Sunday, April 5, 2009

Dealing with mixed feelings and refusing to accept that which can't be changed

I'm sure many of us, no matter where we are on our separation journey, have had positive feelings towards our toxic parents. Sometimes we may wonder if we can make them stop saying this or that, perhaps get some change. I think investing ourselves in changing our parents is a lot spent for little results.

I think we need to accept that our parents cannot/will not change, but at the same time refuse to ever find their behavior and personality acceptable. How do we do that?

The answer is an unwritten one, and we discover it each day in how we act, think, talk to ourselves, talk to others, or avoid certain conversations. I think that some conversations are not worth having, because you can't change what people believe, unless there is some other real (not imaginary or wishful) evidence to suggest that they might hear. But the problem is, we are often taught that we should believe people are willing to hear, not because of known evidence about the person, but because it's the good thing to believe.

This is the moralistic fallacy, opposite of the naturalistic fallacy. The moralistic fallacy is when people derive an "is" from an "ought" - in other words, because it would be good to believe that people can change, we can assume people can change. Assumptions are only useful if they are based on facts, and this one is not. It is based on what we ought to believe, because we should "give the benefit of the doubt", "give our parents credit", or "assume the best of people (especially our parents)". All mantras we are taught we should believe, regardless of what observations, and a lifetime of experience, tells us.

I'm not saying kids don't misjudge their parents. Some if not many do. Kids can devalue their parents the way toxic parents devalue their kids. I'm not advocating that sons and daughters in general have an accurate view of their parents, but I am advocating that many of us do, and that view is a clear-cut description of abuse throughout our lifespans, even if the mantras try to push us to "assume the best" of them.

I think some of the problems children of toxic parents have is the mantras - recycled from catchphrases to sit coms of dysfunctional families that " deep down love each other" - confuse the son or daughter from seeing their parent in the evil, cruel light that is the truth. It is an image that contradicts the "honor your mother and father", "sacrifices your parents made", "they do it out of love", "they love their children more than life (but their only human)", etc, etc.

It is a tough road to find people whose brains have room for the realities we have to tell. The mantras create such conceptual frameworks across the brainspan, that our facts and realities might cause an adverse reaction similar to that of the wrong blood type or a non-matching organ. Let's not forget the brain IS a physical body organ, and all our body organs and systems can only take so much accommodation.

The road goes forth. My dad's coming home for the lunch. It might mean some self-control. It is good that I've evolved as much as I have. Also good that American University has accepted me ;)

Now I wait for the other schools, and I wait for more good news...


  1. Nicely described. I hate to describe my parents as toxic, but frankly, it's the only word that best embodies my relationship with my dad. He cannot handle criticism, feels attacked by acts of independence by his children, and passive-aggressively tries to steer the lives of his family members. OTOH, my mother has made great strides to repair the damage done by her role in the marriage. As a result, she is the parent with whom I maintain a genuine relationship with.

    I was reading in your profile about your mom. My father would have it the same way for me. He would have me stay under his roof, pay his bills, clean his house, and provide what is emotionally lacking in a marriage which HE CONSENTS to remain in. He has only liked my boyfriends when they've been extremely passive (that had meant I control them, and in turn he can still control me).

    Consider adding a post about toxic guilt, because IMO this is the single largest barrier to breaking away from or even re-balancing the relationship with a toxic parent.

  2. "My father would have it the same way for me. He would have me stay under his roof, pay his bills, clean his house, and provide what is emotionally lacking in a marriage which HE CONSENTS to remain in."

    My sister feels like she has to care for my mom. It's hard for her to conquer the guilt to stay away. She is in California right now, so that's good, but mom asks every day if she's called.

    Yes, it seems that toxic parents often hate their marriages but won't go through a divorce because they either too weak to make that emotional effort or they still have something to prove to the "divorce-is-shameful" value system that characterizes many of the older generation both Western and non-Western.

    But they want relief for their misery in the marriage so they take what they can from their children. Dysfunctional family comedies make light of this cruelty.

    check out my post as "Harry834" on RHReality Check: