12 Ways to Forgive Your Parents for Doing Such a Crummy Job of Raising You

“Children begin by loving their parents; after a time, they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Childhood Pain

Have you been holding onto childhood pain? Do you harbor deep-seeded resentment for the way your parents raised you? Do you blame them for the circumstances of your life today?

Obviously, not everyone has been blessed with a happy home – with patient, loving, attentive parents.

If you are one of the oh-so-many who harbor pent-up feelings toward mom or dad and those pent-up feelings affect you today, you are not alone. Nor are you condemned to a life plagued by the energy-sapping, happiness-stunting emotions of deep-seeded anger and resentment.

It’s time to let go and move on! And not because your parents necessarily deserve it – they may not! At all. But YOU do! You deserve to be free of such emotional poison. It’s time to let it go.

12 Ways to Let Go and Move on

Following, are specific steps you can take to unpack the baggage of blame and anger and resentment and, perhaps, begin to establish a new kind of relationship with your parents, or at least be able to let the past be buried in the past so that you can begin moving forward untethered to the pull of yesterday.

1. Redefine Your Relationship

Allow people to evolve and change. And remind yourself that parents are people too. Some parents were horrible at parenting but not so bad as friends to their adult children. So be it. Let that be the redefinition of your relationship. Try not to judge the current reality against the context of the past. Instead, try to accept things as they are today.

2. Be Grateful for the Blueprint of what NOT to do Raising Your Kids

We don’t come with owner’s manuals. And yet, we are far more complex than any piece of furniture or computer program we have ever had to put together or install.

We are also all-too-familiar with the problems that can arise with do-it-yourself projects. Pieces don’t fit. Installations fail. It’s at those moments we are glad there are trouble-shooting instructions or FAQ pages provided.

Well, guess what! Your parents’ mistakes are now effectively your trouble-shooting guide and FAQ page. “What happens if I scream and shout at my kids?” you might want to know. “Oh yeah, my parents did that to me. I know exactly what happens!”

3. Forgive Them for Being the Only Thing They Knew how to Be

Impatient, unkind and punitive parents aren’t impatient, unkind and punitive simply because you were unworthy of their patience, kindness or compassion. They were that way because they are impatient, unkind and punitive people. In other words, how you were treated is all about them, not you.

So, here’s the point I’m trying to make: All our parenting is done out of the context of who we are and what we know. Each one of us is limited in giving love by the limits to our capacity to love. Your parents were likewise limited. That understanding can lead to compassion which can lead to forgiveness.

4. Recognize They are likely Products of Their own Parents’ Mistakes and Flaws

We reap what we sow. And we also “reap” the traits that our parents “sowed” as they raised us. We are products of both parental successes and mistakes.

And while we can always learn and grow, most people seem to live on automatic pilot. So, most of us are something within a stones throw of our parents’ behaviors, attitudes and habits. Likewise, mom and dad are products of their parent’s parenting too. Forgive them of that.

5. Write it Down

Sometimes we bury our feelings where they fester and decay, and then begin to infect other parts of the psyche as well.

Sometimes, like the body expelling poisons, the soul also needs to vomit emotional toxins. Doing this on paper helps sort out feelings and make sense of things. There can be a cleansing quality to putting pain to paper too. Be as explicit and detailed as you can. Dump everything onto the page. It may take several days to get it all out. That’s okay; take the time.

When you’re done, read it as a solemn recognition of the past. Then light the thing on fire and burn it. Let its ashes float away on the wind or up the vent. As the smoke lifts, feel the emotional baggage float away with it. Feel it rise with the ashes and smoke and disappear and be gone.

And then be done with it. I would suggest this be a one-time expulsion of pent-up emotional poison. Doing this repeatedly can have the unhappy effect of amplifying, rather than muting, the past’s continuing influence as you keep swimming in that polluted pool.

6. Learn from Parental Strengths and Weaknesses

Your parents were not just your parents. They, like all of us, are complex beings with a mixed bag of character strengths and flaws. Perhaps you ended up on the receiving end of their flaws. But they are not likely without redeeming qualities as well. See that in them. And commit to learning from both their strengths and weaknesses. And be grateful for the life-lessons learned.

7. Read the Book, A Child Called It, then be Grateful

If you’ve read this autobiographical work by Dave Pelzer, you likely know your parents may not have been all that bad after all. Be thankful they at least had something going for them.

This idea is something reminiscent of the principle so powerfully reflected in the Persian proverb: “I wept because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” So too, we weep for having flawed parents until we read books like A Child Called It and see that at least ours had some “feet.”

8. Let the Work You do in Your Own Home be the Salve that Heals the Wounds in Your Heart

If you grew up without love, smother your children with it. If you grew up with family secrets, don’t have any. If you grew up with harsh criticism and ridicule and impatience, then be sure to compliment, love, and exercise patience with your children.

Let the example of decency and compassion you share with them be the focus of your emotional healing. But be sure not to commit the sin of overcompensation. Your role here is to love, not spoil.

In a sense, you will be parenting yourself with the love and compassion you wish your parents had shown you as you shower it on your own kids, in some way, making amends for what your parents failed to provide.

In other words, parent yourself vicariously through parenting your own children. Extend to them what your parents failed to extend to you and allow the love flowing from you to your children to heal the wounds from the lack of love flowing to you as a child.

9. Take Responsibility for Your Life

This can be a hard pill to swallow. Still, it’s important to stop blaming your parents for current problems. Did they lay the foundation for the problem? Perhaps. But it’s yours now. That’s the inescapable bottom line of it.

You make the decision every day to hold on or let go. That’s your decision only. Accept that as fact. Own it completely and release your parents from the responsibility you’ve pinned to their shoulders for too long.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I am not suggesting your past is your fault. I’m saying that your present is the result of choices you have made, as you have allowed your past to influence them.

This step is admittedly difficult, but it is empowering and liberating once it’s fully accepted and internalized.

I am who I choose to be. I feel what I choose to feel by choosing what thoughts I choose to harbor and how I choose to think about things. I choose to learn ways to change my thinking and interpretations of life or I choose not to. These are all my choices. And they are yours too.

Final word on this point: Your parents may be responsible for creating the emotional context. You are responsible for keeping that context alive. So stop feeding it and let it wither on the vine.

10. Talk to Them

Not out of rage or to guilt or shame them. Just talk. Be dispassionate. Simply ask them what in the world happened and why. Then listen. Let’s be clear, though, it may make things worse. But then again, it may lead to some kind of resolution.

Of course, you know your family dynamics; I don’t. So use good judgment as to whether this would be a viable step, but consider it. Depending on circumstances, a neutral location such as a restaurant might be a preferable place for “the talk.” But try to listen and question without judgment.

Remember, you’re not there to vent. You’re there to learn and understand and seek closure. Venting will put your parents in a defensive posture and will not likely meet your purpose for arranging the talk in the first place.

11. Stop Putting so Much Stock in How You were Raised

Instead of constantly peeling away the scabs of life to see how things are healing underneath, decide what you want out of life, what traits are required to obtain what you want, and then act. Work at overcoming emotional obstacles and other personal obstructions without worrying so much about where they came from. Just get on with the work of living well.

The past is the past. Let it die there, and stop unburying the dead and move on. Trying to drag the corpse of yesterday through life will make each moment of today a bit more difficult to manage. So find purpose and passion in life and move forward, looking back only long enough to learn from it.

12. Assume Good Intent

Assume the best motives behind what very well may have been the worst practices. But assume they did the best they knew how (similar to #3).

We sometimes have the habit of ascribing pure motives to our own flaws and evil intent to others. Instead, try being as magnanimous about their flaws as we hope others will be about our own. When we assume good motives behind misguided practices and weak wills, it is often easier to overlook and forgive their failures.

Afterthoughts

Sometimes out of a sense that justice must be served, or anger at the unfairness of how we were raised, we keep the pain and anger center court, at arm’s length, always in view. It’s time to stop. It’s time to grow. It’s time to forgive and let go and be free!

So, what do you think?

  • Have you had success or failure trying to forgive mom or dad? Please share what you’ve learned.
  • What could be added to this list to help overcome the pull of parental mistakes on your life today?
  • We would LOVE to hear from you in the comments below!

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About Ken Wert

Ken Wert is the creator of Meant to be Happy, dedicated to teaching principles of happiness as we discover more joy in life one day at a time. Ken is a high school teacher of Economics, U.S. History and U.S. Government and Politics and a father of two and husband of one. He is passionate about living life with purpose, optimism and joy and shares his thoughts and inspiration at his blog, www.meanttobehappy.com.

Comments

  1. I am 50 years old and recently divorced. I am the youngest of three children and the only girl. I grew up terrified of my father, who was controlling, and would hit or even worse threaten to hit. There was no talking about anything important or about problems in my family; what father said was the law and there were consequences for breaking it. The worst part was never knowing what or who would make him angry, what he would do when he was angry, or how longer it would last. One day when I was a teenager, I started down the hallway to my room; my father came out of his bedroom. When he saw me, he went back into his room and closed the door so we would not have to pass each other in the hall. Another time, he got mad at me for borrowing my friend’s suit for a job interview – he made a fist and shook it within a hair’s width of my nose all while yelling at me about how I had embarrassed the family by borrowing cloths. I did not understand why it reflected badly on him but I got the message that I was never to do it again. I had trouble dealing with men who had power over me – perceived or otherwise – for most of my adult life; until I started seeing a therapist. In time I realized my husband was controlling, like my father, and emotionally abusive. He would make jokes about my body; once I had on shorts and he said “I have an idea – lets have chicken legs for dinner,” or he would me chicken noises. When I asked him to stop he said I always ruined everything by taking the phone out of it; his response was that he did not mean it to hurt my feelings, so they should not have been hurt. I stayed married longer than I should have because I did not want to be alone. It took many months from the day I said I wanted to leave to get a Separation Agreement signed and then move out. In the interim my son, who had graduated from high school and joined the military, deployed. Thankfully, he came home okay but two months later my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I had always been close to my mother and she was the first person I turned to when I decided to leave my husband, and when my son deployed. To find out she had cancer was more than I could take, especially when she almost died from the treatment of her first oncologist. My divorce is final, my son is home and doing well, and my mother is on a maintenance program designed to retard the cancer’s development. I am alone and okay with that and I truly want to let go of the past – of all the hurt and fear but it is hard to trust. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone and I don’t want to be a prisoner of my past, but I don’t know how to trust or even start trusting

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story here, Ann. You end with a great question. I think the first person you need to start trusting is yourself. That’s the relationship that deserves the most attention. You may feel weak, but you’re not. Leaving someone, especially having grown up under the yoke of an abusive, controlling father, is a tremendously powerful thing to have done. So start there, with your relationship with yourself first.

      When you can feel good in your own skin, when you can trust your own gut, your intuition and wisdom, when you no longer need someone else to end the loneliness, when you can truly enjoy being alone with yourself, exploring your own thoughts, pursuing your own dreams, building skills, honing abilities, developing a passion for life and for living it well, then you can start looking for someone who will no longer be a stand-in for your dad. Until that time, you are at high risk for finding someone who will replicate what you’ve experienced with a dad and ex-husband.

      Congratulations on leaving a man who did not honor you and for getting a son back who served his country. Now serve yourself and honor yourself by finding what you love and doing it. Discover meaning and purpose in your life. Get out and join a service organization and give back to those most in need. And start working on what you think about and how you think about it to begin the process of reshaping your thoughts fro more happiness. You deserve that, Ann.

