“I want to end my relationship with a toxic parent who caused me trauma – what’s the best approach?”
Every child deserves engaged, fully present parents. It is important that you recognize that you are not responsible for their decisions-then or now. It is not your responsibility to manage their emotions. As a child, your only responsibility was to be a child. That said, there are some things you can do to minimize additional disruptions to your life.
Set firm boundaries
Boundaries are unwritten rules we set for our interactions with others in order to preserve our emotional, mental and physical health. They help maintain our individual identity. Loose or nonexistent boundaries can indicate that we are enmeshed or codependent with others. Poor boundaries can lead to resentment, anger, and burnout. Boundaries can sometimes mean saying no to others or situations. This can cause feelings of discomfort for some but is necessary for individuation and learning to manage others’ demands on our time, emotions and resources in a healthy manner.
Determine what you need (or don’t need) from your parent to maintain your emotional well being-what your expectations are for their interactions with you. Then enforce them. Toxic people resist boundaries set by others because it prevents them from being in control. Put yourself in the driver’s seat.
Be prepared to disengage
Be prepared to walk away if your boundaries are violated or you feel uncomfortable. Plan an exit strategy (aka excuse) and remove yourself from their presence-physically or otherwise. Don’t take the bait-refuse to be drawn into the negativity. If you must, simply acknowledge any negative statements and then move on. There is no need to validate or even perpetuate any type of negative discussion. Remember-it is not your responsibility to manage their emotions.
Limit the information you share
Unfortunately toxic individuals will use information as leverage. They will deliberately and intentionally push your buttons. Limit what you share with them until (or if) they prove they are trustworthy. Trust is something that is inherent to healthy relationships-toxic people use personal information to hurt, control, criticize or otherwise manipulate others. You are not obligated to share anything about your life with them. Remember, it is your choice if or what you want to share. Do so only if it feels comfortable.
Don’t expect them to change
It is normal to want to please a parent. Often children of toxic parents will think if they do something to please their parent, then the parent will change their behavior-it will “fix” them. Be aware of what this can cost you-emotionally, financially or otherwise. Know that changing yourself won’t change them, they have to change for themselves. Give yourself permission to choose you.
Take care of yourself
Toxic parents seldom accept responsibility for the destruction they cause. They externalize blame and often blame their children for perceived inadequacies or their failures. It is important to surround yourself with supportive, trustworthy people who can help you navigate this sometimes draining relationship. Be intentional about creating space for your experience-feel whatever emotions arise, they are valid. Educate yourself on toxic parents and how your family dynamics impact you. Knowledge is power. If you cannot avoid contact with them and anticipate they will trigger you, plan for “backup”-bring someone who will support you and make your well being a priority.