Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s boggling you.
This week, we discuss what to do when you have a toxic, gaslighting parent and you feel stuck in their grasp. Have your own question you’d like us to tackle? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
I know my mom is toxic. It’s been a long, hard road of trying so hard to have a good relationship, but I don’t think I can take the gaslighting and abuse any longer. It impacts my own family, especially after one of her visits. They never end well. I feel alone in this. What can I do here?
So, this question hits home for me.
I offer more than sympathy, I empathize. Deeply. I broke up with my mom 4 years ago, almost to the day.
After I had time to process the finality of that, I wrote about it.
I was scared to death of publishing something so close to me. I wrote from the depths of my heart, and hoped that my words would help someone. And, they did. That post was published a few years ago, and I still get messages every week without fail. People who are so relieved to know they are not alone. Moms who feel like a heavy weight has been lifted from their chest knowing someone else has been down that road. So, you’re not alone. Not even close.
Sometimes, if you have tried it all, and you feel like your mental and emotional health is being compromised, and you’re not getting the respect, love and support that you deserve, then you can cut your mom (or dad, or aunt, or whoever) out of your life. You get to decide who you spend your time and energy on, especially when you’re raising a family and your time and energy is so finite and precious.
If you feel like you’ve tried and tried and gotten nowhere, if you feel anxiety creeping up when she calls, or when she visits, or when you recall a heartbreaking memory that is forever seared into your heart, then you can set yourself free from having to endure that anguish any longer. It’s okay to do that.
It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s not easy, but it’s okay.
Once it gets to the point that a relationship negatively impacts your daily life, your own family, even when that person isn’t there, it’s likely time for a breakup. You get to decide how long that break lasts. It’s entirely up to you. Remember that.
I would suggest letting them know what boundaries you are creating for yourself and your family, and what those will look like. Then, you insist that they respect those boundaries. This may be the hardest part of all. For me, that looks like a letter I wrote to my mom detailing that I could no longer have her in my life. Again, for me, that means no phone calls, no contact. That’s what I need, because the mere mention of her name spikes my heart rate and sends my anxiety into instant overdrive. (It’s happening now as I type.) I also knew that I couldn’t have this conversation with her in person—it would have never been productive or healthy.
Your boundaries may be different than mine—you get to decide, but don’t back down.
There’s a lot of freedom on the other side of not being weighed down by a toxic, gaslighting parent any longer. I can’t even describe it—it’s a feeling only felt by those of us who have spent decades trying to reconcile our self-worth with a parent that never made us feel good enough.
Just make sure to make time for self-care. I know this term is so often used now that we tend to roll our eyes, but it should be taken seriously. This type of transition takes a huge emotional toll, and it is exhausting, draining, and leaves you low on patience and energy. You’re going to need to be gentle with yourself, and I would highly suggest that you talk to a therapist to help process your emotions and any repressed feelings that will likely bubble up as you heal. I took my own advice here, and it has been critical to me being able to move forward healthier and happier than ever. There’s a lot to unpack when you’ve grown up with toxic parents.
If you feel like anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues are arising, get to a doctor ASAP. Don’t let fear or shame hold you back from getting the care you deserve.
And during all the times in between, when you need to cry or even take your mind off things with a good laugh, make sure to lean on your people, whoever they may be. They will want to be there for you, and you deserve that love and support. It can be hard to trust folks, I know, but if you’ve got good people surrounding you, you’ll need them now as you transition into this new normal.
And your kids. You’re doing this for yourself, but you’re doing this for them too. Because that’s how motherhood goes when you’re trying to do better than what you were given. Set yourself free, because you deserve it and they do too.
Have your own question? Email email@example.com
Disclaimer: This is not medical or professional advice.