  2. Jasmine says:

    I’m a teenager , with a 2 year old , Living with both my parents. Growing up i was very sheltered and some may say spoiled. Only because both my parents grew up with little, so they gave me everything. They had their problems in their marriage . But honestly only stayed together because of me. ( me & my mom moved out when i was about 7 for a few months, she admitted to me how i made it extremely difficult with my crying , so my father used that to convince her to come back home ). My first year of highschool they had my little sister. AT this point their marriage was completely in the toilet . This is where i felt my mother gave up on me. I was exploring the world and she gave me all the rope i needed to hang myself. Nobody didnt really care what i was doing. & i made full use of it. Until i got pregnant. Then i somewhat got back close to my mom. at this point my father stop working and stays home all the time . He has a small business which only maintains him (hardly) and his “office” is ran out the house.So my mother now maintains all of us , including a man she makes clear she dislikes. Fast fwd to now .I’m 19 , next year i’ll be 20 , im in college , doing well. But i have no relationship with my father. Everything he does gets on my nerves. He does NOTHING for anyone but himself , and still he doesnt carry his weight . He is very verbally abusive towards me ONLY ME.. He speaks ill of me to his friends ( some which are my age ) it really hurts me because i already try so hard to make sure people see im a good person, plus he has no right to speak about anyone as a parent when he has been the shittiest. everything he takes out on me. he is very spiteful as well. anyway. He dissapointed me as a father, i honestly feel as though all men are like him. My ex’s has dissapointed me just the same. Because ive seen my mom “put up ” with him, ive grown to have no patience when it comes to relationships, friendships included. I leave without hesitation , ive been through so many “bff” its crazy. I’m trying to change the way i think for myself. And because i do believe i am a great person. i am a great mother. & i dont want this resentment to change me and i end up being how my mom with me , with my son. I keep saying , i’ll be out of this house soon hopefully & have my own life. But i dont know. sometimes i think time will run up & i need to settle these feelings now

    • Sorry for the year-delay in replying to your comment, Jasmine. I wrote the article about forgiving our parents back in 2011, so don’t come over to this post very often to see whose added their story. I hope this reply finds you at a time it’s most helpful. For what it;s worth, I’m so proud of you for being such a devoted parent having grown up without that role model. I feel the need to make a distinction here between forgiving and liking someone. We can forgive a crummy parent (no longer have ill will toward him) and still think the guy is a piece of crap as a parent and as a person. We can genuinely not like someone and even feel disgust at their self-centeredness AND forgive them for the pain and abuse they inflicted on you. It’s not easy, but it is absolutely possible.

      And frankly, there doesn’t sound like there’s much to like about dad. But living with the person you want to forgive makes it difficult because there’s not much you can do to avoid him and new offenses likely mount by the day. That’s where a forgiving attitude is important. What I mean is that you go beyond forgiving events and historical conditions. Instead, you develop a forgiving nature. You can then brush off rude behavior and silly comments. You can get to a place in yourself where you are confident enough to not really care what he’s saying to who about you.

      I would recommend continuing to read Steve’s blog and look for articles about self-confidence, happiness, building purpose and meaning in your life. As that happens, you will feel increasingly centered. As that happens, what others think or say or do starts to matter less and less. You almost pity them, the poor people trapped in their own negative worlds, filled with so much delusion and hate and ugliness. But you can shine brightly, creating your own sub-world of happiness and confidence and passion to the point that their world can no longer discolor yours.

      I must say that I truly admire people who come from parents who were not fit to parent and rise to the occasion to parent their children with tons of love. Remember to reread the suggestions I included in the article and start applying them one by one until you stumble on some combination that works for you. It’s easy to have epiphanies of insight. It’s a lot harder to apply the insight consistently to produce the change you’re looking for.

  3. 53 years old says:

    Forgave my parents long ago. Christ, they were kids themselves when we were born, and all their anger and impatience and impossible expectations were ultimately rooted in wanting our little lives to be safe and “normal,” versus the alcoholic abusive hell both of them had grown up in.

    Thing is, they also shielded us from their own childhood stories until we were grown, so when they said stuff like “You’re spoiled rotten!” my only reference point was the sour milk that belonged in the trash. Unlike my parents, my siblings and I never wanted for food, or a safe place to sleep, or new clothes…we took all that stuff for granted.

    But they were always mad at us, always disappointed in us, always yelling at us, never an encouraging word. The sarcasm, too…sarcasm is such a trap, and it’s contagious when you grow up with it. So many times I’d have loved just to crawl up into Dad’s lap, but no way could I risk having him laugh and call me a simple ass. There was no such thing as “I love you” in our house, because they didn’t know how to set that tone. They’d never been raised with “I love you” either. When I found out I was sterile, it was almost a relief, because I’d been raised to believe that having children was the foulest, most inconvenient aggravation that could befall anyone.

    And then…my brother was murdered. And Mom and Dad damn near died from the pain…their only boy. Dad calls up in tears and says, “I’ve never told you this, but I need to tell you now…I LOVE you. You are my treasure. And I could kick my own ass for never having told your brother, in his whole life, how much I loved him.”

    “Dad…I promise you. He knew you loved him.” And that was the truth. And I looked back on all the times, when we were coming up, that they’d been angry and impatient and disapproving and harsh, and I’d thought “Someday you’ll be sorry,” and I wished I could take back that curse. Because oh Gods, when it came true, it was too much Sorry for anyone to bear. They’d done the best they knew how. They didn’t deserve to lose their boy. It was so horrible, and there was nothing I could do but hug them and cry and love them, love them, love them, they were suddenly so lost and fragile, and I’d have done anything, anything to bring him back and make their pain go away.

    We’re all only human. They’re so great now, with my sister’s child. If there were world enough and time, maybe it would be better if people had kids in their fifties and sixties, versus their teens and twenties. Yeah, and maybe Hershey’s kisses should rain from the sky too, right?

    Anyway, they’re not the same people they were when we were kids. They’ve grown, they’ve changed, they’ve matured, they’ve reflected, they’ve shifted their priorities, they’ve relaxed, and they’ve suffered in ways that I will never suffer (although his death damn close put me in the psychiatric ward…but still, he was my brother, not my child. That’s a whole different planet of misery, losing a child.)

    I am old enough now to be THEIR parents, when they first became my parents. I envision them, in their stressed out early twenties, with three young kids to take care of, and I just want to swoop out of the sky and throw my arms around them. So blessed that they’re still alive to love and laugh with. So blessed! To hold any grudges, at my age, would be petty and petulant.

    And yet sometimes there’s still that old, useless voice saying, “You’re not good enough. You’re an idiot. You’re an asshole.” That leftover message, that nobody thought would stick, still bubbling up from my pain-in-the-ass unconscious, I guess. Still leftover from years ago, when nothing I did was good enough. I’d love all that self-doubt to just go away, and I know it’s illogical, and I hate that it still holds me back, but at this point it’s MY obstacle, not something to blame them for. They did the very best they knew how, and in light of their horrible tortured childhoods, it’s a miracle they raise us as well as they did.

    Life is just hard, and being a parent has got to be one of the most frightening, challenging obstacle courses that any human being can take on. I’m grateful they took the leap. Forgiveness is a done deal. Just wish I were better at truly letting go of all the old mental baggage, but again, that’s MY stuff now, not theirs.

    • God bless you. My parents did not know a loving family either and all my life I have felt like they never listened to me. But maybe, like you say, they did the best they could.

    • Just wandered over here to see what’s been happening since writing this article in 2011 for Steve’s site and found this. What an inspiration, to go from that kind of beginning to a point where you’re able to laugh and hold your parents. I loved reading your story here.

      The negative self-talk you mentioned in your comment is unfortunately a pretty common thing. But that doesn’t make it feel better. Steve has some great articles here for changing the habitual way we put ourselves down. It takes practice to rewrite the software of our minds. But it can be done. Here’s a simple first step you can start taking. Every time you hear that inner voice calling yourself stupid or idiot, just interrupt and say, “Excuse me! That’s my past talking. But I’m right here now. I may have said or done something my better self wouldn’t have, we’re all entitled to make mistakes. I’ll simply do better next time. now go away.” Literally dismiss the voice.

      You can also see it as a foreign piece of scratchy fuzz, alien to who you are now. An intruder to be disinvited to your party. As you keep at it, replacing the condemnation with matter-of-fact statements and the recognition that we’re all human and that means TONS of pratfalls, perhaps daily, you will start to rewire your thinking, disrupting old patterns and creating a warmer inner atmosphere that allows you to stumble and fall without the criticism.

      Good luck!

  4. Elana Earthsea says:

    Thanks. I knew the answer had to be love. Love for my parents (regardless of my opinions about them, and trust me, I have spent years building up a rich and eloquent opinion bank)and love for myself and my journey. I would like my journey to be filled with light and positivity and I know I am but a step away from transforming my life, but whenever the smallest things come up (like today on Fathers day of all days), I have instant emotional triggers that send anger and hurt all over the place. My family called me rude, I called it justified. After everyone left, all awkwardly, I kept having this bad feeling in my gut that I get myself back o square one when I act so immaturely and like a victim sending blame and hate all over the show. Do I really go back to square one when I do this? Does all the progress I have made over the past few months just get erased in one stupid act of rage and emotion? I would like to think it hasn’t but then again, I have this congratulatory air about me thinking I have finally removed myself from the grips of my parents stupidity and unconsciousness around proper an well thought out parenting, and perhaps thats the problem, because I am lying to myself. I haven’t done the work of letting go and loving them, I have only worked very very hard at avoiding seeing them (I still live with my dad, so this might sound strange but I avoid talking and seeing him) and thus avoid the working on the true solution of loving them and myself. Today- and I hope this remains anonymous- I told my dad in my final comment at him, “never mind this father-daughter relationship nonsense just take responsibility for your sperm”. Truth is- both my parents are actually lovely, if they weren’t my parents.

  5. Hello,

    Here is my situation… My parents did the best they could, but my father was pretty absent. He would not come home after work as he was drinking with the boys. He would come home and tell my mother if she didn’t like it not to let the door hit her… Well she finally did leave and she was a tramp. After the divorce my brother and I would wait hours as he was late picking us up by hours or not showing up at all. He was a spend thrift and his example was to buy cars, party and take no prisoners. I lived this way and after many years realized it did not serve me and his example and advice were toxic. My father is not a bad man, just a horrible parent. Here is the thing… He still does the same things. He blows every dime he gets and he lives a very nice lifestyle because he inherited everything from my stepmother’s father. I love her to death, but he goes around acting like he earned where he is and looks down on others, when he basically ran his business in the ground, didn’t pay his bills while buying toys instead. I have tried to talk to him several times to resolve things, but he has told me he never wants to talk about the past. I could let go of the past if I didn’t have to watch it repeatedly. I limit my exposure to him, but I love my stepmother, my brother and sister from their marriage and he is good to my son. I just can’t stand to be in the same room with him and I feel it eating at my soul and hindering me in life. How do you let it go when it is still in your face?

  6. Lisa Pumphrey says:

    I have resentment that my parents never gave a damn about my feelings. They were selfish and rude. My father was cheap and didn’t think I was worth spending his money on so there was no money set aside for me to get braces, or a car or go to college or a wedding. On my wedding day my father was excited to tell everyone that he never thought he would ever get me married off because i was so plain and he happily told people that he was finally financially free of me and that I was not welcome to ever return back to live with them. Later, after my children were born,they both did not want to be grandparents and I was instructed to not bring them to their house. For the family Thanksgiving, I was instructed to go get a bucket of chicken and sides at KFC and bring over to them. We would make our plates and eat, they would get up and make their way to their bedroom with instructions that we were to clean the kitchen and then leave. More than anything, I resent how mean they were and could care less if it hurt my feelings. How does one ever get past the resentment?

    • Hi Lisa. Thank you so much for sharing your story here at Steve’s site. Yes, they were selfish and rude. Period. There is no excuse for what they said and how you and your family were treated. Two things struck me about your story:

      One: You took your family to visit them for Thanksgiving after they had already made it clear that they didn’t want the grandchildren over. They told you to bring chicken, left, and told you to clean up.

