Seven Mental Techniques to Let Our Abusive Parents Off the Hook

It is hell to hold our parents responsible for harming us. When we were little children, holding them responsible would have gotten us rejected, which for a child is tantamount to a death sentence. Yet if we don’t hold them responsible, and don’t ultimately heal the emotional wounds they caused us, then we remain emotional children forever—and still retain the terror of being rejected by them. This can be a fear worse than death. As such, many people use unconscious mental techniques to avoid holding their abusive parents responsible. Here are seven of these techniques:

1) Blame intergenerational trauma

Although there is no doubt that traumatic patterns get passed on through the generations, the mechanism for the transmission of intergenerational trauma is child abuse, that is, parents replicating their own childhood traumas on their children. Yet rarely do I see people who acknowledge suffering from intergenerational trauma put the primary responsibility on their parents. Instead they blame some more distant force, like a sadistic or perverse great-grandfather who died before they were born, or slavery from two centuries ago, or maybe a long-since-defunct government from a different continent. And while past traumatizers or traumatizing forces were undoubtedly negative historical influences, blaming them does little or nothing to help us heal our own wounds. We have to face who directly did our damage to us and hold them responsible. Without that there can be no grieving, no healing, no real reparation. Also, without that we’re just giving child abusers a free pass, and, in essence, giving ourselves a free pass to abuse our own children—because, after all, they can always blame intergenerational trauma too.

2) Blame another race or a political party or an economic system or immigrants

There is racism, some political parties are horrid, economics can be vile and unfair, and some immigrants do bad things—but parents wield more power over the lives of their children than do any of these other people or forces. Parents are the literal gods of the child’s universe, especially in the case of very young children. For starters, parents create the child. Most pet adoption agencies don’t allow pets to be adopted into chaotic or deprived homes, yet parents in war-torn or starvation-ridden or racist regions get a free pass? It is so hard for children to see their parents in context, and they will often absolve them of their errors at all cost, and even go a step further and deny the existence of these errors. They need to believe their parents loved them, because without that they have to face the horrible notion that maybe their parents didn’t care about them all that much—and maybe they themselves are not all that different. All of this creates an incredible incentive to divert the pain and rage over unconscious parental betrayal onto “bad” external forces.

3) Say your parents did the best they could and then forgive them

Although by conventional standards I am very critical of parents, my observation is that all parents actually do the best they can. The reason they do bad things is not because they want to, not because they were born evil, not because they want to fail at their most precious job, but because they have unresolved trauma from their own childhood that they cannot help but replicate on those over whom they wield the most power: their own children. This, sadly, is the nature of traumatized, unhealed humans. Yet this doesn’t give parents a free pass, because it fails to acknowledge the inherent responsibility in being human: that we are all responsible to heal our traumas in order to stop passing them on. Saying “they did the best they could” and then forgiving them is exactly what allows the horror to keep going on, generation after generation, because unconsciously everyone who says it can just as easily say to themselves, “I did the best I could, thus I can’t be held accountable for my actions.” People must hold themselves accountable for what they’ve done—or they cannot heal their traumas. But first we most hold the most important people in our universe, our parents from childhood, accountable for what they did to us. That is how we begin to break the vicious cycle of trauma.

4) Vilify one parent and let the other parent off the hook

It takes two parents to create a child, just as it takes two people to tango. But all too often I hear people holding just one parent accountable for their traumas of childhood, as if that one parent did all of his or her bad acts in a vacuum. Although this vacuum theory isn’t true, it is convenient, because it allows the now-grown child to retain his sense of stability of still being connected to his family of origin. It is, after all, a horrible thing to lose one’s family of origin, and for a child it can be devastating, even deadly. There’s a reason that abused kids so often defend their parents so vigorously. Meanwhile, here are some reasons it’s never true that there’s one “good” parent and one “bad” one: A) Ninety-nine percent of the time (at least in the modern, Western world), your parents chose each other and participated in the sex act that created you. If one of your parents were really a monster, then your supposed non-monster parent bears some responsibility for having chosen this monster and chosen to procreate with him or her. B) The “good” parent often knows a lot more than he or she lets on about the abuse perpetrated by the “bad” parent. The “good” one often just chooses to look the other way to avoid having to face the consequences of the “bad” parent’s wrath. Looking the other way is neglect, and neglect is abuse. C) Often the “good” parent secretly likes it that the “bad” parent perpetrates abuse. Some examples here: the wife knows her husband is raping their daughter, but knows that if she puts a stop to it he will rape or beat her. Or the wife rages at the kids and the husband is relieved because he knows that she’d otherwise rage at him or reject him. Or the wife is secretly glad the husband beats their son, because then the son comes to her for emotional support and comfort and thus becomes the needy, vulnerable, submissive, worshipping replacement spouse that she never had. Or the wife is glad the husband beats the kids, because then he looks like the “bad” one and she gets to look like the “good” one, and thus she wins the “Better Parent Contest,” from which she derives not just self-esteem but an identity. Meanwhile, the bottom line here is that if you overly blame one parent and diminish the responsibility of the other, you’re not fully facing what happened to you, and thus can’t properly heal your wounds.

