Whenever I feel like this whole “history of parental emotional abuse” is getting me down, I like to focus on the positive lessons I learned from my toxic parents. Even if I learned them the hard way. Here are my 10 favorites.
Kindness Is Magic
Although my parents were pretty big on volunteering, their motives often seemed less than honorable. Or at least, they seemed less about charity and more about image and influence. By their example I learned that kindness, simply for the sake of kindness is like fairy dust to your life. It may very well also build your reputation, give you influence in your community, perhaps especially when you are not chasing those. Kindness fills your life with magic, because it fills your life with smiles and gratitude. Try it! Next time you see someone with their hands full, hold the door for them.
Second Chances Are Great
Growing up in a toxic family meant dealing with constant judgment. Every person that entered my parents’ lives – even for the briefest moment – would be judged in an instant. That initial judgment would stick with your for life.
I have learned to give people a little more breathing space. Maybe I met them on a day when something stressful was happening, or they were struggling to manage the situation in which our paths crossed… maybe they were just tired, or sad, or hangry? Because there are many reasons why a person may not make the best first impression. So, if our first meeting is a little difficult, don’t worry! You’ll get a second chance.
Invest In Your Family
I don’t really mean invest money in your family. Although helping a family member out can be a great thing. I mean make room and time in your life for them. No matter how bust work is, or how many dishes are piling up, or how desperately you need to sweep the patio. Make sure you don’t forget to connect with the people you call family. When they call because they need you, make them feel you are happy to listen and they are not interrupting at all. When they visit, spend time together.
I don’t mean: ‘sacrifice your own peace and well-being’. That would be the expectation of toxic family members. Spending time can be as easy as vegging out on the couch with a steady supply of food and beverages. Investing in your family can also be: ‘Sweetheart, I love you. I want to listen to you, but I am exhausted and I am just not able to give you the attention you deserve. Can I call you in the morning?’
Talk With People (Not About Them)
My parents are fantastic at talking about people. In fact it is all they do (kind of). I have found that it is far more interesting to talk with people. Everyone has a fascinating story to tell, all you have to do is find the right question to unlock it.
Everyone Is Their Own Kind of Talented
Here is the honest truth: despite my mother’s many attempts to teach me, I am not a great knitter, seamstress or textile artist. I can fix a button or restitch a seam… but that’s where my skill set ends. It is just not one of my talents. However frustrating that was to mother, however much she wanted to make me like it…
I do however have a large selection of other talents. Just like everyone else in this world. We are all good at some things and helping each other by joining forces (and talents) is probably the most fun in the world!
Lifting People Up, Lifts You Up
Many people think – my parents amongst them – that in order to make themselves look good, they should make another look worse. I have learned that the higher I lift the people around me, the higher I lift myself.
Together we rise, together we fall.
Boundaries Are A-Okay(!)
I know this one now, even if I still sometimes struggle with the implementation. It is okay to say no, to ask for space, to ask for explanations, to ask for consideration of our person. Toxic people see the people around them like extensions of themselves. Therefore there can be no boundaries. The hammer does not ask for a time out, so why should you?
That’s no way to live, you are after all not a hammer!
Asking for Help Does Not Equal Failure
My parents do not ask for help. They demand favors, but do not ask for help. What I mean is that my mother may demand that you ‘drop what you are doing to change a light bulb for her’ but she refuses to hire a part time nurse to help with the care for my ailing father. She would see that as ‘airing her dirty laundry’ or ‘showing the world she is not in fact perfect’.
Showing vulnerability and asking for help is how we connect to other, really connect to them. Needing someone else’s input and talents to master a goal is not failure, that is just good use of your resources.
Relaxation and Rest Are Important
My mother never stops. She is always working, tidying, doing odd jobs around the house… Anything not to sit still, and spend some time in her own mind (at least that is my interpretation). Having grown up with that influence, I used to feel guilty when I would take a break, or need a break because my knee injury simply demanded it.
Now I understand that rest and relaxation are important. They help you stay healthy, balanced and effective during the times you do work.
Nothing, NOTHING, Can Substitute Real, Focused Contact
Like many toxic people, my parents at times tried to buy us off. If you do this you get a present. Whenever they felt there was distance (in other words when I started leaning towards an enstrangement from them) they would offer money, a gift, a dinner at a good restaurant or maybe I would find a surprise bunch of flowers in my room. Yet, when your would arrange a visit (even after my mother had complained for weeks how she never got to see you anymore) she would not have a minute to spare for you when you arrived at the agreed time. More often than not, I ended up cooking the dinner I had been invited to while she was in another room finishing some project she was working on.
Nothing can substitute real focused attention and contact. Just talking to someone, who is really listening to you. Listening to understand, not to reply. That’s tonic for the soul.