Nobody wants toxic people in their lives, but when those people are your parents, you can't always just suddenly cut off all contact. Letting go of a toxic parent doesn't always mean that, though. It can simply mean limiting their role in your life and their influence on your thoughts and feelings.
Toxic people are those who aren't necessarily abusive but are somehow a negative impact, whether they use you, manipulate you, or otherwise mistreat you. A toxic parent, for example, may compromise your safety, have alcohol or drug problems, or never admit they're wrong, Tara Chivukula, LCSW, tells Bustle. Having a lot of toxic people in your life can mess with your mental health and leaving you constantly feeling bad about yourself.
If you feel like your parent might be toxic and you're not sure if you want your relationship to continue, make a list of all the positive and negative things about your relationship. If the negatives outweigh the positives, that's a sign it's time to let go.
"Think about what life might look and feel like if you let go of this relationship. What would your space and time get freed up for?"
Another way to make this decision is to compare your life with that parent in it to your possible life without them. "Think about what life might look and feel like if you let go of this relationship. What would your space and time get freed up for?" Chivukula says.
If you decide it's time to let go of a toxic parent, here's how to do it.
Take It One Step At A Time
You don't have to cut your parent off completely right away or ever, Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, Founder of online relationship community Relationup, tells Bustle. Think of small, doable goals, like declining phone calls or planning a vacation without them. "Often, you are so tied into the other person and your symbiotic patterns that you can’t seem to cut the cord cleanly," says Milrad. "Set one small boundary each week and slowly build the strength to make the big move away from them."
When your own internal monologue is telling you that you're a terrible child, it helps to have someone to counter those thoughts. Chivukula suggests talking to a therapist or supportive friend while you're trying to let go of a toxic parent.
Accept The Guilt
Disappointing your parents will probably make you feel guilty. There's pretty much no way around it. Usually, we try to lower our guilt by making small concessions: We won't join them for Thanksgiving, but we'll come for Christmas. Or we won't call them, but we'll still answer when they call. But once we can learn to live with guilt, we suddenly have far more options.
"Although you may feel guilt for not answering their phone call or scared to tell them that you are not coming home for the holidays, you muster up the courage and learn to tolerate the discomfort," says Milrad. "Make your own personal goal to learn how to manage your feelings and not revert back to old behavior just because it is difficult to tolerate."
Let Yourself Grieve
Even if a parent is bad for you in the long run, it may hurt to let go of them. That's OK, says Chivukula. Be gentle with yourself and cry as much as you want.
Letting go of a toxic parent won't be an easy process, but it's often worth it. "You are setting boundaries because your parent(s) has demonstrated over and over again that they are harmful to you," says Milrad. And that's something you should be proud of.