5) Blame a sibling

Siblings, sadly, can be rotten. Although some are wonderful, or at times can be wonderful, many fail to live up to their potential. They can be mean, verbally abusive, physically and sexually assaultive, bullying, cruel, jealous, undermining, and threatening. But the reason I add them to this list is that all too often I see people blaming a sibling for their childhood traumas while letting their parents off the hook. The reason this is a fallacy is as follows: behind every abusive sibling are two abusive parents who traumatized him (or her) and set up the abusive dynamics he is acting out. His acting out comforts abusive parents, because it diverts everyone’s attention away from their own cruelty, neglects, and shortcomings. In essence, no matter how bad that abusive sibling is, he’s still the parents’ agent and scapegoat.

6) Point out how others have it worse than you and devote all your energy to bettering their lot in life

We can all find examples of someone who had worse parents than we did. Even the most abused of us can do two minutes of googling to find mothers and fathers who killed their children outright. But this type of comparing is inconsequential to our healing because it does nothing to resolve the actual emotional pain we suffered and nothing to lessen the burden of guilt on our parents. It may allow us to idealize our parents, but this only causes us to dissociate from our traumas, that is, to split off from them or compartmentalize them out of consciousness. And for some people the comparisons only cause them to feel guilty, as in, “How dare I feel bad about what I went through when others went through so much worse?” But if we really want to cement the myth of our “easy childhood” into place, we can always become do-gooders—and devote the best of our energies to helping the “really” wounded people. And there is a place for doing good in the world, our real goodness starts with healing ourselves: acknowledging our childhood traumas, placing responsibility on those who caused them (starting with our parents), feeling all our feelings around the traumas, and then grieving them. Ironically, healing ourselves is what gives us the real experience to be useful to others. Without that experience the best we can model for others are messages of “you-can’t-do-it-yourself” and “you-need-me,” which all too often are only replications of a wounded child’s worst fears.

7) Blame traumas from later in life

Horrible things can happen to us at any age, but it is the early life traumas resulting primarily from the actions of our parents that warp us the most—because it is then that we are the most malleable. We experience later traumatic events through the lenses of these earlier traumas, such that the earlier ones provide magnification and distortion. But even more so, early life traumas often set the stage for the later ones to happen, such that people not infrequently unconsciously replicate earlier traumatic situations and relationships. You would think that this would give people more incentive to hold their traumatizing parents accountable, yet often they do the opposite. Many people find comfort in blaming their life’s woes solely on the later traumas, as if they happened outside of a context. This can allow them to still feel some of the pain and rage and sorrow of having been traumatized yet simultaneously maintain a close relationship with their abusive parents. They place the blame outside the family and in so doing protect their troubled family system, never heal their root traumas, and never have to face that deepest, painful truth.

25 thoughts on “Seven Mental Techniques to Let Our Abusive Parents Off the Hook

  1. Hi Daniel,
    Thanks for writing this and all the content you post. I am curious as to what your thoughts are on forgiveness or compassion for a parent who is born with a neurological/biological difference like autism or FASD, who is not diagnosed due to a problematic/non existent mental health system and then has emotional regulation issues due to their biology as a parent leading them to act out their traumas on their children? I am also curious about how you see systems of oppression such as patriarchy, false catholic sex education (rhythm method) and reduced access to birth control. When you say “For starters, parents create the child” in catholic-government run countries contraception was considered a sin and people who could not afford children were given false education about contraception. So in effect the broader political system impacted the parents which lead them to create the child.

  2. hi daniel, very moving what u said (on abusive parents). So let me ask u just this: what do u think about kids whose father’s away from home on business trips, about 2 to 3 weeks a month, unknowingly leaving them alone with a mother who uses this time, each time, to tell them he’s a nobody, etc. The oldest child, a girl aged 8 years old, even had to become her confidant. This girl was at first proud to be treated like an adult, but at the same time uncomfortable (for example: learning about and seeing her mother’s lovers, while dad was away working). Also, she was in charge of bringing up, feeding and protecting her younger brother when both were alone at home (specially night time) most of their lives as children. What’s the cure to forget all that happened. Thanks for your answer or silence.

