“Why do you think you can do that?”
It was a question my mother had asked me half-a-dozen times, and it was her voice that I was hearing now as I stood on the brink of the biggest decision in my life.
“There’s no way you can move countries and make it work. You can’t manage that.”
But I did manage it. And I continue to manage it. Every single day.
That’s the story that millions of others get to live out in their own day-to-day lives. Children of hyper critical and even toxic parents, they too carry the burden of that negative inner voice. The one that belongs to the caretaker that broke them down and eroded their souls.
Toxic parents raise toxic and fearful children. Both intentionally and unintentionally, they leave them with trauma and scars that continue to shape them for decades to come.
Why? Why would our parents want to implant us with negative voices? With memories that make it hard to trust ourselves and others?
In short, it’s because many of us had parents who had been traumatized by their parents. Now, it’s up to us to resolve that trauma and to discharge that toxic parent who is still lodged inside of us.
How your traumatized parent lives on.
Your traumatized parent lives on inside of you every single day. Even though we may resent them or even hate them, the imprint they leave on us is undeniable.
Our parents shape the way we see ourselves, and they shape the compassion and the respect that we have for ourselves, our minds, and our bodies.
The way we form our intimate relationships with others, the way we raise our own children and families — all of this is affected by your toxic parents and the traumas they pass down from their own pasts to you.
While admitting that our parents left us with the baggage of their pain is hard to do, it’s also freeing. Giving yourself this gift of freedom is often the first step in healing the pain that’s holding you back from being truly happy and fulfilled.
Seeing the self
Our parents play a role in shaping the foundation of our self-concept. So they linger on in the way we live our lives from start to finish.
The relationships we share with them in childhood help us see ourselves as good or bad, worthy or unworthy. The way you see yourself (or don’t see yourself) can be tied back to the way your parents saw you.
If your parents saw you as “less than” or told you you weren’t worthy (either verbally or non-verbally) then that mindset can linger into your adulthood.
Subconsciously, you adopt beliefs like, “if my mother can’t love me, then who else will love me?” So, you end up chasing toxic partners who treat you just the way your toxic parent did — they’ll dismiss you, demean you, and make you feel unworthy in all the same ways.
Are you someone with a tough inner critic? This is the voice that tears you apart for every mistake you make, or anything that’s perceived as “wrong”. It’s that negative inner monologue that teaches you to doubt yourself and all your goodness and lovability.
The inner critic is one of the most prominent way our traumatized parents live on inside of us. Having never handled their own insecurities stemming from personal pain, they transfer that pain to us by tearing us down. In the end, we are taught to rip ourselves apart, rather than giving ourselves grace, compassion, and understanding.
One of the greatest ways our traumatized parents live is through our own family patterns. We shape our families (often) based on the way our own families were shaped by our parents or caretakers.
If you were raised amid chaos and dysfunction, you can come to see this as “normal”. Or you may go to even more damaging and opposite extremes.
Your parents affect the way you forge your family and parent your children. If you want to escape their pain, then you have to avoid inflicting the same trauma and shortcomings on your own family.
Do you sell yourself short a lot? We do this when we settle for bad relationships and pursue miserable and unfulfilling paths in life. We put ourselves in miserable situations and self-sabotage in the worst possible ways.
Where do you think most of us learn these patterns? For some, it’s back to the first caretakers that set those examples in childhood. If you watched your parents sell out into heartbreak, you’re likely to do the same.
It comes back to what they teach you both about yourself and the world. If they don’t lift you up and give you healthy self-esteem, you learn you’re not worth what you really want and value.
If they don’t life themselves up and get what they deserve, then by association your child’s brain will come to think, “If they can’t be happy, I certainly won’t be happy either.”
Becoming the type of person we’re happy with being is important. But that won’t happen until you increase your self-esteem and break the habits your traumatized parents repeated.
Sea of triggers
Ever feel like you lose control when you’re exposed to certain experiences that remind you of your childhood? Maybe you spiral when someone yells at you. Or you shut down entirely in the face of conflict. Likewise, you can find addictions and social responses triggered by certain feelings or situations.
These left over triggers from a childhood of mental and emotional trauma are your sick and pained parent thinking and acting through you.
Unable to resolve the pain passed down to them, they pass it on to you. There, it lashes out and acts out over-and-over again; upsetting your balance and destroying any chance of genuinely aligned happiness.
You’ve probably heard the old quip, “you end up with your parents”. Experts and gurus tell us we become attracted to partners who mimic the parents we craved the love of most.
And this is partially true. More than anything else, you learn to repeat the traumatized relationship patterns of your parents, though.
Did your mother or father have an inability to forge or maintain healthy and balanced relationships? Did they constantly struggle against one another, themselves, or a sea of partners who hurt them and belittled them?
Witnessing these toxic relationships as a child sets you up to pursue it in your own adult relationships. You normalize the hurt, pain, shame, and guilt, and that leads you right down the same heartbreaking paths as your traumatized (and never healed) parent.
The decisions we make for ourselves have the biggest direct impact on the quality of our lives. We can point the finger in a lot of places, but we ultimately make the choices and take the actions that directly affect the course of our relationships and our futures.
Our poor decision making can often be traced back to traumatized parents, though. While being accountable for our own choices, we can see the beliefs and values that inform them of the patterns of our traumatized parents.
Do you choose relationships, lifestyles, and careers that reaffirm all the worst things your toxic parents believed about you? Do you choose the same self-destructive paths your mother or father chose before you?
The trauma of our parents (and grandparents) lives on in the grave decisions that we make, which set us up to echo the toxic patterns they lived and died under.
Making more out of our own lives…
Our parents aren’t superhuman. They’re not gods. They’re not infallible. Like anyone else, our parents are human. They make mistakes and have their flaws.
Parents and caretakers can carry trauma with them just like anyone else. Raised by broken people who were just doing the best they could, they were victims of a system they didn’t understand. And they made us victims too.
Stepping out of that victimhood is a crucial part of learning to be happy, of learning to love yourself.
Instead of allowing the trauma your parents implanted in you to perpetuate, you must step outside of the patterns. Realize where you are repeating their mistakes, where you are being shaped by their fear, and change it.
Learn everything you can about childhood trauma, toxic family dynamics, and the effects of adverse experiences. Lean into yourself. Love your inner child. Re-parent them.
Above all else, though, learn how to be gentle. Be gentle with yourself, be gentle with the world. Find a softer way to live your life so that you can build a softer, trauma-free future for yourself, your family, and everyone you love.
© E.B. Johnson 2022