      Why did you go, and once there, why did you stay? Your parents did not treat you correctly. But you have accepted their treatment, even volunteered for it since getting married. Stop doing that. If your parents don;t want to see their grandchildren, honor that wish. Never put your children in a position that would allow your parents’ abuse to touch your kids. Protect them from their vileness. Don;t let them see you accept it. Don’t let them see that it’s acceptable to be treated that way. No yelling or screaming or loud dramatic confrontations are needed here. Simply stay away. Don;t bemoan the fact that your children don;t have grandparents worth visiting. Be happy they won;t be subjected to the rudeness you were.

      Two: You have some work to do to get yourself to a place of forgiveness. Remember, forgiveness does not mean acceptance. Never use forgiveness as an excuse to unplug the brain, heart and values you have. If they are mean to your kids, keep them away, even though you are working to forgive them. Have you actually tried the methods of extending forgiveness outlined in the article? They really can help even if you feel overwhelmed at the moment with resentment. But be sure to celebrate the little successes, the baby steps and small reductions in resentment and outrage.

      The point isn’t to bless them with your forgiveness, but to be rid of their poison by wishing them only good, hoping they grow, even if having to stay away from them while they remain unrepentant.

  7. My parents never did anything to help boost or develop any self confidence in me, there was nothing but constant criticism. I’ve never been able to get over that hurdle, I still seem to hear a little voice in the back of my mind some where reminding me that anything I try to do will be doomed to failure because I am a failure. I really don’t know how to get past that.

    • Hey there, Nick. Feeling less-than, incapable and failure-prone is not easy to deal with. It’s a malady that unfortunately plagues many, many people. Still, I think there are two separate, but obviously very related, issues here:

      One: Your confidence issues

      Two: Forgiving your parents for planting and nourishing the seeds of your confidence challenges.

      It’s important to separate the two the best you can. One is the cause and the other is the effect. Your parents likely didn’t set their parental goals as you were developing in the womb to instill in their kid a sense of failure and incapability. Still, that’s what happened. But to be able to separate the result from the cause will help you to forgive them while you work to rebuild your confidence. I know Steve has some very helpful ideas on confidence here, so I would only direct you to his resources for help creating what they should have instilled. Instead, your parents were simply incapable parents, lacking the character and decency to treat you the way better parents with a better character would have. I’ll take a wild leap here and guess their parents were not likely stellar parents themselves. This isn’t to excuse them, but to explain them (at least in part).

      So try out some of the techniques I mentioned in the post and let us know how they work.

      Again, thanks for sharing, Nick

  8. Hello — these 12 points are well-considered and make sense! I found this article, perhaps like most people, because I’m sick of the constant gnawing of my bitterness. I am a dad — fortunately, I’ve been able to use my own childhood experience as a template for things to avoid. I’m sure I’ve fallen short, too… time will tell.

    All this said, I’m still angry about one thing — how my parents destroyed my little sister’s potential with prenatal chronic smoking and drinking. This is never discussed nor admitted… they (divorced) will not even acknowledge this misdeed to her and this, in turn, makes her (and me) even more bitter. True, this happened 45 years ago and my parents are different people now… but the (angry) denial is made by the “today” people. The chasm it perpetuates is in the present, as well.

    In the positive spirit of your article, I will try to remember if/when my daughter confronts me with a grievance someday, that I can’t allow embarrassment about the past to cloud or invalidate (or cause defensiveness about) the reality of the grievance itself — it is in the present.

    • Hey Scott,

      Thanks for the kind words at the top.

      It seems to me that you are making the very understandable error of conditioning your forgiveness on their confession. But that gives their pride or fear or insecurities or dishonesty or whatever motive they have for refusing to admit the past too much power over your life today.

      Let your forgiveness be something you extend as a release of the poison that infects your heart and mind. You’re not doing them a favor. They are not trying to earn your forgiveness, so don’t hold it up as a reward for their job well done. Instead, see it as you opening a door to yourself with freedom on the other side, shining brightly through the keyhole, drawing you to it. The key to the door is in your heart. You have the power to release the mechanism that keeps the door closed and locked. Your parents, their behavior, their denial, their character, their motives, their weaknesses, their shortcoming, their emotional makeup is all there in the house, with you, behind the door. Forgiving them doesn’t bless them as much as it opens that door and lets you go free.

      try some of the techniques I outlined above and see if they help. I think they can. Let me know.

  9. This reminds me of something I saw a while back. Good stuff!

    • Thanks so much, Haggins. Do you remember where you saw it? I would like to check it out.

      PS: Sorry for the late reply!

  10. Kent,
    This post was a perfect read for the heavy heart I have right now. I haven’t spoken to my parents in a year now. I have come to terms with my decision earlier in the year and was “at peace” with my decision and lived through the year with no regrets. I guess my comment would be, once we forgive our parents, should there be a need to bring them back in your life? Does keeping them away from your life mean that you have not forgiven them?

    Thanks for this post,
    Josephine

    • Great question, Josephine! I wish I would have seen this months ago. But better late than never, I suppose.

      I can forgive the guy who hit my kid in a drunken stupor and still refuse to ever let him babysit.

      No, there is no need to accept someone’s abusive behavior just because you’ve forgiven them. If they are still mean-spirited or otherwise treat you or your family poorly, there is no need to open your arms to more abuse just because you no longer want them boiled in oil. ;)

      So assuming they have done nothing to show they are changed people, keep protecting yourself and your kids from their ugliness while wishing the best for them and sincerely hoping they learn and grow and are someday happy people.

      Thanks so much for making me clarify that crucial point, Josephine.

  11. Kent,
    This post was a perfect read for the heavy heart I have right now. I haven’t spoken to my parents or my brother in a year now. I have come to terms with my decision earlier in the year and was “at peace” with my decision and lived through the year with no regrets. Being a parent myself has enlightened me to how my life was different than that of my brothers. My brother and I would remember family events very differently, he is a happy state and me in a sad state. I guess my comment would be, once we forgive our parents, should there be a need to bring them back in your life? Does keeping them away from your life mean that you have not forgiven them?

    Thanks for this post,
    Josephine

  12. Great read. Always depended on my dad to make choices for me. Hardly ever making my own choices growing up, my self-esteem has been injured. At college, I met a great girl. Remember telling my dad I cared for her; he told me I didn’t know what I’m talking about. Left my own gut-instinct hurt. As a result of low self-esteem, I’ve lost jobs and friends. I’m now living at home. I feel this is my dad’s fault. Although I’m trying to make my own personal choices now, I’m angry at being repeatedly undermined by my dad.

    Seems like my dad has always wanted to steer my life – pushing me to make certain decisions. I see he has done this out of wanting me to live financially independent. However, I think children are to be raised to follow their heart and to think freely. I did not get this treatment. My self-esteem is injured. I am angry at my dad.

    While having mixed resentment at my dad, living at home, I am needing to ask him for some financial help. When I ask for help, he replies saying he will – and that’s it; seems like he wants me to stoop down and beg on my knees. Having deep-seated resentment for not being encouraged to think independently, feels like he still likes being in control – like he enjoys being a dictator. This is disgusting. I never want others to feel like inferior minions. Growing up due to my dad’s acts of being a dictator, I’ve felt inferior. Regardless, my resentment still makes it difficult to ask him for help.

    Due to my dysfunctional family, my feelings of inferiority are rooted back from multiple family members – however, I feel my dad is still more-or-less responsible. Again, his current behaviors are showing to me like he enjoys being a dictator – which is disgusting. In this article, I like the statement in point #3: “how you were treated is all about them, not you.” Growing up feeling undermined, this point is definitely helpful.

    Thanks a lot for the article.

    • Hi Mike

      Reading your post struck some chords with me.
      I also resent my parents for forcing me off my true path in life and discouraging free expression, creativity and independence.
      I am also angry at myself for mending a 7 year rift too early.

    • Hi Mike. This is a very tardy reply to your moving story about your dad’s mistreatment and your suffering because of it. Thank you so much for sharing your story here at Steve’s site. That of itself takes guts.

      Still, I think I’m going to have to offer some bitter medicine here. As children, we are totally dependent on our parents. As we grow up, we start to assume more self-responsibility. When parents refuse to let us exercise that independence, they do harm us, for sure. There is no denying that or soft-stepping it.

      But there still comes a time when we become co-conspirators with dad as we undermine our own lives by letting dad’s words matter enough that we listen. It’s not that we have to exercise will we don’t have. But that at some point we have to assume responsibility for our lives, for doing what needs to be done to build our self-esteem and will power and confidence enough to stand up or walk away.

      I can understand growing up with a dictator. I’ve had similar experiences. And it certainly is easier when dads change, smoothing the path for forgiveness. But maybe forgiveness isn’t the first step you need to take. Maybe the first step for you should be to get a job, a small apartment and start exercising more independence. Let that step and the pride you feel in living under your own roof, under your own values and making your own decisions will help you create some distance where you can start trying out some of the ideas I shared in the guest post here to forgive and let go and start creating a wonderful life and fashioning a wonderful perception of you.

      Let me know what you think. I’ll try to more regularly skip over here to Steve’s place to see who’s talking.

  13. Hi!
    My parents were the ones who took/take no responsibility for their actions, live in denial and have caused untold damage to my siblings and myself. And they got away with it!

    Perhaps you can reach them; I’m normal for someone in my circumstances.

    Amen

  14. These steps are useful, but some of them don’t apply to me. I don’t have children yet, I’m nowhere close to that stage in my life. I want to heal myself before I bring a child into this world. I just don’t know where to go from here, maybe step 10?
    I feel like I’ve mostly forgiven my father for what he did. I’m lucky in that I have a wonderful mother who learned from her parents mistakes. I can’t say I’ve forgiven him completely though, as whenever I think on what I missed, it hurts. It’s like a burn, anything to do with fathers just hurts me. I wish that things could have been different, I remember the good times and wish that was the sum of who he was. Even some of the good things got twisted in the end of our relationship though, he would buy me things and yell at me if I didn’t use them right away or properly.
    What’s hard for me is that I wish to meet him one last time, to be able to see him, and confront him. I wouldn’t expect anything from it, I just want to know that I’ve been heard.
    But he’s very, very manipulative, and I’m Autistic. I’ve worked hard to be where I am, but I’m still so sensitive. I have surrounded myself with healthy, supportive people to build myself up, and even then I feel shaky. I could see him making me feel weak and miserable if I talked to him. I just want a voice though. I was 11 when I stopped talking to him, it’s been 8 years. I want some closure, but I don’t want to be set back either. I’ve had depression for most of my teenage-hood, and I’m finally starting to get my footing again. I just don’t want to wait until it’s too late either. He has diabetes, and he’s going/gone blind the last I heard. I think it’s probably wrong that I feel a bit happy that he’s suffering, I just don’t think he gave a s*** about how I was suffering, so why should he be immune from suffering himself? Ugh, I know that in order to heal I need to stop thinking like that, but there’s that part of me that’s still angry and hurt and wants to lash out.
    I feel like I’m not sure where to go now. I feel like I’m ready to move on, I don’t focus on the past too much anymore. I haven’t obsessed in what I can’t remember for a while, and I don’t blame myself anymore. I believe that he’s sick, that my grandmother’s manipulations and my grandfather’s former alcoholism tainted him. I know deep down that he loved me. It wasn’t the love I needed, and if I hadn’t cut things off, things could have gotten worse, but it was love all the same. I couldn’t have fixed anything, I was just a kid.
    I just want to forgive, for myself. I want to be able to not feel sad and angry whenever I see a good father or it’s father’s day. I want to be able to move on completely and be able to trust my boyfriend completely, instead of having this guard up because I don’t really trust men much at all.
    I hope you respond, and thank you for the article. I knew some of this already, as a book I have reread a lot by Dr. Phil has similar points, but it still helped to read them again. The comments really helped too.

    • Hi Emma,

      So sorry to have come so lately to reply to a comment left nearly a year ago. I just didn’t get over here earlier to check on comments. So I’m catching up today. :)

      Sounds like rough goings with dad. But I think you may be combining two things that are better served kept separate. You seem to be equating fully forgiving your father with getting over having missed out on so much as a kid. But they really are two different things.