    • Very insightful article on parent abuse. It makes me very sad what parent abuse does to childhood, they grow up feel powerfuless angry, wounded, having lack of confidence because of the damage of parent abuse, and then more abuse follows because thats what the child is used to. Ive seen the damage what parent abuse neglect abadonment has done to peers my own age, anxiety, angry, self esteem issues very sad.

  3. I disagree with number 5. While its true that “behind every abusive sibling are two abusive parents who traumatized him (or her) and set up the abusive dynamics he is acting out” that doesnt let the sibling off the hook.

    Quoting you from no.1 “We have to face who *directly* did our damage to us and hold them responsible”

    If the sibling did the damage then they are the one whos memory (introjection?) we have to tussle with. The parents are no doubt behind it, and no doubt neglected in letting the sibling abuse happen, but the sibling is still held accountable for the pain they caused by the abusees organism.

    • basically i agree with you. we do have to hold the abusive sibling accountable, because they are — and so is anyone who abuses us. but for the purposes of this essay i was trying to say (i guess imperfectly) that it’s important not to focus only on the sibling and not also on the abusive parents behind the scenes. daniel

    • good question… a quick reply off the top of my head: maybe if they acknowledge the damage they did, and do so much healing within themselves that they never repeat such damage, and also that we (the damaged ones) also have grown so much that we are no longer prisoners of the damage they did us. but actually then (i think i’ve written this) i don’t think the word would be “forgiveness” exactly…something else perhaps… i’m not big on this forgiveness thing. i think it’s a word that’s lost its meaning along the way…..i really don’t use it… daniel

      • Thanks for the reply. Based on your answer and the article above (and what I’ve learned about you over the past few years), here are some of my thoughts:

        (A) I think it’s safe to say you don’t think that you or anyone else should be forgiving parents any time soon.

        (B) I think there may me faulty logic in your current perception of “forgiveness”. To forgive someone does not mean that we don’t hold them responsible for an act – quite the opposite in fact. Holding someone responsible is actually necessary in order for there to be anything to forgive them for.

        (C) I think when you say that you don’t want to “forgive” your parents, what you really mean is that you don’t want to stop blaming and resenting them. I think think this is because you’re living out the victim archetype – and as such you need to continue resenting your parents for making you a “prisoner of the damage they did” – in order to continue being a victim.

        • Conor, I your logic is right on. We endure emotional torture often times with the same person who.provides us emotional nourishment. This is bcs we are so complex psychologically: Both victim and aggressor at different times or even at same time. Love yourself, Conor, for your courage and power of reasoning. Humbly. For you are lucky. On behalf of all the weaker minded: Many thanks:)

        • I say that the definition of ‘forgive’ is to let go the pain that they have caused you. Then you can move on and view them without hate. What they did becomes their problem not yours any more.

        • Dear Conor
          A few years too late, you probably won’t read these lines at all, but maybe there are others who also deal with the subject of forgiveness.
          It helped me a lot when I visited my mother shortly before she died. She lay there fighting for every breath and I saw that at the end of her life she was no longer the mother I had feared so often as a child.
          It wasn’t that I mystified our shared history. Rather, I realized that in that moment I was facing something that was beyond guilt and innocence.
          At the same time, I wasn’t in great mourning (and I am not today, six months later either), simply because I didn’t have to mourn the mother she had often been. For me it was a very enlightening moment that freed me from the previously felt guilty feelings.
          On the one hand I saw how she had refused all her life to take responsibility for her actions, on the other hand I knew that she herself came from a violent home. She just didn’t have the tools to do anything better.
          For me it was a creative act to really let go, not to deny her or my story and at the same time not to get caught up in it, entangled in anger, pain and guilt.

      • Maybe you are right, the word is not forgive, but I have come to have compassion for my dad. He died 18 years ago, and I had refused to go see him on his deathbed. I had not talked to him for fifteen or so years before that, and did not want to give him one last chance to stab a little further and twist the knife.
        I do see he was a product of his mother’s upbringing and she was of hers. But my greatest joy in life has been raising my two daughters and being the type of mother I wish I had had. She died when I was seven.

    • Dorothy Rowe wrote forgiveness is irrelevant. We no longer hold grudges when someone no longer has power over us. If your parent hurt you bad you may have to wait a long time before you feel equal to them and no longer frightened or angry with them.

