of making mistakes and it affects their performance. In a study, parents rated their gifted offspring as more prone to anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic complaints than children in the normal intelligence range. It seems as though gifted children have more of a burden or expectation to reach a high achievement and with critical parents it makes the situation difficult, making them perfectionists and worried about making mistakes. If they have someone constantly telling them that they’re not good enough, the gifted students are going to feel the pressure and stress because they feel that they have no choice but to do better. Parents should be supportive rather than critical, so that way the students feel confident rather than worried. When students are confident and relaxed, they perform better.
As you can see, parents can fall into the trap of being toxic. Whether you wish your daughter gets a disease or whether you are critical about your children’s school performance, both are abusive and should be avoided. Words are extremely powerful and should be used carefully, especially with your children. Sometimes it seems that altogether avoiding the toxic parent is the best measure if the abuse is too detrimental to handle. However, ignoring your parent is a big decision and if there is a way to make amends, it would be better.
Elias, Marilyn. “Critical, Demanding Parents Can Damage Gifted Children.” USATODAY.com. N.p., 21 Aug. 2005. Web. 06 Feb. 2013. <http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2005-08-21-gifted-kids_x.htm>.
Friedman, Richard A., M.D. “When Parents Are Too Toxic to Tolerate.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Oct. 2009. Web. 06 Feb. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/health/20mind.html?_r=1>.