      Feeling bad about what was missed doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t forgiven him. You may have legitimately missed some foundational experiences of childhood. That’s okay to miss and be sad about. You can simultaneously have released all animosity and desires for revenge for your dad, truly wishing him good in the heart of your hearts. They are not mutually exclusive propositions.

      Now, feeling loss for the past may or may not be healthy now. That depends on degree of loss and how long ago it was and where you are emotionally today.

      If you feel the sadness is disproportional to the set of circumstances (and it sounds like it may not be), other forms of help can aid you in moving on. Just don’t fuse the two separate issues or it may confuse the them for you, causing mental anguish for feeling unforgiving and stuck when all your doing is regretting the missed childhood.

      Still, it is important to be able to let the past go (not just letting dad go of your resentment and rage). It sounds like you’ve already made some pretty great progress in this area, just need to overcome the resentment at others/dad when you see in others what he didn’t give you.

      Try out whichever steps I outlined in the article that seems it may help. If not, try another one, giving it the attention and time needed to take effect.

      If you’ve already tried #10, I would love to know how it went. Just be sure to review the methodology and motive in your talk. Don;t go in expecting him to break down, cry, beg your forgiveness and become the dad he never has been. Just go to do the work of finding out, as though you were an investigating reporter. Then come back and let us know. I’ll check in more often here at Steve’s site to reply much sooner next time!

  15. Christopher says:

    Uh hi ken,
    I sincerely love your 12 ways to get ahold of myself and relate to it in only what I can describe as, a chaotic world wide storm. I just need to think calm and really put effort into it, which is something I never thought of before. I kept expecting an apology from my parents, the police, school, friends, everyone that had wronged me and done nothing to the constant abuse I received from my parents since I was 3. I thought it should be real simple, requiring hardly any work. I got my apology from both parents, to tell the truth, it just pissed me off even more that they could stand there and apologize believing that made up for all the wrong. But after reading this it occurred to me that no apology would ever do, no matter how big or how long. I need to apologize to the lil ghost of myself that had all the bad happen to it, and say “I’m sorry, but I need to move on and can’t keep holding on to all that.” At least thats how I interpreted it, kinda like the ghost of Christmas past.

    When I was 3 my dad began abusing me and my older (blonde hair, blue eyed) brother physically and emotionally. He won custody over us when I was still a baby, but one day (when I was 3) the first day I remember he began abusing us. We were dragged up the walls by our necks and thrown across rooms, I had been kicked down half a flight of stairs, knocked out, punched, slapped, punted, kitchen and anything that slightly resembled a projectile was thrown at us, and that is just to name a few. He was like a one man wrecking ball, destroying nearly every door in sight and was constantly screaming every known swear and derogatory name I can think of. This behavior was built over a a few mins, going from one thing to the next to feed his rage, but was always set off by nothing more than an empty yogurt, folded clothes facing the wrong way, or a wooden block on the floor for just about every other day. If we went to our mom’s she used the belt, soap in the mouth, locked us out of the house, torture of more psychological ways, complained how we were too much, and told me my dad wanted to have me aborted but I should consider myself lucky because she saved me (we had a half-sister who got all the love and attention) yet she was nothing compared to my dad. My brother and I don’t and never did bruise easy, in fact I can count on my fingers every bruise I’ve ever had, as such school was never a problem for my dad, they knew to an extent yet still did nothing. My brother was a big trouble maker, so to take their anger out on someone who wouldn’t fight back they chose me, doing every bully-ish thing possible, if I retaliated I got in trouble with school (nuns who punished) who called our parents, even after begging to call our mom, they knew our dad was the one who disciplined us (based of the begging I guess) so we got more punishment at home. Only once did our mom (don’t get me wrong I love her and moved in with her at 17, but she was still in love with my dad) go to the police, they called our dad and put him in the same room as us and then told me to confess what happened…just a clue about what happened, well I dont know, I forgot. Must’ve been so bad I totally blocked it out. No where was safe, not for me, my sis had my mom and her parents. My brother began to somehow absorb the kinetic energy of my dad’s punches and must have grown deaf to his insults, creating some kind of invincible barrier of raw energy (thus he channeled everything outward, I pulled everything in). After a while of that I became the dumb (I was literally made to believe compared to my bro, I was mentally retarded) insignificant punching bag, at which point my brother rose to god-like status in my father’s eyes. I was left alone, no where to run, and it was as if my dad was every where, so confession was pointless not to mention ill advised if I enjoyed life. As I grew older the inverted anger got the better of me, drugs (the bad kinds), suicide and cutting, running away, promiscuity was how I was “forced” to deal with it. I could write an encyclopedia on abuse.
    My point is I can relate to what Lucie said. My dad was thought of as God on Earth by everyone, only we saw what he was like, but doing your best and what my dad did, as far as parenting goes, is more different than night and day. It’s also evident he knew how to be a good parent, because he showed my brother that side (His own child hood was nothing but utter heaven. He even dared to say that he had it real rough, unholy abuse, because him and his twin brother got the same G.I. Joe for christmas one year…that to him was all the abuse he knew as a child and since he was the youngest and a twin, his two sisters said between the girls and the boys they were favored; from what my grandma showed, it was just as obvious to me). So I know how letting go of the past, because I’m holding onto it sounds good and may be easier for some people, but my brains been hard wired a different way because of the 15+ yrs of abuse, things I can’t control that I just do because If I hadn’t my dad would have killed me time and time again. (I want to know how to deal with that and how to move on)

    I read “A Child Called It” in school and it just, spoke to me. Mine and his life were really quite similar (to me at least), though his was probably a bit more abusive. One thing I tell myself and others is, you can always find someone with worse, so suck it up and consider yourself lucky in that respect. I did many of these steps naturally and so the worst is over, the emotional build up. What I can’t rid myself of is the mental part, I can’t even push myself to go to college because I’m scared I’ll let him down and “end up flipping burgers for the rest of your life,” as he used to say every week. Other things as well, I tell myself to be positive, I tell myself that it’s yourself you have to worry about letting down, that he doesn’t control me, but the last thing I want is to be slapped (his most regular beating) in the face and just spark everything thats built up (I don’t know constructive ways to let off steam), hell I can’t motivated myself without him screaming in my ear what a failure I am to him. Any help??? Sorry about the long post but I wanted an accurate answer based off myself, since similar parts of this have been answered by you already.

    P.S. I’d written out all my experiences about a year back, I’d literally blocked out and forgotten so much that it practically poured right out of me, in a way making it worse because I became angry and pretty much threw the written document of my childhood in their faces, needless to say they were so hurt as to make them angry and sad and what I can only imagine. If I’d read this post of yours and burned what I wrote, might’ve gone a long way a lot sooner. :)

    • Hi Christopher
      I have just found this page today.
      You show great strength after all the significant challenges you have faced. That you already naturally found and took steps, much like Ken suggested, is also a testament to your inner resilience and wisdom. I hope your journey since your post continued to be a positive one. If you sought some help for that journey, good on you too. What you experienced should never have happened. That you’ve clearly begun the steps to move on, for your own sake, is worthy of admiration. Thanks for the inspiration.
      Cheers
      SARS
      SARS

  16. Stephen says:

    At the age of 62, I still harbor resentment and hatred for my mother and father. Dad died in 1975, but Mom is now 88 years old. As a boy, they always compared me to my cousins and other kids in the neighborhood. Nothing I ever did was good enough for them. To this day, my mother STILL invalidates me and causes me grief. We have had numerous arguments, and I have said some very vile things to her. It’s gotten to the point where I now ENJOY saying mean and hurtful things to her, wishing she would go to her grave knowing that she never made me happy. This is my pent-up revenge on her. Your 12 points make a lot of sense, but for some reason, I cannot practice them. Help me.

    • Sorry your mum still invalidates you as an adult.
      What was her response when you say mean things to her?

      I’m not judging you. I once wrote my parents a series of letters telling them how I feel, but then I messed it up by mending the rift. I regret mending the rift, so I stopped speaking to them a year ago, but still send xmas cards otherwise they would have a tantrum.

    • A day late and a dollar short, Stephen! So sorry for failing to stop by to see what’s happened to the conversation here art Steve’s site for such a long time. I’m touched by the continued response, the chord I seem to have struck with this article. And I’m impressed by the honesty with which so many have opened up. I thank you for that as well.

      Stephen, your animosity toward your mom seems to have fused to your insides, calcified, if you will, to your character and personality. That’s a problem. I’m sure she has done a lot to encourage it, but in the final analysis, it’s your life and your character. And I’m certain you don;t like the way you feel somewhere deep inside after talking to your mom the way you sometimes seem to. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve it. I can’t speak to that. But you know inside that you’re better than that.

      Perhaps the first step for you is getting some distance. Of space and frequency of contact and perspective (which sometimes only happens with the other two).

      With the problems so entrenched over such a long period of time, I would recommend some therapy. But I would focus on cognitive therapy. Sessions shouldn’t last too long, maybe a handful of months at most. But stay away from the model of dredging up the past in an endless cycle of “What did mamma do?” sessions.

      In the meantime, try little things. At first, simply think about what your mom’s life could have been like. Imagine the inner turmoil she must have struggled under. Then write up a list or outline of her story. Then read it over and let it’s significance absorb into your consciousness.

      I don’t mean to go all religious on you here, but there is a huge volume of evidence that seeking God can do a lot to help people step out of their self-defeating patterns that have been ongoing for a long time. In prayer, talk about your mom, what you hope for her, ask for her health and comfort and happiness to be lifted. And ask for guidance and direction from on High. If nothing else, it won’t hurt! ;)

      And let me know how things are going. I’ll stop by more often to catch replies.

  17. Yesterday’s sermon was on ‘Honour your Father and Mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” This commandment with a promise of a blessing is a tough one for many people to keep. This article goes a long way in bringing healing and comfort and hopefully reconciliation in broken parent-child relationships.

    • Hey Mags, sometimes your parents don’t deserve honour! Get into the real world.

      • Missy, think of that commandment as a way to let go of the resentment you harbor, however justified, because when you allow that resentment to fester and rot within you, you become bitter… which hurts you worse than if you work to let go.
        I suffered plenty of emotional and mental abuse from my stepmother, and some days I have to forgive her daily, in my mind, because it still hurts to think about. But I’m not going to allow her to win with my bitterness either.
        So I make an effort to think about some of the good times (as few as they were) or to distract myself by treating my children or my dogs in a way that is completely the opposite of what I remember.
        I hope that helps you. I sense you are really hurting.
        Tina

  18. Charles says:

    This was a great article thanks. I still struggle to forgive my parents for the way they raised me. And like you mentioned earlier in this thread, it feels like a slap in the face when their friends respect them and think they are great people. My parents are super religious and imposed their ideas on their children. They expected my siblings and I to follow their way of life and make the same choices they did. And at the same time, they made us feel guilty if we ever decided to choose a different life path. As a result, even though at the moment I am following their way of life, it seems almost impossible for me to feel like I made the choice myself. This has created a lot of resentment in me. It was good to read this article and I hope I can somehow move on and let go of the anger.

  19. thanks so much for this article its so true! i hope i can reach this level of forgiveness one day. the fear, anger, and resentment is proving to be a real hindrance.

  20. JC-Texas says:

    Wow, loved your article. Sent to my parents and my 2 brothers and 1 sister. My daughters are estranged from me. Wish they had found this article. It has been 17 years since my divorce from my exhusband. They have at least been able to tolerate me the last 10 years and I attended a wedding and we have had lunch together, but then they had children and cut me off all together. My dad is a preacher. I raised my children in church. I am all about your article. I wish for them to come to forgiveness but after 17 years…the less hopeful I am. I agree 100% with your article and all said. Thanks for writing it. I am sure it will help many. In my opinion, this article was better than many many counseling sessions out there. God bless you.