  4. Olá Daniel,

    Parabéns pelo artigo!

    Na referência de família, muito problemática, onde, minha mãe vem de um grupo familiar com comportamento defeituoso severo agravado por negligência de seus pais que, afetaram metade dos 11 filhos que tiveram, a nível de incapacitá-los, busquei neste histórico, encontrar o “fio da meada” para toda a distorção que afetou e, ainda afeta minha mãe e irmã.

    A palavra “monstro”, foi minha mecânica para encontrar a base coerente de tanto desequilíbrio. Associo que a transferência destes “monstros” só ganham proporção anti o comportamento mais egoísta e/ou individualista que constituiu aspectos de personalidade próprio de cada individuo da família.

    Por uma vida inteira, o “monstro” que, ficou ainda mais escondido por intercorrência de manobras psiquiátricas incoerentes, se tornou um FANTASMA que assombrou toda uma geração dos quais, os membros mais suscetíveis e, propensos, foram diretamente afetados em efeito dominó.

    Diretamente afetada, uma vez que, mãe e irmã distorcidas da realidade, preconizaram todas suas falhas na culpabilidade do outro, por falta de capacidade, não consegui ter domínio e controle sobre estas forças externas e, mal podia andar.

    Em nível de transferência destes traumas e, desconfortável com o conflito familiar altamente desequilibrado, haja vista, número de pessoas internadas em hospital psiquiátrico e, por número de afetados, diria, assustador, precisava de respostas coerentes para estruturar minha própria existência. Uma questão de sobrevivência social.

    Desde a primeira infância, carregando até então o FANTASMA PARENTAL, que por ordem de importância, desestruturou meu pai e, assim, sem algum fragmento de sensatez no laço familiar, o desconforto me assinalou e apontou o “erro”.

    No confuso relacionamento que, você traduz tão bem, de PAI e MÃE, bons ou maus, na difícil tarefa de encontrar as bases familiares de estrutura, talvez por ausência completa deste princípio, o desejo de resolver minha identidade, tenha me projetado para fora do problema e, sem dúvidas, a busca do encontro pessoal, me garantiu uma visão mais acertada diante do caos familiar.

    Com pai, mãe e irmã, totalmente defeituosos, reconheci a complexidade da existência logo na infância. Acredito que nesta fase, nasceu o desafio da vida onde, travei uma enorme busca.

    No trajeto dos contornos da evolução da vida, desempenhando todos os papeis sociais, com o FANTASMA me rondando, ultrapassei a infância, a adolescência e, na fase quase adulta com maior abrangência de conhecimento, seguia a eterna busca do encontro com minhas verdadeiras tendências. Classifico esta busca como SUPERAÇÃO.

    Diante do assustador conflito parental e extra parental, um labirinto enorme me distanciava do encontro com o fantasma. Fui e voltei diversas vezes a procura de coerência. Por esta razão, isto é, nestas idas e vindas, vasculhei todos os contornos e, comecei a assimilar que o “fantasma”, tinha corpo, rosto na verdade, nada humanos, um monstro que não compunha apenas o laço familiar. Muito maior ao que se apresentava, pois se escondia na falta de ética psiquiatria ao qual, classificando a doença como genética, e, na conformidade do diagnóstico, o lucro fora a real finalidade, não trazendo sustentação alguma.

    Insatisfeita com a tarja médica, que não se ajustava aos meus preceitos de base, cheguei ao passado onde, cavocando, comecei a interpretar a leitura e, efeitos no comportamento dos parentes.

    Por ser muito desproporcional e, excepcional, por um período de minha vida, conduzi a busca sob aspectos e fatores externos e, neste caso, abrangendo até minha formação da cultura religiosa mantinha a possibilidade da interferência de “forças espirituais” que, por maldição hereditária, recaíram sobre meus atuais familiares por obras dos antepassados.

    Nesta última interpretação, ainda sim, não havia coerência satisfatória uma vez que, a pergunta do que de fato levará minha família a “pagar” por algum “pecado” do passado, não trazia alguma resposta.

    Insatisfeita, precisei descartar também a formação religiosa para atingir maior visão e, neste momento crucial de minha existência, uma vez que, a espiritualidade era a conexão maior que me mantinha enquadrada aos aspectos humanos, me trouxe a terrível sensação de ESTACA ZERO.

    Sem respostas de efeito e, sem a segurança do espiritual, o desequilíbrio e o desajuste, foram minhas tortuosas passagens existenciais.

