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Broken Parental Bonds: Set Boundaries Or Walk Away

Is the relationship Bruised but fixable with boundaries or altogether broken?

Broken relationships with parents can hurt no matter what age you are. Some of us experience rejection when a parent leaves or passes away at a young age. For others, it can be growing up in a toxic environment. Sometimes it is over a disagreement that causes a split. It can be anything.

Yet the pain that results is real, because deep down inside of us, most of us yearn to have a relationship with our parents simply because they are… well, our parents.

Parents

Parents are supposed to love us unconditionally, accept us, provide for us, be loving, nurturing, etc. Yet, not all of us are blessed to grow up in this environment. Some families face abuse in various forms, addictions, or abandonment. The environment in many of these homes is very toxic. Children growing up in these homes will fall into one, sometimes two, of three patterns:

  1. Accept whatever is happening at home as normal (because no other baseline for behaviour exists).
  2. Know that the behaviour is not acceptable and decide that their life will be different.
  3. Marry someone who mimics the same type of disfunction.

Unless the child deals specifically with the type of disfunction by either counselling, God, scripture, or a combination, what they see becomes perceived as normal. Thus what is “normal” for them, tends to be repeated because they aren’t aware of any other example.

Also, the behaviour at adulthood has become so ingrained, that unless they are shown a different type of coping mechanism, the person (unless they are committed to change) will default to the way they grew up.

There are those, however, that see the type of dysfunction that is going on at home for what it is: toxic. They see the brokenness of the relationship and vow that they will not repeat the same behaviour to their children. It has become a conscious choice. However, as good as this sounds, sometimes there is a downfall…

How Do People Stay in toxic relationships?

Because it’s normal for some of us. Even if you vow that you will never display the same type of brokenness that you witnessed growing up, you can’t ignore that sometimes people have an unknown tendency to be drawn to people like our parents.

Our parents are our first example of how to behave, and can have a significant impact on their children. So even if children don’t emulate the behaviours of the parent, sometimes we inadvertently look for those characteristics in our mate. Then the cycle repeats.

It should be noted that not every toxic relationship is born out of dysfunctional/toxic family lives. Abuse isn’t confined to a family history of the behaviour as abusers often earn their victim’s trust long before they show any abusiveness in the relationship. This is why it is so difficult to leave an abusive relationship- or to even recognize that you are even in one.

In many cases of toxicity in families, the hold that a parent has over a child can be very strong. Until toxicity is identified, the child can literally feel caught between trying to please both a parent and a spouse. There is continual turmoil, and unceasing guilt as they ping-pong between two loyalties.

For those that have identified that their relationship with a parent is toxic, they deal with many emotions. There is the sadness that the relationship isn’t what they want, and at first they try to fix it. Sadly, this is where many children remain.

Eventually, a small minority of those in this situation realize that they cannot change their parent’s behaviour. This is when they must come to terms with the fact that the relationship will never live up to their ideal. Some become angry and retreat. Others accept their parent’s limitations, and heal knowing that they are only capable of loving them to a certain extent, but that their limitations don’t necessarily mean that they are not loved.

Still there are others that need to assert boundaries for their own health and well-being, or for their family’s safety. These aren’t bad things, as they preserve your own equilibrium. However, the guilt can be something that the child struggles with.

Then, there is the fractured relationship, wherein either parent or child do not wish to establish a relationship. The individual affected by this experiences feelings of rejection, abandonment, and many questions as to why this is so.

Helen Murray discusses how adult children can mend relationships with their parents if that is their desire. She also discusses why we should try to mend broken relationships whenever possible, and why we should never just give up on family.

Helen emphasizes that no matter how bad a family situation is, that God can heal just about anything, and that nothing is impossible for Him. She goes on to talk about how to avoid feelings of hurt/rejection in trying to re-establish a healthy relationship. Not only does she aid in helping readers establish appropriate boundaries, but she helps in teaching you how to enforce them- without guilt.

Helen also talks about working through the realization that you may not have your ideal relationship with your parents, but still cherishing what you do have with them. Also, she goes through what to do if your parents don’t want a relationship with you as well, and working through any pain.

This feature and many more in our October issue of Faith Filled Family Magazine.

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