  21. Ken…I want to share you my story…and see if you could help.

    So I was raised by an Italian family. Both my parents immigrated here in their early 20s. They never finished High School, and so they came to America for a “better” future. I know they love me, I know they did the best “they” knew. But there are a million things running through my mind that make me so anger and resentful towards them. I am not trying to act like a victim. But I feel that so many of my bad tendencies and my lack of confidence is attributed towards the way they raised me. I don’t remember a day in my life that my dad told me he loved me. Never. And for the typical Italian man, this is normal. And this is what angers me. They preach in tough love but it really scarred me. He came to watch my games in high school, he provided for me financially, but emotionally, he was never there. Any conversation we had was just about money or any other financial matters. My mother did the best she could. She had me at 17. I was the first child. My sister, the second child, had a much smoother ride….a lot less mistakes than me which I think is because they had some experience after having me. And I have so much anger towards them. The way they raised me. They thought that as long as I went to a good school and made money, then I’d be happy. And I did that, I went to school, studied a major I hate, made money, and was completely depressed.

    But the worst part is now, I can’t seem to forgive them. I still live with them, and I don’t even talk to them. They try so hard, my mom especially, the talk with me. To show they care, because I know they do. But it’s so hard for me to open up. I ignore them, I am cold to them. I show them that I don’t care anymore. But once they leave, I cry. I feel so bad. But i cant seem to open up to them because it makes things so awkward. I have a hard time opening up because I was raised to always keep my emotions inside. And now i don’t know what to do. I know they did their best. I know they love me. But i have so much resentment towards the way they raised me and the path they set me on.

    I don’t want to sound like im complaining. I really am not. I just need help. I feel so much anger towards them…..but at the same time…..I feel so bad for them, to the point where I cry. Because I know I am hurting them by being cold, but I don’t know anyway else to act anymore.

    Im sorry for the long post. But your article was something I really needed to read. If you have time, please get back to me. I’d appreciate your insight.

    Thank you, and congrats to all those who were able to let go of their past.

    Mike

    • This post is for Mike,

      I’m so sorry you have had to go through all that. My dad had a rough life and was forced to lock up his feelings within him. So he grew up to be a very cold and rude, judgmental person. Which is why he treated me like dirt. (I think) I still to this day love him but I hate him more.
      He took care of us financially and was physically there, but like you he was not mentally or emotionally there. I too have hate for him.
      But the one thing I try to keep in mind is that you may not be able to choose who your family is but you can most definitely choose to be happy and let/allow all of it to “wither on a vine” (saw that on this website by the way) Since I’ve come across this website I’ve been looking for a support group, and really trying.
      Mainly, you CAN NOT change your parents, you can talk to them and voice your feelings but that too is a mile stone to cross for you. But it will not change them. Only you can break this cycle. if you would like to talk and vent I’m here for you. In all actuality it would help me to vent and open up too. Friends are all I have… I’m a loyal one. :) krishna.white@yahoo.com

    • I like what Krishna said. And sorry for coming back here so late in the game. But if you still live at home, unless there are some very serious and significant obstacles to leaving, I would highly recommend getting out (not as a statement to shove in their faces, just as a rite of passage. You’re grown up. Time to ship out! Get some physical distance. I believe part of the problem very well may be that you’re still the child at home, in the thick of things, too daily a part of everything that was in the past as well. When you move out and let things settle in a bit, you may be able to see them more for who they are than who they were as parents. Sometimes parents make much better friends than moms or dads, especially given age and cultural circumstances of yours.

      But ultimately, Krishna is right. Especially if they’re making overtures. Try taking baby steps. If you never say hi, say it. If you already say hi, ask how their day has been. If you already do that, ask with a smile, or whatever the next step is for you. Feel good about taking that step. Then try the next one. You seem stuck in a long-term cycle of habitual behavior. Small doable steps may help break it.

      • Dear Ken,

        I had been googling “forgiving parents” when I came across your article. After thousands of dollars spent on therapy for myself, self help books, I found your advice very profound and extremely helpful for my situation. My mother and father were extremely critical of me growing up, they were a tag team who loved each other, I was overweight as a little girl and my mother a beauty queen and father a hater of fat people…it was awful. no encouragement to lose weight…they put all their immigrant dreams on me..and when I faltered it was tough..I never felt safe. I felt alone..My younger sister was a sickly child..their precious young daughter but somehow I was always targeted. After I decided to marry a man they thought they hated(now they love ironically as he helped them and their friends as a doctor) it got even worse. I cannot seem to separate or forgive and the comparisons between the younger sister is inevitable. As a young mom I need to let go not only myself but my 3 year old daughter. It’s like a festering wound..I just cannot do it alone.My spouse had a wonderful mom…he had her for 18 positive years. I have this cancerous growth late into my 30s..yes they are like a cancer for me shame on me for saying but thats how scarred I feel.

        Do you offer webinars or books on this topic? You should be a therapist :) I would fly in to see you. I have not found a right fit a therapist in my area yet. its been awful as this anger and resentment is eating me alive. My present little family of husband and daughter should not suffer because of my “yukky” past. Thanks any words of wisdom are helpfu. I have also subscribed to your site just today.

  22. Hey Ken,

    I am so glad you linked me to this post. Though my parents and I had a rough patch during my college days (it was more of me being the trouble some teenager); I realized that when we tend to notice the bigger picture there are many things which can be put into perspective.

    Realizing the fact that how hard it must have been raising four kids while trying to achieve his career goals as well as manage family responsibility; made me appreciate the fact that at least my dad tried to give us the best. We went to the best school in town, we were given the choice to make our own decisions and the fact that my dad had a huge college fund for each of us made me realize that they may have faltered in some areas, but maybe I was too judgmental. Though I did feel that the emotional connection was sometimes a bit hazy, no one is perfect. And it doesn’t hurt to take that step towards them. As an adult, I see how they are always there for me, they try their best to compensate for whatever they feel they had lacked as parents. They are trying and it would be wrong if I didn’t. Forgiveness isn’t a one way street.

    Like in my recent post (on my personal blog) I mention a lesson learnt as this “Spend time with your parents. They gave you life and if they have treated you nice then there is no reason that you should be bitter to them. And even if they haven’t; be nice to them. They will realize how wonderful you turned to be anyway.”

    Thanks for this Ken, I think I spoke too much! I am new to your blog and posts, but if you know me long enough, you will get tired of much I actually have to say…! :)

    Thanks once again! Your post is bookmarked again! :)

    Hope you have a lovely day!

    • Wow! It sure took me a while to get to this, didn’t it, Hajra!

      Your story reminds me of the saying that the older we get, the smarter our parents become. I discovered that reality myself. When we’re younger we’re just so full of ourselves and think everything mom and dad do and say and the values and so-called wisdom they advocate is all such a phony bunch of nonsense. And then we start experiencing life a little and all of a sudden they start looking a b it more intelligent than we gave them credit for at the time. :)

      But you’re right about forgiveness not being a one-way street. As children, we can play such a role in the difficulty of parenthood! What a gift it would be for children everywhere to apologize at least for their role in the drama that plays out so often behind closed doors.

      As for speaking too much, I haven’t seen it yet! And frankly, miss seeing you around my place lately! ;)

  23. I thought I would put out a little of what I’ve been through. These are really good steps by the way and I intend on using them.
    I was the middle child. My mom had my sister before getting with and marring my dad so my sister is my half sister, there for I am my dad’s oldest and only bio daughter. He adopted my sister as his own when he married my mom. Well From what I remember my dad was not very nice to my mother, she was/is a bigger woman and my dad would make fun of her, my sister is a very tall thinner woman NOW. My little brother also very tall and thin. I got my moms body figure. Short and sort of round. When my mom finally left my dad when I was around 10 yrs old she left us kids with my dad, my dad’s anger then turned on me full force, he had when she was still around but got way worse when she left. He made fun of me about my looks and me as a person. It really cut me down, When I was 13 he disowned me and my mom took me. About a month after my mom took me she got a phone call from my dad’s neighbors telling her my sister broke down and told her my dad had been fooling around with her for yrs. So then my mom took on my sister and little brother too. This was all very hard on us all. We all 3 released our stress in different ways and still do. My mom is a very loud and passionate woman. Her and I have never really seen eye to eye about most things, we just simply don’t get along. I think I try to stay away from her cause I feel she never protected me as a child (my dad and her 2nd husband) I harbor hate for it, for the both of them. I’m going to be 25 in about an hour and I have 5 beautiful babies and I fear I have become my mom. I lack compassion, I yell a lot, and I get easily frustrated. I am going through a very rough divorce. I have came to realize that it’s time to let these things go. But still seeking HOW! I have been reading these steps and thank u for them, been pondering them. I guess the hardest one is “responsible for my actions and not blaming my parents” like you said they did lay the foundation, and it’s exactly that! I can do this.. I have also been seeking some religion… Wish me luck! I need this for my own well being and my babies to have a happy momma! Thanks again, these WILL help me. :)

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story, Krishna. I’m touched and honored by your openness.

      So many people use their emotions as an excuse to treat others poorly. A lack of securely anchored values allows them to do some terrible things to the very people they are meant to protect. So sorry you were the brunt of that behavior.

      But it’s true too that we adopt so much of what our parents were to us. And that’s the difficulty, of course. When we see ourselves repeating their behavior to our very own, we cringe and then watch ourselves in horror keep doing what they did.

      That’s where the beautiful human capacity for change and growth comes in. It may not be easy, but it certainly is worth the effort. I just hope some of the tips I provide help.

      I’m glad you’re trying religion too. I truly think that helps. And one of the reasons it helps is to provide a world view from which we can make some sense of what happened. It also encourages moral development (something we can all use!).

      Just remember that no matter how long it takes to learn new ways of dealing with stress and no matter how difficult it is coming to terms with the past, the battle will be worth the effort. After all, it’s all for your children.

      Please let me know how it goes.

  24. Thank you… Six(6) little words “Let it wither on the vine” A lightbulb moment.

  25. Enjoyed the article. But, it seems to be aimed mainly at parents. Can you say a few words to adults who don’t have kids and probably won’t? What about simply caring for ourselves and for all others whether or not we have reproduced?

    • Thank you Tori, for the request. You’re right about it being parent-focused. But the focus is on adult children forgiving their parents for poor parenting, not for so directly for parents to forgive their children. There are just so many adult children carrying around so much anger and resentment and other related burdens. Often those burdens infect other relationships and their own inner peace and joy that I chose to focus on that particular aspect of the larger issue.

      For the most part, I think most of what I wrote, while the language focused on forgiving parents, is applicable to any relationship. Try a few of the suggestions out and see if they don’t work to come to a better place in your heart for those you may still harbor ill will for past injustices, then come back and let us know how it went!

      Thank you so much for commenting. It really means a lot that you took the time to read and share your thoughts.

  26. Dear Ken, wow, what an article! I love #4, because getting to understand the parents of my parents, made so many things much easier for me to deal with. To judge a parent you have to put their behaviour and efforts in relation to what they learned from their parents. You’ve gotta look at the “bigger picture”.

    • Thank you so much for adding that. It’s so true. So glad you were able to open up that window. It’s easy to view our parents through a very myopic lens, seeing their lives and behavior in very isolated this-moment ways, isn’t it? And that’s understandable. But you’re right that so much becomes clear and easier to accept when you get a glimpse into how they were raised.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us! Much appreciated!

  27. I have only one thing to say to you…after reading your post – “Thank you” for articulating an answer to the deepest questions in my heart..

    I’ll try.. :)

    • From the bottom of my heart, Meghashyam, you are welcome. Thank you for your kind words. They truly mean a lot to me. I am so happy the post was helpful. As for trying, that’s all any of us can do … one step at a time.

  28. Hi Ken, it’s such a coincidence where I attended a depression course last week. The psychologist explained that many negative emotions actually developed from an unhappy childhood. But we are not supposed to blame our parents. Instead, believe that they did the best they can for us… And now reading your article, it just refreshed what I’d learn and you gave more useful tips. Thank you so much Ken, it helps~

    • Hi Joel!