    A superação era a prioridade em minha existência. Descartar o que havia conseguido de informações e conhecimento foi meu trunfo pois, nesta época comecei a assimilar todas as barreiras de frente. Foi quando, consegui enxergar o “erro” das medicações e tratamentos psiquiátricos e, interpretei que o conformismo com o diagnóstico, não tinham conexão alguma uma vez que, todos os membros afetados ao longo de suas vidas, tomaram medicações sem resultado e, com evoluções críticas para seus quadros.

    De efeito reverso, tanto o diagnóstico como as medicações, tenderam a camuflar a anomalia real do defeito psicológico. Assim, em 2005 arranquei todas as medicações de minha mãe e irmã. Um período de sofrimento sem precedentes uma vez, que, sem a retaguarda dos médicos psiquiatras, estava sem algum apoio em “supostas” crises.

    Sob reais e, evidentes comportamentos, comecei a interpretar a manifestação da educação e relação familiar.

    Tudo ficou claro como a luz do sol.

    Na falha de educação dos avós maternos, diante do enfrentamento da vida, a interferência direta de alimentar o vitimismo deram vazão para que os MONSTROS submergissem do inconsciente e, tomassem forma em níveis de maldade. Alimentados e escondidos, estes monstros queriam mais e, construíram uma outra personalidade para continuar a terem o alimento para saciar sua fome de serem as VÍTIMAS da vida e, continuarem a sugar das vidas ao redor.

    Como parasitas, não tinham vida própria. Na hipótese de se sentirem ameaçados de serem descobertos, elencavam as crises que não tinham algum fundamento, tratando de manipular um quadro físico para manterem-se protegidos em suas zonas de conforto.

    Assim, encontrei as deformidades de minha mãe onde, retrarei as consequências desta educação ou, relação deficiente e hereditárias sobre minha irmã porém, não rejeite a hipótese das distorções que provinham dos familiares paternos também.

    Depois de 35 anos, a evidência me trouxe a segurança da DESCOBERTA e, a garantia do encontro com o meu verdadeiro EU.

    Tudo o que me envolvia e, constituiu minha identidade consciente e inconsciente estavam apresentadas. Descartei as que me traziam estruturas sólidas e, abominei as tendências negativas que me deformavam a visão pessoal interna e externa.

    Apoiada nestas grandes convicções, pude resgatar os parentes que estavam ainda assombrados com o FANTASMA e, isolar por completo, o mecanismo MANIPULADOR dos PARASITAS que, por se manterem alimentados na dupla personalidade, alastravam o mal arrasando outras vidas.

    Além de, garantir a estabilidade, reparar os erros que demarcaram tempestivamente uma geração, o aprendizado trouxe uma experiência inigualável o que, certamente trará para a gerações futuras, uma fonte segura e, edificada.

    Num futuro breve, estarei concluindo meu livro porque, sem alguma técnica profissional, minha experiência pode ser o facilitador para muitas pessoas que, sofrem com seus conflitos internos sem reconhecer o real motivo desencadeador destes defeitos.

    Obrigada pela oportunidade de transmitir também minhas experiências.

    Forte abraço!

    Carla G
    São Bernardo do Campo, São Paulo – Brasil

  5. Daniel, your writing is so on point. I’ve tried healing my childhood wounds for so long, but it seems they never will…will this ever end? Is it even possible? God bless.

  6. 8. To state that one was born as gay, lesbian or person in a wrong body instead of knowing what was happened to them so early in life. After that knowledge one could make any choose to live one’s life.

  7. Hi Daniel, I feel this post is right up my torturous alley. May I ask you to elaborate on the healing process? If you’ve written in greater detail about the process, kindly refer me to it. In particular the final grieving step of the process remains unclear to me. Many Thanks:)

  8. Thank you Daniel for yet another amazing article.

    I am in the healing process so I can be a good therapist. It has opened the door to Pandora box because I truly suffered repression and disassociation in order to survive the horrors of childhood abuse. It takes a while to go through layers of layers of self manufactured phases.
    I have done all the above except blaming a sibling and blaming it later in life trauma (if anything for the latter) I said something like I perfected the trauma in my adulthood as exhibit all your examples.

    We are all on journey in different path to the same truth. Some are experiencing summer and some are still experiencing drought…just life.

    I wish everybody could wake up and see what is there but alas that is a childish fantasy…

    I woke up completely to see my inner child so much later in life…I used to think that was my shadow when I was in the dark…you see how far I fell.

    I am grateful everyday to see this moment and believe it.

    Thank you again

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