I read an article today in the New York Times about toxic parents, and whether or not, for one's long-term health, it might be better to sever the relationship. This is a really tough call. I agree with the writer in that the mental health profession is geared toward keeping the relationship, no matter what. It was termed "cut-off" in my classes, and was to be avoided at all costs, with the exception of abuse. The idea behind it is that we are hard-wired to attach with our parents, which is true, and that cut-off really doesn't work to maintain good mental health.
I disagree with the last part. And it has taken me awhile to get there.
The author used the example of a woman who was being treated for depression. Her mother had always been abusive to her and her siblings, going so far as to wish her a disease, instead of happy birthday, on one occasion. I don't advocate cutting off your parents, or parent, because they have aged and are annoying or difficult. That is a natural process, and we have a responsibility to care for our aged. It's part of the circle of life. I doubt any of us had, or became, perfect parents. We all had our issues.
But I also believe we reap what we sow. Not all are good, loving parents. For whatever reason, they were too selfish, self-centered, unhappy, or had substance abuse issues, to be a good parent. And in some cases, they were hateful and dangerous. It is this type of parenting that is at issue.
We know that long term stress affects our brain and body in a very negative manner. So at what point do you throw in the towel on a toxic relationship, and how much responsibility do you carry for an aging parent who falls into this category?
I think each individual needs to come to this decision on their own. But I'm beginning to lean in the direction of good mental health. I don't think we are responsible for someone, just because they are aging, if that person has always, and continues to be, a destructive presence. At some point, that person has to face the consequences of a lifetime of bad behavior. I don't believe we should sacrifice our health. Trying to make sure they are safe is sometimes the best that we can do.
This is a very serious decision, and should be made with professional help, certainly, but people who constantly make us feel bad are dangerous to our well being. Unfortunately, that may also include our parents in some rare circumstances. Choosing to forgive them, and moving forward, is important in becoming the pilot of our own lives. Learning from their mistakes, and making sure the cycle of abuse ends with them, is a lesson well learned. Sometimes removing ourselves from a negative environment is the only way we can heal.