      Thank you for taking the time to share that with me, Joel. I really do appreciate it. I’m thrilled you found something of value here.

      It’s true, Joel. When we blame our parents, we relinquish a tremendous amount of power to be self-directing. This further traps us in a state of helplessness. If it’s their fault we are as we are, then what can we do about the fate they locked us into? Blame is often used (consciously or not) as a way to avoid accepting self-responsibility. But to understand that we are in the driver’s seat of our own life, that we can choose how to react to any given set of circumstances, this frees us to be as happy (and as forgiving) as we ultimately are willing to be.

      Thanks again for commenting, Joel. I hope everything is going well for you.

  29. Ken, you certainly knocked it out the park here! A wonderful and insightful post that reminded me a little of Thich Nhat Hanh’s work, where he talks about healing the inner child.

    I’m ‘lucky’ in that I’ve never been abused by my parents, but I do have concerns over their conservative natures – both of them were never ones to push their limits. I think this translated over to me, and until I was 21, I never even thought of stretching myself beyond my limits.

    But I forgive them, because I know that they did the best job that they knew how to do.

    Thanks for the great read Ken, it’s great to see you here at Steve’s place :-)

    • Thanks so much, Stu! It’s great being here. Steve has created an amazing resource for good, reaching so many people, doing so much good in so many far-flung places on this spinning globe of ours!

      And thank you always for your kind words, my friend. You continue to inspire me with the awesome work you do at Unlock the Door as well!

      I’m glad you had it good growing up. My mom was my savior, I must say. My dad was a bit of the authoritarian — pretty demanding and unbending and the like. But all-in-all, nothing too outrageous.

      Most people never wake up from what you might call their living sleep. So waking up to start stretching and growing at 21 is not too shabby! I started my quest of self-improvement and growth when I was not much younger, maybe 18, going on 19. It’s been a wild ride. Just curious, did you have any particular hurtles to jump as you were growing up?

      Be good, Stu and thanks again for stopping by Steve’s place and saying hi!

      • I wouldn’t say I had any particular hurdles to get by Ken, it was more to do with growing my self-confidence and being more open about my life. Sometimes I used to bottle things up until bursting point :-/

        It’s been a long and continuous journey, and I hope I continue to walk along my true path :-)

        • I’ve found in my teaching career that there are very few teenagers who are truly confident. I know I was a walking bundle of insecurities back then myself: I was too this, too that, not enough of one thing, too much of another, as I perceived myself then. I think to some extent, it just takes a little time and experience to grow into ourselves.

          Well, Stu, from reading your blog and the authenticity I sense from it and little interactions like this since first finding your site, you strike me as a guy who will definitely be on your true path into the foreseeable future.

          Take care, my friend!

          PS: Assuming you will one day have a kid or two … or more, what personal trait do you think is most important for us as dads to develop to decrease the likelihood of our kids googling this post one day to try to figure out how to forgive us?!

  30. According to “Horizon” Much of our disposition is genetic. No two babies react to the same stimulus within the womb, and mothers’ instinct can pick up on personality even when the baby is young.

    All other environmental factors being equal, this means that whilst your parents are not to blame for doing a bad job. If you turn you alright, it’s less of their doing than they might think!

    Just thought it was funny!

    • Thanks for that comic interlude in a subject that can get pretty heavy.

      I really do see more and more of that kind of genetic-justification being used to explain behavior though. What they seem to gloss over is the word “predisposition.” Genetic-related behavior is not the same as genetically-set eye color or height. Even if I am genetically predisposed to want more women than just one wife, for example, my values and self-discipline (of thought and action) can prevent me from acting on that impulse, genetically induced or not.

      The literature I’ve read also speaks of ranges of behavior or emotion – genetically dictated ranges of happiness, for instance. So even if there is a genetic link, there would be plenty of room for personal growth and improvement.

      Thanks again for the comedy and for introducing a facet of the conversation that is being talked and written about “out there” even though tongue-in-cheek.

      Have a great day, Laurence!

  31. This post made me realize of how mean I have been to my parents. I agree with the quote in the introduction. We love them once then as we grow up and when we come to learn about there flaws, we judge them.

    • Hi Christy,

      Thanks so much for commenting!

      You now have a wonderful opportunity to offer them (and yourself!) the most beautiful gift: A new relationship built on forgiveness and kindness and love. Sometimes we have hidden resentments that flare up when we get around those who may have originally planted them. It is helpful to dig down and root out the anger through sincere forgiveness to begin rebuilding a new kind of relationship with them. But you can do it! It is so freeing once you do.

      Let us know how the initial steps go!

      • I’m not so sure about that Ken. I mean I don’t know if I’ll be able to make up for the lost times. I can’t even say sorry.

        • Hi Christy,

          Simple: Then don’t. Sometimes the best course of action is simply a new behavior without “fixing” the past. If apologies can’t be made, don’t make them and simply let your parents see over time that you treat them differently.

          As for making up for lost time, it can’t be done anyway. All anyone can do is use this time, right now, the best way. So forget about what is past and don’t worry about what the future will be like and just start with the next time you would naturally interact with them.

          Give it a shot. What’s to lose?

          Let us know how it goes. But remember, depending on the nature of the past level of dysfunction and the relationship between you and your parents and your parents’ disposition, they may even be suspicious at first. That’s normal. Don’t hold it against them. Just keep up the new you and see what happens over time, maybe weeks, maybe a few months (depends on the frequency of contact and depth of previous problems between you)

  32. Hi Ken,

    Wonderful post! So many hang on to these resentments and it drags them down rather that move them forward. As Tess said, it does work both ways, we don’t have to always agree with choices people make, be it our parents or our children, but we can respect them and let them live their lives in peace.

    • Thank you Cathy!

      I like how you worded that: “it drags them down rather then moves them forward.” That is a good point. We rarely really stand still for very long in life because life keeps ebbing and flowing. We are either moving up or forward or we are sinking into the quicksand of life. What direction that movement takes depends on the choices we make.

      As for Tess, she’s always right! And in this case, yes, it does go both ways. What have you done to reduce or eliminate resentment from your life, Cathy?

  33. You have clearly touched a deep nerve here. I did forgive my parents and came to appreciate their efforts and the gifts they gave me. The final release for my mother actually came in a dream. In the dream, I could see that she was caught where she was, confused, and unable to get herself out of her difficulties. When I woke up, I felt such compassion for her.

    Taking responsibility for our lives gets us out of victim mode, which, of course, is where some people want to stay. When my foster daughter turned 18, I told her that she was now an adult, no longer dependent on anyone to direct her life. I told her that her harsh upbringing (the reason she was in foster care) was no longer an excuse for what happened in her life. She was free to make choices to get the help she needed to overcome her early damage.

    My blog topic this month is forgiveness, and I’ve been writing about it all month. You have touched on one of the most difficult forgiveness challenges. This is such an important topic and you handled it so well. I also appreciated all the thoughtful comments.

    • Galen, I am so glad you commented here! You have provided the ultimate answer: COMPASSION is the perfect antidote to the poison of resentment, anger and old grudges we haven’t been able to let go. I love that it came in a dream too. I am fascinated with dreams and what is so often communicated in and through them.

      Your foster daughter is so lucky to have you, Galen, not only for the obvious reason that she has a safe place to live, but to have someone so in touch with the wisdom you provide. On behalf of the human race, I thank God there are people like you who do what you do and leave such a wonderful footprint in the soft sand of humanity.

      Thank you so much for your kind words too.

      Best wishes!

  34. Great wisdom is often born of experience , I am gratefull for your words of wisdom so I and others can use the experience of reading your article and creating a better future . The ripple effect .
    Regards Shona

    • Thank you so much, Shona! I am so happy you found value here. Good luck putting it to the test. Remember: The words were easy to write, the work behind the words takes courage and commitment. But I trust you will be blessed by, and for, the effort!

      Here’s to more people sending more ripples into more bodies of water!

  35. Hey Ken,

    I wish I read this 10 years ago! I’ve been resentful of my parents for my things and for way too long. I resolved it and we’re now having a peaceful and healthy relationship.

    Thank you for your wisdom, you bring very good points! I’ll try applying some of them as well.

    Cheers,

    Matt

    • Thanks Matt!

      That’s awesome of you to comment. The great thing about life is that it’s never too late to learn and grow. I’m glad you seem to have resolved some of those issues. Just think of my list as a buffet, grab what you need and leave the rest.

      Take care!

  36. Hi Ken

    I wanted to officially welcome you to CYT Authors.

    What a great piece for your first article on CYT and having read some of your blog posts on your blog, I know you have a great future as a personal development writer.

    Thank you so much for agreeing to write for CYT, and i am so glad the readers have given you such a warm welcome.

    Steve

    • Thank you so much, Steve!

      You’re doing a great work here and have my deepest respect and admiration. As you know so well, you have an amazing group of readers who have posted some awesome comments. I have been touched by their sincerity and authenticity. I think that says a lot about you, Steve, that you attract so high a caliber of people who follow your blog.

      Thank you for the confidence you expressed too in what I do. That means a lot to me.

      Ken

  37. You know what helped me move on … many years ago I attended a meeting for adult children of alcoholics. I sat there listening to all these adults – most were older than I was at the time – moaning about their childhoods and how awful their parents were. I walked out of there with one thought in mind – my parents did the best they could under the circumstances. There was nothing I could do about whatever did or didn’t happen when I was a kid, but as an adult I am fully responsible for my life – so get over it and move on! And, I did …

    • Thank you for sharing that experience, Marquita! I love that attitude. It reminds me a lot of my grandma — one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known.

      You speak the truth! What was, was. That’s the tall and short of it! So do we beat up the past for being what it was, or do we choose a present that is what we want it to be? I choose the path you exemplified so wonderfully at that meeting so many years ago!

  38. Hi Ken,
    All great points. I have learned to be grateful for my upbringing and parents. Indeed, a harsh environment ultimately proved to shape what I now consider my greatest assets. I learned persistence, determination and how to become a ‘noticer’. Children are exposed to as many as 60,000 NO’s between age two and six. These Echoes of howling NO’s commit subtle psychological crimes in the mind. I’ve learned that my Authentic Self is always available in the present moment. The past is dead and the present is fertile ground for planting seeds for the future. When these seeds take root in my heart-mind, changes blossom and bear fruit in my life. The more I persist with this recognition, the more I awake to the Authentic Me, and the more seeds I plant in the present.

    • Simply awesome, Rob! I have a finger-length scar on my right ring-finger. I got it when I was a kid on roller skates. I grabbed a pole that had the end of a screw exposed and I stumbled. So many parents in life are overly concerned with their children’s safety. They panic when their kids run or jump or kick or throw or climb or explore and scream “NO!” so often that their children’s own hearts and minds start to adopt that language as their own. Psychological crime is a good way to put it. I’m glad my parents put the skates on my feet and allowed me to skate through life, taking the bumps and bruises and cuts and stitches that comes with living.

      I also loved what you said about living now, in the present moment, the past being dead. You are so right to point that out to us. So much of our lives are lived worrying about the future and regretting the past that we have little time left to simply be in the moment. The more we can do as you say, Rob, the more spontaneously we will be able to forgive past offenses and ignore current ones.

      Thanks for your wisdom and insight, Rob. So much appreciated!

  39. Hi Ken,

    This is excellent. I especially love this: How you were treated is all about them, not you. It really helps to realize that our parents were simply doing the best they could. We often carry over this childhood belief that our parents are supposed to be perfect and when they’re not, we vilify them for it. They’re just people, exactly like us. And they make mistakes.

    When we forgive them, it’s not so much for their sake, as it is for ours. When we hold on to the resentment, it hurts us. I can’t say that I had horrible parents, but I had my hurts like everyone else. It’s all relative. At some point I realized that my mother was absolutely perfect for me. She gave me the impetus, the catalysts and the freedom to grow. When I saw what I’d considered to be painful times as actually useful to my process of becoming who I am today, the pain melted away. Even the worst experiences can serve us, if we let them. But we have to be willing to let go of the resentment.

    Thank you for sharing this awesome post.

    Hugs!
    Melody

    • Beautifully and perfectly said, Melody!

      I like what you added and now wished I would have listed 13 steps …
      You are so right to point out that even many of our painful moments can be understood as having helped us develop certain attributes like perseverance, empathy, courage, and the like. I like that, Melody. Always so wonderfully thoughtful in your comments! Thank you for that!

  40. G’day Ken,
    I am one of the fortunate ones. My upbringing(many moons ago) was great. The list you have delightfully described contains great points. I have used some of these with my own daughters (now both in their 20’s). Being responsible for one’s own Life is critical(don’t develop a victim mentality). I can’t add much more Ken, I’ve had a fortunate Life which I intend continuing with. Thank you for posting this.
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Hello there, David,

      Thank you so much for stopping by Steve’s awesome blog and leaving your thoughts with us here. I’m thrilled you had great parents and I trust you are passing on that legacy to your daughters as well. I have a 21 year old daughter myself. There are few joys in life that are richer than seeing your children do well, choose well and live well. Wouldn’t you agree?

      One of the keys to raising our children well is to help them very early on understand the relationship between being responsible for our words, thoughts, and therefore feelings, and living a truly wonderful life.

      I’m sure your daughters will one day be leaving a comment on some blog about generation gaps or the like and will likewise comment that they had blessed lives as well with a dad who loved them and taught them what it meant to be wonderful human beings!

      Take care, David!

  41. Terrific piece! your article identifies with many across the globe. Parenting is a very slippery ground without manuals. You do parenting according to your understanding and upbringing.It’s pretty easy to go wrong; children(now adults) need to take it easy on their parents. often, parents do their best as circumstances would permit.

    • Hi Cyril! You are so right! I hope my daughter and son will be as forgiving of my missteps as a parent as I am of my parents’. We certainly are a flawed bunch of people, aren’t we? So why wouldn’t some of that reality show up in our parenting as well.

      Are you a parent, Cyril? What do you find toughest about parenting well? If you’re not, from the perspective of a grown child, what traits do you think are most important to be a great parent?

      Maybe we can do some preemptive work here so that our children will have less need to forgive us of our inevitable parenting missteps!

      Thanks for coming by and leaving a comment, Cyril.

  42. It’s a fact. Our parents are just also products on how their parents raised them. Unfortunately, they have never been enlightened that their upbringing is not the one which is suitable for their children. That they should not enforce everything they learn from their parents.
    This blog entry is a must read for parents also.

    • Thank you so much for saying so. So glad you found value, Melly.

      There is an almost awkward pair of responsibilities I believe we all have. One is to recognize the truth you reiterated and work toward forgiveness. The other is to learn and grow and develop those traits that will improve our parenting.

      So on the one hand, we should recognize that most people don’t change all that much and our parents likely parented us pretty close to how they were parented as kids. And on the other hand, we need to accept the responsibility to become the best parents we can become.

      The end result of such responsibilities is more joy and less suffering in fewer homes.

      Thank you so much for your comments, Melly.

      • It just saddened me that only a few people take parenting seriously. What I mean is, we don’t even study parenting in school but it’s the very basic and most important thing in every family. The family as the basic unit of the society should be developed through good parenting. These murderers we saw on TV, drug addicts, depressed people…all came from families with no or less parenting value. We often heard about the government upholding securities against criminals and all but it’s very obvious that we never touched down to the very core why criminals exist. These criminals are from “mis-managed” families.

        • I’m with you, Melly! There would definitely be benefit to teaching basic parenting skills in school. I agree. But I think even more fundamentally, the answer is character. It might be that some kids are beaten by parents who simply don’t know any better, but I suspect that more children are beaten (or ignored, verbally debased, etc.) because of character flaws in the parents. Lack of self-control, anger issues, lack of compassion and so forth. The concepts can certainly be taught in school, but the actual development of such attributes usually happens in the incubator of family.

          Again, there are certainly steps schools can take to help. I totally agree with you. And perhaps the national and global conversation about it is the first step. But what would you suggest can be done? It is in the details, I think, where it gets difficult.

  43. I love how this post is applicable to so much more than childhood problems or raising kids. These same steps and same broadening of perspective can provide us so much healing and closure with any past relationships.

    It can be so hard to let go of that feeling of being wronged in the past, especially of loved ones and friends close to us. These are great tips to patch up wounds from far back in time.

    • Great point, Shawna. Those ideas and principles that can guide us to forgiving parents can do the same in our desire to forgive anyone. Thank you for pointing that out.

      We do have a heightened expectation that those close to us will not wrong us. Then when they do, it is more than the pain of being wronged; it is the added pain of being betrayed. There is also a certain intimacy shared between friends and family. When that intimacy is damaged, there can be the added sense of isolation too.

      All that added baggage makes forgiveness more complicated, but still possible and a worthy goal to work on.

      Thanks you for adding your thoughts, Shawna.

  44. Lucie Campeau says:

    All your advice is excellent for someone to move on, to let go. What it is not successful about is repairing what cannot be repaired: I may have forgiven, but I lived and learned to protect myself against all their negativity and twisted ways. Spending a day with them is emotionnally draining. Your advice is good to take charge of one’s life, but not to repair a broken heart. Their dominating ways towards a helpless child are gone, no, not gone, just transformed. Some people never change, and the disgust is well alive in me unfortunately. Having said that, you would meet them and find they are decent people. That is the irony of it.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response, Lucie. I am so glad you shared your struggles with us here. And you are absolutely right about parents who failed miserably in parenting. I don’t know how “twisted” they were, but I do know several parents who were horrible parents but were loved by their friends. Others saw them as wonderful while their families were terrified of them. I know that that can be felt as a second slap in the face.

      Still — and I know this is truly difficult for many to fully accept — but it is possible to take total control of our feelings even if our pasts were completely out of control. We can completely release even terribly flawed parents from all traces of resentment and be totally at peace. Once we get to that point, our hearts will already be healed. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about changing your parents or getting them to confess or say sorry. How we deal with our pasts is so much more important than how our parents deal with that past. As long as we feel heartbroken by the past, we are crippled to some extent by it. But that crippling effect has more to do with our reaction to the past than the past itself.

      I would recommend you pick up an amazing little book called Man’s
      Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. The reason I’m recommending this book is for one idea he shares within the context of the life her experienced as a Holocaust survivor. His belief was that no matter the horror that is inflicted upon us, there is one human freedom that cannot be taken, that can only be given away. That freedom is the power to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, even as an inmate in the Nazi death camps.

      I just wrote of this on my bog, as a matter of fact.

      I truly hope you will be able to get to that point where you can completely release the burden of your past and be present, now, filled with love and compassion and joy.

      Please return and comment again if what I’ve said needs clarifying.

      I wish you the best, Lucie!

      • I think what Lucie meant (or at least part of it) is that it’s not easy to forgive our parents if they are still treating us badly.

        When I was a child, my mum used to constantly insult me either directly (calling me ugly, egoistic, “unsuitable for the other gender”, lazy etc.) or by implying those same things.

        Now I don’t know how I can forgive her for saying these things in the past as long as she’s still saying them today.

        Last time we talked, she called me an “egoistic pig”. Situations like these always open the wounds of the past again, and I just don’t see how I can forgive her for something that is still very much going on.

        • Hello Jean!

          First of all, I want to thank you for clarifying Lucie’s point for me.

          Second, I can only speak for myself on this one, but if that was the language of my parents to me with anything more than a terribly bad day or two, my contact with them would be pretty close to zero, except for cards or email where the communication was one-way. I would never open a card or email from them (perhaps asking my spouse to check for indecency with permission to throw out or delete if ugly). I would protect my children from such verbal garbage as well. The point here is only that parenthood can never lay claim on the right to inflict psychological damage on their children. Parenthood is not license to abuse or humiliate. As a matter of fact, there is even a higher obligation to love and cherish their own children.

          Finally, as much as a part of me doesn’t want to, I’m compelled to reiterate what I said in the post. And I truly recognize the immense difficulty of the thing I’m advocating here. But it is possible to forgive others even as they are abusing you. This is tough, tough doctrine, I know. And very few people are ever able to reach that place in their hearts and souls that allows them the gift of spontaneous forgiveness. It is the gift Gandhi gave his abusers as they beat him for his acts of satyagraha. It is the love and compassion of Jesus to those who drove nails into his flesh and crucified him. It can be the compassion and forgiveness we extend to abusive parents as well.

          Maybe this might help clarify what I’m stumbling around in the dark trying to convey: You can hit me in the face and I can justifiably hate and resent you for it. Or I can have developed an inner peace and a level of compassion and pure love that allows me to see the pain that must be eating away at you that you would ever even consider striking me in the face. I can resent you or feel sorry for you. I can plan revenge or pray for your soul. I can mentally beat you up every day, or release all of that in a sincere desire that you will one day find the peace of heart you obviously don’t have.

          Do you see the power and the possibility in what I’m suggesting? Make no mistake about it, it is a hard thing I suggest. But I’m not asking people to flow downhill. I’m inviting Steve’s readers to come do the hard thing, to aim higher than they may have ever aimed before and launch themselves into the stratosphere of personal growth and creative possibility and deep inner rewiring of their thoughts and hearts until there is nothing between them and the joy and peace and happiness that is what we were all meant to have in our lives.

          Jean, I simply don’t have words enough to tell you how deeply touching it is that you would open up like you did here. The amazing thing about Steve’s blog and what all of us can strive to do is to learn from others and grow alongside them. You aided us in that process by your openness and I thank you for that.

          Please let me know if anything I said here hits home.

          • Clarification:

            Just wanted to clarify one point. If we are being verbally abused by parents, they do not deserve our forgiveness. If they continue to treat us shabbily, we have every moral right to hold them in contempt. If we never ever forgive them, we are normal and in no way do I think we owe them or anyone else to reach out in compassion and forgiveness.

            Rather, I only offer a possibility to those who want to be done with the negativity churning in their insides over their parents. Hate and anger can do so much spiritual and emotional damage if we let it sit and fester inside.

            If you’re up for the challenge, work on some of the suggestions offered. I still believe they have tremendous value. If not, welcome to the human race! Most people would find it impossible to do what I suggested is possible above.

            And by the way, forgiving our parents or anyone, who continues to abuse, does not mean having to become their best friend. I can release all guilt and anger and resentment for my parents and still choose never to see them again because they are just crummy people!

            Hope this helps!

          • Ken, I’m blown away by the amount of thought and time you have put into your answer! (I’ve read the clarification below, too, but there’s no reply button after that one, so I reply here)-

            Yeah, like you suggested, I’ve mostly stopped contact with my mum altogether. I’ve tried, really I have, but it just doesn’t seem to work. And every time I started to reinitiate contact, it was just a matter of time until the insults would start again.

            I’m fascinated by your idea of total forgiveness, and I do believe that it would do me good and allow me to finally let go of all those nasty feelings.

            But I have to admit that I’m not there yet, not anywhere near to be honest. The problem is that I’m scared.

            I’m scared that the moment I let go of my anger, I will start to believe her lies again. I’m scared that I will believe her that I am egoistic and ugly and all those things, like I believed them when I was a child.

            Right now, anger and resentment are tools for me to seperate myself from her opinion of me. I don’t feel self-secure enough yet to let go of these tools.

            However, I really adore people like Gandhi who have been able to do this and yet stay true to themselves. Maybe, just maybe I will manage to do the same one day. I’ll be sure to try.

            Thanks for your encouragement, it means more than I can express in words!

          • That means a lot to me, Jean. Thank you. I am at least equally blown away by your openness and honesty.

            (By the way, I ran into the same issue hoping to reply directly to your last comment. Hope you find this nestled in our conversation!)

            Welcome to the club of the billions of people who are not Gandhi! It really is about degrees. We work toward a goal that we get better and better at achieving. Or maybe more accurately, we get closer and closer to more and more often.

            But you raise an important point, Jean. Anger can act as a powerful wedge that protects us from accepting the labels thrown at us. But it can also be a high price we pay in other areas of our lives. I can’t know if that price is too high or not, but it is something to consider. Often anger is generalized, rather than narrowly tailored to just mum. How do you do with anger in general (with bad drivers, rude people in line, children, significant other)?

            I understand the fear you have of letting go of your anger and for fear of believing her lies about you again. It is easier for me to write here than for you to put into practice, but think about anytime we get angry or say things to others to hurt them. Is it ever about the person we’re hurting? Or is it a statement of who we are at the moment? Same with what your mother says to you. Her viciousness is a reflection of her psyche, not your worth.

            Still, I understand the fear. And I guess it is a packaged deal to some extent: developing a sense of your own worth independent of what mum thinks or says and risking the vulnerability of forgiving her.

            But remember, forgiveness does not necessarily equal renewed contact. You can conceivably let down your guard enough to forgive her (not for her sake … for yours) and keep it up enough to protect yourself from her vitriol by refusing to have a face-to-face or even a phone-to-phone relationship with her. One-way communication by email can help you feel like you are doing your part to respect the fact that she brought you into the world, without disrespecting yourself by letting her infect your emotional life with her poison.

            Well, looks like our conversation will be seriously limited here. I wish you the joy and happiness we are all meant to have.

            Take care of yourself, Jean.

          • You probably are not still reading this post, Jean, but I know where you are coming from. My mother was similar to me growing up, and as soon as I stopped contacting her, dropped me like a hot rock. It’s been slow going, but I did go to a therapist.

            She recommended doing thought-logs of the bad thoughts (like, things she insulted you with), rating your belief in them, then writing a statement that contradicts that, then going back and rating your belief in both statements. You’ll start to like it, because it’s all about you and what you think, and not about what she thinks anymore. At least, that’s what it felt like to me.

            I think that got me ready for the point I’m at now, of saying “It’s definitely not good. But it’s also not bad. It’s just ok.” And, it’s ok because it’s already happened. It’s ok that it happened; you can’t change that she said those things and essentially kept you from having the mom you wanted. But, it’s ok, because it just is how things went. You can come to some resolution where you’re not trying to cut away your whole past or punish someone (or everyone) just because of something “bad” that happened.

            Of course, I also have to add “I’m angry about what happened, but that’s ok too,” when I’m going through it. Because she’s still a shitty person, and I still don’t like her, and who wouldn’t be angry about being a slave to someone they can’t stand for 19 years?

  45. Ken,
    What a great article. I couldn’t agree more. We need to realize our parents are just people and they did the best they knew how. The more we forgive and move on the more we’ll see and appreciate the good in them.

    • So true, Angela! Just imagine how much more collective joy there would be in the world if adult children everywhere thought the way you do and forgave their parents and established newly-defined relationships with them!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Truly appreciated.

  46. Hi Thankfully, I did most of the above years ago. I think part of the problem is the ever present image of television and movies constantly portraying ‘perfect’ families who solve all their ‘problems’ in 30-120 minutes. Real life is not like TV or movies.
    I so agree with ‘take responsibility’. When I finally learned to say: ‘I am responsible’ was when my life turned around.
    Thanks for the valuable content.

    • Hi Lois!

      I’m so glad you were able to walk through the steps to forgiving your parents. Which step was hardest for you?

      I didn’t think to include the influence of TV and the sitcom mentality of conflict resolution as one of the challenges to forgiving our parents. That is such a fascinating insight. Thank you so much for sharing it! Real life conflict truly is rarely solved in a 3o-minute commercial-free segment of time.

      Are you saying that it can give us the false impression that our own relationships are worse than maybe they really are when we can’t solve what all the shows solve in a short period of time?

      Thanks for adding value to the content, Lois. I like your thinking. Please let me know if I interpreted you correctly, okay?

  47. Wonderful article. I have come out of this and I would like to share my experience.

    I was the first of the 2 kids my parents had. Being the first, I was always given tons of responsibilities to burden and not living up to the expectations was always a problem. My parents were good, just that they were parents and not friends, just that their emotional quotient was 0. Either it was too much love, or nothing..

    My dad caned me for failing in the one test during my 6th grade and that sow’d in me the fear of failure, which was a very tough hurdle to cross to start raising up in life…

    My dad and mom thrashed me for bunking a class that I didn’t like to attend. I tried telling them that I didn’t like it, they wouldn’t listen, so I bunked and got beaten up like hell.

    I got thrashed for several other occasions which i don’t want to crap about here… I certainly have buried them for good…

    After facing several strings of failures in life, I knew something was seriously wrong in me and started looking at all aspects since I was a 5 yr old… I surprised myself at what I figured out…

    Step 5 did wonders… I took half a day leave and wrote down every single time I got hit, every single time I got scolded and I could so damn easily map it to what was stopping me from succeeding… Darn, it was all clear… Agreed, it was not because of me, but it was my problem now and I had to take responsibility and do something about it.

    I was looking at several ways to forgive. Even took up counseling, but nothing like going back to the source. I went and spoke to my mom and she accepted her fault and apologized and asked me how she could help to heal the wounds. I didn’t have an answer and I told her that it’ll take time for the wounds to heal… But I promised that I would not be a dad for my child… I will be a friend, a friend on whom he can rest his/ her shoulders when needed, a friend who he/ she can share anything under the sun, a friend who can be trusted…

    Folks, it takes time to get “cured”. Even now, when I think of the good time I lost, I can feel immense pain… but i know, i know that i have forgiven them and I know that this pain will soon disappear…

    “To slap someone is easy, but to seek forgiveness needs courage” – Mahatma Gandhi.

    • Sridhar,

      I can’t tell you how deeply touched I am that you shared so personal a story here. It sounds like you should have authored this post! What a wonderful journey you have traveled of self-discovery and forgiveness! So many people are stuck in the mud of emotional turmoil because they never take the steps you have taken. What an accomplishment to feel proud of, Sridhar!

      Was it hard to gather the courage to talk to you mom? Or did it come naturally?

      In any event, I’m thrilled the steps you took have been so helpful on your journey to forgive. Stay with it, the pain truly can fade to background noise or even silence.

      I think the hardest part is the impact on life parents have on their children. What I mean is that while we may be able to forgive our parents, we still live with the impact they had on our development. That impact, whatever level of emotional dysfunction we are left with, acts as a constant reminder of the pain of the past. That’s where accepting full responsibility for our emotional lives is important.

      By the way, I love that quote from Gandhi! He is one of my heroes! His autobiography was instrumental in changing my life. Thanks for sharing so much with us here. I truly believe you have impacted others with your comments.

  48. This is a very useful and powerful article. It’s quite amazing through conversations and observations that there are so many people out there who have had major issues with their parents. In a way, it’s somewhat comforting to know that I was not the only one.

    I think that the points raised here will be very helpful to allow us to move on but as it was pointed out, actual further contact with parents will depend on each specific circumstance or maybe the relative toxicity of the relationship. In any case, the biggest take away is that each of us are responsible for our own happiness from the present and on.

    • Hey Clint!

      Thanks for your kind words and thoughtful comment. You are so right to point out that contact with parents will depend on the level of toxicity that exists between them.

      I used to work with abused kids years ago who had been removed from their homes by the courts for child abuse. I have met parents who were so filled with such hate and generalized anger at the world that always seems to be on the verge of igniting that I can’t imagine they could ever have anything nearing a healthy relationship with their children. There are sadly some situations where no contact is the best contact.

      To your other point, why do you think it is that so many people look outside of themselves for happiness? Do you think it’s because it’s simply easier to blame others? Or do you think society has done a terrible job teaching the truth of emotional self-responsibility? Or do you think the answer lies elsewhere? I would love to get your take on it.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Clint.

  49. Hi Ken,

    This is a wonderful list of suggestions, and I know people who have used many of these to overcome resentment they feel toward their parents. On my side of things, my parents were a blessing and I was fortunate to have them. I was more of a problem child than most and their patience was crucial. In general though, we typically parent from our own experience and how we were parented I believe. Unless we know otherwise. In this sense all parents do the best the know how at the time. All parents can learn from the past and go forward with plans to break any family patterns that are unhealthy, and sometimes this has to be the child breaking this cycle as they grow up.

    • Thanks, Joe!

      Great point! I once heard a psychologist speak who said if we but pass on 20% fewer neuroses to our children than our parents passed on to us, we can consider ourselves very successful parents! So funny, but true too.

      You are right that our parents parent out of their experiences. Of course, we all have a responsibility to learn how to be better parents, but the point is still obviously valid. Until we come to know otherwise, we are stuck parenting the only way we know how. I think that sort of recognition can go a long way in helping us forgive ours for parenting us in some pretty subpar ways.

      I’m just curious. You say you were a problem child from good parents. I think I’m a pretty decent parent and have a 5-year-old son who has tendencies that seem to be pointing down a path that may be bumpy. What do you think pushed or pulled you in that direction? And what caused the course change? I’d love to get some insight here.

      Thanks for the awesome comment, Joe!

      Be good!

  50. Hi Ken,
    Every point you make is excellent. There is one thing I picked up years ago that has helped me forgive or surrender my attachment to others.

    Repeat as needed:
    I bless you, I release you, I set you free. I allow you to be you and me to be me.

    I also think that as parents we need to forgive our children for not being who we wanted them to be. We often have expectations that don’t get met and that will distance our children. Thanks again!

    • I love it, Tess! “I bless you, I release you, I set you free. I allow you to be you and me to be me.” I bet I’ll use this line the next time I jump on the freeway! Seriously!

      I also like what you said about surrendering attachments. I’ve never thought of it that way, but when we hold on to our anger and resentment for a parent (or any other person), we really are creating a negative attachment, as if handcuffed or shackled to them, in a self-destructive emotional dependency. Excellent insight.

      And finally, you are so right about the need to forgive our children. While I really lucked out on this score (so far!) with my children, I know my parents have likely needed that advice on more than one occasion on my account!

      Three awesome points, Tess! Thanks for adding depth and breadth to the article!

      Which one do you think is more difficult — kids forgiving parents or parents forgiving kids?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] toss out the bottled-up hatred. Let go of the need to punish and just open your heart and forgive. Unplug the drains of hurt. And take each moment as a moment unto itself, free of roots buried in [...]

  2. [...] On the other hand, Deanna can also start her own healing process by forgiving her parents for doing such a crummy job of raising her. [...]

  3. [...] this is your soft spot, there are ways of developing this character strength no matter who it is you need to forgive to move on. Doing so can revolutionize your new [...]

  4. [...] all the gifts you give this year, perhaps the most meaningful and life-changing will be the gift of forgiveness you offer someone who has offended you. And here’s the surprise: You will likely benefit the most [...]

  5. [...] look at the angry driver, the backbiter, the offensive associate, inconsiderate neighbor and even the abusive parent. Seeing bad behavior as calls for love opens our hearts for compassion and [...]

  6. [...] kids from it, you have jumped head first into the thick moral mud of the bully. Only now you’re bullying the children as [...]

  7. [...] This step may admittedly be very difficult for some who suffered (and still do) from particularly harsh parents. If that’s the case, I’d recommend following the link to a guest post I wrote called 12 Ways to Forgive Your Parents for Doing such a Crummy Job of Raising You. [...]

  8. [...] habits and attitudes, residual offenses, left-over pain and heartache from past relationships or of years-gone-by clutter your emotional [...]

  9. [...] find out by visiting my guest post at Steve Aitchison’s awesome blog, Change Your Thoughts. My guest post is called, 12 Ways to Forgive Your Parents for Doing such a Crummy Job of Raising [...]